Water Chief Answers His ‘Maverick' Opponents

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Next to Salt River Project, which owns all the Rim country's surface water, the entity most maligned for the area's water woes is probably Brooke Utilities.

The California-based company serves several Rim country communities, but is best known for its struggle to keep up with demand in Pine, especially in the summertime in the midst of a drought.

Brooke President Robert Hardcastle agreed to answer his critics.

"As we have said for a long time, the water supply situation in Pine is dire," Hardcastle said. "The community demands more water than is economically available. The economically available water supply probably should address the needs of a community half the size of Pine."

Hardcastle had a simple response to the petition drive to have the Pine-Strawberry Water Improvement District purchase the Pine and Strawberry water companies -- they're not for sale. He called the PSWID a "maverick government entity."

"Since the conveniently timed dissolution of the PSWID board of directors, Gila County has managed the activities of the district in such a way as to work toward the county's long-expressed goal to be in the water business in Pine and Strawberry," he said. "It is ironic that most communities and municipalities are ‘privatizing' water companies because they cannot compete with the efficiencies and cost-effectiveness of private enterprise. Gila County has somehow decided they are the exception to the rule..."

Local Realtor Ray Pugel charges that poor infrastructure is causing the Pine and Strawberry water companies to lose 30 to 40 percent of the water they're pumping.

Hardcastle denies it.

"The current water loss was independently calculated at 7.3 percent by the engineering department of the Arizona Corporation Commission," he said. "The Arizona Department of Water Resources describes a water system loss of 10 percent or less as an excellent system."

Hardcastle blames the infrastructure problem on previous owners.

"If we had our choice, we would have better and more modern infrastructure than exists now," he said. "But that is what area real estate developers decided to install to begin with and we're left to work with what exists."

Hardcastle also repeated his charge that the county has contributed to the water problem by encouraging unchecked growth.

"After decades of study, politicizing, endless meetings and countless droning speeches, not one single gallon of water has been found or produced by Gila County," he said. "There is no recognition or appreciation of how bad the condition of the Pine water system was when first purchased by Brooke. There were no records. No operational statistics or data. Unused and disconnected infrastructure. Production facilities that weren't used. ADEQ water quality problems that were never reported."

The county's primary motive, Hardcastle believes, is to increase its tax base.

"Gila County has been part of the problem, not part of the solution, ever since we've owned the water systems," he said. "What is more important is that they now want to knowingly exacerbate the problem through increased community populations for the purpose of raising more property taxes without fundamental infrastructure solutions being developed first."

Brooke also has been maligned for not participating in the regional water study led by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Hardcastle explained why.

"There have been more than seven regional water studies of the hydrogeology in Pine and Strawberry in the last 50 years," he said. "The conclusions haven't changed. After decades of study, all the collective politicians and government regulators have yet to find a single gallon of water in the area.

"We have a business to operate and difficult water systems to manage. We're focused on our customers. My experience is (that) most politically formed study groups operate for the purpose of the politicians listening to themselves speak."

Hardcastle also questions those who say they can work with Salt River Project.

"Don't be fooled by local pundits claiming that SRP will just roll over...." he said. "Anyone interested in restricting water shed areas from SRP should be ready for a very long, expensive, protracted legal fight that will likely be unresolved for years and cost a great deal of money."

Hardcastle issued a warning to people who choose to live in the desert.

"There is no water in any area of Arizona to be wasted," he said. "Communities like Mesa del Caballo (which Brooke also serves) and many others are fragile, water-supplied communities that require constant, diligent, trustworthy management and observation. All the water that has ever existed is all the water that will ever exist. One can't invent water."

Despite the problems in Pine, Hardcastle does not regret the decision to buy water companies in the Rim country.

"Our business goals have been furthered and my personal experiences have been enhanced by some very great people that I have met in the Rim country," he said. "The numerous good experiences far outweigh the annoyances of a few."

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