The town of Payson earned a major award for its water conservation efforts, besting communities large and small in a three-state region.
The award, the Lower Colorado Region's Water Conservation Field Service Program Award, was presented to town and water officials at a ceremony last week at Payson Town Hall. Carol Erwin, area manager of the Phoenix office of the Bureau of Reclamation, made the presentation.
"The Lower Colorado Region covers southern California, southern Nevada and the majority of Arizona," Erwin said, "so there were an awful lot of folks doing this water conservation stuff that went up against this town's efforts.
"We think this is an important program, and you're a leader in water conservation in rural Arizona. We see rural Arizona as really where the hardest issues are coming up because your water supply options are so limited, so this is kind of a model we'd like to see some other towns do."
While other communities in the Lower Colorado Region are able to redirect agricultural water to residential use, Erwin pointed out that Payson's limited water options make conservation extremely important.
"We know Payson relies solely on an aquifer for its water and that aquifer relies solely on rainwater for replenishment," she said. "The drought and population growth are making it hard right now to meet your peak water demand, and conservation is the best and cheapest option that you've got because new water supplies are limited."
The town passed and implemented a new water conservation ordinance last year that is one of the toughest in the nation, according to Public Works Director Buzz Walker. Instead of basing conservation stage levels on the amount of water in storage tanks as the previous ordinance did, the new ordinance ties them to "resource status levels" that incorporate weather conditions and historic data as well as storage reserves.
Under the new ordinance, water waste of any kind is prohibited, as are new turf areas, artificial water features such as ponds and lakes larger than 50 gallons, plants that require spray irrigation and the use of misters.
Erwin singled out the town's toilet replacement program for special praise. Through the program, which the Bureau of Reclamation helped to fund, a total of 700 high-water-use toilets have been replaced.
"The water department went after toilets as a way to conserve water and, really, toilets are probably the biggest water use inside the house," Erwin said. "Old, inefficient toilets that used five or six gallons a flush were replaced by toilets that use 1.6 gallons and that saves two-thirds of the water right there."
Through the toilet replacement program, selected applicants whose houses were constructed before 1991 received a free Toto low-flow toilet. A Japanese brand, Toto is considered the best toilet on the market, according to Jeff Durbin, town water resource specialist.
Erwin presented additional plaques to Walker, Durbin and Karen Probert, town water quality specialist. Walker was honored for his leadership, Durbin for the instrumental role he played in approaching the bureau about the toilet program, and Probert for directing the testing program that led to the selection of Toto toilets.
The town and the Bureau of Reclamation have worked together on a number of conservation-related projects beginning in 1997, including a program to replace toilet flappers, another for table tent cards in restaurants, the purchase of a computer video projector for conservation presentations, and the creation of Willy Water, the raindrop character who serves as the department mascot.
"Those partnerships were all successful and led to this larger partnership," Erwin said. "It's all about water conservation."
Walker thanked the bureau for its leadership in organizing the joint water study currently under way in the Rim country, and for its willingness to become involved in the Blue Ridge Reservoir issue.
Located atop the Mogollon Rim near Clint's Well, Blue Ridge was originally constructed by Phelps-Dodge. It is currently not being used, but is considered a major piece of the water puzzle in the area.
"That represents a big step up for Payson in the development of surface water sources," Walker said.