The Arizona Corporation Commission's latest attempt to get private water companies under its jurisdiction to put more emphasis on conservation appears to be paying off.
Corporation Commissioner Kristin Mayes said that Robert Hardcastle, president of Brooke Utilities, has agreed to file restriction plans for all the Arizona communities it serves. In the Rim country they include Deer Creek, East Verde Park, Flowing Springs, Geronimo Estates, Mesa del Caballo, Pine, Star Valley, Strawberry, Tonto Basin and Whispering Pines.
"He came in my office and I said, ‘So, what are we going to do about these water companies,' and he agreed that he will come in and file curtailment tariffs. He's going to study his systems starting on Labor Day in order to determine what type of curtailment tariff will be appropriate for each one, and I think that's reasonable."
Curtailment tariffs establish specific water restriction measures and stages that will be implemented during times of water shortages. The commission began requiring tariffs after 1998, and only then when a utility comes before it for a rate increase case or another matter.
Hardcastle's visit to Mayes was in response to a letter recently sent to all water utilities by Ernest G. Johnson, director of the ACC Utilities Division. In it, Johnson "strongly suggests" that curtailment tariffs be filed "at this time."
"Having a curtailment tariff in place before an emergency occurs is critical and will allow the water utility to react more quickly and prevent circumstances from worsening," Johnson wrote.
According to Mayes, the message was hard to miss.
"This lays it out to private water companies," the commissioner said. "What we're saying is that you need to come in and file for a curtailment tariff, and you need to do it ASAP."
While not an official change in policy, Mayes says the letter does suggest a reordering of priorities.
Mayes promised to bring the issue of conservation before the commission.
The commissioner also indicated that she would encourage debate about the way the ACC structures its tariffs. The commission still uses the amount of water in storage tanks as the means of measurement, a method the town of Payson recently abandoned in favor of well levels and the previous year's rainfall.
Mayes suggested that the cost of generating such information might be shared among water companies in a given area.
"That points up the fact that we need more dialogue between the private water companies and the municipalities," she said "I can't see why Payson wouldn't be willing to share some of that data."
Mayes also praised the Gila County Board of Supervisors for recently passing a water conservation resolution that encourages residents to conserve and specifically requests that private water providers adopt formal water conservation guidelines for their customers.
So far, Hardcastle has not responded to the county resolution.
"We've had no response from Mr. Hardcastle at all in respect to water ... or any effort on his part to encourage or promote conservation," District 1 Supervisor Ron Christensen said.
Mayes said she hopes Hardcastle will submit the new tariffs in a timely manner.
"It's not binding, but he's given me his word, so I assume he will follow through," she said. "Hopefully, we will have that done by the end of October. I'm pleased that he agreed to do that."
Hardcastle did not respond to a request for comment.