Brooke Utilities' response to a request to take water conservation more seriously provoked sharp reactions from Arizona Corporation Commissioner Kristin Mayes and Gila County Supervisor Ron Christensen.
In the midst of a drought that could last 20 to 50 years, most of the smaller communities surrounding Payson -- the majority of which are served by the California-based utility -- are either at Conservation Stage 1 (unlimited use of water) or have no rating system at all.
The most notable exception is Pine, which Brooke placed under Stage 3 restrictions over the weekend.
Payson, meanwhile, has instituted a tough new water conservation ordinance and has placed the community under Stage 3 water restrictions that ban such activities as washing cars at home, filling wading pools, watering native plants and planting grass.
In his response to a letter from Mayes asking that curtailment tariffs delineating specific water conservation measures be instituted for all Arizona communities served by Brooke, President Robert Hardcastle said that "Brooke has closely worked with its customers to manage water supplies ... for a long time."
He also noted that "increased amounts of regulation are disfavored by those believing that informal cooperative efforts between ourselves is preferred."
It was not the response Mayes was hoping for.
"Obviously, his letter was totally inadequate, so I'll be meeting with him and impressing upon him the urgency of implementing curtailment plans in these systems," Mayes told the Roundup.
Christensen said Hardcastle's response was typical.
"That has been the company's response on water exploration (and) it's been the company's response on becoming a real partner in the water alliance -- the study we have with the Bureau of Reclamation and the town of Payson," Christensen said.
"We're just getting the same old jargon we usually get."
Both Mayes and Christensen emphasized the seriousness of the issue at a time when the Rim country's water supply is threatened by the drought.
"This is a serious issue for the Rim country as well as for the rest of Arizona, and we need to make sure that regulated utilities are doing their part," Mayes said. "Payson has done a yeoman's job of conserving water, and it's time that the utilities that we oversee do it as well."
"I would think if he really truly understands the drought situation which we've been in for nearly 10 years now, he would want to participate with all his companies he has divided up," Christensen said.
Mayes expects to meet with Hardcastle within the next two weeks.
"Hardcastle's lawyer said to me that he doesn't believe there's a need for all those systems to have a tariff," she said. "What we'll be saying to him is that we don't need to find a need. The curtailment tariffs need to go on every system regardless of where we are."
Mayes said the corporation commission is sending a letter to all private water companies in Arizona instructing them to file for curtailment tariffs.
The county, meanwhile, is pushing forward with a resolution calling on all residents to conserve water. Gila County Manager John Nelson expects to present a draft of that resolution to the board of supervisors June 22.
"I was looking for some way to put some teeth into it, but I'm finding no authority the county has to do that," Nelson said. "So it's probably going to be encouraging people to conserve water."
Nelson said the resolution also will direct Community Development Director Joe Mendoza to look at possible amendments to building codes that will encourage future water conservation.
Both the county and Brooke Utilities have responsibilities where water conservation is concerned, according to Christensen. He indicated that the county will continue to try to work with Hardcastle.
When asked to elaborate on his response to Mayes or on the subject of water conservation during the drought, Hardcastle said, "We were pleased to respond to Commissioner Mayes comments and questions and commend her for being proactive to the water situation in the Rim country."
Rim country communities serviced by Brooke Utilities include Deer Creek, East Verde Park, Flowing Springs, Geronimo Estates, Mesa del Caballo, Pine, Star Valley, Strawberry, Tonto Basin and Whispering Pines.