Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano praised Payson's conservation measures, but called the water problems faced by rural communities "a tough nut to crack."
"In Arizona, we need to have a culture of conservation and Payson is obviously leading the way," Napolitano said in an interview with the Roundup Tuesday.
The first-term governor indicated that efforts are under way to create such a culture statewide.
"The Department of Water Resources only has jurisdiction over the water providers; it doesn't mandate water usage," she said. "So we're doing a campaign with local communities to encourage people to conserve water. It's just a healthier way to live, really."
While she acknowledged the fact that Salt River Project's control of the watershed in the Rim country is an issue, Napolitano blamed much of rural Arizona's water woes on its lack of access to Central Arizona Project (CAP) water.
"In Arizona, we really have two different kinds of water economies -- one is the communities that have access to the CAP and the other is those that don't," she said. "You don't have CAP water; the Valley has CAP water. That makes a lot of difference."
While there are no easy answers, the governor promised to continue working on the problem.
"I can't sit here today and say we have a silver bullet for you -- we don't," she said. "But we can say we are looking at it and working on it and working with rural communities on their water problems."
Napolitano has formed a drought task force that is developing both short and long-term water strategies.
"Most communities have water for the short term," she said. "The question is long term -- 12 years from now, 15 years from now, 20 years from now -- and that requires thinking about new technologies that can be used, new methods of conservation that could be employed. In other words, thinking outside the traditional water box."
Climatologists at the University of Arizona are now predicting a 30-year drought, the governor said.
"This is year six or year seven, depending on when you start measuring," she said.
A trip to Springerville Monday brought the drought dramatically home to Napolitano.
"I was up there talking to folks about the Three Forks Fire, which is now fortunately contained," she said. "But last week at this time we were concerned about having to evacuate Nutrioso and some other communities and that we could be looking at a real mega-fire. We got lucky in a couple of respects, but it is so dry up there right now that any little spark could set off a fire."
Napolitano emphasized the need for extreme caution.
"Everybody is a steward of these forests, particularly people who live in them," she said. "You have to be almost as careful as if you're in a china shop right now."
The governor also promised to visit Payson soon for a firsthand look at the drought's impact on the Rim country.
In the meantime, she hopes that a bill she recently signed into law will begin to make a difference.
"It creates a tax incentive for businesses to come in and clear out the dead material, which is something that's sorely needed up in your area," she said.