County To Adopt Water Conservation Guidelines

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Both Gila County and the Arizona Corporation Commission are taking steps to bring smaller Rim country communities in line with the water conservation measures imposed by the town of Payson.

Ron Christensen, Gila County supervisor for District 1, asked County Manager John Nelson to draft a resolution calling on all Gila County residents to conserve water.

"I fully support the concept of water conservation, and we're going to take this up with John Nelson and my counterparts, Cruz Salas and Joe Sanchez," Christensen said. "I think it's very important that we keep the public well aware of what our problems are, not just here in Gila County, but in Maricopa County as well, because that's where we get a large influx every weekend."

The action was triggered by a story in the May 18 Payson Roundup revealing that despite a major drought, all Rim country communities except Payson are either at Stage 1 (unlimited use of water) or have no rating system at all. California-based Brooke Utilities provides water to many of those communities, including Deer Creek, East Verde Estates, Flowing Springs, Geronimo Estates, Mesa del Caballo, Pine, Star Valley, Strawberry, Tonto Basin and Whispering Pines.

Christensen said education will be the main emphasis of the resolution.

Meanwhile, Arizona Corporation Commissioner Kristin Mayes kept her promise to request that Brooke President Robert Hardcastle address the issue. In a letter to Hardcastle dated May 19, the day after she talked to the Roundup about the matter, Mayes noted that Pine is the only Rim country community served by Brooke Utilities that has a curtailment plan tariff (CPT) in place.

"This is true even though many, if not all, of Brooke Utilities water companies serve in rural, water-short areas," Mayes wrote to Hardcastle. "It is because of this that I respectfully request that Brooke Utilities submit, for commission review and approval, CPT applications for all its water systems."

Christensen also called on Hardcastle to initiate conservation measures.

"I think it's vitally important on his part as a responsible owner of a number of private water companies within the county to be talking and sending out information to his customers for the conservation of water," he said. "I just think it's prudent on his part. He should at least be asking for the cooperation of his customers, saying these are the ways you can conserve water. It doesn't have to be identical, but it should be similar to what Payson has done."

While Christensen said he understands Hardcastle's need to make a profit, it shouldn't come before the public good.

Christensen also was critical of the ACC's policies and procedures.

"I know we're talking about a private water provider and the commission does have oversight on those," he said. "I think they have kind of a convoluted system of dealing with these issues, that they only can hear this during a rate increase and that sort of thing. We just went through rate increase hearings with Mr. Hardcastle --Brooke Utilities -- for Pine, and every time we've asked the people to voluntarily conserve in areas because of the shortages that exist, they have done so, and I think they've done remarkably well, particularly in the Strawberry-Pine area."

Christensen said he just returned from meetings with federal officials in Sacramento where the seriousness of the drought was emphasized.

"I'm pretty well convinced from the maps that I have seen from the USGS and everybody that we're into this drought cycle for quite some time to come -- maybe another 20 years, and I think we're going to have to deal with it in the most responsible way we can," he said.

Hardcastle was unavailable for comment.

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