Although water from the Blue Ridge Reservoir could one day alleviate shortages in northern Gila County, new District One Supervisor Tommie Martin called on residents to develop "a different relationship with water."
"We need to learn how to inhabit and not just reside," she said. "I don't want (Blue Ridge) water here just so that we can develop willy-nilly and use it all up, nor am I wanting to necessarily save it so the people in Phoenix can willy-nilly use it all up."
Recent federal legislation allowing the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to take ownership of the reservoir cleared the way for Salt River Project to supply water to northern Gila County. If all goes as expected, the Town of Payson will eventually receive 3,000 acre-feet per year from Blue Ridge, with northern Gila County receiving 500 acre-feet.
Estimates of the total annual yield of the reservoir, built by Phelps Dodge and completed in 1962 to provide water for its mining operations, vary from 8,000 to 10,000 acre-feet. The balance would go to communities in the Valley.
Martin said people need to understand the real value of water, a lesson she learned as a little girl.
"I grew up packing water in buckets," she said, "so I deal with water in probably a way that 99 percent of us don't. When you have to make 5 gallons of water that you had to pack go as far as possible, it just gives you a different relationship with water."
Martin believes rainwater harvesting needs to play a bigger role in Gila County than it currently does.
"Why in the world do we insist on using drinking water to flush toilets, wash cars, mop floors, clean walls," she said. "Why don't we have an ethic that our houses harvest water and we use that water for those kinds of things.
"We get 2 feet of moisture up here. Two feet of moisture on a roof is one (heck) of a lot of water."
Martin promised to talk to Brooke Utilities, a major supplier of water to many communities in northern Gila County, President Robert Hardcastle to encourage his customers to develop a conservation ethic. She also said the county will get involved in educating residents if need be.
"If it requires the county to take a leadership role in that, the county needs to do that," she said. "If we need to partner up with the town, which has gone a long way in that direction, then we need to partner up."
Martin also insisted that all of northern Gila County shares in the allocation of Blue Ridge water despite the logistics involved.
"It ought to be easy to get (Blue Ridge water) to Payson and beyond in a downhill flow, but I don't know physically how we will get it to Pine and Tonto Village and those parts of the world at a cost they could even begin to afford," she said.
Steve Besich, deputy county manager, said the county is currently exploring all its options regarding Blue Ridge water.
"At the county level we have some concerns about what the intent and clear meaning of the law is, and also some concerns about what the county's authority really is when it comes to water issues," Besich said. "We will be exploring some of those options in the very near future."
He agreed that Pine, Christopher Creek and other communities not in line to receive Blue Ridge water along a pipeline to Payson are going to be a difficult challenge.
"Getting water to, say, Pine-Strawberry could be very difficult and very, very expensive," he said. "Nobody wants $30 a gallon water, and if that is what it costs it's not feasible."
Like Martin, Besich hoped there will be other options.
"Will there be opportunities or authorization to trade or sell or develop other options with other purveyors that will benefit the folks in that region?" he asked.
The county has held several meetings with the town of Payson on the subject, and Payson Public Works Director Buzz Walker sympathizes.
"They have fundamental questions they need to answer for themselves," Walker said. "They want to determine if they have the authority to contract for water, if they contract for water what they will do with it, and can they compel the public water provider in those outlying communities to buy it from them?"