Buzz Walker Interview On Star Valley Wells

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Here is the complete text of Roundup Reporter Jim Keyworth's interview with Payson Public Works Director Buzz Walker. Keyworth's questions and comments are in caps, Walker's responses in upper and lower case.

DIDN'T YOU WANT TO BE THERE (AT THE COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS' MEETING LAST WEEK) TO DEFEND YOURSELF?

No, no, we made a decision in a council meeting. When we first heard about this meeting on the 5th and that was (via) an agenda that came, I responded on the 7th and said, no, we don't conduct the town's business (that way) ... nobody acknowledged (my response) ... there it is right there. (Shows his e-mail.)

Then I didn't hear anything until last Friday. They (still) hadn't changed the agenda.

We said if you want to change the agenda and do what we previously agreed on, we'll show up.

So (town hydrologist) Mike Ploughe called (county water advisor) Harry Jones and said you didn't change the agenda, (so) we're not coming. We're not going to go get in a fight with these people and get them stirred up when nothing good can come from it. (District 1 supervisor) Tommie (Martin) was on the radio Monday morning and she said, I don't think the town is going to be at the meeting. I heard her say it on KMOG. So they knew it, and they knew why -- because we don't conduct town business under the county board of supervisors. It's just a basic premise, and we don't see any good that can come from it, because we have learned from the Forest Service where we had more hearings (on drilling wells in Mayfield Canyon than what were required. It didn't do any good. It just gives somebody an opportunity to beat up on town staff. We don't like hostile workplaces for our employees, so if we know nothing good can come from it, we're not going to show up, and it wasn't just me, it was (town manager) Fred (Carpenter) also -- it's just nothing good can come of it, and they were told specifically, and I generally don't leave much doubt when I say something.

It upset us when I talked to Harry Jones. We talk to Harry pretty often. He's doing a pretty good job representing the county in water management, but I don't know what they thought intervention was going to do. I mean, they wouldn't be very happy if we started conducting town council meetings on decisions they made in Globe about some county matter.

ALTHOUGH (THE TOWN HAS CONVENED) AN EXECUTIVE SESSION TONIGHT ABOUT THE COUNTY COMMUNITY COLLEGE ISSUE, SO THEY ARE DOING THAT TO LOOK AT THEIR OPTIONS...

I don't know why they're convening it. I don't get involved with the college in that respect. Maybe something good can come out of the college meeting. Nothing good can come out of this.

It was that simple. We'll talk to anybody any time, but we just won't put people in harm's way, and the Forest Service has such an extensive public participation process that we've had numerous opportunities to see that you just don't get accurate information from the other side.

It is just a forum, and they've had enough forums. They got to talk way longer than I would have let them talk at the town council meeting. I think we bent over backwards, and we should've been upset over the deceit that was perpetrated in that meeting.

They wanted to talk about incorporation, but they really wanted to talk about water, but they really didn't want to talk about incorporation because they wanted to incorporate themselves, but wanted to be refused by the town. There was nothing honest about that whole presentation.

DID YOU HEAR THAT ON TUESDAY (AT THE BOARD OF SUPERVISORS MEETING) THEY USED A VIDEO CLIP OF MIKE PLOUGHE RESPONDING TO (COUNCILOR) DICK REESE'S QUESTION ABOUT WHETHER IT'S THE SAME WATER OR NOT, YOU KNOW, WHETHER THE WATER AT THE TWO LEVELS ARE THE SAME, AND MIKE SAID, YEAH, IT'S REALLY THE SAME WATER?

No.

WAS MIKE RESPONDING TO SOMETHING DIFFERENT?

I don't know and I don't understand the context here, but it doesn't make any difference. We have a technical report. That's what talks. If I said the water was red out there and the technical report said it was clear, it's the report that rules. So we think there is a certain amount of water that nature runs through the fractured system out there, not the sand and gravel, the fractured system, that will more than support what the developer wants to send out of there

WITHOUT IMPACTING THE STAR VALLEY WELLS?

Right, well yeah, because they're not pulling out of the fractured bedrock. They're pulling out of the sand and gravel. Check the 70 well records out there. They're all like 250 feet or less, but the new developers wells are like 700 to 900 feet.

WHAT ABOUT (COALITION MEMBER) CHRIS BENJAMIN'S STATEMENT THAT HIS WELLS WENT DOWN WHEN THE TESTS WERE RUN?

So ... that would be common. But then what happened when they turned the test off? I'll bet the level right now is higher than it was when they did the test. It doesn't mean anything. We operate 40 wells in town and there's probably 300 private wells. How come they're not all dry?

You can impact anybody. Private people can impact the town. Developers can impact the town and private people. But when does it become negative? So you pull a well down two feet. There's still 200 feet of water over the pump. If you pull it down 190 feet, there's still 10 feet of water over the pump. You haven't hurt anybody.

They're just people who don't understand. How many years have they had to get professional help -- legal and technical -- yet they still don't do it. They keep repeating the same old mantra.

And we don't operate on ignorance and fear and if that's the way some of the people want to stoke up their neighbors out there, that's fine because they've got to live with each other. But why would we make decisions based on the ignorance and fear that these people state in public. It's not very responsible.

SO THE TECHNICAL STUDY THAT YOU GUYS ARE BASING THIS ALL ON WAS ONE THAT WAS CONDUCTED BY THE DEVELOPER?

Sure, they were required to.

COULD WE GET A COPY OF THAT?

Sure, sure.

BECAUSE I'D LIKE TO DO AN IN-DEPTH STORY ON THAT FROM THAT ANGLE AND QUOTE FROM THAT REPORT...

It's the same logic that we apply everywhere. Why would we go out and dry the place up, because we're drying our wells up at the same time. That's the whole concept of safe yield: you don't take more out than nature puts in. It's that simple, and nobody but nobody else does that.

We came out with that annual water report that shows us probably the most responsible water manager in the state of Arizona. Well if anybody is going to come into my back yard, that's probably the guy I'd want to come in, not the developer or a private entity or something like that.

And the bottom line is the pipe that comes into town also takes water out of town, so if we had potential recharge sites in Star Valley and our wells in Star Valley were being impacted, that is a target for recharge. So any of the excess water we had from Blue Ridge we would recharge any areas that need water. I mean, that's the whole scheme we think of.

And if they eventually do pollute their water, which is another thing they said that isn't true -- about all the nitrates out there -- we checked it for compliance status of a public water system and the other biggest water company out there, which is one of the trailer parks, doesn't have any nitrate problems, so where did they get this information.

AREN'T THEY SAYING (THEIR WATER WILL BE CONTAMINATED) IF EXCESSIVE WATER IS DRAWN OUT OF THE AREA?

Based on what?

THAT ADEQ STUDY.

No, do you know what that means? Do you know what a vulnerable aquifer is?

NO.

It's an aquifer with porous soil. It's shallow groundwater, so if you pee on top of it, or you dump chemicals on top of it like happened at the dry cleaners, it will go through porous soil and may reach a shallow water table -- that's it. So all they said when they say you have a vulnerable aquifer is that you have porous soil and a shallow water table. It's a very unremarkable statement. Payson's whole thing is designated as that -- the whole town is, because we have porous soil. Very unremarkable.

SO BECAUSE YOU'RE DRAWING FROM DEEPER, YOU'RE SAYING IT WOULD NOT AFFECT THE SHALLOW WATER GETTING CONTAMINANTS?

Sure. I mean, when you make statements about contaminant transport and geology in a soil environment you need to know what you're talking about. Where was the knowledge to make that statement. I mean the state of Arizona spent $2 million trying to understand in a half a square mile area how a contaminant moves just down there in that QWARF site (contaminated by dry cleaning chemicals). They got a volume of books that high on it, and still didn't get it right, because they missed the fact that some of the contaminants -- the dense non- aqueous-phased liquids -- would go down quicker than the water would and they would find a fracture in the bedrock and they would take off. So they missed it and they spent $2 million, so they got a million people looking at a little bit here and they couldn't figure it out perfect.

So where is the expertise to make all of these bold, declarative statements. (laughs) They ain't got it.

We're not naive. If it does get contaminated, we wouldn't want a vulnerable well. I don't operate vulnerable wells. I just abandoned one out in Payson Air Park a month ago. This is surrounded by septic tanks. I hadn't used it in 26 years, but I just said the heck with it. I just abandoned it and filled it up with cement.

So we're the experts. We're not about to get ourselves in trouble, and we don't want to create problems for anybody else. But if people want to have a dialog they need to get smart, and I don't see anybody out there trying to get smart. You know this representation by a man that lives out there, and I think he said he's a retired well driller, that the Star Valley geology was the result of glacier activity?

I DIDN'T HEAR THAT ONE.

We did, but you just open a history book or geology book or anything and find out glaciers never came this far south. It's just everything is like that, and you don't win giving people the expectation that somehow they're going to change a decision that's been made by giving you ignorance and fear. That's a poor way to run a government -- terrible way.

I WOULD THINK IF YOU HAD TOLD THEM AT THAT MEETING WHAT YOU JUST TOLD ME THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN VERY EFFECTIVE...

Nobody asked.

IF YOU'D GONE TO THE MEETING AND SAID, LET ME TELL YOU THE WAY IT IS?

No, they had an expectation that they had a referee up there called the county board of supervisors and they were somehow going to fix things. They're not going to fix things. They can't reverse a council decision. And the times we have said things nobody wants to listen.

ON DRILLING IN THE FOREST, YOU MEAN?

Wouldn't it be logical if you are concerned about water being produced from the Star Valley area, wouldn't you rather it was the farthest away from the Star Valley area? (Then you wouldn't have to say:) "Gee, I wish I'd helped payson get out there and I wouldn't have raised such a ruckus, because where we failed, private enterprise has another way of doing things." And I would almost guess that if we had been out there -- the first one or two wells were the most likely prospects we were going after -- we'd have had an answer in a new direction. But we never got the opportunity because those people stifled it. This thing (drilling in the forest) has been held back on social issues, not environmental issues.

IS IT TRUE THAT THE FOREST SERVICE PROJECT HAS PRETTY MUCH BEEN PUT ON HOLD BECAUSE OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS?

No, it's just a very slow process.

SO (THE WELLS IN STAR VALLEY AREN'T) A SUBSTITUTE FOR THAT? THIS ISN'T AN EASIER WAY TO GET THAT WATER THAT YOU BELIEVE IS DOWN LOWER?

It's not either way. It's a legal option the developer had. We limit the size of his development, which is a moratorium, based on the shortage of water in the future, and then we're supposed to refuse the remedy? Can you imagine the lawsuit that would come up from that. I handed the guys the fix, and then all this big moral talk and we're supposed to ignore law and science and everything else and say we don't want that? If you don't like it sue us? Our hands were tied on that.

HAS THE TOWN CONSIDERED AT ALL TIEING THE SYSTEMS ALL TOGETHER? IN OTHER WORDS, WHEN BLUE RIDGE WATER COMES, TAKING THE ALLOCATION THAT WOULD GO TO STAR VALLEY AND THEN HELPING TO PROVIDE THAT WATER TO THEM?

Absolutely, we're studying that right now. If we're concerned about water management in northern Gila County, you're talking about Pine-Strawberry and Payson-Star Valley. That's over 90 percent of the use in northern Gila County. Well, if Payson is going to build a pipeline and treatment plant, anyone adjacent to Payson is an obvious candidate for utilizing this surface water.

SO THAT'S AN OPTION YOU'RE WILLING TO CONSIDER OR YOU ARE CONSIDERING?

We are considering. That's why the developer is putting in a 12-inch pipeline rather than the required 8-inch pipeline, because we're considering a two-way flow. No matter what pipe you put in it goes two ways, but we're anticipating delivering domestic water service out there, whether it's an agreement with a private water company, an agreement with an incorporated town of Star Valley, or an agreement with an area incorporated into the town of Payson. We just figured all the scenarios, so we upsized the pipeline to deliver fireflow.

TOMMIE MARTIN AT THE MEETING SAID SHE WOULD LIKE TO SEE A TWO-WAY PIPELINE. THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT IT'S GOING TO BE THEN?

They're all two-way. We do it every day. We pump water out of those tanks and then they empty and go back to the homes. So we've thought about that, and if they ever do foul their own aquifer and their own wells because they will not get together and put a sewer out there, well who's the solution then? The town of Payson, with its surface water, its treatment plant and its pipeline.

That's the good news. Now they've got an option if they have a breakdown in the water system out there and need some temporary water service from the town. For all these years you didn't have that; now that can be a possibility. But it's not going to happen with somebody throwing hatchets at us. It's like the old W.C. Fields movie -- first you insult me, and then you ask my advice on matters of business. That's the best line he ever said.

And now the county has the opportunity to decide on the use of 500 acre feet of Blue Ridge Reservoir and maybe more, so if the county wants to take an active role, all they've got to do is pick up the phone and say, if you'll transport it in your pipeline, maybe we could assign some of that use to Brooke Utilities in Star Valley.

It doesn't matter what Payson does with wells, or what Brooke does, or what the private people do. The solutions are there. These are great opportunities. But nobody wants to say anything about it. I shouldn't have to think of all this. Other people hold themselves out as experts. Why aren't they thinking of this.

BUT ISN'T THAT WHAT THE COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS WAS TRYING TO DO -- GET EVERYBODY TO THE TABLE AND TRY AND FIND A SOLUTION?

Which is what we agreed to talk about; we did not agree to argue about the town council's decision. They specifically spurned that request.

YOU'RE SAYING IT'S A REAL POSSIBILITY TO TAKE ALL THAT 3,500 ACRE FEET OF WATER FROM BLUE RIDGE INTO PAYSON AND YOU WOULD BE WILLING TO WORK ON A WAY TO DISTRIBUTE IT?

Sure! We're going to distribute it all over anyway. We're going to distribute it, hopefully, to the Tonto Apache Tribe. I don't think you'll ever see them get their own pipeline laid alongside ours from Blue Ridge and their own treatment plant. You just put it in our system, we wheel it down to them, and it's done.

SO YOU COULD CREATE A REGIONAL WATER SYSTEM? THAT'S LEGAL AND YOU COULD DO THAT?

Sure.

AND YOU'RE WILLING TO DO THAT -- TO TALK ABOUT IT?

Sure. We have already talked about it.

WHY WON'T THE COUNTY ACKNOWLEDGE IT?

I don't know why. Ask Harry Jones. He's talked about it. He knows what we're thinking.

SO YOU SEE THIS TUESDAY MEETING AS KIND OF A POLITICAL THING?

Absolutely. No I don't want to say it's political because the Board of Supervisors didn't want to go through the anguish anymore than we do. But what does it say that nobody says they knew about (the town's decision not to participate). It's almost three weeks before the meeting. And Tommie knew that. And I'm not criticizing Tommie, because she's new and these are complex matters. It's just not nice for them to step into it. And she can be part of the solution.

WHAT WOULD YOU SUGGEST THAT SHE DO -- THE BOARD DO -- PICK UP THE PHONE AND CALL YOU?

That would probably be too easy. If you've got a question, call. Same thing that you do. That's the best thing anybody can do. And if they don't understand then and they need to see a picture, then we take the slide show and show them a picture.

SO WHAT YOU'RE SAYING TO THESE STAR VALLEY PEOPLE WHO ARE UPSET IS THAT THERE'S NO WAY THEY'RE NOT GOING TO HAVE WATER -- THAT THERE ARE REGIONAL SOLUTIONS?

Sure.

THAT WILL PROTECT THEM?

Sure. And the position their elected representatives and their legal water supplier should take if they're worried about the future of the water supply, they ought to be doing what Payson's doing. Rather than criticize Payson, who is ultimately going to be the fix for any problems they have, they need to get on board.

ISN'T THE COUNTY TRYING TO GET LEGAL OPINIONS ON WHETHER THEY CAN CREATE WATER AUTHORITIES?

So what. Can they force Brooke Utilities to buy water from them? I asked this question three years ago and it hasn't been answered yet. So the county has a tough row to hoe in figuring out can they legally get the business, can they establish a water right with multiple points of use.

That's something they've got to solve and their time is probably better spent figuring out what their role is going to be rather than trying to reverse the decision of the town council.

BUT YOU CAN SELL WATER TO THE OUTLYING COMMUNITIES WITHOUT THEM HAVING TO GET ALL THOSE PERMISSIONS AND CHANGING LAWS?

Sure, because we have groundwater. We could use the surface water in town and export groundwater.

YOU COULD SELL WATER TO THE STAR VALLEY RESIDENTS?

Sure, you can have out-of-town contracts. But with Brooke Utilities they have a good water supply out there. I was with Bob Hardcastle for three hours yesterday, and he never said a word about Star Valley. So the one who stands to gain or lose the most apparently doesn't have a problem with it. But he's an educated man. It's the people outside of any level of technical or legal sophistication. They're just operating on fear.

IS THERE ANY TALK ABOUT THE PEOPLE OF PINE AND STRAWBERRY GETTING BLUE RIDGE WATER?

Oh yeah.

IS THAT WHAT YOU WERE TALKING TO HARDCASTLE ABOUT?

Right. And we have applied for a grant to determine the cost of getting water to Pine and Strawberry as well as the town of Payson. Not only what it's going to cost but how that area would retire the debt. And we're looking at other areas. So we're looking out for everybody. Here's what it's going to cost you.

I mean, they're not doing for it themselves. Somebody has to think about these regional issues and get the perspective, and I'm not real happy about being roundly criticized for doing so.

We're trying to run most of this through the Bureau of Reclamation study because once we run it through there and all the options shake out we can go to the next step of getting money to do further studies.

Nobody is sneaking anything by anybody, because our actions are all public. And mainly the things that are going to be happening in the future are going to be the result of this (BOR) study.

People, in spite of that, need to be a lot less parochial. We certainly are. The biggest thing we explained to the Pine-Strawberry representative is why would Payson even be doing this. I just explained that it doesn't do us any good in a statewide arena or in a political arena looking for additional water supply if the neighborhood's in turmoil.

If the Forest Service and the federal agencies read that everybody is going to try and do the simple thing and just go look for groundwater in the forest and they don't see anything more comprehensive being looked at, if they don't have a comfort level with what one entity is doing, they're not going to have a comfort level with six entities.

SO THE BOTTOM LINE IS THAT THE STAR VALLEY PEOPLE SHOULD JUST RELAX BECAUSE OF THE BIG PICTURE?

Yeah, because if anyone gets into trouble, the delivery of a new water supply into the region will come via the town of Payson, and the county is free to make that happen. I would say they control that. If there isn't enough water for, say, Pine and Strawberry, the county is free to develop an agreement with Salt River Project to acquire replacement water in the Valley for the project and then take additional water out here for any areas that feel they're getting the short shrift. That's the role I always saw the county as playing, but it's not as straightforward as Payson's role.

I just think it's a positive thing. I don't see a lot of negatives. It's what's the big picture? How is this going to pan out? What's the end game here?

We do so much stuff in so much detail that it would either just bore the tears out of people, or they just wouldn't understand it. Or they'd try some way to twist it.

(Drilling next to another well) is nothing we haven't done in Payson. You can ask people in town. I'll plop a well next to their property. I've done it all over town.

It's the same thing we're doing in the forest. If we identify an additional water supply, how is that bad for anybody? How is defining the resources on a public land a bad thing?

They can't have a learned argument without being learned.

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