The Pine Water Company has been given a year of grace before a full moratorium on new hookups is imposed.
The Arizona Corporation Commission decided May 3 to give the company the time to find a new source or solution to the water problems faced by the residents in recent summers.
"We believe it is appropriate to place a two-new-residential-meters-per-month limit on an interim basis ... enabling all ... to discuss possible long-term solutions to the chronic water shortage issues ... A total moratorium on main extension agreements and commercial connections shall continue ...," wrote the ACC in its findings.
Among the long-term, permanent solutions suggested by the commission:
- Growth limits on Gila County development outside the Pine Water service area;
- Additional well sources;
- Additional storage capacity;
- Blue Ridge Reservoir pipeline;
- Central Arizona Project water trade with Salt River Project for Fossil Creek water;
- Deep drilling in the Coconino sandstone; and
- Any other permanent solutions suggested or developed by the stakeholders and government entities.
The company and staff were ordered to report recommendations on specific long-term solutions no later than Oct. 31, 2005.
The company must work with ACC staff, the Pine Strawberry Water Improvement District and other entities, according to Matt Derr in Commissioner Kris Mayes' office. Mayes held a hearing on the matter in Pine in January.
The January hearing provided an opportunity for residents of the area to offer testimony and opinions to both Mayes and Dwight Nodes, the ACC administrative law judge who issued a recommended order on the moratorium question in mid-April. A second, formal hearing, on the matter was held Feb. 14 in Phoenix.
The moratorium was initially proposed by ACC staff in a report made in Nov. 2004 on the Pine Water Company.
The report showed during peak usage, the water company has the capacity to serve only 555 connections. There were 1,752 accounts using water at the time of the test, plus an additional 240 accounts not using water.
The report was based on information gathered between Aug. 2002 and July 2004.
"The ACC decision was not surprising," said Myndi Brogdon, spokesperson for Pine Water. "As a regulated entity we will continue to operate under their direction.
We are pleased that Gila County took the opportunity to join the conversation. Finding, not implementing, a solution by April 30, 2006 may be possible as long as all the parties involved continue to work together as we have done these past five months. And while it is still too early to detail we have been party to discussions that can lead to solutions."
Most residents speaking at the Pine hearing suggested improving the company's reserve capacity was a better choice than a moratorium.
There is already a modified moratorium in place on hookups to the Pine Water Company's system. Action by the commission several years ago limited connections to 25 per month.
On average, there are only two or three hookups per month, according to Robert Hardcastle, president of Pine Water Company, which is owned by Brooke Utilities, Inc.
"A moratorium on Pine Water will not improve the water supply situation because the county and developers will continue to circumvent the commission's jurisdiction by forming districts," Hardcastle testified.
ACC staff said it is unlikely these separate districts will be formed because of the difficulty in obtaining certification from the Arizona Department of Water Resources that a 100-year drinking water supply is available.
Improving the company's reserve capacity -- either by refurbishing tanks or putting new ones in place -- would be a costly venture, according to Brogdon, in an earlier interview.
"Any solution to this problem will be costly and we have only 2,000 customers to spread the cost over," Brogdon said.
Hardcastle told the commission a pipeline for Blue Ridge water to Pine will cost between $10 and $15 million.
He said the company has approximately 900,000 gallons storage capacity, to add another 1 million gallons of storage would cost $1 million.
To create a reservoir for over-winter storage -- another means to improve reserves -- would probably run between $750,000 and $7 million, depending on size, location, a water treatment plant and delivery system, Hardcastle said.