A new hydrology report commissioned by the Diamond Star Water Coalition sees a potential danger of "dewatering" the area if overpumping exceeds aquifer recharge.
The report is adding to critics' contention that Payson is putting Star Valley at risk.
"Over-pumping from one or a few wells will eventually lead to water declines in all wells located within (a triangular area encompassing most of Star Valley and Diamond Point Shadows, the two communities that comprise the Diamond Star area)," the study explained.
The conclusion contradicts town Public Works Director Buzz Walker's position that extraction of water from the area will have minimal, if any, impact on local wells. A chart included in the new study, taken from one of the town's own hydrology reports, indicates a water table drawdown of nearly 100 feet the first 10 years of pumping, with a drawdown of about 600 feet in 100 years.
Walker and town hydrologist Mike Ploughe issued a three-page statement Thursday refuting much of the Levine Fricke study prepared for the water coalition. In it, they say that the firm did not contact the town for either historical information or the latest hydro geological investigations.
"Although the Levine Fricke report was heavily editorial in tone (which is unusual), the technical conclusions of Levine Fricke indicate a serious lack of use of available geologic and hydro geologic information that was readily available," the town statement said.
The Diamond Star water controversy began in January when the town agreed to accept water from a well in Star Valley drilled by developer G. Michael Horton to meet water credit requirements for three subdivisions his Terra Capital Group is planning in Payson.
Fearing private wells in the Diamond Star area would be depleted, residents formed the coalition to oppose the town's action and to lead a petition drive to incorporate the area. The nonprofit group commissioned the hydrology report to counter charges from the town that it was misinformed and uneducated about water issues.
The report, prepared by hydro geologists Dr. Vit Kuhnel and Bradley Cross of LFR Levine Fricke, an environmental management and consulting engineering company with offices nationwide, also contradicts Walker's position that the water the town wants from Star Valley comes from a separate, deeper aquifer that private wells do not reach.
"Statements expressed by the town indicating that new town wells tap a deeper confined aquifer not in communication with local shallow private wells are unfounded and highly unlikely," the study concludes.
The new report also challenges Walker's contention that "deep groundwater in Star Valley is actually coming from the town of Payson corporate area." Although Payson is 250 feet higher than Star Valley, the report says that a drainage divide between the two keeps the groundwater separate.
But the new report notes that contamination of Diamond Star water from an old county landfill is not likely to occur "assuming the landfill remains capped to minimize the potential for leachate generation."
Walker talked of such contamination at a public meeting in the Payson High School auditorium in 2001, promising Star Valley residents that the town would not take its water,
"We don't want that," Walker said at that meeting. "We don't do that in Payson. We can't responsibly build a city on a water supply like that."
But Walker disavowed his remarks earlier this year when the town decided it needed Diamond Star water to fuel its growth, saying that the deeper aquifer the town would be drawing water from would not be affected by contaminants.
In their statement, Walker and Ploughe also made the following points:
- The Levine Fricke report assumes a worst-case scenario -- around-the-clock pumping for 100 years. But pumping is likely to be less than eight hours a day.
- "Groundwater does indeed flow from the northeastern side of Payson into Star Valley" contributing to the groundwater resources of the Star Valley area.
- "The coalition may not have informed Levine Fricke of the fact that we are pursuing an independent safe yield study" of the Diamond Star area.
- There is, in fact, a deeper aquifer system. "The shallower portion of the aquifer is simply a bubble of younger water that leaks into the deeper regional system. The degree of interconnection of the upper and lower portions is variable."
- The fact that the Levine Fricke study reports that "the town's concerns of seven years ago" regarding potential contamination of the Star Valley area are unfounded is "great news."
- The Levine Fricke report states that pump tests on the RH-2 well where the water is coming from that will be piped to Payson, indicate minimal water level declines in two nearby wells. "Again, this is great news."
Kuhnel questioned several of the statements made by Walker and Ploughe, especially the "bubble of younger water."
"Groundwater does not occur in bubbles," Kuhnel said.
Mayor Barbara Brewer and Vice Mayor Judy Buettner, both of whom voted for the extraction of water from the Diamond Star area, did not respond by press time to telephone messages seeking their comments on the new study. Councilor Robert Henley, who also favors taking water from Star Valley, declined to comment.
But Councilor Dick Reese, who opposes the use of Diamond Star water to support Payson's growth, did.
"A couple of things (in the new study) concern me very much," Reese said. "Nineteen hundred registered voters in the town joined, in a sense, by approximately 900 residents of the Diamond Star area -- we're talking approximately 2,800 human beings -- are saying, ‘Don't do this,' and Dick Reese's view is ‘We shouldn't.'"
Coalition President Bill Rappaport said that the new hydrology report reinforces the concerns of Diamond Star residents.
"(Walker) is not telling the whole story," Rappaport said. "(The town) told us to get educated. We are not dumb people, and we got educated."
Chris Benjamin, a member of the coalition steering committee, said that town council should have conducted its own investigation.
"It's unfortunate (Walker's) council and the mayor didn't decide to get educated also," Benjamin said. "They put us in a position we never wanted to be in."
A second group of Payson residents opposed to the town's action, the Committee for Community-Based Growth, recently submitted petitions bearing the signatures of over 1,900 Payson voters requesting that the council decision to pay $750,000 for Star Valley water be put to a vote of town residents. The committee believes that blocking that resolution also blocks Horton from piping water to town.
Bob Edwards, chairperson of the Payson committee, noted that all the technical jargon in both the report and the town's rebuttal make it hard for the average person to sort out the truth.
"I'm not a hydrologist, and obviously it's not written in a language I speak, but it appears that while contamination is not a problem, dewatering is," Edwards said. "My engineering mind says the report is written logically and not just blowing smoke, and sometimes when the town talks I don't have that same comfort level."
The Diamond Star Water Coalition intends to submit incorporation petitions with 900 signatures to Gila County officials today (Friday). The Committee for Community-Based Growth is considering launching a recall of several council members depending on that body's reaction to the new study. The committee is also seeking candidates to run for council in the March election.
For the complete text of the Levine Fricke study, go to diamondstarwater.org.