Reservoir In Bureaucratic Holding Pattern

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The C.C. Cragin Reservoir, formerly known as Blue Ridge, continues to go forward, said Public Works Director Buzz Walker.

It's moving, but not fast, and with several federal and state agencies now involved, the Town of Payson must wait for the bureaucracy to run its course.

"Patience, preparedness and reality come next," said Walker at a special Payson Town Council meeting April 6. "We're

not driving this process 100 percent. I don't know how long it's going to take, but we're working on that now."

Walker briefed the town council and an audience of a dozen people -- a few council candidates, some residents and a couple town employees -- on the progress, and history, of the C.C. Cragin Reservoir.

Although Payson is slated to receive 3,000 acre-feet of C.C. Cragin's surface water, nothing is concrete, said Walker.

The Arizona Water Settlement Act of 2004 doused long-standing water rights disputes among American Indian nations involving C.C. Cragin water. The legislation also dissolved state and federal wranglings over what agency would pay for the Central Arizona Project.

That law allowed for the Phelps Dodge Corporation to sell the infrastructure and water rights of C.C. Cragin to the Salt River Project.

According to Walker, SRP has not yet obtained those water rights from Phelps Dodge, and when that does happen, the transfer could take up to 400 days.

Once SRP acquires those rights, a whole other dimension of bureaucracy begins.

SRP must comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, a process that chronicles the environmental impacts of the pipeline, the related water treatment plant and auxiliary facilities, including offshoot waterways to communities such as Payson.

The Forest Service requires entities to submit permit requests as well -- a process that the Environmental Protection Agency estimates could take up to a year.

As federal, state and enterprise negotiations drag, local momentum stalls.

Meanwhile, in the absence of a formal transfer between SRP and Phelps Dodge, the town can only do so much -- call it planning to plan.

When the transfer is final, the Town of Payson begins its own environmental, engineering, financial and planning studies, its own permit submissions and land acquisitions, and its own water delivery agreements and water rights negotiations with SRP.

"The meetings we have had to date with every regulatory agency have been very amicable," Walker said. "Everyone is trying to make this happen."

Beyond his report on the progress of C.C. Cragin, Walker also presented the water department's preliminary capital budget and the funds available to the town from Central Arizona Project Trust Fund.

SCADA -- Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition -- the electronically controlled network of computers, radio signals and sensors that monitor Payson's water supply receives $75,000, the largest chunk.

"We're building onto the original system," Walker said.

Other budget items include:

  • The extension of existing lines and installing new mains: $100,000
  • Well improvements: $50,000
  • Well pumps: $25,000
  • Membrane Pilot Study -- a program that considers different types of technology for dealing with C.C. Cragin water: $5,000

The Central Arizona Project Trust Fund holds money in an account for municipal water projects.

The funds, according to Walker, must be audited and approved before being released.

Trust fund reserve allocations include:

  • The water department seeks to conduct forest exploration for backup water sources in case C.C. Cragin falls through: $300,000
  • Money is set aside to fund worthwhile environmental projects, but it could be used toward C.C. Cragin: $325,000
  • Consulting fees, including legal, engineering and feasibility fees, related to the C.C. Cragin project: $200,000.

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