Payson does have a water problem -- end of discussion, said water task force chairman, Lynn Godfrey, at a special Payson Town Council meeting Thursday.
That's what the data shows. But the best solution to the problem changes, depending on even a small adjustment in the numbers.
"Many people want to view the world with facts," Godfrey said. "The problem is, the world will never give you all the answers."
Godfrey demonstrated the complexity and ambiguity of finding solutions to Payson's water issues with an interactive Excel spreadsheet developed by the water task force.
With a few strokes of the keyboard, Godfrey plugged in different variables such as dates and costs, and immediately, a different bottom line appeared.
"That number is in today's dollars," Godfrey said.
It's called the "net present value" and, whether or not they use that term, it's the thing on everybody's mind.
The database has its limitations. The numbers, he said, are just educated guesses until two factors are defined by the town council: The rate of population growth and build out.
"Those two variables have to be right," Godfrey said. "We're on hold until we get those numbers."
The task force presentation demonstrated three scenarios, two of which assumed that the 250-unit per year building limit proposed as part of the mayor's 17-part plan had been passed. Those options included: Halting development, building up to the proposed 250-unit without securing a new water source, and honoring the 250 limit and activating the Tower Well.
Godfrey said the town's water use is already verging on safe yield -- the point at which input equals output. If development froze at its current rate, Payson's water supply, theoretically, could last indefinitely. But, according to the database, if growth continues at 250 units a year, and production exceeds safe yield, the town's wells could dry up in 20 years.
That's where the Tower Well comes in. According to conservative estimates, Godfrey said 1,500 gallons per minute could be pumped out of the Star Valley well and still maintain safe yield. The town's 2,500 people are using a fraction of that amount.
Although wrought with controversy, the Tower Well in Star Valley could provide a cushion in the event of safe-yield overdraft, buying time for Payson to explore and implement three other options: effluent, national forest drilling and the Blue Ridge Reservoir.
The team of engineers, scientists and mathematicians who make up the mayor's water task force derived a numeric matrix that lets the end user cross reference financing, scheduling and safe yield to estimate the net present value of political decisions.
The Northern Gila County Sanitary District controls effluent, also known as wastewater. It's considered a quick, abundant fix, yielding 700 acre feet a year. Effluent has at least two drawbacks -- treatment is expensive and rights are adjudicated according to legal priority. Effluent, like the Tower Well, could serve as a reliable backup source or interim option until the securing of Blue Ridge or national forest water.
These sources face regulatory challenges and environmental assessments that eat up large chunks of time.
Growth rate and build out are particularly important in determining Blue Ridge cost. Godfrey's estimates for the reservoir project, including debt service, capital costs, and a projected 10-year engineering, procurement and construction, have reached as high as $128 million.
Loose figures price out the delivery of Blue Ridge water at $1,000 per acre foot per year. Payson has rights to approximately 3,000 acre feet per year. But, future population projections, and the availability of effluent or national forest water, could change the net current value of Blue Ridge water, associated impact fees, and funding options significantly.
Public Works Director Buzz Walker said Payson's current water portfolio could sustain 24,000 residents. With the addition of Blue Ridge water, Walker said the estimated build out number is 44,000.
Mayor Bob Edwards and the town council are still discussing ordinances that could modify zoning codes and other policies to change those capacity estimates. Councilor Andy Romance encouraged the council to make those decisions and move toward concrete figures and long-term water planning.