New Water Restrictions Likely

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Thanks to a lingering drought and a record dry winter, Payson residents can expect tighter water restrictions in April.

While Mike Ploughe, town hydrologist, is just beginning to put the numbers together, he left little doubt that the current Level 2 water conservation measures will be changed.

"We haven't completely decided yet what I'm going to recommend this year for the conservation level, but given the situation you can expect things to get a little tighter," he said.

Considering the fact that the Rim Country has received almost no precipitation this winter, Ploughe said the news should come as no surprise.

"I think most people are prepared for that," he said. "I know I am. I'm doing things different already.

"I think that's just part of living up here in the high desert of Arizona. We live in an environment of extremes."

Ploughe was referring to the fact that the previous winter was the wettest in recent history, which allowed the town to reduce restrictions last year from Level 3 to Level 2.

The final decision on restrictions for the next 12 months will be announced at a town council meeting in April -- probably the April 13 meeting -- when Ploughe delivers his annual water status report. The new restrictions will take effect immediately.

The action is mandated by the town's strict water conservation ordinance, which was instituted in 2003. Under that ordinance, conservation stage levels are based on the previous year's rainfall rather than the amount of water in storage tanks.

While Level 3 restrictions seem certain, Ploughe wouldn't rule out Level 4 restrictions.

Under the Level 2 restrictions currently in place, residents are not allowed to plant new grass, hose sidewalks and driveways, water native plants, water between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., and must water on alternate days according to street address.

Level 3 restrictions include all of the above, plus banning car washing except at commercial car washes or by high pressure washer, and the filling or refilling of pools, spas and wading pools.

Level 4 restrictions include all of the above, plus banning irrigation and outdoor watering altogether.

But Ploughe also noted that the town's water supply has held up exceedingly well considering the drought.

"What's surprising to me is that as of right now we're better off in most of our aquifer systems than we were 10 years ago," he said. "That's because we got so much recharge last winter despite the fact we haven't had a good (snow) at all this winter. There's only a couple parts of town that continue to slowly drop."

Ploughe pointed out that a lot of good things are going on, including continuing work on securing Blue Ridge Reservoir as a new source of water. In fact, he said he was very close to contacting the Payson Ranger District to begin discussing the subject of getting Blue Ridge water across Forest Service land to the town of Payson.

He also quenched the rumor that Payson's allocation will be at the bottom of the list when Blue Ridge water starts flowing.

"It's premature and uninformed," he said. "An agreement has to be hammered out between the Town of Payson and Salt River Project about the delivery of the water and the prioritization of deliveries, and negotiations are in the very early stages."

Ploughe also challenged some aspects of the recent water presentation made by LFR Levine Fricke, the hydrogeology firm retained by Diamond Star to conduct a safe yield study. He made the following points:

  • The ADOT pumping test cited in the presentation did not lower groundwater 20 to 100 feet in Diamond Point Shadows and dry up a creek.

The ADOT report said that such consequences might occur and was based on "unrealistic modeling and unrealistic pumping conditions."

  • While it is true that only one shallow well in Diamond Star was tested for isotopes, access to others wells has been sought. But Ploughe does "not expect that data to alter the studies' regional findings now undergoing peer review."
  • Since LFR has not completed its study yet, it is confusing to say that pumping the Randall-Haught well will affect surrounding wells. Besides, "Randall and Haught have pledged to take care of anyone who happens to be directly affected by that reality."
  • Logic implies that Star Valley has more groundwater available to it than Payson, and existing, completed studies demonstrate sustainability.

Ploughe says it is unfortunate that the water situation has become such a contentious issue.

"Science and politics have never gotten along very well in a lot of different fields," he said. "When the political part gets tied into it, sometimes reality gets kicked aside and that's unfortunate."

He also noted that the nature of a resource like groundwater makes it vulnerable to multiple analyses.

"Because the aquifer is so complex there are unknowns, things that we'll never be able to figure out," he said. "It's not an exact science, unfortunately."

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