Partnership Key To Water Issues, County Says

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A regional partnership may be the best way to solve the Rim Country's water problems.

Gila County Board of Supervisors Chairman José Sanchez said he would like to see some kind of cooperative organization work on the problem.

Sanchez and the other county supervisors heard an overview of Rim Country water issues on March 28 at a meeting in Payson.

One such project, the Mogollon Rim Water Resource Management Study (MRWRMS), is already showing how cooperation can move the problem solving process forward.

The MRWRMS project is a partnership between the Bureau of Land Management, Gila County and Payson, with participation by Pine Water Company and Pine-Strawberry Water Improvement District.

Formally established in June 2003 with a $300,000 match from the BLM and $150,000 from both Payson and the county, the project is designed to appraise the water resources of the region.

Leslie Meyers, a civil engineer with BLM and facilitator for MRWRMS, told the supervisors the participants are now in the middle of the process.

Initial regional efforts started before 2003, but the BLM brought its money to the table then.

"We did a needs assessment," Meyers said, explaining the group used the year 2040 as the "target" year, when the area will be built out to capacity. That gave a number to compare the water needs of today to those in the future.

There have been geology and hydrology studies, she said.

"Salt River Project claims most surface water, so groundwater is the source (we have available)," Meyers said.

Once the geology and hydrology studies were completed, a conceptual groundwater model was developed to show the most likely location of the water and where it is moving.

"It'd be nice to test our theories of water sites, but no decision has been made about that yet," she said.

Meyers said the group is planning a year-end publication of its studies.

"The bottom line is to see what alternatives are available, where the water is and where it goes, how much it will cost to get it, the legal issues, the bureaucracy, the recreational impact and the reliability of the water," Meyers said.

The board of supervisors was then briefed about the status of getting water from the Blue Ridge Reservoir from Buzz Walker, the director of public works for Payson.

Walker said the process has been going on for about 10 years and it could be another 10 years before the water from Blue Ridge is available.

As things currently stand, the area will be allocated 3,500 acre feet of water from the reservoir. Payson needs 3,000 acre feet, leaving 500 acre feet for other communities.

"It will cost $27 million to get it here, treat it and get it in the system," Walker said. "And it's not a sure thing."

The town hydrologist, Mike Ploughe, told the supervisors that not everyone will be able to access the Blue Ridge water.

Herb Schumann, a water specialist retired from the U.S. Geological Survey, said he has not seen all the material on the water issues in the Rim Country, but what he has seen has been encouraging.

Schumann said there is a need to drill test holes to verify potential water sources.

Meanwhile, the county has also been actively involved in planning the creation of a Northern Gila County Water Development Authority.

The plan would allow the entity to take title to Blue Ridge water to help wholesale it to local water purveyors that would distribute the water to areas of need and have the authority to be able to help plan, finance and develop water resources for the 44 communities in rural Northern Gila County.

The county will seek the legislative authority to create the NGCWDA and hopes to have it in full operation in 2007.

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