Pine Considers Pipeline Upgrade For New Water

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Existing pipelines in Pine must be upgraded if the community is to ever receive water from the newly discovered Milk Ranch well.

That's what about 125 water users were told at a Pine Strawberry Water Improvement District board meeting held Oct. 19.

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Gary Sherlock, PSWID Secretary

"The improvements to this system appears to be extensive and the need for (the improvements) appears to be agreed upon by all," PSWID Secretary Gary Sherlock said. "Those improvements would make it possible to move water from the Milk Ranch Well and other private wells."

The first step in making the upgrades was taken at the meeting when the board directed former chairman John Breninger to prepare a Preliminary Request for Proposal document that would outline the steps needed.

Breninger was also asked to have the study ready for the December meeting of the PSWID board.

Sherlock said an attempt to pump water from Milk Ranch in existing pipelines would be an exercise in futility.

"It would be like trying to give a man a transfusion through his little toe," he said.

"Pipes are just not large enough and Bob Hardcastle has said ‘the well couldn't be in a worse place' to access the supply."

Hardcastle is the owner of Pine Water Company, along with parent corporation Brooke Utilities, which now controls the area's water system.

Also at the Oct. 19 meeting, the PSWID board passed a motion to permit the Water Development Committee to contact other well owners to ascertain if any other water is available for the Pine system and at what cost.

Probably the most controversial decision the board made during the meeting was to agree to invest $300,000 with Brooke Utilities to drill a deep well at a site known as K2, located near Strawberry.

Pine real estate agent Ray Pugel, a co-owner of the Milk Ranch Point well, opposes investing money with Brooke Utilities, saying the company's mismanagement is among the reasons a water meter moratorium now exists in Pine and Strawberry and the company has a record of inconsistent customer service.

"We should tell him ‘show me the water' and then he can have the money," Pugel said.

Sherlock said the board voted to give Brooke Utilities the money because the anticipated volume of a new K2 well would meet the community's needs for five to seven years, its location allows for quick access, drilling can be accomplished without a bond issue and new water may be in the system as early as 2007.

Sherlock also said a new K2 well is the easiest way to eliminate the extreme cost of hauling water.

Last summer during drought months, some Pine water customers were forced to pay a water meter surcharge because Brooke Utilities trucked in supplemental water due to dwindling supplies.

"Some of those charges were as much as $150 (a month)," Sherlock said.

There are PWC customers who are proposing another way to end both the moratorium and surcharge. It involves the district becoming a domestic water purveyor and buying out the existing private water companies, including PWC.

Sherlock said that would be a daunting and expensive task that would include organizing, acquiring, managing and operating a water utility.

Pugel has said, however, that a public water company is the answer to Pine and Strawberry's water woes.

He's supported by hydrogeologist Mike Ploughe who said a public system would "improve the quality of life" in the two communities.

It's been tried

In 2003, petitions were circulated in Pine and Strawberry that asked the PSWID to acquire the Brooke Utilities water companies.

Loren Peterson, Chairman of the Strawberry Hollow Water Improvement District, said the goal of the petition drive was to show Gila County that there was public support for such a move.

The petition drive failed.

"That was too bad. Maybe it was before its time," Pugel said.

During the drive, Peterson and Pugel alleged a number of irregularities by Brooke Utilities.

Peterson claimed PWC had underestimated, by more than 22 million gallons, the water it lost in 2002 because the infrastructure was in disrepair.

In 2004, almost a year after PWC asked the Arizona Corporation Commission to increase winter water rates to 30.4 percent and summer to 57.7 percent, the ACC granted winter increases of 8.1 percent and summer boosts of 33.1 percent.

The ACC also ruled PWC provide additional guidelines for ensuring that water hauling was only a last resort and that the company "participate in appropriate efforts to discover and implement a regional approach to solving water shortage problems in the area."

At the time the boosts in rates were granted, PWC Corporation Commissioner Bill Mundell said Pine's water woes were the worst the commission has had to deal with in the state.

-- To reach Max Foster call 474-5251 ext. 114 or e-mail mfoster@payson.com.

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