Don't Give Up On Blue Ridge, Speaker Says

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Herb Guenther, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources -- the state agency that oversees surface and groundwater management -- said Payson and the Rim Country have a resource that could solve regional shortcomings: Blue Ridge water.

And although the water formerly held by the Phelps-Dodge mining company is an expensive option, the town should continue to pursue it, he said.

"Blue Ridge is on the near horizon," Guenther said. "This is the solution to your deficit. It's a blessing you have here."

With the help of recommendations made by a governor-appointed Statewide Water Advisory Group (SWAG), funding assistance, through a Water Development Fund, could make Blue Ridge and other regional and state water projects a reality.

Friday morning, at the end of statewide tour of rural Arizona, Guenther presented this and other propositions offered by SWAG.

Congressman Jack Brown and Salt River Project water rights analyst Greg Kornrumph were also in attendance at the presentation in Payson town hall.

SWAG is comprised of more than 50 representatives, including Payson's Public Works Director Buzz Walker, to address the need for better water conservation in rural areas and seek input from affected stakeholders.

The proposed action would change existing state water statutes to allow municipalities to deny developments based on the availability of water.

To help rural communities develop water supplies, SWAG has recommended the implementation of two concepts that could work in tandem to raise money for and maintain projects such as Blue Ridge.

A proposed Water Development Fund could provide financial assistance through grants and loans for water projects.

SWAG has suggested the formation of Regional Water Management and Development districts -- generally delineated by the boundaries of groundwater basins -- to levy taxes.

Through popular vote, or state or local legislative action, these districts would have the power to levy taxes. To test and refine these concepts, SWAG has recommended the establishment of permanent pilot districts.

John Breninger, a Pine resident and member of the Mayor's Water Task Force, said he objected to the idea of regional water management districts.

"We basically can build out what we have if we don't change our culture," he said. "Don't lump us in with all of Arizona. Don't even lump us in with Gila County."

Environmental Program Associate Erik Magnusson of Arizona Public Interest Research Group added that ADWR's recommendations have merit, but making the program mandatory takes the approach a step further.

"We need to conserve our water, use it efficiently and guarantee an assured water supply in Arizona," he said. "We want to make a comprehensive policy that lays down benchmarks."

To submit your comments or to read the presentation, visit the ADWR Web site at www.azwater.gov.

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