Payson Mayor Speaks Out On Water Issue

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I will admit up front that I am frustrated about the inability of Payson and Star Valley to reach an agreement about water. I have tried to approach this issue in a professional way, but feel stymied at every turn.

Let me review the history.

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Bob Edwards

August 2005. When the prior Payson Town Council was in the process of buying the Tower Well, I suggested they delay it until a safe yield study could be completed. They chose to approve the purchase without it.

September 2005. Myself and others led a successful petition drive to put the purchase of water from the Tower Well to a vote of the people, but the prior Council ruled the referendum illegal. Over the next several months, we fought it in the courts up to the Arizona Supreme Court and lost. As a result, the well was bought by Payson at value of approximately $4.5 million and put on line.

Last summer, Star Valley asked our Council to do a safe yield study and to turn off the well until it was completed. Prior to spending the $50,000 the study would cost, the Town of Payson asked for two things:

1. For Star Valley's concurrence of the company chosen to do the study.

2. That Star Valley agree to abide by the results.

They agreed to both and, as a result, we ordered the study and shut off the well.

March 2007. The study is completed. Star Valley's hydrology firm has reviewed it and has concurred that it is accurate. The study shows that the water available in the Star Valley watershed is about double the Payson watershed. Both hydrology firms (Star Valley's and Payson's) and Payson's hydrologist agree that when we combine Star Valley's water with Payson's current water and Payson's future share of the Blue Ridge water, we have sufficient water in the area to supply to future generations a permanent water supply if they continue limit growth and continue the strong water conservation measures Payson currently follows.

Last Thursday, prior to our Council meeting, Star Valley Mayor Chuck Heron, myself and the two hydrology firms met. The agenda was to discuss how we could work together on the water issue for the benefit of the total area.

But, while we were talking, the Rim Country Gazette was being delivered. The Gazette included an article by Mayor Heron, in which he implied the whole Safe Yield Study was nothing more than a public relations scam by Payson. This article leads me to believe the meeting was a bit disingenuous.

The article implied the study was faulty and the scope was not followed, yet both professional firms agree that the study was valid.

This is the problem when nonprofessionals get in the way of professional opinion, and why I have taken the stand from the start that this issue needs to be handled by professionals.

Mayor Heron's article also claims that isotope studies were ignored. In this, he is partially right, but wrong in who ignored it. Payson supplied isotope data as promised, but it was immediately rejected by Star Valley.

So, where do we go from here?

1. The wisest thing would be for Payson and Star Valley to work together on an area solution to the water problem. That possibility seems to be very elusive no matter how we approach it.

2. The ability to work together would also be helpful in many other areas, as the two towns go forward. It is my fervent hope that this generation can leave future generations with sufficient water and a cooperative working relationship that continues to make the area the jewel of Arizona.

3. Payson has a wealth of experience in managing a well field and could offer much help to Star Valley. Star Valley exists on shallow wells and will probably begin to see some start to dry up, as Star Valley develops. Also, because of the septic fields close to the wells, the fear of leaching poses another danger. Now would be the time to begin to deal with these problems, before they get to a critical stage.

4. Given our inability to find a common path, Payson will continue to stand ready to help. In the meantime, we will put this issue to rest and move on to other issues. We will continue to use the Tower Well as sparingly as possible (even if all 1,000 homes it covers were built, it would still only run 43 percent of the time) and will continue to investigate claims of harm and address any that are valid.

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