Star Valley Mayor Says, 'Going To Court' Will Resolve Water Dispute

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A large number of concerned Star Valley residents and town officials attended a presentation from the town's hydrology company that seemingly contradicts a safe-yield water study completed for the Town of Payson more than three months ago.

The report, compiled by the hydrology firm LFR after the collection of a year's worth of data on 15 Star Valley wells, concluded that the Town of Payson's pumping of the Tower Well is depleting the water supply in Star Valley.

Vit Kuhnel and Bradley Cross of LFR presented the graphical results of tests performed on water levels of the 15 wells and then fielded questions from residents.

Kuhnel said that data collected at hourly intervals over the last year prove that pumping of the Tower Well by the town of Payson causes a drop in water level of wells in Star Valley.

"(It) very clearly shows that the Tower Well does have an impact on local wells," he said.

Kuhnel said the level of the aquifer, which is the underground pool of water from which the wells draw water, has been declining for the last several years on its own, due to drought conditions.

However, that data reveals that the level is dropping more rapidly -- close to six feet per month -- because of increased pumping from the Tower Well.

The conclusion that the Tower Well is drawing water from a different source than the Star Valley wells, as reached by Clear Creek Associates' safe-yield study for the town of Payson, Kuhnel said, is untrue.

"The Star Valley aquifer is a fractured bedrock aquifer," Cross said. "There are no boundaries or barriers separating shallow bedrock from deep bedrock. They're all pumping from the same basin.

"There is strong evidence that pumping the Tower Well directly impacts the local aquifer and under current conditions, could result in excessive drop and damage to some of the local private wells."

Cross advised that pumping of the Tower Well should be limited to prevent a continued depletion of the aquifer level.

"Steps should be taken to curtail withdrawals from the Tower Well, particularly during drought conditions," he said.

Star Valley is currently in the process of condemning a portion of Brooke Utilities that services homes in town.

Once the water utility is acquired, Heron said that the town will have more rights to its water.

"It gives us standing in a court of law," he said.

Heron believes a court case to resolve all of the water disputes is inevitable.

"We know we're going to have to go to court," he said.

Residents discussed the option of going to court and questioned whether the LFR data would hold up, if necessary.

Cross said that although the data is sound, based on current Arizona law, Payson's pumping of the Tower Well, despite its detrimental effects on wells in Star Valley, is not unlawful.

"If you are outside an active management area, which Star Valley is, they don't have a whole lot of laws to protect you," he said.

"The assumption is that in rural areas, people are more spread out and you don't have people pumping right next to each other. But unfortunately, that's not the case."

What Star Valley is left with, Heron said, is the hope that Payson will abide by a good-neighbor policy and limit its effect on the common aquifer.

"I don't know what the next steps will be," Heron said. "I don't know where Payson will go with this (report). We would like for them to cooperate with the management of it and during the hot summer months to curtail the pumping."

Heron said that public meetings to provide updates on water conditions from LFR representatives, much like Tuesday night's meeting, would become an annual occurrence.

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