Water Wars Truce Looms

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The mayors of Star Valley and Payson held a cordial meeting this week to talk about a potential gush of 3,500 acre-feet of new water a year, in hopes the potential doubling of the area's water supply will wash away years of conflict.

Payson has nearly concluded negotiations with the Salt River Project to win the rights to water from a reservoir on the Rim in return for a promise to pump no more than 2,500 acre-feet per year from its wells. Payson wants 3,000 acre feet annually from Blue Ridge, but SRP has indicated it might provide an additional 500 acre-feet to other communities in the area, including Star Valley.

The meeting between Payson Mayor Bob Edwards and Star Valley Mayor Chuck Heron this week explored details of the pending agreement.

"We agree, obviously, that it's in the best interest of the town to go forward together," said Edwards. "We're going to be a good partner -- we agreed to look to their needs."

Heron declined comment on the meeting with Edwards, although he has previously declared that the "water wars are over."

Heron said he and Edwards had agreed to make no comment beyond a one-paragraph press release saying the two towns had agreed to work cooperatively at the Feb. 6 meeting.

Heron refused further comment when contacted after a candidates forum in Star Valley, at which several council candidates harshly criticized Payson's management of the Tower Well, the construction of which helped spur the incorporation of Star Valley and triggered several years of conflict.

At that forum, Heron supported seeking a law that would shut down the Tower Well if it caused a drop of more than 10 feet in Star Valley wells in the area.

"We'd probably lose in a court of law, but the propaganda that would come out of it would be something else," Heron told the Star Valley crowd at the forum.

However, the imminent agreement with SRP could dramatically change the dynamics of the burbling conflict between the two neighbors.

SRP appears willing to give Payson rights to water in the Blue Ridge Reservoir, which without a $30 million pipeline, could only drain off to the north -- away from SRP's water customers in the Valley. In return, Payson would agree to limit its use of well water, which is in a watershed that drains into the Salt River and then flows on down to Phoenix.

Payson still has to figure out how to finance the pipeline through a combination of impact fees on new development, possible federal grants and water sales. Other communities that can negotiate rights to the extra 500 acre feet SRP has offered would then have to work out a deal with Payson to get the water delivered.

Edwards said even if some of those other communities don't have the upfront money to share the cost of the pipeline, Payson could work out a charge that would recover its extra costs when delivering the water.

Edwards also said that Payson's hydrology studies show that the Tower Well hasn't affected the closest Star Valley wells, since it draws water from a separate geological structure below the level of Star Valley's relatively shallow wells.

"I think they now trust us on that and we promised to monitor that well very carefully," said Edwards. "I think that what came out of yesterday's meeting was that we both understand that we're in this together."

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