Time To End The Water Wars For Good

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We can't say we haven't at some level almost enjoyed the water wars.

What marvelous headlines; the drama; the thickening plots; the thinning skins.

But as much fun as it's been, guys -- it might be time to stop reveling in the reruns of our own little Family Feud.

Truth be told, the nasty, sometimes-personal, always bewildering feud between Payson and neighboring Star Valley always seemed long on rhetoric and short on logic. But now that we can see the light gleaming off the surface of the Blue Ridge Reservoir deal -- the water wars make no sense at all.

So far, it's been kind of like a 10-hour car ride with the kids squabbling in the back seat. But the little family fight that is entertaining so long as you're throwing Legos at one another, becomes downright dangerous if you involve divorce attorneys. Make no mistake, all sorts of outside parties could get interested in the disposition of 3,500 acre feet of new water once we move from theory to practice. It's in the best interest of both towns to present a cordial common front from here on out.

And yet, today's story about the latest back and forth between Star Valley and Payson suggests the need for a higher level of communication on both sides.

Payson Mayor Bob Edwards and Star Valley Mayor Chuck Heron had a closed door meeting awhile ago. Heron came out of that meeting with the apparently mistaken understanding that in order to get 3,000 acre feet from the Salt River Project's Blue Ridge Reservoir Payson would have to stop all groundwater pumping -- including from the controversial Tower Well in Star Valley.

Payson will probably stop pumping groundwater for a couple of years after the Blue Ridge water arrives. However, as the town grows toward its anticipated build out population of about 36,000 the wells will fire up again. The proposed Blue Ridge agreement would limit Payson's groundwater pumping to 2,500 acre feet a year, which could include more than 800 acre feet from the Tower Well. However, Payson's projections suggest it could get by just fine on the 3,000 acre feet from Blue Ridge plus about 1,800 acre feet from the wells within the town limits.

Payson says the Tower Well taps into a deep water table that won't affect Star Valley's vital, shallow wells. Star Valley says there must be a hydrological connection, since levels in the shallow wells react when the Tower Well is pumping. So far, the courts have largely favored Payson -- and the limited pumping of 20 or 30 acre feet per year from the Tower Wells hasn't had any serious impact on Star Valley's wells.

Still, Star Valley has a point -- especially if Payson actually starts drawing more than 800 acre feet a year out of the Tower Well.

So what to do?

First -- do a much better job of communicating. There's no excuse for the lack of detailed, timely continually updated information on the proposed arrangement flowing from Payson to Star Valley. We understand that it's hard to communicate cordially with people who are not certain about trusting you -- but then what better way to convince them of your trustworthiness?

Second -- find a creative solution to Star Valley's absorption with the Tower Well. For instance, what if Star Valley ceded to Payson whatever it might have coming from Blue Ridge in return for an agreement to turn over to Star Valley the Tower Well? Or how about selling Star Valley the Tower Well, with an agreement to sell Payson water in the event of a drought that seriously affects Payson's shallow well field? Alternatively, why not agree to the Star Valley definition of "harm" -- a five-foot decline in five years of nearby well levels?

We understand that Payson doesn't think there's a problem -- and Star Valley doesn't trust Payson. We also understand that even if Payson doesn't intend to pump much water from the Tower Well, it's nice to have a cushion in the event of a drought that dries up both shallow wells and the 11,000 acre feet of storage in Blue Ridge.

We also think this is a unique moment for Payson to change the whole dynamic of this entertaining little family feud. Payson's current figures suggest that when the Blue Ridge water arrives, it won't ever really need the Tower Well. So that means Payson can afford to offer Star Valley a deal that will turn the neighbors into allies in promoting an adequate water supply, wisely used for all concerned

And we urge this shift, knowing all the great headlines it will cost us. But we're willing to make the sacrifice. So, guys, let's shake hands. All right. You don't have to apologize or anything -- just play nice. And no touching. Don't make the voters stop this car.

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