Payson on Wednesday approved a contract with the Salt River Project to secure water rights to the Blue Ridge Reservoir, after a decades-long search for an adequate, long-term water supply.
The town agreed to pay $4.5 million for its share of an existing pipeline and will now have to raise $25-$30 million for an additional pipeline to bring at least 3,000 acre feet of water annually into town from the C.C. Cragin (Blue Ridge) Reservoir.
In addition, the agreement limits all other groundwater pumping to about 2,600 acre feet and requires the town to help SRP defend its surface water rights in court if necessary.
In return, the town becomes one of the only rural communities in Arizona with enough water to support all anticipated future growth. The town's secured supply of 5,600 acre feet will support a build-out population of between 36,000 and 47,000, depending on average water use levels.
"This is an historic day for Payson," said Mayor Bob Edwards.
"This is not only an historical moment, but the most important decision this town will ever make," said Public Works Director Buzz Walker. "What could be more important than securing a water supply to build out?"
Walker presented a review of the agreement and the town's 30-year quest for water during a special council session on Wednesday, which can still be viewed on the town's web site.
The only dissenter in a largely celebratory meeting was Councilor Andy Romance, who cast the sole vote against the agreement on the grounds that the restrictions on acquiring any future source of water would lock Payson permanently into the current General Plan emphasis on remaining a residential community without any water-intensive businesses. Moreover, he argued that the requirement that the town share in any legal costs necessary to defend SRP's surface water rights represented a potentially expensive, open-ended commitment.
However, the other council members all agreed the benefits "overwhelmed" the risks.
"I do believe when we start putting statues in roundabouts, our water czar ought to get one," joked Councilor Mike Vogel in recognition of Walker's tenacious fight to secure the Blue Ridge water. "It's going to be a model probably throughout the whole southwest."
"This will give Payson a permanent water supply, which is pretty unprecedented for this area," said Edwards. "That's something that we can be very proud of and the Town of Payson can be proud of."
"In response to Councilman Romance's concern about risks," said Councilor Ed Blair, "think of marriage. You don't know what it's going to be like 40 years from now -- but the benefits greatly outweigh the risks, so I'm going to vote for this with great affirmation."
"I want to support all parties on this," said Councilor Su Connell. "If we were to worry about every risk that could possibly be, we'd still be looking at this 40 years from now."