The Gift Of Water And A Debt Of Gratitude

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My, my.

Picture it: A statue of Payson Water Czar Buzz Walker rendered in bronze. The heroic 12-foot-tall figure would stand proudly in the middle of a traffic roundabout -- the sun gleaming off his pate -- gazing bald eagle-eyed towards the town's water horizon. All the while, the eye in the back of his head would cast about for fugitive water slinking off down the street in defiance of the town's water conservation ordinance.

Mayor Bob Edwards and Councilor Mike Vogel evoked this stirring imagine in the giddy good spirits of the Tuesday special meeting held to finalize a water agreement three decades in the making.

The 42-page contract with the Salt River Project giving Payson rights to 3,000 acre-feet per year in the C.C. Cragin Reservoir (Blue Ridge) certainly seems at this moment to be the accomplishment of a lifetime for Walker, who has worked tenaciously towards this goal as councils, town managers, fashions and whole presidencies have flitted past.

In truth, we found all sorts of reasons to be heartened -- even inspired -- by Tuesday's historic events, which have made Payson one of the few communities in Arizona with a secure claim on enough water to accommodate all future planned growth.

In the long and complex history of the marathon relay to this moment, public officials demonstrated a vision and dedication and intelligence that turns the words "bureaucrat" and "politician" into honored titles.

That includes Councilor Andy Romance's brave, conscientious and insightful criticism of the wildly popular agreement -- and the integrity of his lone ‘no' vote. In fact, we wish the town's negotiators had taken his objections more seriously. One key complaint was that the contract provisions lock the town into unknown and open-ended legal costs, should SRP ever get into a protracted legal battle to defend its surface water rights. The torturous history of water-based lawsuits in the Colorado River watershed underscore this point.

Granted, the odds of a protracted legal battle with someone like the Navajo Nation over rights to the Blue Ridge water seem remote. But Romance's principled and cogent objections to certain provisions of the agreement and the integrity of his vote provide one of those inspirational validations of a system that puts ordinary citizens in charge of the big decisions. He has just one more meeting to serve, and Payson will miss his insights and his demeanor.

That said, we also applaud the council's embrace of the agreement, in full knowledge that risks always hedge opportunity.

In truth, to properly commemorate this agreement -- you'd probably need a wall instead of a statue. Make it from smooth Mogollon Rim limestone inscribed with the names of the many people who have played their full and honorable role in bringing this all to fruition. That would most certainly including Mayor Bob Edwards, who can justly add this to the list of things he has helped bring to a community that owes him gratitude for his service.

We would suggest that we install a fountain, so that lovingly treated effluent would trickle down the face of the limestone, making the names of the people to whom this community owes so much sparkle in the sunlight.

But then, Buzz would give us a citation and a stern talking to for wasting water.

And believe us: You don't want to mess with Buzz.

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