Residents of Mesa del Caballo, plagued by water shortages and furious with their water company, have taken the first steps toward forming a water improvement district.
In the meantime, the Arizona Corporation Commission continues to gather information on whether Brooke Utilities has done enough to develop an adequate water supply for the 400-home development, hit this summer with water rationing, water hauling and the allegedly punitive shutoff of water for people who protest.
“The Commission (this week) directed staff to initiate an inquiry,” said ACC Chairman Kris Mayes on Thursday.
“All of the commissioners expressed very serious concern. We felt it is important to take immediate action. There really is just no excuse for not being able to provide reliable, consistent services.”
Company spokesmen have refused to make any comment on any issue to the press. Residents complain that the company also has not responded to phone calls and complaints by customers.
The ACC has given Brooke Utilities until today, Aug. 21, to file a response to 15 complaints from residents of Mesa del Caballo. Residents have complained of repeated Stage 5 water rationing, taps that have run dry, bogus meter readings and the punitive shut off of water because of false allegations of over watering. Residents shut off for watering in violation of conservation restrictions must pay $600 to get their water turned back on.
Mayes said if the company can’t provide satisfactory answers, the commission could launch a formal investigation, which could result in fines or even the revocation of the company’s exclusive right to operate.
“We want this on the fast track,” said Mayes.
She said the commission will also investigate whether Brooke broke any state laws by hauling water from the already water-short community of Rye up the hill to Mesa del Caballo, since that drive involved hauling water from the Salt River watershed to the Verde River watershed.
More than 100 residents gathered in the wake of the water rationing to discuss their options.
Ed Schwebel, Randy Norman and Irene Schwartzbauer presented the results of their research into what residents can do to secure an adequate water supply. Residents clamored and shouted and complained about their treatment by the water company and in the end gave the trio the go-ahead to continue re-searching and negotiating.
Residents agreed they should form a water improvement district that can pressure Brooke to communicate and boost water supplies in the short term and negotiate rights to water in Payson’s Blue Ridge pipeline, which will run right past the front doorstep of the development.
“Our water system has improved somewhat since Brooke took over,” said Schwebel at the meeting. “But we’ve also had a large influx of people. What used to be sparsely populated is now full. There’s not more than a dozen lots left you could build on.”
Schwebel said that in the short term, residents have no choice except to work with Brooke Utilities. “We’re trying to get some communication with Brooke, whether it be friendly or hostile or whatever. We need to be working on conservation measures in the short term.”
Norman said, “The only way we’re going to solve this is together. I don’t have to like Bob Hardcastle (president of Brooke Utilities), but these are the players we have to work with. In the short term, we have to work with some people that we may not care for — and they’ve done some horrible things to people in this neighborhood recently — and we know that.”
The long-term solution to the community’s water woes probably lies in negotiating rights to water from the Blue Ridge Reservoir. Payson is building a $30-million pipeline to bring the water from Washington Park to a treatment plant just across Houston Mesa Road from Mesa del Caballo. Payson has won rights to 3,000 acre-feet, but the pipeline will carry an additional 500 acre-feet reserved for other Northern Gila County communities.
The pipeline could be a boon for Mesa del Caballo, since the gravity fed pipeline could deliver water cheaper than the cost of pumping it out of the ground.
A study by Tetra Tech commissioned by Gila County concluded that water from the pipeline delivered to Mesa del Caballo would cost $2 per 1,000 gallons — the lowest cost for any community along the pipe route. However, only water companies and improvement districts can negotiate with Salt River Project for a share of that 500 acre-feet.