Payson Nails Down Blue Ridge Grant

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It’s official.

Payson will be the first community in the state to get clearance to spend federal stimulus money.

The state Water Infrastructure Finance Authority (WIFA) last week concluded its review of some 1,500 pages of paperwork and approved the town’s $10.8 million grant to complete preliminary work on the proposed Blue Ridge Pipeline.

Moreover, the grant includes about $200,000 to do environmental and feasibility studies on a plan to turn the East Verde River into one of the premier fishing streams in the state, with structures in the stream to create trout pools and other environmental enhancements, according to Payson Mayor Kenny Evans. The stream might even get native Apache Trout, at least in some stretches.

The town has also continued to push for final approvals for a $1.8 million project to complete a sewage treatment plant on the Tonto Apache Reservation by creating a lake alongside the rodeo grounds. That small lake would let the treated wastewater soak into the water table while creating a new lakeside park.

The project has received preliminary approval, but may not get final approvals until next year.

However, the Blue Ridge project should start spending money right away.

“We ended up getting about 20 percent of the water infrastructure money for the whole state,” said Evans. “This was the final administrative hurdle we had to jump through.”

The grant will pay for environmental and preliminary engineering studies for the pipeline, which will run along Houston Mesa Road between Washington Park and the not-yet-determined site of a new treatment plant. Although the water will be coming straight from the pristine Blue Ridge Reservoir, the treatment plant will have to remove sediment and other elements before injecting the 3,000 acre-feet per year into the town’s water system.

The Blue Ridge water will more than double the town’s water supply, which means the town won’t have to ever pump more water from its wells than snow and rain put in to support a build-out population of 38,000.

Evans noted that WIFA and the governor’s office have both signed off on the final details of the Blue Ridge project, but the project still needs a rubber stamp signature from the federal Commerce Department. The town should have the money in hand in about a month, but has already notified contractors to start work. The money will pay for the necessary environmental studies for both the pipeline route and the treatment plant as well as money to actually buy the necessary pipe. “We’ll be turning on the (money) spigot in literally a matter of days,” said Evans.

The town managed to also work into the grant money to perhaps make the East Verde River one of the state’s top fishing streams. Already, the Arizona Department of Game and Fish stocks more than a dozen pools along the East Verde every Monday throughout the summer.

The Payson District of the Tonto National Forest, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Salt River Project and town officials have already held several meetings about the possibility of improving the fish habitat along the East Verde. That includes creating more deep pools to shelter the stocked fish and more riffles to mix oxygen into the water and encourage the stocked fish to spawn, creating a larger wild population as well.

Payson won the right to 3,000 acre-feet of water from the Blue Ridge Reservoir as a result of decades of effort and federal legislation. Other Rim communities can line up for 500 acre-feet and the pipeline could also eventually deliver the Tonto Apache Tribe’s allotment of 128 acres of Colorado River water.

The water comes from a deep, narrow reservoir atop the Mogollon Rim operated now by the Salt River Project, which retains rights to another 11,000 acre feet in the reservoir.

The Phoenix-based utility company therefore wants to move its 11,000 acre-feet down to Horseshoe Reservoir on the Verde. The only way to get the water down to the Valley is to run it down the East Verde.

If SRP moves it all at once to minimize evaporation on the journey, it would not provide a lot of benefit to the East Verde. However, if SRP water managers agree to move the water throughout the spring, winter and fall, the East Verde could reap major benefits.

Evans noted that “SRP is very cautious with whom they want to have discussions because they’ve been burned so many times, but they’ve proven a willing cooperator and more than happy to sit down and visit.”

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