Turning Spigots, Changing Ideas

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Turn the tap. Fill the glass. Drink deep. So easy — deceptively so.

But Payson water czar Buzz Walker’s speech this week before the Citizen’s Awareness Committee demonstrated how much thought, vision, effort and planning goes into that glass of drinkable water.

That speech also demonstrated another challenge: How do you change the way you think, when the circumstances change?

Mostly, Walker recapped the long history of Payson’s quest to secure 3,000 acre-feet of water annually from the Blue Ridge Reservoir atop the Mogollon Rim.

At this moment, the town has secured the water rights, worth maybe $25 to $75 million, and taken the first steps toward building the $30-million, 14.5-mile-long pipeline.

When we add that 3,000 acre-feet to the 2,500 acre-feet of natural recharge — Payson will have enough water to supply 50,000 residents, assuming water use rates remain at the current low levels. But the current general plan calls for Payson to top out at maybe 35,000.

In short, we’ll soon go from a town constrained by a lack of water to becoming one of the few towns in the whole state with extra water.

Granted, we’d be foolish to grow up to the 50,000-person limit of that water supply — even if we could find some place to stack all those newcomers. A drought could dry up Blue Ridge Reservoir for extended periods. So the town has wisely provided a cushion for the future. Shutting down wells when the Blue Ridge Water flows could even return the water table to “pre-settlement” conditions.

But other possibilities glimmer. For instance, the town could easily develop a stream winding through town to let that extra 1,000 initially unneeded acre-feet soak back into the water table. Perhaps that could tie into the plans to upgrade Main Street and turn the American Gulch into a major town amenity.

Obviously, any such option requires the same careful planning and vision that brought the water to town in the first place.

But first we must change our thinking — to let go of the shortage mentality and make creative use of the surplus. That’s perhaps not so easy as twisting the spigot — but the water only flows from that faucet because of just such thought shifts in the past.

Legislature needs to produce budget for public review

They say Barnum and Bailey put on the wildest circus. “They” have obviously never been to Arizona, where watching the state legislators juggle their funny numbers is not just a spectator sport.

Arizona’s state legislature has once again pushed the deadline for its fiscal responsibilities. We’re scared to see the budget. But it’s even scarier to think about the messes it’ll create when it’s passed.

Towns, counties and schools have been waiting like a kid who wants to see the lions, to see how badly the state legislature will cut their budgets.

Closed-door negotiations mean everyone is essentially clueless about how the state’s disastrous fiscal policies will affect them. And it’s not just public agencies that will be affected.

When towns run out of money to pave the streets, or low-income families can’t find the services they need, or libraries fail to thrive, we’re all affected. Unfortunately, it’s inevitable.

The big question is — how much government growth is sustainable? During the years of boom, we grew beyond our means. We grew based on trajectories of economic growth that turned out to be false.

Economists and budget people like to point out what year they think the economy will reach pre-bust levels. But what inevitably comes after that is another bust.

While the memory of pain fades like a snake bite, we hope that the legislature — and towns and schools and cities — will have enacted better fiscal policies inspired by that pain.

We hope agencies save more. We hope they don’t provide services for the sake of providing them. We hope the bloated government agencies lose weight.

We’re glad the governor’s proposal for a one-cent tax increase isn’t gaining traction. What’s needed right now isn’t a Band-Aid to keep spending high while revenues are low. What’s needed is an honest look at what programs are redundant, irrelevant or need revamping.

Cuts are never popular. People will inevitably whine. But even more unpopular is driving a state into bankruptcy, cutting school funding while keeping redundant social services, and stealing stimulus money meant to create jobs to account for the legislature’s fiscal irresponsibility.

Bring back Barnum and Bailey. We’ve had enough of this circus.

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