Grant To Fund Payson Lake, Tribe’S Wastewater Plant

Tonto Apaches and town team up to snag $1.8 million in federal stimulus money

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Payson and the Tonto Apache Tribe scored an unexpected victory in the form of a $1.8-million federal grant that will both finish the tribe’s sewage treatment plant and build another lake and park next to the Payson Event Center.

The grant will not only help the tribe put into service an already completed, state-of-the-art sewage treatment plant, but it will provide major improvements at the rodeo grounds, including controlling flooding, creating a year-round stream, increasing all-weather parking and providing a new, 30-foot-deep, two-acre lake, flanked by two or three acres of parkland.

The tribe, the town and the sanitation district joined forces to put in a last-minute application for federal stimulus money, with the winning rankings announced last Friday.

“The environmental benefits of reaching across jurisdictional boundaries to coordinate re-sources and management could provide historic benefits,” wrote Payson Mayor Kenny Evans in the application letter.

The joint application was among a batch of stimulus package proposals that officials from Payson and other Rim agencies have been pushing through repeated trips to Phoenix in the past month.

The $1.8-million federal grant will provide a happy ending to a long and complicated story and, in the process, solve a multitude of once unconnected problems.

Several years ago, the Tonto Apache Tribe built a water treatment plant to serve the casino, some 200 acres of reservation land and another 300 acres the tribe hoped to add.

However, the tribe couldn’t get a permit to actually operate the plant when the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality ruled that the clay-like soil made it impossible to build a big enough treatment pond to hold the wastewater, once it had gone through the plant.

Meanwhile, Payson was facing its own problem with occasional flooding on the Event Center grounds, which sometimes turned much of the available parking space into a mud bog.

The effort to buy the land to create a floodwater retention basin in Payson was stalled for nearly a decade by problems in getting clear title to the needed land.

As it happens, the federal stimulus money offered a solution to both problems, and a major new amenity for Payson.

The $1.8-million stimulus grant will provide the final piece of a $5- to $8-million puzzle, most of it already spent by the tribe and the town.

The stimulus money will pay for an effluent line from the existing wastewater treatment plant to the Event Center grounds, where it will flow through an existing, usually dry stream course for about half a mile to the retention basin.

The grant will provide the money to dredge out that retention basin and build up other low-lying areas, which will reduce flooding and improve parking on the Event Center grounds.

The resulting lake will be 30 feet deep, to make sure the water remains cold enough to reduce the growth of algae. The lake will be about the same size as one of the mid-sized Green Valley lakes.

The grant application estimated that the project will generate about 40 jobs.

The new upper Green Valley lake will provide fishing, boating and recreation, just like the lower lakes. If the lake gets too full, water released will flow down the American Gulch, perhaps ultimately creating a stream-like connection between that lake and the three existing lower Green Valley lakes.

The project has one other environmental side benefit.

The state several years ago spent several million dollars trying to clean up years of dumping of toxic pollutants by a Payson dry cleaner operating just off Main Street.

The state continues to spend about $250,000 annually pumping groundwater from a well at the site of the contamination. The pumping keeps the water plume from spreading toward other operating drinking water wells.

Water from the Tonto Apache wastewater treatment plant, when released into the upper Green Valley lake, will soak into the water table, moving along the contours of the American Gulch.

That new source of groundwater will build what amounts to a wall of water pressure, to keep the contaminated groundwater from spreading.

The project will allow the tribe to reuse about 100 acre-feet of water annually, which has a fair market value of about $3 million annually, according to the grant application.

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