Small Water Companies Score Big Money

Stimulus money will give 82 homeowners in Pine their own K2 well

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Several small water districts in Rim Country hit the federal stimulus jackpot — especially the 173 lot owners at Portal 4 in Pine Creek Canyon.

Some 83 homeowners not only won $625,000 to drill the equivalent of the K2 well that has convulsed the much larger neighboring water district, but they’ll get another $90,000 to protect a wastewater treatment pond.

In addition, the 93 homeowners in the Rim Trails Water Improvement District got $145,000 in grant money to replace an aging filtration system that pulls their drinking water out of the East Verde River near Washington Park.

By contrast, Brooke Utilities was rebuffed in its effort to get $2.7 million to drill a deep-water well and make other infrastructure improvements mostly because it’s locked in a condemnation battle the Pine-Strawberry Water Improvement District.

Grant givers didn’t want to give a private district money if it would only increase the cost to taxpayers of acquiring the water district, according to sources close to the application process.

The master of the federal stimulus grant process proved to be Harry Jones, a consultant for Gila County who also manages a number of small water companies in Rim Country.

Jones won funding for half of the six grant applications he submitted for drinking and wastewater treatment programs at various small water companies.

Jones joined forces with Payson, which scored big on its projects as a result of an all-out effort in the past month to move its projects up the priority list through adroit grant-writing.

“We’ve been helping each other,” said Jones.

He said the process started with Gila County Supervisor Tommie Martin’s work with the county’s Washington lobbyist to winnow through the massive federal stimulus bill categories.

Jones credited the high success rate to “that early warning coupled with Payson understanding the rules and all of us keeping our antennas up.”

Perhaps the most ironic victory in the flurry of grant applications was the $625,000 grant to drill a 1,000-foot-deep well submitted by the Pine Creek Canyon Domestic Water Improvement.

The well will provide a backup water supply, since the housing development’s current well taps into the easily exhausted shallow water table that wells in neighboring Pine and Strawberry draw on.

Jones stressed fire protection as much as water supply in making that grant application.

The Portals 4 development has its own 250,000-gallon water tank, the largest reserve stash of water in the community, said Jones. The fire department can draw on that reserve water during an emergency — like a forest fire.

The grant will give the Pine Creek Canyon district the ability to fill that tank much more quickly, given the well’s capacity of 150 to 300 gallons per second.

As it turns out, the federal money will pay for a well to reach the same deep water table the K2 well in neighboring Pine was intended to reach.

The Pine-Strawberry Water Improvement District had struck an agreement with Brooke Utilities to foot the bulk of the cost for drilling the K2 well. Brooke would pay back the money if the well hit water that it could then sell to its customers.

The well would have potentially alleviated intermittent summer water shortages so severe that the Arizona Corporation Commission had imposed a moratorium on new water hookups and residents sometimes had to pay five times the normal water bill to haul their water in trucks from Star Valley.

However, residents proved so upset with the arrangement between the district and a private company, they recalled the majority of the board members. The new board intended to condemn the water company and force its sale to the district.

Now, the 83 homeowners in Portals 4 will essentially have the well that has been the object of years of meetings, recalls and debate for their neighbors.

The stimulus money will pay half the cost of the well outright, with a long-term 2 percent grant to finance the balance. About half of that long-term grant could be “forgiven” under the terms of the grant.

In addition, the same small district will get $90,000 to build a floodwater retention basin, to protect its existing wastewater treatment pond.

Thinning work to protect the community from wildfires up the slope has resulted in an increase in erosion and flooding, which have increased the chance that a culvert under the highway will fill up with debris. Twice already, the plugged culvert has diverted floodwaters into the district’s treatment pond and come close to causing those ponds to overflow and drain down along the highway.

The retention basin will trap flash floods and release the water slowly enough that it will protect both the wastewater pond and the highway.

The other locally funded water grant was for a new water filter system for Rim Trails, which takes water out of the East Verde about 300 feet below the pumping station at Washington Park.

The three-decades-old equipment there uses sand and gravel to filter out silt and algae. However, during the summer and spring high flow seasons, the filters become clogged with silt.

As a result, the yield of the filters often falls from about 35 gallons per minute to perhaps 4 gallons per minute.

The $145,000 grant will pay for a microfiltration system, sort of like a giant swimming pool filter. The new system should provide clean, clear water at a much faster rate, said Jones.

One other water district just missed the cut, but may still get funded on a second predicted round of water projects.

The Cowan Ranch Homeowners Association had sought $110,000 in funding for a system to divert water out of the East Verde and filter it for home use.

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