Brooke Utilities hopes to ease water shortages with a new well at Mesa del Caballo by May and a rate structure that will penalize people who use more than 10,000 gallons monthly, according to a report filed with the Arizona Corporation Commission.
The Nov. 1 report mostly blames a dry summer that reduced well output sharply, forcing rationing and water hauling in the 400-home community off Houston Mesa Road this summer.
Well output dropped from about 60 gallons per minute to about 44 gallons per minute, even as usage rose due to an apparent increase in full-time residents in the unincorporated community, noted the report.
“Customer consumption peaked at the same time well production was at its lowest level at any time in any of the last eight years,” the report concluded.
The Arizona Corporation Commission ordered the company to produce the report after it received numerous customer complaints about repeated water restrictions and water hauling. Some customers ran out of water and others were shut off for allegedly excessive water use.
Commissioners demanded a report from the company on water use and trends, complete with a plan to ease the water shortages. Several commissioners said the company should have anticipated the shortages and developed additional sources of water before the taps ran dry.
Frustrated at fragmentary reports from the company, Commission Chair Kris Mayes had said the commission could move to revoke Brooke’s exclusive right to sell water in the community unless it came up with a plan to avoid future water hauling and rationing.
However, the week-overdue report from the company said it could not have anticipated this summer’s 27 percent decrease in well output. Overall, well output and consumption have been relatively consistent since 2002, before before this summer’s dramatic drop in output, the report concluded.
The Roundup obtained a copy of the water report submitted to the commission. No officials from the water company or from the corporation commission were available for comment before deadline.
Ed Schwebel, one of the residents who heads a newly formed water committee that has been in talks with the company, praised the company’s efforts to keep water users informed.
“We actually have a fairly reasonable working relationship.”
He accepted the company’s explanation for the summer’s severe water shortage.
“We haven’t gotten more than three-tenths of an inch of water all summer, and when you’re living on fractured granite, your wells are going to run dry. This summer, well output dropped to 44 gallons per minute and we need 60 gallons per minute to keep (storage) tanks at a level that’s acceptable.”
The report indicated the company spent $4,000 per day hauling nearly half a million gallons of water from Gisela, itself an often water-short community alongside Tonto Creek — which, this summer dried up entirely before it could reach Roosevelt Lake.
The report indicated that the company will file for a rate increase or surcharge to recover those costs.
The report offered a bleak short-term discussion of the steps the company can take to produce more water.
Company officials said they talked to people in the community that have their own wells about selling to Brooke any excess well production. However, not a single private well owner wanted to share his supply. Six of those wells have all but gone dry. Owners of the rest fear the water company would drain their wells if the drought continues.
As a result, the company says it will drill another well, despite the poor prospects such a well will produce a lot of water. The report said the development sits on a huge block of granite, which reduces the odds of hitting a big water pocket.
The community is surrounded on all sides by national forest land and the Tonto National Forest has refused all proposals to drill private wells on public land.
Previous surveys on the rock layers under the community and other nearby areas hint at the existence of one or more fault lines in that granite block. Movement of the earth along such fault lines often crushes and fragments the rock layers, creating a potential underground reservoir for water that seeps down from the surface.
In other communities — like Pine and Strawberry — recent wells have revealed the existence of a deep water table throughout the region. However, the report did not discuss whether such a deep water table might lie beneath Mesa del as well.
The company said it will hire Zonge Engineering and Research Organization to survey the area in hopes of locating fault zones that might hold water. If such a survey pinpoints a likely location in the one-square-mile community, the company could have a new water well dug by next May, said the report.
The cost of that well could increase water rates “significantly,” the report concluded, although it did not provide specific figures.
In addition, the company said it would likely seek a change in its rate structure to charge a much higher rate for people who use an “excessive” amount of water — probably any amount over 10,000 gallons a month.
Fortunately, the long-term prospects for the community seem brighter, thanks to Payson’s pipeline from the C.C. Cragin Reservoir. Current preliminary plans suggest the pipeline will run past Mesa del’s front doorstep, with the water treatment plant located just across Houston Mesa Road.
As a result, the community could negotiate for water from the pipeline. That water could cost less than the cost of pumping water out of the ground, according to some projections.
The federal legislation that gave Payson the right to contract with the Salt River Project for rights to 3,000 acre-feet from Blue Ridge also set aside up to 500 acre-feet for other Northern Gila County communities. Salt River Project owns the 11,000-acre-foot balance of the reservoirs capacity.
The report said the company will move as quickly as possible to negotiate rights to a share of that 500 acre-feet. However, it predicted that Payson might put off building the pipeline until beyond 2015, due to low customer demand.
Payson officials have moved steadily toward construction of the pipeline in the past year. However, officials have noted that the town’s groundwater wells currently can produce a sustainable 2,400 acre-feet of water annually, but the town only uses about 1,700 acre-feet. The town won’t have to start paying many of the costs of the Blue Ridge water until the water actually arrives — which could provide a reason to put off completion of the pipeline if water demand remains low.
“Trying to keep the city of Payson on schedule is another risk we’re trying to mitigate,” said Schwebel. “I don’t think they’re in an overwhelming hurry to get it done.”