Star Valley Getting Real

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Turns out, that whole bit about ostriches hiding their heads in the sand when danger threatens is just a myth. Ostriches may be goofy looking, but they ain’t that foolish.

Cannot necessarily say the same thing about human beings.

Fortunately, we can also change our minds and re-examine our assumptions.

So we were very encouraged by the recent Star Valley water meeting, where residents and town officials began to grapple with the real problems facing that beautiful, rural community — instead of continuing to bury their heads in the loose sand of politics.

Specifically, residents heard a sobering warning about the problems posed by the combination of a shallow water table, private wells and aging septic systems.

The findings by Kristine Uhlman, with the University of Arizona Water Resource Research Center, sounded the alarm. We certainly hope town officials and residents were listening.

Nearly three-quarters of the lots in Star Valley rely on private wells — and more like 90 percent rely on septic systems, most of them already nearing the end of their normal lifespan. Almost inevitably, many of those septic systems will leak as they age.

We applaud town leaders for holding the forum and getting residents to focus on this vital issue, after so many years of a misplaced obsession with Payson’s Tower Well.

Now, we hope the town council will take action.

For starters, we would urge the council to swiftly adopt Uhlman’s suggestion that the town offer free testing for any well in town. That will at least demonstrate whether we have already run out of time to deal with this potentially expensive problem.

Next, we think the town should press Brooke Utilities to regularly test its wells — and release the results publicly. Although Brooke provides water for only a minority of users, testing its wells could help provide a warning should problems develop.

In addition, we hope the council will act quickly to begin educating residents on what they can do to protect the groundwater and extend the lives of their septic systems.

Finally, we would urge the town to begin working on long-term sewage treatment. Clearly, the town needs to find a way to provide a sewer system along the highway, so the town can lure commercial businesses to provide a tax base. That could provide the spine of a system that can some day supplement the aging septic systems in the more densely settled areas of town.

Granted, Star Valley faces some tough challenges when it comes to handling sewage. That’s why it’s critical for the town to tackle these issues now, instead of after residents discover they can’t drink the water.

Because it just isn’t safe to stick your head in the sand — until you’ve tested it.

Drought still threatens

It’s baaaaaaack.

Although, in truth — the drought never left us.

Granted, we got our hopes up these past two, decently wet winters.

But the whole midsection of Arizona has now slipped back into “severe” drought status, after the summer monsoons failed and fall turned bone dry.

So far, we’ve received about half of the normal rainfall. In the last month, we’ve seen thousands of acres burn at a time of year when the forest is normally too damp to do anything but smolder.

The National Weather Service still thinks we will have a normal to wet winter, thanks to a moderate to strong warming of the surface waters in the eastern Pacific. If this El Niño warming trend gets strong enough, it should shift winter storm tracks down from the North.

In the meantime, we’ll have to embrace that ancient wisdom: Pray for the best, prepare for the worst.

The fickle rain gauges, sobering record of terrible, historic droughts, the melting ice caps and the vanishing glaciers all underscore the need for worst case scenario planning.

So we hope homeowners will conserve like crazy — still the best way to ensure an adequate water supply.

In addition, we hope Payson officials won’t relax their efforts to bring Blue Ridge water to town — and that all the communities along the way will push hard to hook up to that pipeline.

Generations of leaders in Rim Country have laid the groundwork for this region to survive droughts.

Now it’s our turn to advance that great effort.

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