Sensing the community had concerns and questions on the state of the town’s water supply, the Star Valley Town Council opened its doors Tuesday night and braced for a storm of residents.
But like the winter snowstorm that missed the area Wednesday, this storm turned out to be more of sprinkle than a squall.
Only four residents attended the meeting and of those, only a few had questions.
This gave Star Valley Councilor and Water and Sewer Commission Chairman Vern Leis an opportunity to give an overview of where the town has been and where it is going in terms of water. He also implored more residents to attend the meetings and offer their suggestions to the town.
Although many Rim Country residents know the history of Star Valley’s incorporation and its water woes, some residents still do not understand all the commotion. Two new residents to Star Valley asked the council Tuesday night for a brief overview.
Leis said water remains the town’s primary concern. Water is paramount to the town’s future growth, commercial expansion and way of life, he said.
This way of life was threatened, many believe, four years ago when Payson acquired control of the Tower Well for its municipal water supply.
Shortly before Star Valley incorporated in 2005, a developer bought property in town, including the Tower Well with its 400-gallons-per-minute capacity.
He sold Payson the well’s excess capacity of 130 gpm for $750,000, paid in development credits.
Since then, Payson has used the well several times each year when water usage levels peak, which is mostly in the summer months.
According to Leis, out of all of Payson’s wells, the Tower Well is used last because of its cost to operate. This includes pumping water uphill four miles to Payson.
More recently, Payson secured rights to 3,000 acre-feet of water from the Blue Ridge Reservoir, which will secure a long-term water supply for Payson.
Even with Blue Ridge, if Payson built out to 40,000 residents, it could eventually need to run the Tower Well for additional capacity to meet demand, Leis said, but this would be years off.
So what affect does the Tower Well have on Star Valley’s water table today?
A water study by the hydrology firm LFR, Inc. found that some well levels dropped over the summer when the Tower Well was operating. However, when the well was turned off, water levels returned almost to normal.
In August, it was reported that the level of the Sky Run Well, near the Tower Well, was falling around five feet per month, even though the well was not currently in use.
Some speculated this was a direct result of the Tower Well’s pumping.
However, Leis did not attribute the drop in the Sky Run Well only to the Tower Well, because he said other wells nearby were also affecting it.
In the future, Star Valley plans to place its own monitoring device in the Tower Well, instead of just monitoring nearby wells, to compare levels from year to year.
Hydrologists agree that long term, the Tower Well could dramatically affect Star Valley’s water supply.
During a drought for example, the Tower Well could pump out more water than rainfall puts into the system. Even without the Tower Well in place, both short- and long-term droughts would have dramatic effects on Star Valley’s water table because Star Valley sits on shallow layers of crushed granite that cannot store copious amounts of water.
Understanding that Star Valley’s water table sits in a delicate balance, Leis and Mayor Bill Rappaport said it’s more important than ever that Star Valley build a solid relationship with Payson.
“Do we have adequate water?” Leis asked. “I cannot answer that unequivocally.”
He added the town has enough water to last for at least two years.
To ensure the town never runs out of water, the water and sewer commission is analyzing every avenue for acquiring water.
One of the more promising possibilities is tapping into the Blue Ridge pipeline.
Payson has reportedly offered to let Star Valley use the pipeline running from the Tower Well to transport water from Blue Ridge to Star Valley.
This would give Star Valley almost 400 acre-feet of water, depending on whether it could negotiate a deal with the Salt River Project.
However, the biggest problem with this option is that Star Valley has no way to distribute the water once it received it. Only entities that sell water can win rights to the available 500 acre-feet.
“We have zero infrastructure,” Leis said.
Engineers estimate it would cost $1 million for each mile of piping. In addition, if the town decided to store the water, it would cost $1.3 million to install a million-gallon storage tank.
How would a town of 2,000 residents pay for the needed piping and storage? Leis said he is not sure. The town could pursue grants and bonds, but because of its size, it might not even qualify for junk bonds.
Another option is trading Star Valley’s allotment of Blue Ridge water with Payson for water from the Tower Well.
And the town could still pursue acquiring Brooke Utilities. However, Leis said this would ultimately not benefit the town. The main reason: the multi-million-dollar system would require repairs and the town would have to set up a billing and maintenance department to run it. Even with control of the water company, the town would not have control of the Tower Well.
The town could also tap into the one well it owns. If the Arizona Corporation Commission allows, the town could soon tap into that well and become a municipal water supplier.
Leis did know how many acre-feet of water could be extracted from the well.
Regardless of what happens, the town plans to continue its working relationship with Payson.
“We finally have an idea of what is on their plate,” Leis said. “We would like to continue building that relationship.”
“They are willing to work with us,” Rappaport said.