Well Levels Rise Sharply, Water Use Remains Low

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Payson last year used only 62 percent of the “safe yield” of its wells, resulting in a heartening rise in well levels all over town, according to a water status report presented to the town council on Thursday.

The average Payson resident used just 81 gallons per day — below even the water department’s tough, conservation goal of 89 gallons a day.

In the U.S., per capita water use averages 161 gallons per day — the highest in the world. By contrast, Germany uses about 51 gallons per person per day and second-ranking Australia uses about 130 gallons per person per day.

Town water managers say that the drainage area that feeds the underground water table on which the town depends gets about 2,681 acre-feet of rainfall annually.

However, the town in 2009 used only 1,656 acre-feet.

The report credited low average water use on the part of Payson residents — plus the effects of a relatively wet year. Regionally, the region escaped from drought status for the first time in nearly a decade.

The figures don’t account for the heavy rains in January and February, which have caused a further significant rise in levels to most of the town’s 100 drinking water wells.

As a result, the water department recommended that the town continue to operate at the lowest water conservation alert level. That still bans things like hosing down driveways and requires homeowners to only water their yards on assigned days.

“Due to El Niño related precipitation in winter 09-10, groundwater resource levels have risen dramatically,” the report said.

Currently, the town gets all its water from wells that tap into a relatively deep water table several hundred feet below the surface, in layers of crushed Payson granite.

“In 2009, groundwater levels have been observed to increase nearly everywhere. Most groundwater levels are actually higher than last year’s levels due to an unprecedented (in recent times) wet winter season,” the report concluded.

Payson got about 22 inches of rain between April of 2009 and March of 2010. That’s close to the long-term historical average, but nearly twice as much as some of the recent, drought-plagued years.

The town’s total water use has barely changed in the past decade, despite a significant increase in population. In the period from 2002 to 2006, the town consistently exceeded 90 percent of its “safe yield” and sometimes hit 99 percent.

The fear of running out of water prompted the imposition of a 250-unit-per-year limit on new construction. However, the town brought new wells on line in about 2006, which boosted the safe yield from about 1,700 acre-feet to nearly 2,700 acre-feet. That addition of new water meant that the town went from using 93 percent of its safe yield in 2005 to just 62 percent of its safe yield in 2006, even though water use itself barely budged.

Then last year, the town locked up its right to an additional 3,000 acre-feet of water from the Blue Ridge Reservoir, more than doubling its water supply.

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