The Arizona Corporation Commission is reviewing a request by Brooke Utilities to charge residents of Mesa del Caballo to haul water this summer if they run short.
Brooke recently struck a deal with Payson to supply the nearly 400 homeowners in the unincorporated subdivision off Houston Mesa Road with water this summer if they run short.
Brooke’s agreement with Payson would provide up to 86,000 gallons of water per day at its regular rate for commercial users, according to Brooke’s application to the ACC.
Last year, the network of wells supplying the development dropped as demand rose and Brooke had to spend some $60,000 to haul water from Gisela, according to the company’s filings with the ACC.
However, the company didn’t have permission from the ACC to charge homeowners the extra costs of hauling the water.
This summer, however, Brooke hopes to recover the full cost of buying and hauling the water in water tanker trucks it will fill from a Payson hydrant in The Home Depot parking lot.
The company had hoped to get a permit from the U.S. Forest Service to lay a temporary, portable pipeline from a much closer Payson hydrant, but has so far been stalled by paperwork and required impact studies.
ACC spokeswoman Rebecca Wilder said the corporation commission staff will make a recommendation to the board, which will then decide whether to allow Brooke to impose the surcharge for any water it needs to haul this summer.
“We take those on a case by case basis,” said Wilder.
“Not only does the staff have to do the analysis, but the commissioners have to approve. It could take a number of weeks. I believe the commission will consider it on an expedited basis,” she said.
The commission has in the past approved water hauling charges for Brooke in Pine and Strawberry that increased summer water bills two- to four-fold.
However, Wilder said approval of the surcharge isn’t automatic. The charges often rise steeply depending on volume.
“The company needs to give evidence of its need to charge customers more. The company needs to show what their situation is. The staff would determine if what the company is asking is reasonable — or if a different amount should be approved — or denied altogether.”
Brooke spokeswoman Myndi Brogdon declined comment on Monday concerning the details of the proposed hauling charges and the Forest Service actions on the attempt to string a temporary water line with what amounts to a giant hose and a string of pumps. She said she could only answer questions by e-mail, but had not responded to a list of questions prior to deadline.
During a series of meetings with homeowners last week, Brogdon told residents that the company would calculate the charges for the water hauling by keeping track of the total costs and then breaking that down into a cost per 1,000 gallons, with the per-1,000-gallon charge rising with total number of gallons used.
The company not only filed for permission to charge residents the water-hauling charge, but filed a separate application for some changes in the rules concerning water conservation levels.
In the filing, the company sets the water conservation level at between 1 and 5, depending on the levels of the water in the storage tanks.
The rules limit outdoor watering to certain days of the week, even at the voluntary conservation Level 1, when storage tanks top 85 percent and Level 2, when levels fall to between 70 and 85 percent for a 24-hour period.
A fall in storage levels to between 60 and 70 percent would trigger conservation level 3. At this point, the company could start hauling water and charging customers extra.
In addition, customers who failed to reduce water use by 30 percent and who continued to use water for irrigation, washing cars or dust control could be fined $200 to $750 and face a water cutoff — with an $200 reconnection fee.
If well levels fall to between 50 and 60 percent, it triggers a Stage 4 alert. In that case, the fines rise to $400 for a first offense, $750 for a second offense and $1,500 for a third offense.
If storage levels fall below 50 percent, the fines for violating the rules rise to $800 to $3,000, plus a $1,500 reconnection fee.
The proposed rules would allow the company to invoke the conservation levels and the accompanying fines by posting the water conservation level in a visible location, according to the application filed with the ACC.
Brooke will have to truck water all the way from The Home Depot to Mesa del along Houston Mesa Road this summer, because it offers the closest Payson hydrant with room for the big water tanker trucks to fill up and turn around.
Payson officials have said they hoped that the Forest Service would approve placement of the temporary pipe and pumps as an emergency measure, without a long, drawn-out permit process.
Payson had started negotiations with Brooke some months ago about connecting to the town’s water system this summer to cope with potential water shortages.