We’re all friends here.
That was the gist of the Payson Town Council’s unanimous vote last week to seek a sweeping solution to an issue that once spurred bitter conflict with neighboring Star Valley.
The council directed the town staff to start negotiations to not only provide Star Valley with an emergency backup water supply and access to the beginnings of a municipal water system — but to set a limit to how much water Payson can pump from Star Valley’s shallow water table.
Payson Mayor Kenny Evans said, “This is the only war I know of that has whimpered into the future so easily,” before a momentous vote that somehow felt routine.
Evans made reference to two recent stories in the Roundup — one focusing on the end of the water wars between Payson and Star Valley and the other referring to the end of the “timber wars,” as a result of agreement between logging companies and environmentalists on the need to thin the forest.
“If we don’t watch out,” he joked, “we’re going to run out of wars around here.”
The council’s action directed town staff to sit down with Star Valley officials to work out an inter-governmental agreement (IGA) to settle most of the long-standing conflicts about water between the two towns.
Not only does the proposed agreement offer Star Valley a backup water supply, but it could offer the town a cheap way to become a water provider — so it can strike a deal with the Salt River Project for its own share of Blue Ridge water.
Moreover, for the first time, Payson has agreed to negotiate a limit to how much water it will pump from the controversial Tower Well.
Payson’s effort to get more water to support development by swapping development credits for the Tower Well several years ago outraged many Star Valley residents.
The Tower Well spurred the incorporation of Star Valley and led to years of conflict based on the fear Payson would drain the shallow water table on which its well-dependent neighbor relied. Although Payson has never run the Tower Well at more than a fraction of its capacity, Star Valley officials have long speculated that in a drought Payson would operate the Tower Well at full tilt, potentially drawing water away from Star Valley’s vulnerable, shallow drinking water wells.
The impending arrival of 3,000 acre-feet of water from the Blue Ridge Reservoir has dramatically changed the water supply picture. Not only does Payson have enough water coming in future years to more than double its size without using any of the three wells it owns in Star Valley, but Star Valley itself could potentially qualify for a share of Blue Ridge water.
Evans noted, “This is not an IGA — it isn’t a done deal. It’s an agreement to proceed. We’ve identified issues that have been the big problem between the two communities. Just getting those issues down is a major step forward.”
The Star Valley council has already approved its own resolution authorizing the negotiations.
The resolution approved talks to sign over to Star Valley rights to wells with access to “a deep aquifer” in return for future “valuable consideration.”
Payson has two deep wells in Star Valley it’s not now using. Turning over one or both of those wells to Star Valley would give the town a water supply separate from the network of mostly privately-owned shallow wells that supply most of the town.
The proposed agreement would also let Star Valley use both a storage tank and a water main that runs along Highway 260 for an emergency water supply — in the event its shallow wells run dry in a drought or get contaminated.
The resolution said Star Valley currently doesn’t have a certificate as a water supplier, which limits its rights to Blue Ridge water and to the development of a water system. One purpose of the negotiations would be to help Star Valley establish such a certificate.
Star Valley doesn’t currently have a water delivery system. However, the town could potentially use its Blue Ridge water to recharge the water table — perhaps by first selling the water to several currently water-short golf courses, since an excess of water put on the golf course grass would mostly soak into the water table now tapped by Star Valley’s wells.
Access to the eight-inch water main that connects the output of the Tower Well to Payson’s water system could prove invaluable to Star Valley. The main runs along Highway 260, which means it could significantly reduce the cost of establishing a water system and fire hydrants serving potential highway frontage. Commercial development along the highway likely holds the key to Star Valley’s effort to develop a tax base less reliant on fines generated by the radar speed cameras along the highway.
Equally noteworthy was Payson’s offer to set a limit on how much water it can take from the Tower Well, which would remain part of the Payson system even if it transferred its two, other unused deep wells to Star Valley.
Payson officials have until now resisted any negotiated limits on the Tower Well output on the grounds that Payson could someday face an emergency if a drought affected its network of shallow wells at the time some problem shut down the Blue Ridge pipeline — even temporarily. In that case, the deep water well in Payson could provide a short-term emergency supply.
However, the resolution approved last week by the Payson council offered to strike a deal between the two towns “which will mutually and respectively limit withdrawals from such deep aquifer under SV to amounts which will not exceed agreeable yield as determined and agreed to in this proposed IGA.”