Star Valley, Payson Poised To End Water Wars

‘Agreement to agree’ draft would allow towns to work together to solve water issues

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Payson and Star Valley this week turned the water war into a support group, with a “monumental” agreement to give Star Valley access to a deep water well and an existing water main that could support commercial development and fire hydrants along the highway.

At Tuesday’s Star Valley council meeting, Star Valley Mayor Bill Rappaport proudly announced the two towns have drafted “an agreement to agree” on a water sharing proposal that could provide Star Valley with water for emergencies and perhaps help it secure rights to water in Payson’s Blue Ridge Reservoir pipeline.

Under the arrangement, Star Valley may finally get rights to the equivalent of the infamous Tower Well, which taps into a deep water table instead of the shallow, fluctuating wells on which the town now depends.

The backup could ensure a water supply during droughts, protect the shallow water table from over-pumping and provide water and fire protection to commercial development along Highway 260.

While the two sides have not yet signed a legally binding intergovernmental agreement (IGA), Rappaport said Tuesday’s resolution provides the starting point for one.

Water and Sewer Commission Chair and Councilor Vern Leis said an IGA will benefit both towns.

“We need each other,” Leis said. “Our proximity as neighbors, we share practically everything.”

Payson Mayor Kenny Evans said it made no sense for the neighboring towns to continue to squabble about water now that the imminent arrival of Blue Ridge water has changed everything.

The Blue Ridge water will give Payson more than enough water to double in population, without depleting its ground water.

“It’s in our best interest to work together, and making this water available to Star Valley seems like the prudent thing to do,” said Evans.

The Star Valley council seemed ready to celebrate the new relationships, although although they also recalled the complicated history that has pitted the neighboring towns against one another. Leis said Payson’s acquisition of the Tower Well tore the two communities apart.

Several years ago, before Payson had secured rights to 3,000 acre-feet of Blue Ridge water, the Payson council imposed growth limits and required new developments to provide a new source of water. A developer then drilled the Tower Well and sold it to the town for rights to build several hundred houses.

That move essentially provoked the incorporation of Star Valley on the grounds that Payson’s new well would drain away the town’s water supply — an allegation Payson has always heatedly denied.

But now, with this week’s resolution, the two towns can finally work together on water, Leis said.

“This opens the door and changes the spirit between the two towns,” said Town Manager Tim Grier. “It does not have any legal ramification, but it does change the direction we take with Payson.”

If the Payson council approves the resolution on Feb. 4, Leis expects the two towns’ staffs to began crafting an IGA that will include several goals, including:

• Provide an emergency backup water supply for Star Valley using existing Payson water systems. Payson currently has a million-gallon storage tank and an eight-inch water main in Star Valley.

• Work out a deal for Payson to transfer to Star Valley one or two currently non-producing deep water wells located within Star Valley.

• Negotiate a limit on water Payson can withdraw from Star Valley’s water table.

As an additional benefit, the agreement could make it easy for Star Valley to quickly become a municipal water supplier, since it would have rights to well water. The town could then become a “water purveyor.” That would give it the right to negotiate with the Salt River Project for a share of the 500 acre-feet of Blue Ridge water earmarked for northern Gila County.

“In three months we could have a public water works and within five months we could identify how much Blue Ridge we get,” Leis said.

Leis was quick to point out no financial commitments have been made.

“We know no costs, nor can we establish them,” he said of the project.

Evans said that Payson and Star Valley would have to strike a deal to cover the cost of the wells, since he assumed state law would prevent Payson from simply giving the wells away.

“The town of Payson paid for that well,” said Evans. That value could range anywhere from the $100,000 cost of drilling the well to the several million dollars the water the well produces would be worth on the open market. “We’ll just try to negotiate something that makes sense,” he said.

Most Star Valley councilors think the resolution is a great idea.

“They are our neighbors and if they needed water, I wouldn’t mind giving it to them,” said Councilor George Binney.

Although Councilor Gary Coon supported the measure because it would solve a lot of Star Valley’s water concerns, he said he did not understand what Payson was getting out of the deal.

“They told us they want to establish a working relationship,” Rappaport said. “At this point, I am taking them at face value.”

Interviewed later, Evans said, “it would be easy to say ‘to heck with Star Valley,’ but we’ve got a million-gallon water tank sitting on the town boundary and an eight-inch water main running down the highway” and wells whose output Payson no longer urgently needs. “So we’re willing to make the system work. If we’ve now got water, it would be very imprudent for a drought to occur and we have water and the people in Star Valley are starving.”

Several Star Valley residents stood and thanked the council for passing the resolution.

Also at the meeting, the council tabled a resolution that would have allowed Grier to procure bids for an engineering plan on a crossing at Valley Road until March 2 and approved Bobby Davis and Roberto Sanchez as Water and Sewer Commission alternates.

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