Pine-Strawberry Escapes Clutches Of Water Shortfall

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Funny thing happened in Pine and Strawberry this summer: They didn't run out of water. In fact, residents who have had to pay the huge costs of hauling water in dry summer months for years now, have so far never gotten beyond the Stage 1 conservation level.

Even on a busy July 4 weekend, the storage tanks never got below 84 percent. What a difference a year makes–especially when a group with the interests of the community at heart takes over the water company. Now, we'll be the first to not that the fledgling Pine-Strawberry Water Improvement District has been suffering some ungainly growing pains.

The sometimes clannish board skitters along the edge of micromanagement and rumor mongering has cost the board the advice of some crucial water professionals. We hope the recent squall of complaints and accusations will pass like a summer hailstorm, so the district can get back to business.

Obviously, board members have been buffeted by the politics of a water-dependent community as they climb the learning curve of being public officials.

So we thought we'd take a moment now to congratulate everyone concerned with the remarkable turnaround. The biggest factor apparently lies in the district's quick and efficient effor to evaluate existing wells and maximize their output. That step along significantly increased the community's water supply. Certainly, the wet winter helped –boosting well levels all over the region. However, it's worth noting that Mesa del Caballo, still hostage to Brooke Utilities, has already hit a Level 4 water conservation level twice.

Granted, the district still faces some complicated decisions as it seeks to expand the water supply sufficiently to serve not only the existing residents, but people who want to actually build on their vacant lots.

The building moratorium imposed by the Arizona Corporation Commission years ago because of Brooke Utilities' indifference to the needs of the community has long blighted and limited both Pine and Strawberry. That's why the board is likely to miss the expert advice it has lost in recent weeks when it turns to weighing the costs and benefits of potentially expensive new, deep wells.

But board members can take pride in what they've accomplished so far. Used to be, first thing people would say about Pine and Strawberry was that they were always running out of water. Now, that's all changing.

Of corse, lots of people ought to take note of the abrupt change in Pine and Strawberry's water fortunes– like any other community served by Brooke Utilities. The message is clear on that front as well: Communities served by Brooke must play an active role in securing their water futures night now. Don't count on the Arizona Corporation Commission to help. And don't wait for the taps to cough and run dry.

True cost of wildfires

Pity us — to know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. A recent study has put hard numbers to a hard truth we will now have a hard time avoiding.

Specifically: The horrendous direct cost of fighting wildfires represents only a down payment on the true cost. In fact, total costs that include damage to wildlife, the watershed, tourism and the economy totals 2 to 30 times the direct costs, according to a study by the Western Forestry Leadership Coalition.

Granted, the numbers remain squishy — and the group that underwrote the study has an interest in focusing public attention on the need to thin dangerously overgrown forests.

But we should nonetheless pay attention to the grim numbers — and redouble our efforts to thin the dangerously overgrown forests of Rim Country so we can ultimately return wildfires to their natural role in the system.

The study looked at some major western fires, including the 462,000-acre Rodeo-Chediski Fire and concluded that the $46 million cost of fighting that fire was but a fraction of the $308 million full cost of the damage it inflicted.

We hope that the people managing the forest will take the full costs of those horrendous wildfires into account, in deciding whether we can afford to thin the forest to protect tragically vulnerable communities.

Sure. It’s expensive.

But don’t you think that British Petroleum right now wishes it had spent more money on blowout preventers?

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