Payson is negotiating a deal with Brooke Utilities to supply Mesa del Caballo with up to 85,000 gallons of water a day this summer to help that unincorporated community avoid the shortages and expensive water that plagued homeowners last summer.
If the two sides finalize the deal, Brooke Utilities would rent pumps and a four-inch pipe to connect the 400-home subdivision off Houston Mesa Road to Payson’s domestic water system.
Current terms would require Brooke to provide the pipe and pumps and to pay the same rates as existing Payson residents.
“We’re working to solve the water problems regionally, not just in the town limits,” said Payson Mayor Kenny Evans.
“It only works for the region if we help everybody — if Mesa del is hauling water, what’s reported in the Valley is that Payson is out of water. So we’ve got to help each other.”
Last summer, Mesa del Caballo repeatedly ran out of water, forcing Brooke to haul water in trucks from Gisela on Tonto Creek, to the dismay of often water-short residents there.
Mesa del’s shortage resulted from a surge in use, most likely due to a rise in the number of summer residents, and a drop in well output due to the effects of the drought, Brooke officials said.
The shortages prompted Brooke to cut off customers whose water use remained high and several times emptied storage tanks, causing some taps to run dry. Customers had to pay hundreds of dollars in fines to get reconnected, and the shortage prompted homeowners to organize a water committee.
Brooke officials did not return a call seeking comment on the proposed deal with Payson to provide a backup source of water this summer.
Ed Schwebel, who serves on the Mesa del residents water committee, confirmed the deal was in the works, but said a confidentiality agreement prevented him from talking about any details.
“We have solutions, that’s all I can tell you. We’re very confident we’ll have an adequate supply of water” this summer.
The connection effectively foreshadows the hookup Mesa del Caballo will eventually need to take a share of water from the proposed Blue Ridge pipeline, which Payson hopes to build along Houston Mesa Road to a treatment plant near the Shoofly Ruins opposite the subdivision.
The federal legislation that gives Payson the rights to 3,000 acre-feet of water in the Blue Ridge Reservoir also set aside 500 acre-feet for other Northern Gila County communities. But small settlements like Mesa del Caballo have to negotiate with both Payson and the Salt River Project (SRP) for their cut of that water.
Payson needed the approval of SRP to strike a deal with Brooke Utilities on behalf of Mesa del Caballo. When Payson negotiated with SRP for its share of Blue Ridge water, the town agreed not to resell that water. The town also agreed to drill no additional wells within the town limits and no longer look for water outside town limits. The 3,000 acre-feet Payson acquired will more than double its long-term water supply and provide more than enough water for its proposed build-out population of about 38,000.
A group of SRP water rights officials visited Payson this week and gave their blessing to the deal.
SRP Water Rights Manager Dave Roberts said the Valley utility remains eager to resolve long-standing confusion and disputes concerning water rights in Northern Gila County, particularly for some 19 small communities along the East Verde River and Tonto Creek.
“We want peace and predictability,” said Roberts.
He said SRP hopes it can use the opportunity to negotiate rights to Blue Ridge water for a whole string of communities like Mesa del to both clear up existing water rights and put some limit to future groundwater pumping.
SRP provides about a million acre-feet of water to Valley farmers and residents, most of it from a combination of groundwater and water from its string of reservoirs on the Salt and Verde rivers. Congress at the turn of the century established the Tonto National Forest in part to manage the Rim Country watershed to provide water to those federally funded reservoirs in the Valley.
Brooke Utilities has asked SRP to grant it the water rights for many of the communities along the East Verde, including Mesa del, Whispering Pines and East Verde Estates.
Brooke and SRP have yet to start negotiations. However, Mayor Evans has said that Payson would engineer the pipeline to include connections for all the potential users along the way, even if they haven’t yet cleared the hurdles to qualify as water providers and negotiate a water right with SRP.
SRP officials this week confirmed that they also planned to push for a pipeline design that would allow each of those communities to connect.
The proposed deal between Brooke and Payson to provide water for Mesa del Caballo represents the latest significant step toward a regional water system, lubricated by the promised output of the Blue Ridge pipeline.
“From the standpoint of economics, economic development and tourism,” said Evans, “we need to tell the story that we have the most secure water supply in rural Arizona. So we need to help these other communities. So this is a big opportunity from now until the (Blue Ridge) pipeline becomes available for us to help (Mesa del) solve their problem.”