The Payson Town Council has approved an agreement to sell three deep-water wells to neighboring Star Valley for $100,000 and to limit its future use of the controversial Tower Well.
The proposed sale should put an end to nearly five years of sometimes-bitter conflict between the neighboring communities.
Fears that Payson would drain Star Valley’s water table by pumping water from the Tower Well spurred the incorporation of Star Valley and touched off a long-running feud.
Last year, when Payson offered to strike a deal to sell Star Valley two wells inside that town’s limits and to cap future use of the Tower Well, a new era of cooperation was ushered in — although wary officials on both sides said they wanted to see the details before they declared the water wars over.
Last week, a purchase contract for three wells approved by the Payson Town Council provided the first glimpse of those crucial details.
Star Valley has yet to approve the agreement, but had already budgeted for up to $180,000 to seal the deal.
The agreement approved by Payson set the price at $99,201 plus insurance and closing costs. The three small well sites lie between Mayfield Canyon Road and the Sky Run RV Resort near the National Forest boundary.
The agreement would limit pumping from the three new wells to 340 acre-feet annually. The wells tap into water table levels similar to the Tower Well, which goes much deeper than the great majority of Star Valley’s wells.
The agreement also prevents Payson from ever pumping more than 830 acre-feet annually from the Tower Well.
Currently, Payson uses about 1,800 acre-feet of water annually. That is about what flows into the area within where well field lies — if you don’t count the watershed that feeds the Tower Well.
The agreement appears to put to rest Star Valley’s worst-case scenario — the possibility that Payson would some day operate the Tower Well at full capacity. In fact, it also eliminates the possibility that Payson would ever bring the two additional wells into production — which could have doubled or tripled the impact of the Tower Well.
Payson officials have said that they no longer need the Tower Well, nor the two additional Star Valley wells, now that the town has an agreement with the Salt River Project to get 3,000 acre-feet annually from the Blue Ridge Reservoir. That water would actually be cheaper than pumping water from a deep well in town.
Payson officials have said that they still might need the Tower Well as a backup water supply in case some problem along the pipeline cuts off the water from Blue Ridge for an extended period during times of peak demand.
Payson officials say the Blue Ridge pipeline will provide enough water for the town to grow to a build-out population of about 38,000, while still restoring water table levels to the highs of 10 or 20 years ago.
The agreement approved by the Payson Council last week also promises to provide Star Valley with water in the event of any water supply emergency there.
Currently, most Star Valley residents rely on private wells for their water. Several hundred users are served by the Payson Water Company, owned by Brooke Utilities.
Star Valley had moved to condemn the water company and force its sale, but backed off that effort when it proved too costly.
Acquiring the wells from Payson could prove crucial in giving Star Valley status as a “water purveyor,” which will in turn allow it to negotiate a deal with SRP for a share of the Blue Ridge water.
If approved by Star Valley, the purchase could finally set to rest the long fight over the Tower Well. A developer drilled the well, then swapped it to Payson in lieu of the $7,500-per-unit impact fee on several hundred homes.
Most of the homes were never built and many of the impact fee waivers have expired, but Payson ended up with a deep, high-capacity well located in the adjoining, unincorporated community.
Payson’s acquisition of the Tower Well triggered alarm in Star Valley and provided the impetus for the town’s incorporation.