On July 18, 1996 the Phoenix New Times published an article titled “Tapped Out” about the water situation in Pine-Strawberry. (You may find the article at http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/ 1996-07-18/news/tapped-out/)
Our memories can be short so the article is a good reminder of what Pine-Strawberry faced the summer of 1996. When you read the article, it will remind the old-timers and educate the newcomers that not too long ago the privately held water company was hauling water to the two communities and a Gila County potable water tank truck was parked where the Ponderosa Market now sits so residents could fill their water jugs and drag them home because their faucets were dry. The article helped to further generate the stigma of “no water” that has plagued Pine-Strawberry and the Rim Country for decades.
Having been involved in the struggle to bring a stable source of water to Pine-Strawberry for the last 15 years has been an education in politics, water law, the workings of the Arizona Corporation Commission, and the workings of privately held water companies and their attorneys. Now that the Pine-Strawberry Water Improvement District (PSWID) board has taken the steps to assure that the people of Pine-Strawberry will have an ample, pure, and reliable water supply, it is time the rest of Arizona knows that the stigma of a lack of water no longer applies to our communities.
Needless to say, as could have been expected, there have been growing pains which resulted in some resignations and a realignment of hired contractors. Additionally, as with any effort to bring about change, it saw the formation of a small group of homeowners who were known as the “rebels without a cause” because nobody
could figure out what their objective was even when asked. They just seemed to be unhappy with everything.
Of course, there is still controversy as noted by the letters to the editor concerning the recent water rate increase. It is impossible to please everyone. Some second home owners feel the rate structure is unfair to them, however, it is hoped that they will realize an ample water supply will be of benefit and enjoyed by everyone. The reality is, if you own a second home, you pay the full amount to support many services you infrequently utilize such as HOA dues, property taxes, school taxes, fire department taxes, sewer fees, etc. ...They all have a fixed cost of operation.
The Arizona Corporation Commission is thankfully no longer involved in the Pine-Strawberry water systems. They were unable for decades to fix the problems but to their credit, they finally realized that the citizens of Pine-Strawberry were better equipped to solve their own challenges, which are still many. It is hard for some to look at the big picture when they receive a rate increase.
The reality is the communities now have an adequate water supply that was thought to be non-existent and unobtainable 10 years ago. When the real estate market sees its next uptick, the communities’ homeowners will benefit with increased property values from having the “water poor” stigma removed. The other reality is that there was a rate case before the Arizona Corporation Commission by Brooke Utilities prior to the takeover. In all probability, if history repeated itself, there would have been a rate increase anyway without an increase in water supply or improvements to the community’s water system.
The elected PSWID board has accomplished a great deal in the last 1-1/2 years since purchasing the water companies. A 20-year moratorium on new water hook ups has been abolished. Residents who used to haul water to their homes now enjoy a water meter at their property line. The water supply has been increased by 108 percent. At the time of purchase, the wells in the water system could produce 233 gpm. Today, PSWID wells can produce 485 gpm and the system has a more reliable and sustainable supply from the newly discovered and virtually untapped deep water aquifer. Leaks that have been underground for years have been repaired. And now the PSWID is embarking on a well drilling project to further increase the water supply that was proven by private citizens.
There are still many challenges that will need to be addressed in the coming decade. The water mains in the system consist of over 20 miles of pipe, which is the equivalent of thin wall sewer pipe. In some instances, only the dirt around the pipe is holding it together. The PSWID board took the far-sighted step of hiring CH2M Hill, an international, multi-billion dollar company, to manage the water system and to develop a long-term master plan to revitalize the system. Because of the stature of this company, the board may be able to save as much as $500,000 in long-term refinancing costs, assuring that progress can continue on the system.
The Pine-Strawberry water system is now owned by the people of Pine-Strawberry. The glass of water in Pine-Strawberry used to be half empty (actually at times it was totally empty) and now it is better than half full. Empty flower beds and gardens may now be replanted. Residents no longer have to sneak out in the darkness of midnight to water their plants or pressure wash their homes to prepare them for painting. (Yes, people really did do this!)
We owe thanks to the many people who have spent thousands of hours working on the water challenges in Pine-Strawberry including former Supervisor Christensen, Supervisor Tommie Martin, the past and present PSWID board members and the many citizens who drove to Arizona Corporation Commission meetings to assure we would have a high quality of life. Hopefully, we can all stop and smell the roses growing this year in Pine-Strawberry.
Ray Pugel is a resident of Pine, a Realtor and business owner who recently sold a well he owned in partnership to the Pine-Strawberry Water Improvement District.