An angry group of Mesa del Caballo residents frustrated with a new water hauling fee nearly drove Brooke Utilities officials home before a planned informational meeting about the Blue Ridge pipeline could even start Thursday.
Some 200 residents were more concerned with big charges for water hauling this summer than with options for hooking up to Payson’s pipeline that could put an end to years of restrictions and frustrations.
“We are all here because of the bill,” one resident shouted.
Brooke’s President Robert Hardcastle said he was not there to discuss bills and would only dive into the five water supply alternatives, including plans to hook up Mesa del to the C.C. Cragin pipeline that will run past the 400-home subdivision’s doorstep.
However, The meeting was dominated by a gush of anger about years of strict water restrictions that at times force homeowners to ration their water usage and cut out showers, flushing and washing or face high fees.
“You have lied to the people the eight years I have been here,” said one resident.
“Why can’t we get answers?” said another.
One woman said the water use restrictions meant her children could not shower at times.
As the uproar grew, a man sitting in the front row said Hardcastle should leave if he wasn’t going to answer the questions.
“You have asked me to leave and I will,” Hardcastle said.
Randy Norman, treasurer with the Mesa del Caballo Water Committee, reminded residents that Hardcastle was there to talk about the pipeline and to hold their questions until the end.
“All of our future lifestyles are involved in this choice,” he said.
Mesa del sits on granite rock. This underground layer has put 367 active water customers and Brooke Utilities literally between a rock and a hard place for years.
During peak use months, water seeps into the wells so slowly that Brooke must haul water from Payson.
In years past, Brooke ate this charge.
In the summer of 2009, then-spokesperson Myndi Brogdon told residents Brooke had paid $59,000 to haul water, said Minnie Norman, secretary of the water committee.
Last year, the Arizona Corporation Commission approved a tariff that allows Brooke to charge residents for water hauling. Just recently, residents received their first water bill with the new fee.
Residents have known for a year that Brooke would begin charging for water hauling, but many were still shocked at the tripling of their bills, Norman said.
Hardcastle said the subdivision can put an end to water hauling forever if it hooks into Payson’s Blue Ridge pipeline, pays for a temporary line each summer to connect to Payson’s existing water system or drill new, deep wells.
Hardcastle provided an overview of several options and promised to have rough cost estimates for each alternative at an Aug. 25 meeting.
But by the end of Thursday’s meeting, most residents had more questions than answers.
As the crowd quieted, Hardcastle explained that during June and July, residents used 1.79 million gallons of water, twice as much as during low-use winter months.
The system couldn’t handle the jump, so the company bought water from Payson and hauled it to the subdivision’s storage tanks at a cost of $16,000. Brooke charged users $13.65 per 1,000 gallons.
“It is expensive, it is very expensive,” Hardcastle said.
Norman said her bill increased $70 in the last month to cover water hauling. Norman said she heard from other residents that their bills had gone up more than $300, but they had also used more than 25,000 gallons.
Those that use more water pay more, Hardcastle said, but with such a narrow base of customers to pass the cost of water hauling over, everyone pays something.
On its end, Brooke Utilities is not allowed by the Corporation Commission to collect a dime over what it costs to haul water, Hardcastle said. The company has the exclusive right to provide water in the subdivision, but it must then abide by ACC rules.
Some residents said they believe Hardcastle is inflating the cost so he can turn a profit on the water hauling.
Hardcastle adamantly denied charging anymore than cost.
The price tag to end water hauling forever may come as even more of a surprise.
One alternative is using an above-ground pipeline to deliver water from Payson to Mesa del. This option would cost roughly $100,000 a year and Brooke would have to reinstall the pipeline annually. That would work out to about $272, if divided by the 367 customers.
Although effective, that expensive solution would make the subdivision dependent on Payson, Hardcastle said.
Alternatively, Brooke could drill new wells and add additional storage tanks to hold some 200,000 gallons, which would likely cover water needs.
Experts have identified two potential sites for wells, each with water 1,200 to 1,600 feet underground.
Costs for the new wells and storage range from $625,000 to $880,000, with no guarantee that either well will deliver a substantial yield.
Hardcastle painted a doomsday scenario of paying a million dollars for the wells, but getting no new water.
Payson’s C.C. Cragin pipeline could also guarantee water indefinitely, said Hardcastle.
For nine months out of the year, Mesa del would receive about 75 acre-feet of water. Currently, the subdivision’s seven wells produce 54 acre-feet of water annually, Hardcastle said.
But like the other alternatives, the C.C. Cragin water comes at a cost. Current estimates put the project at more than a million dollars, which the 367 customers will have to cover.
The pipeline is expected to run across the street from Mesa del and come online in September 2015.
If Mesa del signs on, Brooke would have to sign an agreement with the Salt River Project not to drill any new wells within the community. However, the company could deepen any existing wells, Hardcastle said.
Residents must decide by Labor Day if they want a share of Blue Ridge.
“The window of opportunity is closing and a decision must be made,” Brooke said in a letter to residents. “It is important that the majority preferences of the Mesa del Caballo community be considered.”
Whatever users choose, Mesa del needs a long-term, renewable water source that will deliver users from the frequent water shortages that plague the community, Hardcastle said.
If residents go with Blue Ridge, Hardcastle hopes to finalize agreements with Payson and SRP by September.
Hardcastle said he does not care which alternative residents choose and that he is not advocating for one over the other. Residents are asked to send their questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hardcastle will discuss project costs at 5:30 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 25 at the Payson First Church of the Nazarene, 200 E. Tyler Parkway.