Ending Mesa Del Shortage Will Be Costly

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From pipelines to deepwater wells, several proposals may put an end to years of water shortages in Mesa del Caballo, but all come at a cost.

Brooke Utilities President Robert Hardcastle presented a list of options at the third and final community meeting Thursday, stressing residents must come to a consensus on one by Labor Day.

From an above-ground pipeline connecting Payson with Mesa del, to two new wells and water from the Blue Ridge pipeline, each has the promise of delivering badly needed water, but each will at least double the average water user’s bill. Rates could go from $23 a month to $49 or $54.

Any of the options would avert water hauling, which can triple bills during summer months.

Furthermore, any of the options could eliminate strict water use restrictions and potentially boost property values.

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Robert Hardcastle

Of all the choices, water from the C.C. Cragin (Blue Ridge) pipeline is the most viable and longstanding, Hardcastle said. It also comes with the highest price tag at just over $1 million.

An above-ground pipeline with Payson would be the cheapest option long-term at $147,600 for the first year and $90,000 for subsequent years. Drilling two new wells is the second highest option at $862,300.

Mesa del residents will shoulder the cost of any improvements.

Just before Hardcastle’s presentation, Steve Westwood with SRP’s water rights and contracts, gave a lengthy overview of the Blue Ridge Reservoir in northern Arizona.

SRP has already poured $13.6 million into the project for upgrades and maintenance and has plans to deliver 3,000 acre-feet of water to Payson in the coming years. On the pipeline’s journey to Payson, it will pass just east of Mesa del, making the community the perfect pick for an additional 350 acre-feet of water set aside for other northern Gila County communities.

While just one of several water options, Hardcastle said it is a “pretty good alternative.”

“Is it guaranteed permanent? Steve would be the first to tell you not necessarily, but it is pretty darn close. It is enough that if you were a betting man, it is probably a pretty good bet,” he said.

There is no guarantee the other two options will deliver the 68 gallons per minute of water the community needs to end water conservation and hauling fees long-term.

Each of the proposals include 200,000 gallons of water storage through several new tanks.

1,200- to 1,600-foot wells

Preliminary engineering determined two areas in Mesa del could support new 1,200- to 1,600-foot deep wells.

Currently, the subdivision’s seven wells produce just 54 acre-feet of water annually. While engineers are confident two sites will deliver water, there is no guarantee either will produce.

The doomsday scenario of paying nearly a million dollars for the wells and getting no new water is possible, Hardcastle said.

Best guesses put the cost of two new wells at $862,000, which for the average water user, doubles their monthly bill.

Forest Service pipeline

Alternative No. 2 includes installing a pipeline through Forest Service land that connects Mesa del with Payson. Payson would then pump approximately 1 million gallons of water a year to Mesa del at cost.

For the first year, that cost is expected to run $148,000 and decrease to $90,000 in following years. The first year would cost more due to an environmental study.

A major drawback with the project is that Brooke would have to reinstall the pipeline annually and Mesa del would be dependent on Payson delivering the water.

For the average water user in Mesa del, the project would bump water bills up 143 percent in the first year and 87 percent in year two and beyond.

“We have been talking about three projects. We have been talking about the pipeline, deep-water wells and we’ve been talking about Cragin water,” Hardcastle said.

“The pipeline is different from the other two in that it is a repetitive annual project. It is not a project we build and start taking water from and we just pay for it over time. (The contract) happens year after year.”

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Water bill illustration

C.C. Cragin pipeline

The final option is tapping into the Blue Ridge pipeline.

Brooke Utilities would sign agreements with SRP for 70 to 84 acre-feet of water a year and with the Town of Payson for the infrastructure to deliver the water.

Mesa del would get water from the reservoir for nine months out of the year with the connection shut off in the winter. To cover winter water needs, Brooke would use water from the new storage tanks as well as the existing wells.

No one can say how long the agreement with SRP will last, but it is as close to forever as any of the alternatives Brooke has identified, Hardcastle said.

“Is it guaranteed forever into perpetuity? Probably not. Is it as close to guaranteed as we have been able to develop? Yes it is,” he said.

Cost wise, Cragin is the most expensive option. With a total project cost of $1,073,000, including $2,700 in annual operations and maintenance fees, the average water user will see their bill increase 130 percent.

One resident asked Hardcastle if any of these options would actually end the need for water hauling. During the summer months, water hauling doubles and even triples users’ bills.

And even when Brooke is not hauling water, residents are often on water restrictions that prevent them from watering outside and sometimes even taking showers.

“If we are not doing this to eliminate water augmentation and curtailment then this whole process is a waste of time,” he said. “That is exactly what we are doing.”

Hardcastle added it is up to the residents to decide which option to go with since they are the ones who will pay for the system.

“We understand there is a risk analysis here, a benefit analysis and we understand there is an economic analysis and a hydrological analysis.

“Each of you need to look at those for yourself, look at your water bill and say based upon the $23 average water bill, where am I?” he said.

“You need to decide for yourself if this is what you want to do.”

While Brooke has already been working on a preliminary contract for Cragin water, it will not be until after pipeline construction starts in September 2015 that residents get water from it.

Residents only have until Labor Day to decide which option they would like Brooke to pursue.

None of the options include help from the Water Infrastructure Finance Authority of Arizona’s (WIFA).

WIFA gets federal funding for public improvement projects and if it gets involved with this project, it could drive costs down for residents, Hardcastle said.

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