Should Star Valley trust Brooke Utilities?
Buy its own water wells?
Buy into the Blue Ridge pipeline?
Or do nothing at all?
Even after a long Tuesday study session, the Star Valley Town Council still can’t quite decide. But those options floated to the surface in a wide-ranging discussion.
The council agreed it needs a goal, but ran out of time to settle on one. The council did decide to start well monitoring services again to determine the quantity of groundwater.
The town hasn’t received comprehensive data on well levels from a dozen groundwater data loggers for the past two years. Shortly after the town incorporated, it hired the firm LFR to do such work and determine if Payson’s Tower Well was sucking the water table dry. But then two years ago the council decided it didn’t like the services LFR provided and moved to drop them.
Since then, members of the Water and Sewer Commission have collected well data from the loggers, but don’t know how to analyze it. Meanwhile, some of the loggers stopped working.
The town has concluded that for the moment, Payson’s Tower Well hasn’t affected the water table. Two water studies have concluded Star Valley has plenty of water for its current population.
The councilors still worry about the future. If the town builds out to capacity, and Brooke fails or failing septic systems pollute the wells, residents will look to the town for answers.
Town manager and attorney Tim Grier urged the council to figure out where it wants to end up.
“We have looked at water issues, the water commission diligently for years now, hundreds of thousands of hours looking at water issues, but I don’t know if you, as a council, have ever decided where you want to end up at the end of the day. What is the final goal?” he said.
For the next hour, council members took turns offering their opinions regarding water.
Current options on the table include:
• Brooke Utilities
The town attempted to buy Brooke through condemnation several years ago, but dropped the effort on the grounds of cost.
“We looked at condemning Brooke and that was a mistake. We bit off more than we could chew,” Councilor George Binney said.
So maybe the council should at least meet with Brooke President Robert Hardcastle, said several councilors.
“We need to work with Hardcastle more than we have and find out what his real desires are,” Binney said regarding Blue Ridge and the possible sale of the system.
Councilor Vern Leis said, “now may be the time to entertain if we are interested again or not. From the data I can find, he hasn’t touched that system for maintenance, update, tank cleaning or anything else for over 10 years. It is getting close to the time where you are going to have a catastrophe of some type,” just like they had up in Pine-Strawberry.
Councilor Gary Coon agreed that meeting with Hardcastle was the next logical step.
Currently Brooke Utilities has a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity (CC&N) to distribute water within Star Valley. The agreement prevents anyone but Brooke from distributing water to residents not on private wells.
That may leave Star Valley with no way to get into the water business, a requirement if it wants to get Blue Ridge water.
“Before we can do anything, we need to sit down with Hardcastle and come up with a solution to proceed,” Mayor Bill Rappaport said.
Councilor Gary Coon added, “We are jumping ahead of ourselves and then going in circles.
“We are in kind of a panic situation here because we know we have to do something and we don’t know what to do.”
For now, Star Valley is only using 217 acre-feet of water annually, much less than its groundwater wells can produce.
Resident Chris Benjamin said in the 30 years he has lived in town, he has never known of anyone who ran out of water.
“So having no water is not the problem,” he said.
Councilor Paty Henderson said they need to have a way to protect the citizens if Brooke fails to deliver water.
“We have a moral obligation to do something about this,” she said.
• Blue Ridge
Star Valley can still get a share of Blue Ridge water, but time is running out.
If the town gets rights to several hundred-acre feet of water, it would need a way to take delivery, store it and treat it.
Coon said that could cost millions.
A Tetra Tech study concluded the town would have to spend $621,000 for a water treatment plant. Add in several million to buy out Hardcastle, a few million to improve the system on top of the payment for the Blue Ridge water itself, and the town could end up spending $8 million to $10 million, Coon said.
Leis said there may still be a way to get Blue Ridge water.
“I agree that Blue Ridge water is a spendy item. We have pursued some of the preferred approaches with Blue Ridge and many times I lay at home at night trying to figure out what we can do about Blue Ridge,” he said.
Star Valley could get its share of Blue Ridge water through piping already in place for the Tower Well.
Even if Star Valley doesn’t qualify to take delivery of its share now, Leis suggested the town could still pay for a share and let it flow down the East Verde until the town develops infrastructure. Councilor George Binney agreed that the town should continue to go after Blue Ridge in some way.
• Groundwater wells
Payson has offered to sell Star Valley three wells for just under $100,000.
Two of the wells, PW-1 and PW-2, are landlocked by Benjamin’s property and the forest boundary. However, even if Star Valley bought the wells, it could not sell water to residents without the CC&N.
“Brooke Utilities owns CC&N therefore we have no legal responsibility to provide water,” Binney said. “We do have to protect ourselves and in my opinion continue with the well monitoring process so we know what we have.”
Leis said, “Purchasing wells would provide us support for future growth, future needs and it is something we strongly need to look at, but I don’t think we want to buy wells that are at the bottom of the hill,” he said.
But Coon said the town couldn’t use the wells until it became a water purveyor.
“If we don’t buy or agree with Brooke, then the rest of this is for nothing.”
Councilor Barbara Hartwell said the town’s best option is to secure wells in case Brooke ran out of water, but agreed Star Valley must answer a lot of questions first.
“Brooke Utilities some day will be shut down because they can’t provide the water and when that happens it will be dumped in our laps,” she said.
To prevent this, the town needs a plan.
“The sooner we decide on a vision and start our journey to that goal, the better off we are,” Coon said.