The Salt River Project has finally completed a $13.3 million overhaul of the existing stretch of the Blue Ridge pipeline and started drawing from a 15,000-acre-foot, filled-to-the-brim reservoir.
SRP has been releasing 12,000 gallons per minute into the East Verde River since April and will continue releases until snow once again blocks access to the pipeline and its pumping stations atop the Rim.
Payson contributed nearly one-third to the cost of fixing leaks in the 33-inch pipe, plus the overhaul of a pumping station and a hydro-electric generator.
The completion of the work caps 55 years of effort and maneuver to divert the copious runoff from a 71-square-mile watershed for the use of Rim Country and the Valley.
Payson will ultimately take delivery of 3,000 acre-feet of water annually, with another 500 acre-feet reserved for other northern Gila County communities. But even after Payson diverts that 3,500 acre-feet starting in about 2014, SRP will continue to release an additional 9,000 acre-feet annually into the East Verde River, which runs into the Verde, which feeds two reservoirs in the Valley.
Officially, “SRP’s acquisition of (the reservoir) was essential for Payson to establish a sustainable and renewable water supply,” said SRP’s Manager of Water Rights and Contracts Bruce Hallin.
The hungry pumps will cause dramatic changes in the water levels of the deep, narrow reservoir, which captures the flow of East Clear Creek.
Without the pipeline, that water would run north down into the Little Colorado River, which in turn drains into the Grand Canyon.
Heavy snows on one of the most productive watersheds in the state filled the reservoir to the brim this winter, creating a surface area of 240 acres.
Pumping since April has already drawn the reservoir down to 83 percent of capacity. The lake will drop another 27 feet by Labor Day and then another 33 feet by the time the pumps shut down in the winter.
That will reduce the surface area to about 160 acres, leaving just enough water to satisfy wildlife and habitat needs as determined by the U.S. Forest Service.
The reservoir sits atop the Mogollon Rim near Clints Well and is officially named the C.C. Cragin Reservoir, after SRP’s general superintendent in the 1920s and ’30s.
The dam was originally built by Phelps Dodge mining company in 1965 at a cost of $7.2 million to create a water right it could swap for water elsewhere in the state to supply mining operations.
SRP obtained the rights to the water in accord with the 2004 Water Settlements Act, with a portion of the water allocated to settle claims against the SRP filed by the Gila River Indian Community.
That settlement gave Payson the right to 3,000 acre-feet and other Rim communities to 500 acre-feet.
Payson must still build a $33 million pipeline to carry the water from Washington Park where SRP’s pipeline ends, to a proposed $7 million water treatment plant near Mesa del Caballo.
Upgrading the pipeline to domestic drinking water standards proved a costly undertaking.
SRP spent $5.4 million to repair a 10-mile, 33-inch diameter pipeline between the reservoir and the East Verde.
Crews had to replace 22 sections of pipe in which the inner concrete lining had deteriorated due to strains on the pipe from freezing temperatures.
The shrinkage of the pipe in the winter prompted major leaks every spring when water flowed again through the pipeline.
SRP also spent $2 million to repair the eight 3,000 horsepower pumps that pump the water up and out of the 6-mile-long reservoir.
The water flows downhill from that pumping station to Washington Park. Crews replaced three of the eight pumps, repaired the others and rebuilt the housing for the pump so repair workers could gain access from the top of the pumphouse.
Crews then made $2.5 million in repairs and upgrades to the C.C. Cragin hydrogeneration facility, which produces electricity from the flow of the water in the pipe down off the Rim. A 3 megawatt plant produces as much energy as 12,000 barrels of oil — and essentially makes the pumping operation self-sufficient. Crews replaced one of the flywheels in the custom-designed power plant, imported from Germany.
Other work completed included $400,000 in improvements to the C.C. Cragin Dam and $3 million in other repairs and upgrades to things like water tanks, drainage, security and other costs.