Star Valley Doesn’T Need Blue Ridge, Says Water Czar

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Piling irony on top of surprise, Payson water czar Buzz Walker Tuesday told the Star Valley Town Council it probably doesn’t need water from the Blue Ridge pipeline, even though it meant Payson would lose a cost-sharing partner.

Walker, Payson’s water superintendent, said contracting with the Salt River Project for Blue Ridge water would likely cost too much for the town of 2,300, which has plenty of water of its own.

Walker said studies have shown Star Valley has enough groundwater to sustain an additional 5,700 residents, well beyond the town’s growth projections.

“I just don’t think you would ever need it,” he said.

Walker spoke to the council for nearly an hour during a work-study session Tuesday night.

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Buzz Walker

With Star Valley poised to take over the local water company from Brooke Utilities May 1, the council asked Walker for his advice. Walker has more than 40 years water system experience and helped drill some of the wells in Star Valley.

Walker suggested the council focus on shoring up the existing water system, going after grants and establishing water policies.

Walker said Blue Ridge “is probably not needed due to abundant in-town groundwater ... When we go on about how much it would cost to hook onto us for the Salt River Project out of the Blue Ridge Reservoir, it is sort of a simple decision: that is pretty expensive water,” he said.

Star Valley Mayor Bill Rappaport asked Walker if the town should look at other water sources.

“Do you think it would behoove us to start buying wells?” Rappaport asked.

“No,” Walker said.

When the town takes over the water system, it will inherit the wells owned by Brooke Utilities and add an additional two wells Star Valley bought from Payson several months ago.

With that many wells, the town should have enough water for 8,000 residents, Walker said.

Councilor Gary Coon added that the town only uses a small percentage of the water available.

Coon has insisted for months that Blue Ridge is too expensive.

If the town wants more water, it should drill a well, he said. If it can drill a well that has just half of Payson’s Tower Well capacity, the town would have more than enough, he added.

“So that kind of defeats the purpose of Blue Ridge in my mind,” said Coon.

Annual reports by Brooke Utilities show that the majority of wells in Star Valley’s system are underutilized, Walker said.

Most of the water is pumped from one well, known as the Milky Way, which Walker helped drill in 1986. That well is located in an area with little risk of contamination.

The town has several larger wells, including the Highline and a well in the Knolls, with a large storage tank.

Walker said the town should spend its money maintaining and upgrading the existing system.

“To me it would only make sense to upsize, and it is a simple procedure, the interconnection between the Knolls system and the old downtown Star Valley water system — that would probably be my No. 1 priority just for system reliability. You’ve got the facilities and the infrastructure is there,” he said.

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Gary Coon

After that, Walker said the town should apply for technical grants and setting up water policies.

It is hard to impose a fine on a business for polluting the groundwater without policies in place. “The reason we got the rules we got ... is should the need arise we have that policy in place … it is like a little insurance policies,” he said. “If I have to, I have the authority to discontinue service or to issue a penalty, but absent to that and you get challenged on some action you do and you haven’t given yourself that authority by local ordinance.”

Walker suggested Star Valley simply copy Payson’s policies and put the town’s name logo on them.

Luckily, “you don’t have a lot of industry that can pollute the system,” he said.

The council asked Walker if he thought groundwater contamination from aging septic system could pose a problem.

Contamination is likely more fiction than reality, he said.

If nitrate measurements in wells were near or above limits, the water system would be under increased water sampling requirements from the state.

“If you had a nitrate problem, I guarantee they (the state) would have you sampling every three months not once every three to five years.”

Still, Walker suggested the town offer free well testing, which Payson already does.

“It is a service we provide, even if they are not customers, that allows us to gain knowledge of what is happening throughout the town boundary,” Walker said.

Walker said Payson was happy to help Star Valley as it took over the water system.

The two towns have fostered a working relationship in recent years that many thought impossible after Payson’s purchase of the Tower Well helped spur Star Valley’s incorporation.

The days of “water wars” appear behind the two towns as they discuss sharing well and storage tank monitoring systems.

Star Valley asked Walker to attend another work-study soon.

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