A deal with the Salt River Project (SRP) to bring water from the Blue Ridge pipeline to Mesa del Caballo is nearing completion, officials said Thursday.
Mesa del will be the first community to tap into an extra 500 acre-feet of water set aside for small communities in Rim Country. Payson will receive roughly another 3,000 acre-feet from the pipeline.
Although the water probably won’t arrive until 2015, residents say they are excited at the prospect of ending exorbitant water hauling fees and chronic shortages.
The community finds itself out of water more days than not in summer, forcing residents to ration water use and Brooke Utilities to truck in water from Payson.
When negotiations with SRP wrap up, Brooke Utilities will work with Payson on a water delivery and treatment agreement.
Then the Arizona Corporation Commission will weigh in. It could take
time to finalize the deal, which will significantly boost average monthly water bills. However, the agreement will guarantee the community adequate water for years to come, said Steve Westwood, with SRP’s water rights and contracts.
“It is really a great opportunity to create certainty,” he said.
What is not exciting is the price tag.
At an August community meeting, Brooke Utilities’ president, Robert Hardcastle, estimated total project cost for C.C. Cragin water in Mesa del at just over $1 million.
Add in an annual $2,700 operation and maintenance fee and the average water user could see their bill increase 130 percent, he said. On the other hand, the higher monthly cost will avert water hauling charges in summer months that often boosted bills 300 to 400 percent.
Still, “50 years from now the cost won’t matter when they have access to a legal and certain water source,” Westwood said.
Most Mesa del residents appear to support buying into Blue Ridge.
A poll in August found 90 percent favored C.C. Cragin over other options Hardcastle presented.
Randy Norman, a community member and treasurer of the El Caballo Club, which is working with Brooke on the Blue Ridge deal, said support has been overwhelming.
“I am confident it’s going forward and going to happen,” he said. “All we are trying to do is get water for the community in the most economic way we can.”
Other water options include drilling new wells, continued conservation efforts, buying water from Payson and long-term hauling. All carry a heavy cost.
In the end, the community agreed Blue Ridge was the best choice.
Hardcastle agreed, saying it offers the most viable, long-term option.
Norman said residents will have to deal with a few more brutal summers as pipeline and treatment facility construction proceeds.
Water from the pipeline is set to arrive mid 2015, according to Buzz Walker, Town of Payson water superintendent.
Currently, SRP is working with Brooke Utilities on the details of the plan.
Because of a non-disclosure agreement, Westwood said he could not discuss the specifics, but said negotiations were going smoothly.
“We have been very busy since August working through the agreement.”
SRPs agreement covers the allocation of water while Brooke’s agreement with Payson deals with delivery and treatment.
Payson plans to build a treatment facility adjacent to Mesa del. Nearby, Brooke will install 200,000 gallons of storage to carry the community through three winter months when water from the reservoir is shut off.
Mesa del is the first community to get a share of 500-acre feet set aside for northern Gila County.
Other communities have expressed interest including Rim Trails, Verde Glen, Whispering Pine and East Verde Estates.
Star Valley could also seek a share of the Blue Ridge water, but at a recent study session, Walker advised the town council that Star Valley probably doesn’t need the relatively expensive additional water.
SRP is using Mesa del to work out the kinks “and now that we are moving forward with the biggest of the small ones (water companies)” things should be easier for other communities.
“This is new to us,” Westwood said. “The great thing about it is the framework is now developed for other small water companies that want to join.”
Norman said he has been very happy with negotiations and how straightforward both Brooke, Payson and SRP have operated.
Westwood and Walker both agreed.
Westwood cautioned that any community that wants a share of Blue Ridge should contact SRP soon.