Here’s the latest benefit of the Blue Ridge pipeline: Two streams running through the middle of town.
The Payson Town Council last week approved a $60,000 engineering contract to design a pipeline to dump extra, untreated Blue Ridge water into two branches of the American Gulch.
The streams will run at least nine months out of the year and carry several hundred acre-feet of water.
The project will both put extra, untreated Blue Ridge water back into the ground and provide a first-class, tourist-pleasing water feature in a town once known for having adopted the toughest water conservation rules in the state. Better yet: The Rim Country Educational Alliance SLE will pay for the extra pipeline to carry the untreated water as part of the plan to build a campus for Arizona State University off Tyler Parkway.
And better, better yet: The town can sell untreated pipeline water to both the university for watering extensive athletic fields and landscaping and to the two country club golf courses, which have been struggling to keep their grass green due to a shortage of recycled wastewater from the Northern Gila County Sanitary District.
Please note: Much of the water used to water ball fields and golf courses will actually end up right back in the underground water table, Payson Mayor Kenny Evans on Thursday told the rest of the council.
“Sounds like a win-win,” said Councilor Ed Blair.
The project represents the latest extra benefit from the success of the decades-long effort to bring to Payson some 3,000 acre-feet of water annually from the Blue Ridge Reservoir atop the Mogollon Rim. The town currently uses about 1,650 acre-feet annually from its groundwater wells. The arrival of the Blue Ridge water will more than double the town’s long-term water supply.
“One of our challenges is that we’ll go from having about 2,000 acre-feet to having about 5,000 acre-feet,” said Evans.
The town plans to switch over to pipeline water for nine months of the year, then shut down the pipeline and revert to using groundwater during the three months of the year it snows on the Rim. The pipeline will be operated jointly by Payson and the Salt River Project. During those nine months, the pipeline will supply about twice as much as the town needs.
The town wants to inject much of the extra water into existing wells, so it will replenish the underground water supply. State and federal rules require the town to first treat the water to drinking water — or potable — standards before injecting it into the water table. The town plans to build a $7.5 million treatment plant near Mesa del Caballo to treat the water, by forcing it through tubes with microscopic pores to filter out algae, bacteria and silt. The filtration will generate wastewater that must go to the Northern Gila County Sanitary District plant for additional treatment.
However, the Blue Ridge pipeline will deliver more water than the town can inject into the water table through the wells.
All of that brings us back to the streams — and the sale of water for golf courses and athletic fields.
Turns out, the town doesn’t have to treat water it puts into the water table by letting it soak in through a stream bottom of a golf course fairway.
“In the wells, the water has to be potable. It seems a little strange,” said Evans. “We could put it in a pond and let it soak in, but when we put it in a well we have to use only potable water. So we’re looking for alternate ways to get water back into the ground.”
He noted that the plan to build a university in Payson includes extensive athletic playing fields, all of which will need irrigation water.
“We could use artificial turf,” said Evans, “but it turns out plastic is a lousy recharger of water.”
However, the town will need a separate pipeline to divert water before it goes into the treatment plant to sell it to golf courses and put into the two branches of the American Gulch as it meanders through town. That’s where the Alliance SLE can partner with the town.
The $60,000 engineering contract awarded last week will design that treatment plant bypass to provide untreated Blue Ridge water for non-drinking-water uses.
“The result will be a system where the SLE will contract with the town to build a raw water line down the hill to Highway 260 and Tyler Parkway. The Town of Payson will get a six-figure check for a raw water line and the college will get access to raw water for its irrigation needs,” explained Evans. The SLE will even repay the cost of the design contract awarded last week to Tetra Tech, which has done much of the preliminary engineering work for the pipeline project.
And once the water soaks down past the root zone of the plants, “then we can suck it back up and sell it to them again,” said Councilor John Wilson.
Public Works Director LaRon Garrett said the town will use about 1,600 acre-feet of Blue Ridge water annually, inject about 1,200 back into the water table and put about 200 acre-feet into both the south and north forks of the American Gulch.