Payson Council Could Repeal Water Ordinance

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Stand back: Time for making history in reverse.

The Payson Town Council Thursday will consider repeal of the water ordinance that provoked the incorporation of Star Valley and put the town in the forefront of the water conservation movement.

Blame the approval of the Blue Ridge pipeline, which forever transformed the water politics of Rim Country.

Town Ordinance 820 was enacted in 2006 as Payson’s water table dropped inexorably to make sure that developers provided new water supplies before collecting their building permits.

Developers could either pay a $7,500 water impact fee for each unit or provide water from outside the town. That ordinance prompted one developer to acquire the Tower Well in Star Valley and swap it to Payson in return for the right to develop hundreds of housing units.

Payson’s approval of that deal outraged many people living in the unincorporated community of Star Valley right next door, fearful that their neighbor would pump so much groundwater from the Tower Well it would drain the underground water table.

The issue sparked a move to incorporate Star Valley, mostly to protect the water supply. Most of the 2,300 residents of Star Valley rely on shallow, private wells and septic tanks for their water and sewer.

But Payson’s landmark deal with the Salt River Project for 3,000 acre-feet annually from the Blue Ridge pipeline dramatically changed the waterscape of Rim Country.

In signing the deal with the Valley utility company, Payson agreed to drill no more wells and seek no other sources of water from outside the community. That made SRP happy, since it relies on the watershed of the Tonto National Forest to fill its reservoirs on the Verde and Salt rivers. Congress gave SRP rights to that runoff when it approved the money to build Roosevelt Dam.

The Blue Ridge water will more than double Payson’s sustained water supply. The town hopes to put much of the water back into the underground water table initially, potentially raising water levels and so slashing pumping costs. The Blue Ridge water will make Payson one of the few towns in Arizona with an assured, long-term water supply, despite climate models predicting a significant decrease in available water statewide.

The advent of the Blue Ridge water has already transformed the relationship between the neighboring towns. Star Valley recently bought three unused Payson wells and Payson agreed to provide a backup water supply.

The deal between Payson and SRP made Ordinance 820 moot, since the town could no longer either drill new wells or accept water from outside the town limits in return for development credits.

The town council will consider changes in the ordinance at its regular meeting at 5:30 Thursday night to make changes in Ordinance 820 to ensure it doesn’t conflict with the SRP deal.

Payson still charges a $7,500 water impact fee on each new unit. The town had hoped to cover much of the cost of the $32 million pipeline with water impact fees and federal grants and loans. The collapse of the housing market complicated those plans. As a result, the town boosted water rates substantially so it can this year issue bonds and qualify for federal loans to cover the cost of the pipeline.

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