As usual, Brooke Utilities left an awful mess behind.
Frustrated residents of Mesa del Caballo continue to pay the consequences of the private water company’s heedless, arrogant management.
Fortunately, it appears Jason Williamson, who recently bought out Brooke, plans to tackle problems with a far more open, cooperative approach — which remains the only silver lining to this cloud of woe.
We don’t yet know the full dimensions of Brooke’s mismanagement of the water system for a community of roughly 400 homeowners, mostly people of modest means. Many now face cruel choices when confronted with water bills that have doubled or tripled as a result of water hauling charges — even though desperate homeowners have slashed their water use in half in many cases.
Some have seen bills jump from $30 a month to $130 a month. Some clutch bills closer to $500 for a month of water hauling.
The tangle followed the now-familiar Brooke pattern. The company bought the water system, took advantage of the state-granted monopoly, then ran the system into the ground. The water company made no effort to develop the water sources the community needed — just as the same heedless operators let Pine and Strawberry languish under a decade-long building freeze for lack of water.
In the case of Mesa del Caballo, the situation appears even more murky — even ominous. Roundup reporter Michele Nelson has launched a series of investigative reports attempting to plumb the depths of this well of confusion. But preliminary research indicates Brooke relied on an unreported, untested well to provide much of the community’s water. The temporary loss of water from that well made the water-hauling crisis much worse.
Moreover, alarmed and wary residents continue to press the indolent and distant Arizona Corporation Commission to investigate worrisome evidence Brooke violated the commission’s rules on water hauling. It’s possible Brooke charged Mesa del residents extortionist rates for water they didn’t even need. We won’t know whether those charges have merit until the Corporation Commission finally does its job and enforces subpoenas needed to get to the truth of the matter.
All of which leaves Mr. Williamson with a dreadful tangle. We’re impressed with the openness and energy with which he has so far addressed those problems. He quickly struck an agreement with the owner of the disputed well. He has promptly returned calls and provided requested information. He has met with residents.
Of course, it will take time to figure out exactly what happened. Just look to the Pine Strawberry Water Improvement District for proof of that. The district bought out Brooke two years ago, only to discover the system was pasted together with bailing wire. The 40-percent rate increase imposed on residents in July stems directly from the cost of keeping that system from falling to pieces.
Fortunately, Mesa del Caballo may face rescue later this year when Payson extends a water main to the community in advance of the arrival of the Blue Ridge pipeline. Tapping into Payson’s system and then the pipeline will mean an increase in average monthly bills for the struggling community — but will eliminate the ruinous impact of water hauling.
In the meantime, we’ll continue digging — and admiring the tenacity of residents determined to pull answers from this swamp of confusion and deception.
Wishful thinking? Maybe
Now, we know this probably qualifies as wishful thinking — but still, we can dream.
We hope that far-sighted folks living in communities like Mesa del Caballo, Beaver Valley, East Verde Estates, Flowing Springs — and even Whispering Pines will give some careful thought to their future.
Specifically, we wish they would consider the benefits to the whole region of exploring a merger with Payson.
Those benefits start with solving their water problems, if an annexation connects them to the wonderfully run Payson water system — with its allotment of Blue Ridge water. All of those communities have an entitlement to Blue Ridge water, but none of them can afford to access that water. Annexing to Payson might solve that problem and secure their water futures in a single, bold act.
Moreover, wildfires menace each of those communities — and Payson as well. Creating a town that includes the whole East Verde River corridor would provide striking new possibilities for a coordinated, regional approach to reducing the dire wildfire danger for everyone.
Finally, bringing the whole length of the East Verde into the Payson town limits could lead to a partnership between the town and the Forest Service that would make the East Verde Payson’s crown jewel — a boom to the economy of the whole region. We know such a bold move faces many challenges. So don’t answer right away. But please, think about it.
Most realized dreams, after all, started as wishes.