Work on the Blue Ridge pipeline entered a historic — impressive — stage this week as crews began cutting a massive nine-foot-deep, two-mile-long trench along Houston Mesa Road.
On Monday, workers with Pierson Construction started cutting the trench that will eventually hold an 18-inch-diameter water pipe running from Mesa del Caballo to Payson.
The pipe will connect a yet-to-be-built water treatment plant near Mesa del with the north end of the Payson town water system off Conifer Drive.
The construction should last through December, but probably won’t affect motorists too much, said Buzz Walker with the town’s water department.
“There will be occasional delays,” he said. “The trench is off of the side of the road so there shouldn’t be any complete road closures.”
Walker said flaggers would direct traffic during working hours.
Installation of the pipe is another huge milestone in a decades-long effort to bring a secure, reliable source of water to Payson.
When complete, Payson will receive roughly 3,000 acre-feet of water from the reservoir nine months out of the year, securing its water future and bolstering the groundwater supply, town officials have declared. Other Northern Gila County communities can get another 500 acre-feet if they buy into the pipeline.
The town will inject any extra water back into the water table, reversing the declines of years past. When snows shut down the pipeline in the winter, Payson will resume pumping groundwater.
The project will boost the town’s water supply from about 1,800 acre-feet to just more than 4,000 acre-feet annually — in theory enough to support the build-out population of nearly 40,000 stated in the town’s General Plan.
The town has already installed new pipes in town to connect the existing network of groundwater wells so the system can distribute Blue Ridge water.
Construction of the water treatment plant near Mesa del won’t start until at least 2014-2015, Walker said, or once the town secures additional funding.
Ultimately, the entire project will cost the town upwards of $50 million. The town is paying for it through a combination of bonds, impact fees, federal grants and low-cost federal loans. When the construction industry collapsed and impact fees dried up, the town boosted water rates about 25 percent to provide the revenue stream necessary to support bonds.
The new pipeline won’t stay dry for long though. When the pipe from Payson to Mesa del is complete, the town will use it to send water to Mesa del.
Currently, the Mesa del water company trucks Payson water out to the subdivision, mostly during the summer months when supply dwindles.
Connecting to the pipe should save residents there money and provide a more reliable supply, Walker said.
Payson will install a meter in Mesa del and charge for any water delivered.