Payson next week will make history when it starts installing a segment of the CC Cragin/Blue Ridge pipeline along Houston Mesa Road. The pipeline will secure the region’s water future.
This week, contractors began work on Houston Mesa Road to dig a trench in which they will eventually bury the 36-inch, iron pipe that will run 15 miles from Washington Park down to a $7 million treatment and filtration plant at Mesa del Caballo.
Crews also began clearing trees from the water filtration plant site as part of the beginning stages of a project with an ultimate cost that may top $50 million — about $3,000 for each resident.
The town originally hoped to pay for the project with a combination of federal grants and impact fees imposed on new construction. When the home-building business collapsed four years ago, the council instead approved a series of water rate increases to provide the revenue stream necessary to qualify for long-term, low-cost federal bonds. Payson also used about $10 million in previously collected impact fees, a $6 million federal grant and a low-cost $4 million federal loan for the project.
The town has already installed a network of new pipes in town to connect the existing network of groundwater wells, so that the system can accept some 3,000 acre-feet annually from the Blue Ridge pipeline.
The new connections will also allow the town to use only pipeline water for nine months of the year and to inject extra water back into the water table. During the winter when the pipeline is shut down because of snow cover up on the Rim, Payson will resume pumping groundwater. The arrangement should raise the water table, which had fallen as much as 200 feet in the years prior to imposition of strict water conservation rules and the collapse of the construction industry.
The most recent construction centers on burying the $1.8 million worth of pipe alongside Houston Mesa Road, which will include three crossings of the East Verde River.
This project is the fifth of 10 construction projects necessary to complete the pipeline. Motorists may encounter brief traffic delays due to construction activities from now through the end of the year.
Previous projects completed last winter included the installation of three separate distribution pipelines within Payson and the construction 15 miles northeast of Payson of the structure necessary to connect Payson’s future water supply pipeline to existing Salt River Project CC Cragin water supply facilities.
Future projects include two additional pipeline segments within Payson, the construction of 12 miles of surface water pipeline from the Washington Park area, the construction of a hydroelectric generator and water treatment plant near Mesa del Caballo and equipping various existing water wells throughout Payson for the underground storage of excess CC Cragin water.
Construction will begin shortly on another water pipeline project located on Tyler Parkway between State Route 87 and State Route 260.
The project will boost the town’s water supply from about 1,800 acre-feet to just short of 5,000 acre-feet annually — enough to support the build-out population of nearly 40,000 envisioned by the town’s general plan.
By contrast, many other areas in rural Arizona are coping with the effects of a tenacious drought that has highlighted projections of severe water shortages in the decades to come. One recent U.S. Bureau of Reclamation study concluded that the flow of the Colorado River has dropped to its lowest level in a century — and perhaps in the past 1,200 years. The study estimated that within 50 years, demand for Colorado River water will outstrip supply by 3.2 million acre-feet annually, possibly emptying one or more of the massive reservoirs on the river.
Payson spent decades lobbying the federal government to win rights to water in the Blue Ridge Reservoir, operated by the Salt River Project — which owns the rights to surface water throughout the Tonto National Forest.
Payson agreed to not drill any more wells as part of its deal with SRP to get the right to draw 3,000 acre-feet each year from the 11,000-14,000 acre-foot reservoir.