My, my: How times change. Hard to keep up, sometimes. So Payson has struck a deal with the two private golf courses to sell them water to irrigate the grass for the next 100 years — give or take.
What a difference a recession makes.
Before the recession, Payson worried mightily about using up its water. The town hadn’t yet locked in the Blue Ridge water — and in the meantime, the water table was dropping rapidly. So the town imposed water use restrictions and the toughest growth restrictions in the state.
The combination of the new rules and the onset of the recession worked an abrupt turnaround. The water levels stopped dropping and Payson’s per-resident water use dropped to amongst the lowest in the state. A decline in population played a role in reducing water use as well.
Meanwhile, Payson also finally won a guarantee of 3,000 acre-feet annually from the Blue Ridge pipeline. This water will not only more than double the town’s long-term supply, but also make Payson one of the few communities in all of Arizona with enough water to support its build-out population.
But securing the Blue Ridge water came with some ironic consequences. Because of the building crash, the flow of impact fees on which the town was relying to finance the pipeline dried up. The town needs to demonstrate a revenue stream to get the low-cost, long-term federal revenue bonds it needs to finance the pipeline. Without money left in the bank and impact fees coming in, the town council had to substantially raise water rates. It also started casting about for more water customers, not only to use the gush of Blue Ridge water but to support the revenue bonds.
Hence the deal with the two country club golf courses. Ironically enough, they’re struggling to find enough water to keep the courses lush partly because the thrifty water habits of Payson residents and the population decline has reduced the amount of reclaimed wastewater the Northern Gila County Sanitary District has to sell.
As a consequence, Payson signed a long-term water sales agreement with the country clubs that would have seemed unthinkable, now makes a lot of sense.
As a bonus, the country clubs will build a $700,000 pipeline to deliver the water before it goes through the pipeline treatment plant. That pipeline will also deliver irrigation water to the new college — assuming it gets built on the hoped-for Forest Service parcel at the eastern edge of town.
Of course, the town must continue to plan its water future carefully. Certainly, the country club developments make major contributions to the community and its in all of our interests to assure them of an adequate water supply long term. But we’re also convinced that when growth resumes and the college comes, water will remain the vital resource on which our future depends.
That, at least, won’t change.
A terrible portent
The news from Colorado fills us with dread — as did the news last summer from New Mexico and the summer before that from the White Mountains.
The monster that stalks us emerged with a roar in Colorado, a raging wildfire that killed two people, destroyed some 450 homes and charred some 16,000 acres. Only wet thunderstorms tamed the fire.
Last summer, New Mexico suffered the largest fires in its history — and the summer before that, the Wallow Fire in the White Mountains set a grim record for Arizona — a mind-numbing 600,000 acres.
Rim Country remains dreadfully vulnerable to just such a disaster, despite the best efforts of the Payson Ranger District to gather up year-end money to finance an ambitious effort to create around each of our communities the kinds of buffer zones that saved Alpine and Springerville.
With temperatures in the 90s, winds gusting up to 30 miles an hour, 11 percent humidity and the drought redoubled, we remain vulnerable. Clearly, we must make reducing the fire danger our top priority.
That means making sure that our visitors know the rules: No fires, smoking, fireworks or target shooting outside of the handful of developed campgrounds. If you see violations, report them to the Payson Ranger District. We must become the eyes and ears of the protectors of our community.
We hope that this also means that Payson, Gila County and Star Valley will all adopt firewise building codes, to reduce the terrible danger posed by the embers that can drift a mile out in front of a fire line.
We also hope the Tonto National Forest will finally heed the pleas of Gila County and make sure every forest community has a front door and a back door — so they can escape an oncoming fire.
The flames of Colorado have offered us yet another grim warning. We cannot afford to bury our heads in the ashes — and ignore that warning.