End To Water Hauling

Mesa del will connect to Payson system at initial cost of nearly $275,000

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The Payson Water Company on Oct. 1 will seek permission from the Arizona Corporation Com­mission to drop Mesa del Caballo water hauling charges and hook up the 400-home subdivision to the Town of Payson’s water system.

Administrative Law Judge Dwight Nodes on Wednesday agreed to present an expedited application by Jason Williamson and his water company for a $275,000 loan from the federal Water Infrastructure Finance Authority (WIFA) to build a pipeline connecting Mesa del Caballo to Payson’s water system. This pipeline would eliminate the need to haul water by truck, so the ACC staff recommended Williamson drop his authority to charge augmentation charges, which have increased residents’ bills this summer by 100 to 500 percent.

He agreed.

Residents will pay a surcharge on their bills of about $7.50 a month to cover the cost of the loan. Residents will face a much larger increase in about two years when the subdivision hooks into Payson’s Blue Ridge pipeline.

The hearing this week before the administrative law judge focused only on Mesa del’s water problems. Payson Water Company has also asked for a 118 percent increase in the rates for other communities it serves, including Whispering Pines, East Verde Estates, Geronimo Estates and others. However, that hearing is not until January.

Williamson, his lawyer Jay Shapiro and accountant Thomas Berasa assured Nodes during the Sept. 26 hearing that connecting to Payson’s system offered the quickest way to stop trucking water in the hot, dry summer months.

But Nodes grilled the men to make sure they understand this path will set in motion a cascade of expensive events.

“Do you think before you engage in an investment this expensive, you should look to see if there are other options for the summer? Once we go down this road there is no turning back,” said Nodes.

Williamson said he has examined geo-hydrology reports that indicate digging more wells or deepening existing wells will not guarantee PWC would hit enough water to serve the needs of the community. Williamson said he can’t afford the risk of drilling new wells that might not strike water.

The judge asked him what happens if Payson never finishes the C.C. Cragin/Blue Ridge pipeline.

“What if Cragin never happens? At least we have a supply to rely on. I don’t believe the Town of Payson will not sell us water,” said Williamson.

Once Mesa del spends the $275,000 to connect to Payson’s existing system, it will still face a bill of about $900,000 more to buy into the Blue Ridge pipeline. Mesa del is lucky because the plant to treat the reservoir water sits alongside the community and Payson has to build a pipeline to that location anyway.

Payson won’t even have to pump water from its existing system uphill to Mesa del. “Most of their wells sit up high,” said Williamson.

Now that PWC has committed to building a pipeline to Payson’s C.C. Cragin/Blue Ridge pipeline, PWC will have to cough up additional money to pay for its roughly 80-acre-foot share of the 3,500 acre-feet, $50 million pipeline.

Williamson is banking on finding a funding solution before it comes time to pay that bill.

For now, he just wants to stop trucking water.

“We recognize this is an extraordinary situation that has not made anybody happy,” said Shapiro in closing. “The new owners of this company have one goal ... to make happy customers.”

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