It was a win-win, says Northern Gila County Sanitary District manager Garrett Goldman.
It solved a huge headache, says former Payson Mayor Kenny Evans.
It saved a ton of money, says former Payson Water Director Buzz Walker.
It helped end the water wars, says former Payson Town Manager LaRon Garrett.
It helped the country clubs stay in business, say the golf course managers.
It all sounds fishy, say some members of Payson’s Subcommittee for Review of Past Capital Improvement Projects.
What ties these statements together?
A deal struck between Payson, the sanitary district and the Chaparral Pines and The Rim Club golf courses to use C.C. Cragin wastewater to irrigate golf courses.
• Saved the town millions in infrastructure upgrades and fees for water processing.
• Allowed the golf courses to stop pumping groundwater needed by Star Valley.
• Extended the sanitary district’s capacity to serve new development.
Better yet: It didn’t cost Payson a cent and yielded more than $100,000 to the general fund, officials say.
However, Payson Town Council member Jim Ferris has recently raised questions about where all the money went from the deal struck in 2012 to provide filtered wastewater to the golf courses from the C.C. Cragin treatment plant and raw water pipeline.
Even in 2012, the deal generated controversy. Payson didn’t finish the pipeline until this year, but struck an interim deal to sell the country clubs groundwater from its network of wells at irrigation water prices. That issue figured in several council races years ago.
So now that the raw water’s flowing to the golf courses, here’s an attempt to explain how it all happened.
Designing the Cragin treatment plantTo understand the complicated deal, flash back to the design of the treatment plant for the C.C. Cragin pipeline, which now delivers 3,000 acre-feet of water from the reservoir atop the Rim. The water goes through a set of filters before it’s drinkable. But that creates a steady flow of concentrated river water, with lots of silt, algae and other solids.
“We tried in various ways to get rid of the filtered-out waste material,” said Walker. “You can’t run a water treatment plant if you have to stop every 18 minutes to remove up to 256,000 gallons of filtrate every day.”
The first thought — send that water to the sanitary district plant that treats wastewater for the whole region.
But that would cost millions in system upgrades and impact fees, said Walker.
Goldman, from the sanitary district, agreed.
“It would be monthly in the thousands,” he said.
First, the town would have to dig up and replace the wastewater line running from Mesa del Caballo to the sanitary district so it could connect a new, larger line to the C.C. Cragin treatment plant.
“That line would have to be about 10 times bigger to handle the need,” said Walker.
Second, the town would have to pay ongoing maintenance fees, which would add up to millions over the years.
And all for nothing.
“The water that is coming out of the C.C. Cragin ... it doesn’t really need our level of treatment,” said Goldman. “As I understand their treatment plant, the water is acceptable for irrigation water.”
So why didn’t the loss of those fees upset the sanitary district?
The sanitary district would rather process solid waste from expected new growth instead of “concentrated river water.”
“We’re here to treat the sanitary water throughout our boundaries,” said Goldman.
Without that capacity, the sanitary district could not support the build out planned for Payson without building costly new treatment plants.
“In my opinion, it is a win-win for everyone,” said Goldman.
Helping the golf coursesEnter the two golf courses.
They needed irrigation water — a lot of it.
Evans, then mayor, was mulling over the wastewater issue as he attended a meeting at Chaparral Pines. The country clubs planned to use treated wastewater from the sanitary district, but years of water conservation efforts had reduced the amount available.
The situation caused a huge headache.
So, Evans had too much water on the one hand, and not enough on the other.
Worse yet, he had no way to pay for it all.
At the time, the town struggled to stay afloat during the worst recession in decades. The Arizona Legislature had slashed towns’ ability to charge impact fees. Moreover, a federal grant disappeared. So had the permits and inspection fees for new construction.
“It became problematic,” said Evans. “We went from averaging around 200 new projects per year ... to 13.”
So the town didn’t have the money to solve its many problems — including dealing with the anticipated wastewater from the C.C. Cragin pipeline.
As the country club meeting progressed, talk turned to Star Valley’s water issues.
The country clubs’ had a right to water in Mayfield Canyon, which feeds into the Star Valley aquifer. Groundwater pumping by the golf courses and Payson’s Tower Well had affected the aquifer and dried up the stream in Mayfield Canyon, upsetting Star Valley residents.
“Between the golf courses pulling water out from the Calhoun Ranch and then the town pulling water from the Tower Well, they were screaming bloody murder in Star Valley about the clubs keeping their golf courses green,” said Evans.
As the meeting progressed, a golf club member said, “If we could just get water from the Town of Payson ...!”
And a light bulb went off.
Could Payson send the problem-causing wastewater from the filters to the country clubs to solve their water war woes? The C.C. Cragin pipeline would more than double Payson’s water supply, but it now needed customers to use the raw water.
But how could the town get the water to the golf courses?
Water for the university siteEnter the Rim Country Educational Alliance separate legal entity (SLE) and the plan to build a university near the country clubs. The project had an eventual need for water to irrigate playing fields and landscaping.
Town policy requires developers to build needed infrastructure, such as water lines. The developer then turns the facilities over to the town to operate and maintain.
However, the SLE, didn’t have any money to build a pipeline from the C.C. Cragin treatment plant to the property. Created as a non-taxing entity, the SLE has land but no money — at least not until it builds facilities it can lease to businesses or a university.
So, Evans pitched the country clubs on paying for a raw water pipeline from the C.C. Cragin treatment plant to the golf courses — and the SLE property.
As an added benefit, the line could reach the Tonto Apache Reservation — fostering economic development there. At the time, the tribe was in the middle of long and complicated water settlement talks with the federal government. The tribe had a claim to water from the Colorado River. But the tribe was considering swapping that claim for rights to C.C. Cragin water, delivered by Payson’s pipeline. A settlement could ultimately yield millions of federal dollars to contribute to the cost of the pipeline. In return, the tribe would have a guarantee of enough water to fully develop hundreds of acres.
Negotiations still continue with the tribe, the federal government, Salt River Project and several others. But back when the town sought to bring water to the country clubs, it wanted to help negotiations by bringing a raw water line closer to the tribal lands.
The town suggested the federal government pay for half of the line — $750,000.
Evans suggested to Steve Loy, one of the owners of the country clubs, that they put up the other $750,000.
The clubs agreed to put up $700,000.
“The town bid it and got it built,” said Garrett, “but (the SLE) reimbursed the town for that ... the town was working for (the SLE) which took the financial risk for getting the project done.”
The cost came to almost $500,000, since the line did not extend all the way to the reservation. The SLE then paid the town $100,000 and used the remaining money — roughly $100,000 — to pay for archaeological studies necessary to buy the land and engineering studies of needed infrastructure.
That extra money is what Councilor Ferris has focused on in recent meetings of the town’s capital projects review subcommittee.
Today, the town has turned on the C.C. Cragin tap.
The golf courses remain green.
Star Valley’s water table is stable.
Payson’s selling water it would have had to pay the sanitation district to treat.
And the sanitary district has the capacity for years of future growth.
The only hanging chad is the tribal water settlement. However, if the tribe and the federal government strike a deal, the raw water line’s half-way there already.
For Garrett, it’s been a journey.
“It’s a very complicated process — the C.C. Cragin,” he said.
Walker feels he has accomplished his goal.
“Anyone’s greatest asset is their home,” he said. “What would it be worth without water? In Payson, that question is gone.”