SRP, partners forge relationships to tackle Arizona’s water challenges

The C.C. Cragin Pipeline will soon make history, thanks to the efforts of those whose dreams of a reliable, long-term water supply for Payson and its northern Gila County neighbors are about to be rewarded.

The concept of building a pipeline from the C.C. Cragin Reservoir — formerly Blue Ridge Reservoir — to Payson to assist in improving the water supply situation in Payson and other Mogollon Rim communities as well as supplementing the water supply of Salt River Project shareholders in the Valley of the Sun has been ongoing for decades.

In addition to the Town of Payson and Payson Water Company (Mesa Del Caballo), SRP has executed water delivery and use agreements with the Cowan Ranch Homeowners’ Association and the Bonita Creek Land and Homeowners’ Association for the use of C.C. Cragin water supplies. 

Although both of these communities have their own water distribution systems, the agreement with SRP allows for their continued use of their current water sources with a strong foundation for a water right from C. C. Cragin.

The resolution of water right and supply issues offered by the C.C. Cragin Reservoir is just one of the examples of SRP’s continued efforts to work with Arizona stakeholders and develop long-lasting solutions that provide water assurance throughout the state.

Other examples include:

  • The Cragin Watershed Protection Project was launched in 2014 as a collaborative effort by SRP, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Town of Payson, the National Forest Foundation and the U.S. Forest Service to conduct an environmental assessment to reduce hazardous forest fuels on the Cragin Watershed.

The final environmental assessment and decision noticed were published in July 2018 and identified approximately 37,000 acres of forest thinning that needs to occur across the Cragin Watershed.

The collaborative efforts to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire by the removal of hazardous forest fuel will help protect Payson’s municipal water supply and minimize costly impacts of wildfire on the town’s water supply.

Forest thinning projects and prescribed fires are needed to improve forest and watershed health on National Forest System lands.

In November 2018, SRP notified the U.S. Forest Service that it would be moving forward with additional partners to collectively work on forest thinning projects in the Cragin Watershed. 

SRP is developing a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Wild Turkey Federation to allow the partners to leverage existing agreements to quickly move forward with implementation of forest thinning projects.

This is another example of SRP’s leadership to find efficient and timely solutions to water challenges that affect Arizona’s rural communities. 

  • Phase Two Large-Scale Request for Proposals (RFP) for 4FRI is a major collaborative effort among the U.S. Forest Service, SRP, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Arizona Commerce Authority to issue an RFP that may result in one or more large-scale, long-term forest thinning contracts in central and northern Arizona.

This is a truly unique, one-of-a-kind partnership to jointly develop the next large-scale forest restoration RFP and evaluate bid proposals.

This RFP and subsequent contract(s) could be among the first in the nation to utilize the U.S. Forest Service’s newly authorized 20-year stewardship authority.

The RFP is expected to be issued in the late spring with possible contract awards issued in the winter of 2019.

The RFP is a critical step to address the unhealthy nature of Arizona’s National Forests.

Overgrown and unhealthy forests on National Forest System lands are fuel for large catastrophic wildfires that not only affect the health of the Salt, Verde and Cragin watersheds, but also pose severe impacts to rural communities, wildlife, recreation, fisheries and endangered species. 

Massive wildfires make average rainfall events extremely destructive — accelerating water runoff, eroding soils, depositing sediment into water storage reservoirs, and ultimately causing hundreds of millions of dollars in increased treatment costs and reduced water storage capacity. 

The restoration of these forested watersheds and prevention of catastrophic wildfire is critical to the long-term sustainability and reliability of SRP’s water supplies and infrastructure.

The goal of this innovative partnership is to spur existing and new forest product industry investment to sustain a well-capitalized industry that can substantially increase the scale of forest restoration in central and northern Arizona. 

Additional forest product industry investment will spur job creation, help restore the health of our forests, protect our forested communities and ensure that SRP can continue to provide sustainable and reliable water. 

  • The nearly completed C.C. Cragin Pipeline for Payson and some of the nearby Rim communities involved the resolution of water right and supply issues that were offered by C.C. Cragin Reservoir starting in 2004 when the Arizona Water Settlements Act was approved by the U.S. Congress and then implemented the next year.

Blue Ridge Reservoir was originally constructed in the early 1960s by Phelps Dodge Corporation as a supplemental water supply for its Morenci Copper Mine. 

This was an elaborate water exchange with SRP in which Phelps Dodge pumped water from the reservoir over the Mogollon Rim and into the East Verde River to pay back SRP for water Phelps Dodge pumped from the Black River into Eagle Creek and to its copper mine. 

The pump system was a technological marvel because, once primed, the diverted water supply created its own power to keep the system operating. 

Once SRP acquired the facility, it seemed quite appropriate to rename the facility C. C. Cragin Reservoir in recognition of the contributions of SRP's General Superintendent C.C. Cragin  — whose plans to finance and build three additional dams along the Salt River to increase hydroelectric generating capabilities eventually led to the construction of Mormon Flat Dam in 1925, Horse Mesa Dam in 1927 and Stewart Mountain Dam in 1930.

Those plans from nearly a century ago worked out quite well with the help of a lot of partners. Today, the same kind of relationships will soon be bringing additional water certainty to Payson and Gila County.

 Jeff Lane is a media relations representative for Salt River Project.



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