City officials say Payson's almost 5-1 passage of funding for a pressurized irrigation system may have been prompted, in part, by citywide awareness of water woes from this year's drought.
During last Tuesday's primary election, 1,152 residents approved a $3.6 million, five-year loan to install a citywide pressurized irrigation system - nearly one-third of all registered voters in the city - while 252 opposed the low-interest bond, approved tentatively by the State Board of Water Resources contingent on voter approval.After the election, officials said they would be making trips to Salt Lake City to discuss the project with engineering firms and that bids would be sent out for initial engineering studies.
Payson has already been forced to buy additional water shares from Strawberry Water Users Association to provide enough irrigation water for residential use and has imposed mandatory odd-even day watering schedules for culinary use.
The additional Strawberry shares should provide enough irrigation water until the end of the month, since 10-day schedules have been set (as opposed to the usual 7-day city schedules), but the city will not make culinary water available for irrigation since the culinary flow has also been low.
"We've already used more (irrigation) water this year than in any other previous years, and 1990 is not even done yet," City Administrator Glen Vernon said. "We've been forced to buy additional water shares and impose restrictions that might never be necessary with pressurized irrigation."
Officials say citywide awareness of those water woes could have led to the overwhelming mandate in support of the proposed system, which could be installed early next year (after initial engineering studies have been completed this year) and be ready by next fall.
"It's obvious that many in the city have a high level of confidence in the mayor (Richard Harmer) and City Council with such overwhelming numbers," Vernon said. "That's something that seems to have been missing in the city for a few years."
Vernon said the high voter turnout is attributable to not only that confidence, but also to the city's voter education program before the election, in which city officials held public meetings to answer citizens' concerns about the proposal.
Only about 50 percent of Payson residents use the city's irrigation water, which uses an open-ditch system to flood lawns, pastures and gardens, a practice Harmer called wasteful.
He said the current system is only about 20 percent efficient while a sprinkling system using pressurized water, such as one currently in use in Lehi, could be 80 percent efficient or higher.
Such efficiency could effectively reduce peak irrigation water demands by as much as 75 percent, Vernon said, and with citywide availability of irrigation water, the demands on the culinary flow could also be largely reduced.
To pay off the loan, the city will use revenues generated through Payson's utility franchise tax, which applies a 6 percent charge to citizen's utility bills - such as those from Mountain Fuel and US WEST, but not from the city's electrical department - as well as restructure culinary water rates and use revenues that go toward paying off another water bind (due to be retired at approximately the same time the system is completed).