SRP, Town of Payson celebrate positive impact of C.C. Cragin Reservoir
After decades of planning and working together to ensure a reliable source of renewable water from the C.C. Cragin Reservoir, Salt River Project (SRP) and the Town of Payson (Payson) are starting to see success as groundwater conditions in Payson have improved significantly.
The town of Payson began utilizing C.C. Cragin surface water as a source of municipal water in June 2019. Recent water level measurements are already showing a significant rise in the local water table, which had previously dropped as much as 100 feet since the 1950s when the Beeline Highway was paved between Phoenix and Payson.
A combination of reduced groundwater pumping and favorable runoff conditions allowed for a recovery of the groundwater in the local aquifer resulting in a rise in the water table in excess of 60 feet in many areas.
“The collaboration between Payson and SRP has brought in an affordable and renewable water supply to resolve complex legal issues and provide physical water certainty to the area,” said Dave Roberts, SRP’s associate general manager and chief water resources executive. “C.C. Cragin has significantly improved groundwater conditions for the town.”
Originally called Blue Ridge Reservoir, C.C. Cragin is located in a remote part of the Mogollon Rim about 25 miles north of Payson. The watershed feeding the reservoir contains 77 square miles of land in the Coconino National Forest. The 15,000-acre-foot reservoir captures water from East Clear Creek and General Springs Canyon. Several pumps move the water from the reservoir and deliver it to the East Verde River near Washington Park. From there, Payson diverts the water into an 11-mile pipeline to a water treatment plant and then delivers it to its customers.
This project is the result of a long arduous journey for Payson. Since the Town of Payson was settled in the 1882, it has been served by a limited but resilient groundwater supply. However, it was clear that a long-term sustainable source of surface water was needed to complete Payson’s water portfolio and provide for long-term community needs.
In the 1980s, the Town had secured a right to Colorado River surface water via the Central Arizona Project but found that it was far too expensive to deliver to Payson. As such, the Town negotiated the sale of the water right to fund groundwater exploration, management and conservation programs while setting their sights on C.C. Cragin Reservoir.
Through the 1990s, the Town was able to endure significant growth while relying on its groundwater management, conservation and wastewater reuse efforts which resulted in the Green Valley Park recharge project. All of these efforts were successful at staving off water shortages, but the final piece of the sustainability pie remained the C.C. Cragin Reservoir.
In 2004, SRP acquired the facility as part of the Arizona Water Settlements Act. In 2008, SRP and Payson signed a water delivery agreement that included a provision for SRP to transfer 3,000 acre-feet per year of its water rights to the Town of Payson water service area. The sever and transfer of the water right provided the legal use of C. C. Cragin surface water within the Town.
Payson then constructed the infrastructure for an 11-mile, underground pipeline that snakes through mountainous terrain to a new 175 kilowatt hydroelectric generating station and 4.5 million gallon per day water treatment plant. From there, 5 miles of potable water pipeline conveys flows to municipal customers and 6 new Aquifer Storage and Recovery wells that are currently injecting water for long term storage.
“The Town of Payson has finally achieved the goal of obtaining a forever water supply” said Tanner Henry, PE, Town of Payson Water Superintendent and Assistant Public Works Director. “Thanks to our partnerships with the Northern Gila County Sanitary District and SRP, we now have groundwater, wastewater reuse, surface water, and groundwater recharge, to make our water supply as resilient as possible.”
SRP is a community-based, not-for-profit public power utility and the largest provider of electricity in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area, serving more than 1 million customers. SRP is also the metropolitan area’s largest supplier of water, delivering about 800,000 acre-feet annually to municipal, urban and agricultural water users.