Water dispute

Updated 8/3/20

Recently there has been inaccurate information circulated and dubious claims made in the community regarding the water dispute between Carefree and Cave Creek. To try and put things in proper perspective it is worth remembering that this whole process started back in 2005 when Carefree agreed to help Cave Creek condemn the Cave Creek Water Company that was privately owned at the time. Without Carefree’s help, Cave Creek could not have proceeded in acquiring the water company. In order to protect their citizens, Carefree was granted the right to take over the 526 accounts in Carefree serviced by the Cave Creek Water Company (representing approximately 1,000 of their citizens). If and when Carefree decided to exercise their rights it was to be an amicable split. Cave Creek has always known this was a possibility and could have and should have planned accordingly.

Fast forward to today and we have been embroiled in long drawn out legal action lasting over 2 years that was never supposed to have happened. There would have been no need to pay any attorneys if Cave Creek had been willing to sit down and negotiate in good faith. The leadership of Cave Creek has never been willing to do so and chose the path we are on. The unfortunate fact is they chose to ignore the agreement they made in 2005.

Fortunately, the end is in sight and we will have resolution at the end of arbitration which begins in October. Contrary to some claims made about a conflict of interest between Cave Creek candidate Wright and Carefree Town Counsel Wright, the arbitrator’s decision will be made PRIOR to the seating of any new mayor in Cave Creek. This claim of conflict of interest is a smoke screen and nasty politics.

One of the driving forces behind this dispute is Carefree wanting to ensure all their citizens have representation regarding their water resources. Cave Creek’s shortfalls in managing the water system have been well documented and they face a long list of challenges that won’t be as easy to fix as some of the claims being made. The goals of upgrading the CAP pump stations, a backup interconnect with Phoenix, upgraded SCADA systems and upgrades to the water treatment plant are all worthy and necessary projects. It is worth noting that these were all recommendations made in 2014 by the Water Advisory Committee. Furthermore, these improvements are years away from being implemented.

A recent Water Advisory Committee meeting provided some details on completion dates being pushed out or not known. There are issues securing land for the pump stations. The tie in with Phoenix requires that Phoenix do certain things to make it happen and it may not be a priority for them. During the last recession in 2008, Phoenix cut half a billion dollars from their budgets for utility improvements. They have a huge backlog of projects to complete for their own citizens. Where do you think the Cave Creek interconnect sits on their priority list?
Another big issue not talked about is what is Cave Creek going to do about their water treatment plant. They spent $2 million plus on the membrane filters to remedy the problem with water quality but that is a temporary solution and only covers 2/3 of the water they produce. Cave Creek is going to need to spend huge dollars in the future to set up their treatment plant for the long term. That’s why they have budgeted money for an engineering evaluation of their water plant. How much is the solution going to cost? Have the new filters fixed the problem with the water quality? Has anyone seen new water quality reports? What is Cave Creek going to do about the ever-increasing amount of their fixed CAP allocation they are sending over to the Desert Hills system, up to almost 450 acre-feet in the past year? What happens if Home Rule does not pass in Cave Creek and the budget is capped?
Bottom line is that planning to make these necessary improvements is a step in the right direction but only a start, with lots of execution risk.

There have also been claims made as to what Carefree’s water system will look like once the process of integrating the 526 accounts is complete. Contrary to the claims made, it is a huge positive that Carefree does not have a CAP pipeline and water treatment plant. Just look at the challenges Cave Creek is dealing with. It is well known in the utility business that scale is critical. Infrastructure is expensive, especially water treatment plants, transmission pipelines and pump stations. All the things Cave Creek is struggling with. A well-run small system that avoids these challenges does its rate payers a huge service. After all the effort and expense, Cave Creek only has one pipeline for CAP water.

When the integration of the 526 Carefree accounts is completed, Carefree will have 3 separate connections to the Scottsdale system
(they already have two). All will utilize Scottsdale’s world class treatment plant, transmission pipelines and pump stations that take Carefree’s CAP allocation, pull it out of the Central Arizona Canal, run it thru their water treatment plant and pump it up to the Town borders. It will be the equivalent of having 3 separate connections to the CAP canal and Carefree won’t have to worry about the massive cost of maintaining expensive infrastructure.

The Carefree Water Company, who has been buying finished water from both Cave Creek and Scottsdale, will pay Scottsdale a few pennies per 1000 gallons over what they were paying Cave Creek to process its water. The reality is, when Cave Creek was sending out notices regarding problems with their water quality, Carefree stopped buying finished water from Cave Creek. Water they used partially to serve to the 2/3 of Carefree residents currently served by the Carefree Water Company. The marginal extra expense of buying all its water from Scottsdale is already baked into the Carefree Water Company’s budgets and rates.

Carefree also has 5 operating wells that predate the 1980 Groundwater Management Act that limits pumping. Carefree is not subject to those limits and they can draw water from the aquafer at their historic pump rates. The Town currently uses approximately 1,000-acre ft of water per year from all sources (CAP and wells). Based on those historic pumping rates, Carefree’s wells can supply approximately three times the total water used by the Town in a given year or approximately 3,000-acre ft. Currently, the Carefree Water Company is only utilizing well water for 1/3 of the total water they produce in a given year (approximately 350-acre ft./yr. of well water) in an effort to protect the aquifer, relying on CAP water for the balance. Carefree’s wells have been maintained with a rigorous preventive maintenance program and are up to date. The aquifer they draw from has been fully recharged and levels are regularly monitored.

This compares to Cave Creek who is 100% depended on CAP water for the Cave Creek service area, has abandoned all but one of their wells, with the remaining well full of arsenic and not suitable for use as drinking water. There are wells in the Desert Hills system, but their levels are dropping and it has been known since the purchase of that system that Cave Creek would need to secure additional sources of water. The result has been the use of an ever-increasing portion of the Town’s limited CAP allocation to supplement dropping well yields in Desert Hills, with no end in sight. To have a ground water back up plan, Cave Creek will need to spend significant dollars to refurbish its well sites previously abandoned and will be limited on how much water they can draw from the aquifer, as their wells will be subject to the 1980 Groundwater Management Act limits. In prior Water Advisory Committee discussions, a figure of approximately 385-acre feet per year of available ground water was used. Nowhere near enough to replace annual usage of CAP water of over 2100-acre feet per year.
Is Carefree better off having one connection to Cave Creek’s system to serve 1000 of their citizens and a portion of the current Carefree Water Company or having 3 connections to Scottsdale’s water system to serve their entire community and a series of wells as back up? As far as the claim of Carefree needing massive amounts of additional storage and pump stations, it’s just not true. A small amount of additional storage will be required to maintain maximum fire flows once the 526 new accounts are added into the Carefree Water Company.
The process of bringing the 1,000 Carefree residents currently served by the Cave Creek Water Company into the Carefree Water Company has been needlessly difficult. I know there is frustration with either information voids or misinformation circulating. It is unfortunate that the problem has been dealt with the way it has, but that was a choice made by the leadership of Cave Creek. Once the arbitrators render their decision, all the facts will come out, the impacts to both water systems will be known and people can decide for themselves what the real story is.

A final comment on un-truths and dubious claims. On Saturday July 25th, Mayor Bunch posted on the Cave Creekers Infamous Politics Board accusing me of insisting the Town use a certain software product I was supposedly familiar with when I was on the Water Advisory Committee. He went on to say that when the Town did not go on to “waste” the $175,000, I insisted they spend, I was overheard saying that I would make Cave Creek pay. He then asked if I had an interest in the company.

I want to make it perfectly clear that this is a complete fabrication and an outright falsehood. While I know this never happened, to be thorough, I checked with several members of the Water Advisory Committee, with whom I served, and they agreed no such incident occurred and affirmed that they had never seen me conduct myself in such a manner. All but one, without my asking, volunteered to go on the record to refute Mayor Bunch’s accusation.

These false and libelous claims are an attempt to defame my character and I will not stand by without responding. I attempted to post my rebuttal on the Cave Creekers Infamous Politics Board, where Mayor Bunch made his post, but my rebuttal was removed within minutes. I guess there is no room for open debate on that forum.
The bottom line is we all face serious, complex issues regarding water in our communities. They involve elements of engineering, finance, law and politics. Considering what is at stake, we need leaders who use verifiable facts in their debate and do not resort to sound bites, innuendo and out right falsehoods.

Tony Geiger