San Tan Valley residents concerned about access to water after standpipe almost closes, then is vandalized

Nick Myers, above, owner of San Tan Water Co., is part of a group of San Tan Valley residents and businesspeople fighting to keep the local standpipe in operation for people who have to haul water to their homes and businesses. However, recent events are making that hard to do. (Photo by Wendy Miller/Independent Newspapers)

Nick Myers, above, owner of San Tan Water Co., is part of a group of San Tan Valley residents and businesspeople fighting to keep the local standpipe in operation for people who have to haul water to their homes and businesses. However, recent events are making that hard to do. (Photo by Wendy Miller/Independent Newspapers)

A group of San Tan Valley residents are wondering where their water will come from.

About 125 people haul their water or receive water hauled by another party from a dispensing mechanism called a standpipe. In San Tan Valley, it is owned and operated by Johnson Utilities, which wants to discontinue the service.

Customers thought a ruling from a state agency denying the closure would give them a reprieve to fight a future discontinuance of service, but now the keypad clients use to access the standpipe has been vandalized, preventing anyone from accessing the water until it is fixed.

“I’m shocked,” Tim Horn, owner of Tim Horn Cutting Horses, told CBS 5 News, the Independent’s news media partner. “I can’t believe somebody would do this.”

Mr. Horn, a horse trainer with numerous horses and cattle, prefers to haul his own water to save costs, according to a press release. Having to pay someone to haul that large quantity for him, or driving 45 minutes one-way to Apache Junction or Florence, where the nearest standpipes are located, could be financially disastrous, according to the release.

“With animals, things happen; they break a water pipe, jump in a water trough, and the water will run out on the ground,” Mr. Horn told CBS 5. “If I can’t go get my own water then I’m at the mercy of someone else to bring it to me.”

He said that could force him to close his gates.

On July 24, Johnson Utilities posted a notice on its website as well as at the standpipe site at Magma and Edwards roads saying it would be closing the standpipe water service permanently starting Aug. 5. The company cited costly vandalism repairs and liabilities as in part as reasons for the pending closure.

However, the utility company was notified by the Arizona Corporation Commission that it could not shut down service during the summer.

“It’s the middle of summer and people rely on that water source,” Jodi A. Jerich, executive director for the ACC, the state’s utility governing board, said in a statement to the Independent July 29. “Furthermore, Johnson has an obligation to serve its customers with standpipe service through a tariff filed with the commission. Johnson cannot change its rates or level of service to its customers without approval of the commission.”

Ms. Jerich said in her statement that Johnson Utilities can file an application with the commission if it feels it has a good reason to discontinue standpipe service.

Commission staff members contacted Johnson Utilities Chief Operating Officer Brad Cole by telephone on July 29, Barrett Marson, a public relations specialist working for the ACC, said in e-mailed responses to questions from the Independent. The staff members told Mr. Cole the standpipe service should not be discontinued pending the resolution of informal complaints.

The Independent’s calls to Mr. Cole had not been returned as of press time Friday, July 31.

Commission staff members also directed the water utility company to reinstate all the canceled standpipe users, pending the processing and resolution of the informal complaints filed by some clients.

One of those clients was Nick Myers, whose company until recently hauled water from the standpipe to about 30 clients. He told the Independent he contacted the ACC after his account was shut down without notice.

On July 29, representatives from about 75 families attended a community meeting Mr. Myers hosted at his San Tan Valley home to discuss how to oppose the standpipe closure. After the ruling from the Arizona Corporation Commission, the residents were optimistic their accounts would be immediately reinstated and customers would be able to draw water from the mechanism, Mr. Myers said during an interview.

However, when Mr. Horn visited the standpipe the next morning, he saw the electronic keypad customers use to enter their code and PIN number in order to obtain water had been vandalized, Mr. Myers said.

Mr. Myers called the timing of the vandalism “suspicious.”

He said the keypad has been damaged before. It took about a week to repair one time and about three weeks to repair the next time.

Johnson Utilities said on its Facebook page that it has no estimated time to repair the damaged keypad.

Editor’s note: As of Aug. 4, the standpipe in question had not been repaired.

The Independent has asked the Arizona Corporation Commission if state regulations require the keypad to be repaired within a specific time frame. The ACC had not responded as of press time.

If Johnson Utilities does apply to the ACC to discontinue service, the rough average for an application process is about six months, Mr. Marson said in his e-mailed response to questions.

“The amount of time generally depends upon the complexity of the application, the number of parties to the proceeding and the extent to which issues are in dispute,” he said.

Staff at the Apache Junction Water District have noticed an increased number of phone inquiries about its standpipe service, water district engineer Mike Loggins said during a phone interview.

The water district operates two standpipes — one for potable, or drinkable water, at 725 E. Baseline Road, and the other for non-potable water on Baseline Road about a half-mile west or Ironwood Drive, he said.
Mr. Higgins said he has 20-30 standpipe clients.

For more information about the Apache Junction Water District standpipe, call 480-982-2615.

For more information about Johnson Utilities, call 480-987-9870 or visit its website.

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