Diak and Hill talk Page water supply at State Capital

Mayor Bill Diak and Page Utility Enterprises General Manager Bryan Hill stand outside the Arizona State Capitol. (Photo courtesy of City of Page)

City of Page Mayor Bill Diak and Bryan Hill, general manager of Page Utility Enterprises, flew to Phoenix last week to meet with Governor Katie Hobbs’ staff. Their goal is to seal the deal for a critical project proposed nearly two decades ago: Page’s water infrastructure.

The state bill, originally introduced by Senator Theresa Hatathlie, easily passed the Arizona State Senate and the House of Representatives with bipartisan support. The House Appropriations Committee also voted in favor of the $23 million bill, SB1169, and added it to the state General Fund in FY 2024. If Hobbs approves the budget item in June, Page gets a pumping station. 

Diak spoke with the Chronicle on Friday. He was surprised at the speed Hobbs’ office responded to his meeting request. 

“It actually happened a lot quicker than we thought. I sent them an email last Wednesday, late afternoon, and I didn't expect to hear from them until maybe this week sometime, and I heard from them the very next morning,” Diak said. “We met Wednesday [June 3] at 11 a.m., and it went very well. We didn't meet with the governor. We met with three of her staffers in what they call the Governor's Tower at the Capitol.”

Diak, because the meeting was so important, chose to meet in person rather than meet over Zoom.

“[With] that kind of conversation, I felt more comfortable having face-to-face because you can read the room and the people rather than trying to look at a TV screen and have a conversation,” he said.

“Brian and I, and then also our lobbyist, Tom Dorn and his associate were there,” Diak said. “So, it was the four of us. The conversation lasted about an hour. It was very good. We presented our project.”

The governor’s office hadn’t seen the project yet. Diak said Hobbs has never visited Page, and he hopes to change that.

The original senate bill asked for about $42 million. This would cover about $5.5 million for the water treatment plant upgrade, $13.5 million for design and construction of the pipeline and $23 million for the design and construction of the intake pump station. The revised bill reduced the amount to $23 million so state funds won’t cover the complete project. Nearly $4 million in federal funds are currently earmarked for the project. This could go toward the water plant upgrade since it’s “shovel ready.”

With two out of three components of the project covered – the pump station and treatment plant upgrade – this leaves running a pipeline from Lake Powell to the top of the mesa. Diak and city officials are seeking other funding sources to make this happen. In a worst-case scenario, the City of Page could tighten its belt and cover the balance.

Diak, regarding the city covering the balance, said, “That’s still a big hit, but we could manage that and not burden our citizens a lot. Like this project that we’re looking at right now, for us to come up with that kind of money, it would be a 10% increase annually over the next 20 years. And that’s not practical.”

Diak is optimistic Hobbs will keep the water infrastructure funds in the final budget. The bill had strong bipartisan support every step leading to her office. The infrastructure could help other parts of northern Arizona, including Flagstaff, get their upper basin water allotments. And not least is Page’s contribution to the state.

“Page actually hits above its weight when it comes to sales tax revenue to the state, because we're only a community of 7,500,” Diak said. “But with our tourism market, we contribute to the state coffers annually, about $25 million every year, and that's directly to the state. We get some sales tax off that, and the county gets some sales tax off that. But that's what actually goes to the state. The biggest portion of that, of all of our taxes, goes to the state coffers. $25 million is more like a community of about 80,000 that doesn't have that tourism base that we do. So that’s why ours is high. So, it’s significant.” 

Diak added, “And then we pointed out that this is not only an important project for the community of Page to thrive and continue to be able to support the state coffers with its tourism, but also, it’s very important to Arizona moving forward, because one of the things is that Arizona has no access to upper basin water. Page has access to that water, but Arizona doesn’t.

“And our access, the way it is designed at this time, couldn't give Arizona water. Senator [Jon] Kyl’s project that actually started this pipeline concern many years ago indicates that by 2050, northern Arizona will not necessarily be able to rely on just groundwater for its needs. The growth will outdo the availability of groundwater because of our terrain. So, we’re talking about water not just for Page, but down the road into the future. This would give them access to take water down to, say, Flagstaff, Cameron, South Rim of the Grand Canyon, Williams, and other communities in the northern Arizona region. And that access would allow the state to have the ability to get 50,000 acre-feet of water that they have allocated, but they have no way of getting it, no way of delivering it to themselves. So, we pointed that out. That was part of the bigger study.

“When we pointed that out to the governor's office, it was something that they were totally unaware of. We gave them the documentation that shows that project. It shows that need and actually shows the engineering and where that pipeline would go beyond Page and to the south and then east or west.”

The documentation Diak gave the governor’s staff was a study completed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in 2004. A lot has changed since the study was conducted, including higher material and constructions costs, dropping water levels and population increases. Diak pointed out, with the exception of Flagstaff, the populations in most of the northern region are relatively stable, and maybe that’s a good thing.

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