Saturday, July 23, 2011


Payson, Arizona – How a small town capitalized on scarce resources to allow growth and provide world class opportunity

Guest post by Joe A. Miller,

This article is provided as an example of the identification and utilization of an enormously wide range of systemic resources, not as an example of any specific application of TRIZ. The examples contained here are thought provoking and innovative; it is hoped that readers will benefit from seeing how “Somebody, Someplace” solved a diverse set of interlinked problems, and found that solving one problem lead to the opportunity to solve another.

Water in Arizona is vital for survival and growth. It is scarce, tightly regulated and competed for by businesses, municipalities, and even other states.

Higher education in Arizona is also vital for economic survival and growth. It is expensive, rapidly becoming more so, generally restricted to the larger cities, and subject to constantly increasing demand.

The town government of Payson, a small (16k) largely residential community in the mountain area of central Arizona and totally surrounded by United States National Forest Preserves, has found unique ways to obtain water for both current needs and future growth. Further, it has realized that the availability of this water and a large tract of unbuilt land located within the town, but held in trust by the National Forest Service, created a unique opportunity to help provide high quality higher education at costs much lower than available in large urban centers.

The Water: Payson’s traditional water supply has been some 50+ deepwater wells, with chronic concerns of depleting the fractured granite aquifers they rely on. The town has long fostered wise use of this scarce resource, but has never before had an assured supply adequate for long term growth. Now Payson has acquired full legal rights, with a long and intricate process managed by Water Superintendent Buzz Walker, to 3000 acre-feet of water annually from an existing reservoir, originally named Blue Ridge (now C.C. Cragin Reservoir), and built for the purpose of providing replacement water for very distant Copper mining. That reservoir is annually and reliably replenished by snowmelt from the Ponderosa pine forest. The difficulty; Blue Ridge Reservoir is on the Colorado Plateau, effectively on the other side of a mountain area, miles away from Payson. The solution; use the resource of gravity, pump the water uphill some 500 feet, drop it down the face of the Mogollon Rim (famous in Wild West literature) some 1500 feet, and then transport it to the town. The roughly 1000 foot difference in the pumped height and the drop height allows the water to be used to generate sufficient electricity in a dedicated hydroelectric station to power the initial pumping operation.

This project has been in the works for a number of years. It has required the cooperation of a large multi-national mining corporation, the U. S. Federal government, the National Forest Service, The State of Arizona, and the Salt River Project, a quasi- governmental water resources management organization, as well as some $35 - $40 Million US.

The result: Payson has perhaps the best long term guaranteed water source of any city in the American Southwest. Its water needs for its long term fully built growth possibility projection to about 40,000 people is provided for. And this potential has allowed Payson’s government to propose and plan for a university branch with a capacity of 6000 on campus students. Not possible without the water.

The University Campus: Payson, originally a cattle ranching and timber operations center, is in the mountains of Arizona, elevation 5000 feet, with large sections heavily forested with Ponderosa pine. It is in essence a retirement and recreation area for the 100 kilometer distant Phoenix metropolitan area. It is totally surrounded by the US Tonto National Forest. That National Forest also owns a very large tract of heavily forested land, enclosed within the town, that is available for appropriate building and development.

The state of Arizona is home to several large public universities, including Arizona State University, located in the Phoenix metro area. ASU currently has an enrollment of some 70,000 students, and is still growing. It has recently suffered reductions in its Budget income from the state as a result of the general economic downturn. That has caused significant tuition increases. In addition, expansion in a major urban area is a huge capital expense.

The Payson town Mayor Mr. Kenny Evans and the town government has realized the opportunity to provide for these education demands, and has structured an approach to secure private investment to build and operate a totally modern State of the Art Campus with facilities comprising: Teaching facilities and classrooms, student dormitories, a Research Park and business center incubator, a convention center and hotel, a performing arts center, and parking facilities.

The mission of the Payson-ASU campus will be to provide a world-class accredited university in a rural setting, making a college education available to a wide variety of students. The public-private partnership building and operations approach will allow tuition levels to be significantly lower (by some 30 – 50%) than in the urban areas.

The campus will uniquely be a public-private partnership. It will have ultra-high speed wireless transmission capabilities throughout the campus to allow a broad range of learning experiences for 21st century students. The environmental impact will be low, and an auto-free zone will exist on the campus. The site will be designed and operated for optimal water conservation, recycling, energy efficiency and environmental responsibility. The campus will be constructed using LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Standards. A solar power facility will generate power needed for the campus, plus generate additional power for resale.

The permitting and construction of the campus will generate impact fees for water, sewer and reclamation; those fees will offset a significant portion of the fixed costs of the Blue Ridge Pipeline that would otherwise be paid for by the residents of Payson. This in effect closes another “Loop”: The availability of the water resource enables the campus; the campus helps defray the cost of obtaining the water.

The campus complex will evolve from a unique private-public arrangement between donors, private investors, the Towns of Payson and Star Valley, as well as local citizens and ASU. The system will be managed by a Special Legal Entity (SLE) created by an Inter-governmental agreement under Arizona law between the towns of Payson and Star Valley. This legal structure will shelter and isolate the residents of the communities from any current or future costs or tax liability for the costs of creating and operating the campus. The SLE will manage the flow of services and fees between the University Campus and the providing towns.

Proposed South Campus

This arrangement allows ASU to focus on its mission of delivering a world-class educational experience without expending its resources on property development, maintenance and management. It also allows ASU to expand its geographic presence to the rural communities of Arizona.

ASU will determine and provide the entire educational experience, manage the facility, and develop and deliver the curriculum (academic programs and courses).

Donors and private investors will provide the capital and expertise to design, finance, build and manage the campus long-term, in compliance with the needs and specifications identified by ASU. A major focus of the curriculum is expected to be true sustainability. The town has reviewed a long list of technologies and selected a short list of the most appropriate for the climate and environs. That list is to be used as a reference criterion for the detailed planning and architecture efforts.

Several large multinational corporations, each an established leader in several fields, have proposed to partner with Payson and the ASU campus initiative to provide perhaps the most technologically advanced campus in the Southwest, if not in North America. These companies will also establish a research presence on the campus.

Detailed planning and property acquisition is now under way. It is hoped classes may start on campus as early as 2013. This entire initiative is a broad scale, thorough, comprehensive example of searching out, qualifying and putting to integrated use, many diverse resources, ranging from physical systems, land and water to financial investment means and methods, as well as governmental holdings and procedures.
Opportunity seized provides opportunity. Payson’s initiative in acquiring right to the Blue Ridge water, and developing a way to deliver it to the town, is providing a resource opportunity to other smaller communities in the area. They are now working to utilize those resources. In addition, it is now being realized the increased flow of water in a mountain stream can enhance diverse recreational opportunities.

Payson is surrounded by enormous National Forests. These are wonderful assets, though sometimes troublesome to manage. The presence of the University campus, with a curriculum focus on sustainability, will provide a knowledge base and resource to support and enhance those forests, with their streams and lakes, for diverse good.

All nourished and nurtured by water.


A University Campus in Payson; A Public Message from the Volunteer Planning Committee, Payson AZ, June, 2011.

A Cottage Campus in the Pines of Payson: Campus Forum for the Community, June 27, 2011.

Payson RoundUp, The Rim Country’s News Source, numerous articles and editorials, 2008 – 2011.

Town of Payson AZ website;

Personal Communications, Payson officials.

Payson Az.
So far everything looks the same as it did when this report was done.
No property bought, no investors, nothing.
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