Guest Editorial: Save Our Lake

By Scottsdale Pinetop

What happens when a lake is not a lake but rather an irrigation reservoir? A small town community loses one of its biggest recreational assets. That’s the latest problem facing the beloved Woodland Lake in the Town of Pinetop-Lakeside.

For years, residents, business owners and tourists alike have enjoyed the lake for its beauty and recreation. The park is home to baseball fields, a playground, tennis courts, walking trails and fishing dock.

But there’s one problem. Pinetop-Lakeside does not own the water in the lake. In fact, the Show Low/Pinetop Woodland Irrigation Company owns the water. The non-profit water company was formed around 1874 and has been delivering water to nearby customers ever since.

And for decades, this has not been a problem for the town. When the water is abundant, the irrigation company may only drain the lake water by a few feet – becoming more of a nuisance to residents than anything else.

But after two seasons of nearly snowless winters and drought like springs, Woodland Lake has become less of a lake and more like a puddle. Even the monsoon rains have not been able to maintain the normal lake levels.

In an attempt to save Woodland Lake, the town has been in negotiations with the company to restore Woodlake Lake and prevent a similar situation in the future. According to the current terms, the agreement would give the town a license for $36,000 a year to use Woodland Lake for recreational use and the irrigation company would restrict the amount of water released. However, the irrigation company is not fully on board. Before the agreement can be finalized, the irrigation company shareholders will have to vote on the matter. This could spell its doom.

If this wasn’t difficult enough, the town has spent years working to purchase a 107-arce parcel that surrounds the lake from the U.S. Forest Service. A citizen group, known as Save Our Park, has spent over 30 years in this effort and contributed $20,000 this year alone towards purchasing the land.

Water is the biggest issue facing Arizonans. As harsh drought conditions and lacking snowfalls persist in Arizona, officials and water managers are making the most of this important resource. This includes the town of Pinetop-Lakeside. The entire community benefits from Woodland Lake, from those that live full time to those just visiting for the summer. This “Band-Aid” solution should have been managed years ago. Instead, now, the town is struggling to find a solution to preserve a key part of its best feature. It’s time for the Pinetop Council to think proactively instead of retroactively when it comes to preserving our town assets. And to find a way to save the lake.