Jul 19, 2022 - Politics

Rio Verde inches closer to long-term water plan amid drought

Animated illustration of a spigot with droplets of water falling.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

About a quarter of residents in Rio Verde Foothills, a small unincorporated town in the far northeast corner of the Valley, may not have water come Jan. 1.

  • Yes, but: Local leaders are getting creative to come up with new water options.

What's happening: About 500 of Rio Verde's 2,000 residents rely on hauled water from Scottsdale.

  • The other residents use private wells.

Late last year, Scottsdale announced it would enact the first stage of its drought contingency plan and not allow Rio Verde residents to haul water starting in 2023.

Why it matters: Rio Verde's water crisis is one of the first major examples of the impact of the West's megadrought on Maricopa County's residential water supply.

  • As cutbacks to Colorado River water usage continue, more rural areas in Maricopa County could face similar challenges.

Some Rio Verde residents think the only way to ensure the area's water supply is to establish a domestic water improvement district that would create a board with taxing authority to purchase water rights and create a long-term source.

  • The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors must approve the water district.

The other side: Other residents, mainly those who have well access, adamantly oppose the district.

  • Many people choose to live in unincorporated areas to avoid local regulation and taxes.

Maricopa County Supervisor Tom Galvin, an attorney who was appointed to the board in December, tells Axios Phoenix he's been trying to find options beyond the water district to make sure no one loses water come January.

  • He reached out to the Arizona Corporation Commission, which regulates private water providers, to see if residents could contract with a water company, such as EPCOR, to establish a new standpipe and continue to haul water.

The latest: Last week, the Corporation Commission formally agreed to investigate alternate water services for Rio Verde water.

Galvin says he's seen a "palpable sense of relief" from Rio Verde residents now that there is more than one path forward.

  • Some residents are still pushing for the water district, though, saying it's the only way to ensure a water supply because private water haulers don't own water rights and could face shortages as the drought continues.
  • "It's not over, we're not there yet, but now folks can see light at the end of the tunnel," he says.

What's next: The Board of Supervisors will vote on the water district in the coming months, but regardless of the board’s decision, Galvin says, working with the Corporation Commission should ensure there are multiple options to avoid a complete water stoppage in January.

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