Sep 1, 2022 - Politics

Maricopa County supervisors reject Rio Verde Foothills water district

Illustration of a hand holding a gavel over water
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors will not allow Rio Verde Foothills to create a special taxing district that some residents believe is the only way to secure the rural suburb's water future.

What's happening: The board voted unanimously Wednesday to deny the Domestic Water Improvement District (DWID) and instead allow residents to continue working with the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) to find a private water supplier to serve the community.

State of play: Rio Verde Foothills, a small unincorporated area north of Fountain Hills and the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation reservation, does not have its own water rights.

  • Most of its 2,000 residents have private wells, but about 500 residents rely on hauled water from Scottsdale.
  • 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 next year.

The intrigue: Some residents — mostly those without wells — wanted to create a taxing district so they could purchase water rights and create a long-term source.

  • Others vehemently opposed the idea, saying they chose to live in the unincorporated area to avoid local taxes and regulations.

What they're saying: County supervisor Tom Galvin, who represents the area, said at Wednesday's meeting that voting down the DWID honored the will of the majority of Rio Verde Foothills residents while allowing those at risk of losing their water supply to find another option.

  • "Ultimately, my vote to not approve the DWID creates opportunity for a whole community solution to accessible water."

What's next: EPCOR, a private water company that provides service in several smaller Arizona communities, told the Corporation Commission it is interested in providing a standpipe in Rio Verde Foothills that residents could pay to haul water from — similar to what they do now in Scottsdale.

Yes, but: EPCOR said it could take two years to get the standpipe up and running.

  • Residents will likely try to work out a short-term agreement with Scottsdale to continue water service until then.
  • However, Scottsdale officials told The Arizona Republic Tuesday there are currently no plans to pushback the December cutoff.

The big picture: 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 the county could face similar challenges.
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