Feb 22, 2023 - News

What to know about the Rio Verde Foothills water crisis

A man climbing a tank truck that says, "POTABLE WATER."

John Hornewer, who hauls water from Apache Junction to Rio Verde Foothills, in January. Photo: The Washington Post/Contributor via Getty Images

Hundreds of residents of the Rio Verde Foothills community north of Scottsdale are without access to water — the consequence of the first large-scale water cutoff amid the Valley's reckoning with an ongoing megadrought.

Catch up quick: Rio Verde Foothills is in unincorporated Maricopa County, which allowed home development over the past several decades without an assured water supply.

  • Many residences in the community have private wells; but about 500 residents relied on hauled water from Scottsdale, until the end of last year when the city cut off access to people living outside city limits.
  • Scottsdale said it was a necessary step in its drought management to ensure long-term water availability for its own residents.

Driving the news: On Tuesday night, the Scottsdale City Council approved a draft agreement that would allow the city to negotiate with the county to potentially restore water to Rio Verde Foothills on a temporary basis.

  • Rio Verde Foothills is working with the Arizona Corporation Commission and a private water company on a long-term solution, but it's expected to take at least two years.

Why it matters: About a quarter of Rio Verde Foothills residents have been without reliable access to water for almost two months.

  • Additionally, the community's lack of water has attracted national attention and cast doubt on the West's ability to deal with its dwindling water supply.

Details: Scottsdale's willingness to restore water would be subject to several conditions, per the draft agreement, including:

  • The city's ability to obtain an additional 600 acre-feet of raw water from another government entity or private company with water rights;
  • The county's commitment to supply water directly to residents, as opposed to letting them "self-haul" like in the past;
  • The county's agreement to curb new development in the area.

The intrigue: Scottsdale's mayor and council firmly refused to engage in talks to continue water service to Rio Verde Foothills residents until last week, when Attorney General Kris Mayes issued an opinion saying it's legal for Maricopa County to contract with cities to provide water to county residents.

  • As recently as December, Scottsdale Mayor David Ortega said, "The mega-drought tells us all --- Water is NOT a compassion game."

Of note: A deal is far from done. Ortega told 12 News the city is talking with the Gila River Indian Community and Colorado River Indian Tribes to get the needed 600 acre-feet of water.

  • Yes, but: Representatives from both groups told the news station they have no plans to provide water to Scottsdale.

What they're saying: "There is no deal. But there is hope," County Supervisor Tom Galvin, who represents Rio Verde Foothills, explained on Twitter last week.

  • He said he's encouraged by Scottsdale's new-found willingness to consider a short-term solution and looks forward to "good-faith" negotiations.

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