Rio Verde Foothills’ Water Bills Clear Committees
By Daniel Stefanski |
Arizona’s water situation isn’t getting any better, and the next decade will most likely present major challenges to people as cities and towns take additional actions to conserve water for the future. One community has felt the brunt of our state’s drought, and members of the Arizona Legislature may be poised to help bail them out.
HB2561 and SB1093, which deal with requirements for service by city water providers, both cleared legislative committees this week and are one step closer to possible votes in the respective chambers. According to the Arizona House summary, this bill “directs a municipality to provide water service through a standpipe until 2026 to up to 750 households that lack access to sufficient water if those households had previously received water service from the municipality, the municipality is reimbursed for providing water service and providing this water does not reduce water available to the municipality or the households.”
The issue stems from an action taken by the City of Scottsdale on water hauling operations to Rio Verde Foothills, an unincorporated community of approximately 2,000 homes. As the Arizona House fact sheet reports, “Scottsdale ceased providing water for hauling to Rio Verde Foothills in 2023” because the Bureau of Reclamation’s declaration of a Tier 1 shortage on the Colorado River triggered the city’s “Drought Management Plan, which required that when a Tier 1 shortage occurred, any water hauling operations would cease unless the customer could prove the hauled water was being directly supplied to a resident or business within the city’s limits.” It is estimated that about “500-700 households depend on the delivery of hauled water” in this case.
The Rio Verde Foothills’ current standing when it comes to access to water has put some families in dire straits, and many individuals and families have made desperate entreaties for help that have reached the international scene. One reporter uncovered that some residents are now paying around $1,000 a month for water, a substantial increase from $220. This story has even attracted the attention of the New York Times.
One Twitter user from Oxford, England had this comment about the New York Times piece: “I don’t care for an affluent suburb nor do I necessarily think Scottsdale Water is in the wrong here. BUT if the starting position is ‘there’s no way to help,’ that doesn’t bode well for the many other Arizonans who may find themselves without water access in the coming years.”
Enter the Arizona Legislature and the attempts to intervene in the situation. Representative Alex Kolodin was the sponsor of HB2561, and Senator John Kavanagh of SB1093. Both legislators have met with people within the Rio Verde Foothills Community, including one meeting that took place on January 29.
HB2561 passed the House Committee on Natural Resources, Energy & Water with a 6-3-0-0-1 vote. SB1093 passed the Senate Government Committee with a 5-3 vote. Both votes were mostly along party lines (Democrat Representative Travers voted “present”) – a fact that did not escape the attention of one Republican lawmaker.
In an exclusive statement to AZ Free News, Representative Austin Smith, the vice chairman of the Natural Resources, Energy and Water Committee explained his reasoning for his vote to advance this legislation to the full chamber: “There was an issue in Rio Verde and the representatives of that district went right to work and brought it to our committee. I look forward to voting for more bills that go right to work for citizens who need water and conservation efforts.”
The City of Scottsdale has opposed this legislation and issued a statement regarding this matter on January 16. The Office of Communication wrote, “Rio Verde is a separate community governed by Maricopa County, not the city of Scottsdale. Scottsdale has warned and advised that it is not responsible for Rio Verde for many years, especially given the requirements of the city’s mandated drought plan. The city remains firm in that position, and confident it is on the right side of the law. Nothing in the city’s action precludes residents in Rio Verde Foothills from purchasing water from other sources. The water haulers who have previously hauled water from Scottsdale have access to water from other jurisdictions and are still offering to haul water to serve the homes in Rio Verde.”
Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.