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Scottsdale area community’s water cut off due to Colorado River drought

Residents of Rio Verde Foothills sue, turn to paper plates, fewer showers

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Colorado River flows through Marble Canyon as seen from the Historic Navajo Bridge in Coconino County, Arizona.

The Colorado River flows through Marble Canyon as seen from the Historic Navajo Bridge in Coconino County, Ariz., on July 20, 2022.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

An upscale community outside of Scottsdale, Arizona, that had been getting its water from the city had it cut off New Year’s Day after years of warning tied to the Colorado River supply shortages.

The state of Arizona saw a reduction in its Colorado River water go into effect Jan. 1 as the arid state in the Southwest, like the six other basin states, struggle under the weight of a drought that has gripped the region for more than two decades.

What happened? A Scottsdale memo in December warned of the eventuality of its water no longer being delivered to Rio Verde Foothills for multiple years, including as late as 2022, as the city informed residents of the Jan. 1 cutoff. Now some residents who only get their water delivered by Scottsdale City tankers are suing.

According to the city’s website, it stated that given the unprecedented drought on the Colorado River, it ceased allowing any of that water to be transported outside its boundaries in compliance with its drought management plan. “This means the water haulers Rio Verde has relied upon must find another source of water to haul. They have found other sources of water and are still offering to haul water to serve the homes in Rio Verde,” it said.

Alternative, but pricey sources: The water cut off from Scottsdale affects about 500 to 700 homes that lack wells and relied on tankers from Scottsdale to supply their water. As the tankers have been forced to go farther to find water, the price of it has gone up in some homes by as much as three times. Residents have taken to using paper plates, filling their toilets with rainwater, showering less and other measures, according to The New York Times.

Finding development loopholes: Scottsdale passed a law passed in 1980 that requires subdivisions with six or more lots to show proof that they have a 100-year water supply, according to the Times. But in the case of Rio Verde Foothills, developers sidestepped the law by carving larger parcels into sections with four or five houses so they did not need to legally prove the community had water.

A Maricopa County official told the Times there is not much that can be done if a developer makes that type of move to avoid the water supply requirement.

Outsourced water supplies: Rio Verde Foothills is not the only unincorporated community cut off from the tap in Arizona as the state wrestles with how to cope with a 21% cut in its Colorado River water deliveries. Phoenix discontinued water hauling to the unincorporated areas of New River in 2017.

Scottsdale said it is acting within the law, according to its website. Scottsdale has a 100-year “assured water supply” as certified by the Arizona Department of Water Resources. That supply designation applies to the city’s population at build-out — it does not account for residents outside its service area who are not connected to the city’s water utility delivery system. According to the Times, larger cities like Flagstaff and Prescott also deliver water outside municipal boundaries to communities that could find themselves in the same situation.

Utah connection: The state Legislature has had to grapple with a similar situation as some areas outside of Salt Lake City receive their water supply from the municipality, including Alta. Although there are contracts in place, those surplus water supply contracts can be revoked with 30 days notice.