Leigh Harris-Avril holds up an example of the plastic gallon she has been using to collect rainwater for the past five months during a news conference at the state Capitol in Phoenix on June 19, 2023. Harris-Avril lives in the Rio Verde Foothills community, which had its water cut off by Scottsdale at the start of the year. Photo by Gloria Rebecca Gomez | Arizona Mirror
Residents of Rio Verde Foothills who have been cut off from water for months have been granted a legislative reprieve, after Gov. Katie Hobbs on Monday signed a bill that will restore their access.
Senate Bill 1432 requires the city of Scottsdale, which lies less than an hour away from the North Phoenix suburb, to provide water for three years through a newly created standpipe district. The district is set to facilitate the transportation of water to a maximum of 750 households. Scottsdale previously supplied water through a standpipe for more than a decade, allowing private haulers and residents to fill up despite not being legally responsible for the suburb’s water service. But in January, ahead of cuts to the state’s Colorado River water consumption that city officials expected would impact the water supply for its own residents, Scottsdale shut down access for Rio Verde Foothills.
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As many as 500 homes — about 1,000 residents — in the small suburb depend on water transported from the Scottsdale operated standpipe, and with unreliable local wells and long drives to other standpipes, they faced a bleak future. Leigh Harris-Avril and her husband resorted to harvesting rainwater and filling up Gatorade bottles at friend’s houses. But at a Monday morning news conference calling on Hobbs to sign SB1432, the couple warned that they have less than three months of water left.
Amanda Monize shares a well with four of her neighbors, but the water it produces is just under the legal limit of acceptable arsenic levels and with wells across the community drying up, she worries about her long-term outlook.
“Some people say, ‘Just sell your home,’ but nobody’s going to buy my house if there’s no water,” she told the Mirror.
Rio Verde Foothills is an unincorporated community, also known as a wildcat subdivision, created via a legal loophole that allows developers to sell homes without ensuring residents have a guaranteed water future. The suburb lies outside city limits, far beyond the reach of municipal water pipes and responsibilities, and while Maricopa County oversees the area, it isn’t legally allowed to act as a water provider.
Attempts to close that loophole were defeated by skeptical Republicans. The final version does, however, direct the Arizona Department of Water Resources to submit a report on how developers of wildcat subdivisions can ensure long-term water supply. While lawmakers on Monday conceded that SB1432 isn’t a perfect solution, they vowed to continue working to address wildcat subdivisions and long-term water accessibility in the Grand Canyon state.
“We’re all going to be coming back next year in the hopes of getting meaningful reform passed,” said Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills.
“We cannot continue to kick the can down the road forever,” added Rep. Alexander Kolodin, R-Scottsdale, who authored the amendment that makes up the solution for Rio Verde Foothills. “The status quo of water policy in this state is untenable. And if allowed to continue it will cut off our growth and fundamentally diminish our way of life.”
The bill, which was passed out of the legislature with an emergency clause and supermajority support, is expected to go into effect in one to two months, after the standpipe district has been fully set up. The district will be made up of a five-person board with the speaker of the state House of Representatives, the Senate president, the governor, the commissioner of the Arizona Real Estate Department and the director of the state’s water resource department all appointing one member apiece.
Carmela Lizzo, who’s lived in Rio Verde Foothills for the past 30 years, joined the news conference on Monday alongside fellow residents to call for a solution, holding a handmade sign urging Hobbs to sign the bill. She acknowledged that Scottsdale Mayor David Ortega is responsible for safeguarding the future of his constituents, but hoped hers and that of her neighbors might be protected by the state.
“My heart goes out to those who are struggling and using rainwater to flush their toilets,” she said. “Nobody bargains for that when they buy a house.”
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