Rural community outside of Scottsdale divided on its water future
Editor’s Note: This is the fourth of a five-part series called “KTAR Water Watch,” which will explore the present and future of the water supply across Arizona and metro Phoenix.
PHOENIX — Rio Verde Foothills has a water problem.
The rural community more than 30 miles northeast of Scottsdale in unincorporated county has its water come from wells on the property or from water tanks filled by hauling trucks.
For decades, Scottsdale was one of the primary water suppliers for those trucks. That changed last year.
The city announced that by the end of the year, Rio Verde Foothills residents will no longer use Scottsdale as a source for their hauled water.
It was a decision Scottsdale said had been in the works for a while. The drought didn’t help the arrangement, according to Scottsdale Water Executive Director Brian Biesemeyer.
Linda Vinson, a Rio Verde Foothills resident, was caught off guard.
“We’d heard a little bit about maybe this or maybe that but when heard for sure… it was pretty scary,” she said. “That’s when we found out about the effort for the DWID.”
DWID, or Domestic Water Improvement District, is one of the ideas for Rio Verde Foothills’ water future.
Sarah Porter, director of ASU’s Kyl Center for Water Policy, describes it as “a governmental entity with the power to acquire water supplies and get the financing to develop infrastructure for delivering water or treating water.”
For Rio Verde Foothills residents like Karen Nabity, a DWID wasn’t a new idea. She became involved in the effort to form one in 2018.
“Our group is looking at an outside source of water that we can bring in,” she said. “So that these people who rely on hauled water can still have a source of water.”
Nabity relies on hauled water for her house, as does Meredith Deangelis, who has used her public relations background to promote the pro-DWID effort.
“There has to be five people who are part of the board for the water district… voted on by the community [and] overseen by Maricopa County,” she said. “It’s not like they’re a company that’s going to come in here and try to do rate hikes.”
A DWID isn’t favored by everyone in the community.
Christy Jackman, a Rio Verde Foothills for 13 years, has been skeptical of the idea for year. She’s a vocal opponent.
Not only does Jackman worry about the level of control the DWID could have, but she thinks the opt-in nature of the community’s proposed water district would leave some residents vulnerable.
“[I started] gathering signatures against it,” she said. “In a matter of about two weeks, I got 660 signatures from residents up here and turned it in to the Board of Supervisors.”
A Domestic Water Improvement District can be proposed by residents and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors has to put it up.
The supervisor for the area at the time, Republican Steve Chucri, began holding neighborhood meetings.
Linda Vinson, who supports the DWID, was at some of those meetings.
“There was a large vocal group against and the group for,” Vinson remembers. “The meeting was less than cordial.”
Amy Wolff was one of the residents against the DWID. She thinks both sides got their points across well, but she still doesn’t believe the DWID is the answer.
“There’s a lot of history here,” Wolff said. “I’ve been here for almost 17 years and every few years somebody comes up with some kind of scheme to be in control of the water.”
A big issue for Wolff is control.
“I moved out here because I hate HOAs,” she says with a laugh. “I certainly don’t want a government entity formed by the neighbors… it’s more about my personal freedom.”
Wolff also says she’d much rather continue using private water haulers than enter into a DWID.
“I can be my own consumer,” she says. “There are already water haulers all over the state that have kind of been advertising out here.”
John Hornewer, a resident of Rio Verde Foothills and a water hauler himself, disagrees with that sentiment. He supports the DWID because of experience with other Domestic Water Improvement Districts in the state.
“So long as we don’t have dedicated water, we’re always going to be vulnerable to be in this position,” he says. “Private utilities will not be dedicated water… we’re just kicking the can down the road.”
The discussions between the two sides of the DWID debate were interrupted in September 2021, however, when Supervisor Steve Chucri resigned following comments he made about the other supervisors’ handling of the 2020 election audit.
Former Supervisor Chucri’s replacement, Thomas Galvin, was appointed months later in December of 2021. In the minds of some residents who support the DWID, he isn’t moving fast enough on the issue in Rio Verde Foothills.
So some of the residents decided to sue the county in an effort to speed up the process.
“All we want is for them, in a timely manner, to put us on their agenda so they can vote yes or no on the DWID,” said Deangelis.
DWID opponent Christy Jackman disagrees, and thinks Supervisor Galvin is just taking his time to examine the issue.
“He has been thoughtful and he’s studied it,” she says. “I appreciate his efforts to go slow and do it right.”
Maricopa County declined to comment because of the pending lawsuit.
New District 2 Supervisor Thomas Galvin spoke about Rio Verde Foothills’ water situation just months after he was appointed.
Galvin explained that he was focused on learning more about the issue and weighing every option.
“There’s still plenty of water to go around in Arizona,” he stressed. “I don’t want people to panic or for anyone to think we’re running out of water.”
He also made his commitment clear.
“The residents deserve someone to come in and to help them get a solution done quickly and done the right way,” Galvin said at the time. “I intend to be that person.”
Nabity is worried that time is running out.
“We have to be in intergovernmental agreements that usually take over a year to go into place, and have those in contracts in June,” Nabity said. “We need approval now.”