Rio Verde Foothills residents react to shutoff from Scottsdale water

Jan 20, 2023, 4:35 AM
John Hornewer climbs down the ladder of his tanker as he fills it up to haul water from Apache Junc...
John Hornewer climbs down the ladder of his tanker as he fills it up to haul water from Apache Junction to Rio Verde Foothills, Arizona, U.S. on January 7, 2023. (Photo by Getty Images)
(Photo by Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Rural community Rio Verde Foothills lost one of its primary sources of water a few weeks ago.

For years, many residents relied on nearby Scottsdale’s water supply to fill up the trucks that hauled water to their homes. However, in 2021, the city said they’d be shutting off service to Rio Verde Foothills by the end of 2022.

Without a long-term plan in place, on Jan. 1, Scottsdale officially stopped providing water to the community.

In the weeks since the shutoff, many residents said they’ve had to get creative about the ways they use water. Karen Nabity said she and her husband have had to make serious cuts.

“On average in a regular home, they use about 100 gallons per day, per person,” she explained. “We’re using 13-and-a-half gallons.”

Christy Jackman, who has a well on her property, is allowing a fellow resident to use some of her supply.

“I’m currently filling up a neighbor’s water tank with my well,” she said. “Although my well is stable, I can’t support an extra home forever.”

Even though she’s managing under the circumstances, Jackman doesn’t understand why Scottsdale hasn’t worked with the community.

“We offered them two separate methods of getting water for them into the canal to process, and offered to pay them,” she said.

“Either of those options would have made Scottsdale whole.”

One of those proposals, involving private utility company Epcor, originated from Maricopa County Supervisor Thomas Galvin.

“Epcor would deliver water to the Rio Verde Foothills residents and then would pay the city of Scottsdale for that service, because that’s the only pipe that goes out there,” he explained to KTAR News 92.3 FM’s The Gaydos and Chad Show.

Galvin said the plan was approved by the Corporation Commission but hit a roadblock with Scottsdale’s mayor.

“The only final piece that had to be done was for [Mayor] David Ortega to sign the dotted line to allow the city to make money off of this proposal that I made, and he’s blocking it,” Galvin said. “No one knows why.”

Scottsdale’s decision to block the offers confused some Rio Verde Foothills residents, like Meredith Deangelis.

“We do not understand at all why the mayor has shot that [plan] down,” she said. “It would make money, it’s not using their water, and it’s desperately helping out their neighbors.”

Supervisor Galvin accused Mayor Ortega of “playing politics,” and called the national media attention Rio Verde Foothills’ water situation has attracted “a black eye for Scottsdale.”

John Hornewer, who lives in Rio Verde Foothills and is a water hauler himself, feels like he and his neighbors are caught in the middle.

“I’m really irritated that politics has put our community in the situation that it is,” Hornewer said.

“I really feel it’s a contest between Thomas Galvin and Mayor Ortega… they’re playing games, and we’re the ones suffering.”

Some Rio Verde Foothills residents, including Jackman, are now part of a lawsuit against the city, which claims withholding the water violates state law.

“There really is a law on the books,” Jackman said. “It states that if a municipality serves water to an unincorporated portion of the county, they may not discontinue that service.”

It isn’t just a lawsuit — there’s also legislation regarding Rio Verde Foothills’ water situation. State Representative David Cook is sponsoring the bill.

“We’re just asking for the city of Scottsdale to allow us to use their infrastructure,” he explained. “While Epcor gets their boundaries expanded so they can service [Rio Verde Foothills] to supply them with a long-term solution.”

Representative Cook said he’ll be part of a meeting with Scottsdale officials to discuss the issue.

Scottsdale has declined to comment on the issue because of the lawsuit filed against the city.

Despite how precarious the current water situation is, many of the Rio Verde Foothills residents don’t want to leave.

“I love this area, and I’m not going to move,” Nabity said. “My children live here, my grand-babies live here, and we’re going to figure out a solution for our family.”

Meredith Deangelis also said they’re prepared to make things work.

“I’m going to keep fighting every single day,” she said.

“Even if that means doing laundry at my parents and showering at the health club and catching rainwater to flush toilets. We’re going to fight it out.”

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Rio Verde Foothills residents react to shutoff from Scottsdale water