An Arizona judge says she won’t compel Scottsdale to resume an arrangement that allowed residents of a neighboring community to get their water from a city standpipe.
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Maricopa County Judge Joan Sinclair wrote in her ruling that people living in the Rio Verde Foothills have not shown the city caused irreparable harm by ending the water agreement, and said community residents could obtain their water elsewhere.
Sinclair said the court “appreciates the difficulties inherent in allocating dwindling water resources” but cannot make water policy decisions instead of the appropriate authorities.
Sinclair’s order was a rejection of residents’ request for an injunction to make Scottsdale temporarily resume the water arrangement until a long-term solution could be found.
On Jan. 1, Scottsdale cut off the water it long provided to Rio Verde Foothills, saying it needs to guarantee enough for its residents amid a deep, long-lasting drought.
Homeowners in Rio Verde Foothills, located in unincorporated Maricopa County, sued Scottsdale earlier this month, demanding that access to the city’s water supply be restored to some 500 homes without working wells.
Several hundred residents are now using up the last of the Scottsdale water that haulers delivered in late December to large tanks buried in their yards but have said they expect it will dry up soon. But using haulers to bring in water from communities farther away has significantly increased the cost of getting water, and residents said at a public gathering last week they expect it will dry up soon.
So how did we get to this point?
Rio Verde Foothills fought back after Scottsdale cut the water supply On Jan. 17, Rio Verde Foothills demanded access to the city’s water supply be restored to some 500 homes in the community.
A bill newly introduced in the state Legislature would make Scottsdale liable for some costs created by the shutoff.
“The city of Scottsdale has placed plaintiffs and their families under an unconscionable amount of stress and anxiety by discontinuing their domestic water supply,” says the lawsuit, noting “the lack of fresh potable water for families to be able to bathe themselves or running water to flush their toilets is a well-known basic necessity.”
Scottsdale said it had no legal obligation to continue the arrangement, underscoring how vulnerable communities like Rio Verde Foothills without reliable water service could become amid drought threatening the southwestern US.
Arizona is among the states hardest hit by a long-term drought that has drastically lowered water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead.
Residents now expect to pay much higher prices for water haulers to fetch their water from faraway jurisdictions.
The lawsuit and legislation come on the heels of a report by the Arizona Department of Water Resources that was released in recent days by new Gov. Katie Hobbs, which shows there are inadequate groundwater supplies for hundreds of thousands of homes that developers have envisioned in far west Phoenix.
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Scottsdale warned of a possible cutoff for several years and said it gave Rio Verde Foothills residents and Maricopa County plenty of warning that it wouldn’t provide water forever. Because the community needs a reservoir or community well, the haulers would buy water from Scottsdale fill stations and then deliver it for a fee to Rio Verde Foothills residents.
Scottsdale officials told Rio Valley Foothills residents in 2016 that they could not “guarantee service in the future and has advised the area residents to obtain a separate water source.” Since that warning had been given, Scottsdale had enacted several measures to preserve water as part of it’s 2003 Drought Management Plan, including the removal of fire hydrants and ending the use of short-term, unsustainable water hauling locations.
“Rio Verde is a separate community governed by Maricopa County, not the City of Scottsdale,” the city said in a statement posted on its website Monday. “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,” the statement added.
The Associate Press contributed to this article.