Rio Verde homeowners take to the streets in protest

Christy Jackman handed out signs as Rio Verde Foothill residents gathered outside Scottsdale City Hall before a council meeting Jan. 10 to protest the city’s cut-off of a stand pipe their water haulers used. The city took the action as part of the first stage of its drought management plan. (David Minton/Progress Staff Photographer)

A group of Rio Verde Foothills residents wants  to stop Scottsdale from turning off the standpipe that provides hauled water to about 700 homes in the 2,400-home community northeast of the city.

Their injunction request, filed Jan. 11, demands the city resume service under ARS Section 9-516 C, which states:

“A city or town acquiring the facilities of a public service corporation rendering utility service without the boundaries of such city or town, or which renders utility service without its boundaries, shall not discontinue such service, once established, as long as such city or town owns or controls such utility.” 

The city shut down the standpipe in Jan. 1 – a year after it had warned residents it was taking the action as part of the first stage of its drought management plan.

“We are asking for Scottsdale to follow the law,” said Christy Jackman, one of Rio Verde residents who pooled their money to hire an attorney to fight the city’s action in court.

Jackman was one of about 60 Rio Verde Foothills residents who showed up at City Hall before the council meeting Jan. 10 to protest the cut-off.

Private utility company EPCOR has offered to put water into the system if Scottsdale would treat it and allow it to be distributed from its standpipe until a long-term solution could be put in place.

But Mayor David Ortega rejected the offer, saying, “There is no Santa Claus.”

That comment particularly struck a chord with protester Bruce Smith.

“Cut it open and pour the salt in,” he said.

Smith and his wife Patty bought an acre in the Rio Verde Foothills community about five years ago and built a home there about two years ago. They completely rely on hauled water.

“Nobody mentioned a word about the water issue,” Patty Smith said.

Added Bruce: “Even when you get your building permit, they don’t.”

They are stuck in a scary situation.

“Without water, your property is basically worthless,” Patty said.

With the city standpipe out of commission, water haulers are forced to go as far away as Apache Junction to fill their tanks. That adds hours to trip time to service a home and so, water haulers have more than doubled their rates.

Both Dynamite Water and Rio Verde Water are now charging $330 for 3,000 gallons of water – up from $120 and $135 for the same amount of water they charged before the shutoff, respectively..

And nobody believes there will be enough water to serve everyone in the community.

“There are a lot of people out there with horses and kids and all of that,” Patty Smith said.

“Not to mention the fire danger,” her husband added. “When there’s a fire, all the water haulers show up to provide water for the fire people. I’ve seen that many times. If they have to go clear to Apache Junction to get water, (the house) is gonna be gone.”

The group held signs that read things like “Mayor Ortega is inhumane” and entered City Hall during the council’s first meeting of the year.

Former city Councilwoman Linda Milhaven spoke on their behalf., slamming Scottsdale City Manager Jim Thompson’s recommendation to ignore EPCOR’s proposal.

“As of the first of the year, the City of Scottsdale has discontinued serving the residents of the Rio Verde Foothills area,” Milhaven said.

“Most residents topped off their tanks before the end of the year but in a month or two they will not have a reliable source of water and their taps will run dry," she continued.

“It’s not too late to do the right thing. I know the residents of Scottsdale are good people and want to help their neighbors, especially when they learn that we can help without using any of our own water and without costing them any money.”

Cody Reim, a Rio Verde Foothills resident who works at a family-owned metal shop in Scottsdale, also spoke.

His voice noticeably cracked as he stated, “We need help. We are begging for your help.”

Aside from the lawsuit, Reim said residents will also take their message to the state Legislature next.

However, Re Dave Cook, R-Dist. 7, who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is already working on a solution.

Cook wrote to Ortega requesting a meeting in order to discuss the issue.

“It is beyond me how a group of Arizona citizens could be put in such a position,” Cook wrote, adding:

“Arizonans’ livelihoods depend on having a reliable and long-term water supply. As elected officials we have a responsibility to serve all citizens, especially in our rural unincorporated communities.

“We need to find a comprehensive solution that protects the people in this community and is workable for all parties involved.”

The Arizona Corporation Commission has put on hold discussions related to EPCOR’s long-term solution for 60 days while two homeowners continue an appeal of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors’ denial of a petition for residents to form a non-contiguous domestic water improvement district.

Supporters of the district say they can provide water to the community very quickly, but many homeowners oppose the move, contending it puts too much power in the hands of too few.

Bruce and Patty Smith have gone to community meetings focused on supporting and opposing the water district.

While they are concerned about creating a layer of government in the unincorporated community, they are willing to accept it if they could see water flowing again.

“All we want is water,” Bruce Smith said.

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