Neighbors sue Arizona city to restore water cut in drought

PHOENIX (AP) — Residents of a community just outside Scottsdale, Arizona are feuding with the city they long depended on for water now that the Phoenix suburb has cut off their supply, saying it needs to guarantee there is enough for its own residents amid a deep, long-lasting drought.

Homeowners in Rio Verde Foothills, located in unincorporated Maricopa County, sued Scottsdale last week, demanding that 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 turned off its longstanding supply of water to the community on Jan. 1, calling the cutoff permanent. Several hundred residents are now using up the last of the Scottsdale water that haulers delivered in late December to the 5,000-gallon (18,950-liter) tanks buried in their yards, but said at a public gathering last week they expect it will dry up soon.

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 U.S. 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 jurisdictions farther away.

The lawsuit and legislation come on the heels of a report by the Arizona Department of Water Resources released in recent days by new Gov. Katie Hobbs that shows there are inadequate groundwater supplies for hundreds of thousands of homes that developers have envisioned in far west Phoenix.

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 doesn't have 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.

“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.

Scottsdale Mayor David Ortega in particular has been insistent that the city not supply water to Rio Verde Foothills.

Maricopa County Supervisor Thomas Galvin, who has worked on the issue since his December 2021 appointment, noted that the county does not have water rights and is not a water regulator.

Galvin said an ideal interim solution would be a much-discussed plan to have a private water utility company provide its own water to the Rio Verde Foothills residents using the same Scottsdale standpipe infrastructure utilized previously.