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Arizona House committee supports bill to bring water to community going dry

Democrats voted against the bill, saying it solves only one symptom of a larger issue.

PHOENIX (CN) — Help might soon be on the way for Arizona's Rio Verde Foothills community.

The Arizona House natural resources, energy and water committee cleared a bill that would force Scottsdale to provide water to Rio Verde Foothills until Jan. 1, 2026.

The more than 1,000-person community north of Scottsdale has been without a reliable water source since it was cut off from Scottsdale city water on Jan. 1. The private water company EPCOR is working with the Arizona Corporation Commission on a long-term solution, but action needs to be taken in the meantime.

“Summer is coming, said Christy Jackman, a 13-year Foothills resident. “There are animals that will die. There are people that won’t have enough water to drink, cook or clean themselves."

State Representative Alexander Kolodin, a Republican from Scottsdale who sponsored SB2561, explained how it will help the Foothills to the committee Tuesday afternoon.

“Long-term, there’s already a solution,” he said. “It will just take some time. Until then, there are families, they are hurting, and they need water.”

The bill would require a city, if it did so before Jan. 1, to provide water to residents outside the city’s water service area who don’t have access to sufficient water otherwise. It stipulates the community must be have fewer than 750 houses and without another water source within 10 miles of the houses. 

Rio Verde Foothills fits those requirements. 

It would also require the city to be reimbursed for the water, and the process can’t jeopardize water allotted to residents within city limits. 

Barry Aarons, a lobbyist for the city of Scottsdale, said it isn’t that easy, and there might be costs that Kolodin didn’t foresee.

Aarons, as well as Democrats who opposed the bill, blamed the crisis on bad planning.

To develop a subdivision of six or more houses in Arizona, builders must ensure that there’s at least 100 years of water available to the houses. This opens a loophole for what’s called “wildcat subdivisions” — multiple groups of five homes or less that together form an unincorporated community.

“If you really want to get your arms around this,” Aarons said, “repeal the law that allows for people to build less than six homes at a time without 100 years of water.”

Committee Chair Gail Griffin said that’s “never going to happen.”

“People should live where they live,” the Republican from Phoenix said. “For the government to require you to live in a subdivision, that’s just not the American dream for most people.”

Aarons said residents were told via letter that they wouldn’t have water forever in 2016, 2019, 2020 and 2021, so they should have been prepared. Residents say that isn't true.

“Scottsdale never sent me a letter,” said Cody Reim, a community member who is organizing protests this week outside the Waste Management Phoenix Open in Scottsdale and the Super Bowl in Glendale. “They may have sent my water hauler a letter.”

Reim, along with the half a dozen Rio Verde Foothills residents who spoke during the meeting, said they were never warned of the severity of the situation when they moved in.

Kolodin begged the committee to work together to solve the issue, tears welling in his eyes as he made his closing remarks. But Democrats didn’t budge.

“This is what happens when you fail to take climate change seriously,” said state Representative Oscar De Los Santos, a Democrat from Laveen. “This is what happens when you fail to take water management seriously. This is what happens when you put corporate profits, the profits of wildcat developers, above all else.”

De Los Santos pointed to Indigenous households, which he said are 19 times more likely than white households to lack indoor pipes. One in 10 Indigenous Americans lacks access to tap water, he said, and the people of the Navajo Nation are 67 times more likely than other Americans to not have water.

“This is not an issue that is facing only one part of the state, this is an issue that has for decades been facing indigenous people, poor people, people of color. And we have very little response from this government. I’m glad that we’re now beginning to see the consequences of a failed, delusional approach to water.

“This bill addresses a mere symptom of poor public policy. It does not address the root cause.”

State Representative Stephanie Stahl-Hamilton, a Democrat from Tucson, said the bill won’t stop this issue from rising again, and the committee should instead focus on “fixing the underlying problem.”

Kolodin said he intended to attach an emergency clause, which would make the bill effective as law as soon as Democratic Governor Katie Hobbs signs it. rather than in 90 days. But without Democratic support in the committee, he said that might not happen.

And for Rio Verde Foothills, time is everything.

“Imagine having to teach your grandson not to flush the toilet because grandma and grandpa can’t afford the water,” Dave Sloman said. He and his wife, who moved to the community in in 2022, collect rainwater to wash their dishes.

Residents, as well as Kolodin, acknowledged that the crisis is a result of a deeper issue, but asked for help all the same.

“I see this as an ‘in the meantime’ bill,” said Rochelle Reim, who stood in front of the committee with her grandson Luke.

The bill was sent to the House floor on a vote of 6-3 with one present vote from State Representative Stacey Travers, a Democrat from Phoenix.

Jackman wiped away tears as the committee ultimately voted in favor.

An identical bill will be heard in the state Senate government committee Wednesday morning. Sponsored by state Senator John Kavanagh, a Republican from Fountain Hills, SB1093 will also have an emergency cause attached.

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Categories / Environment, Government, Regional

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