By Sasha Hupka | Arizona Republic
Standing in a dark parking lot in Scottsdale with her children and a horse, Dawn Houghtaling hoped to talk to anyone who would listen.
She was on a singular mission — to get water for her family and her livestock.
“I hate seeing in the news over and over, 500 houses,” she said as her 13-year-old daughter, Savannah, held a sign while on horseback. “Like, no, these are not houses. We are people out there, and animals out there, that need water.”
Houghtaling and her family were among about 60 Rio Verde Foothills residents who gathered in Scottsdale on Tuesday evening to try to make the city listen to their plea. With the protest, residents said they are determined to make city leaders come to the table and find a solution to the community’s water woes.
“They have the opportunity to help their neighbors and they’re not,” said Jessica Mehlman, a Rio Verde resident.
And they aren’t the only ones. With a letter from state Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, the pressure is officially on Scottsdale officials.
It’s just the latest political roughhousing over Rio Verde Foothills, a community that is near Scottsdale city limits but falls outside its boundaries as an unincorporated area of Maricopa County. Scottsdale, which has for years allowed private haulers to pay for water and bring it to about 1,000 people who rely on hauled water, cut off the community Jan. 1.
Private haulers can still provide some water to the community through sources beyond Scottsdale. But those sources are unstable and can stop doing business with the haulers at any time. And the cost of water for residents has skyrocketed.
Potential solutions have been proposed, but none has come to fruition. Residents need two plans: a long-term solution and a short-term agreement to temporarily provide them with water as the permanent one is hashed out and shored up.
A proposal to create a water taxing district was defeated in August when the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted it down. Supervisor Tom Galvin, who represents the district encompassing Rio Verde Foothills, voted against the proposal after overseeing months of discussion and bickering between neighbors, citing concerns about the long-term viability of the body and its potential costs.
Instead, he favored a long-term agreement with private water utility EPCOR. That solution is currently in the works, but since the company is regulated by the state, the plan must first go through the Arizona Corporation Commission.
And interim plans hinge on Scottsdale Mayor David Ortega, who declined to comment about the protest but has repeatedly called himself a “hard no” on helping Rio Verde residents, saying that water isn’t “a compassion game.”
To back that up, he’s expressed concern over ongoing drought conditions on the Colorado River. He’s also opposed allowing any water serving Rio Verde Foothills residents to flow through the city’s water treatment plant and pipes, citing the impacts of water hauling trucks on Scottsdale roads and saying the city gave the county and Rio Verde Foothills residents ample notice that it wouldn’t provide water or infrastructure forever.
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