[OP-ED] Utility regulators, not the county, hold the solution to Rio Verde Foothills’ water woes, says Maricopa County Supervisor Thomas Galvin in The Arizona Republic

By Thomas Galvin, opinion contributor | Arizona Republic

The Rio Verde Foothills water crisis has attracted national attention, and one that I have worked on every day since I was appointed to office in December 2021.

The Rio Verde Foothills is unincorporated, which means that residents don’t automatically get water service from a city or town. Many Rio Verde Foothills residents have purchased water from water haulers who source water from a city of Scottsdale standpipe.

Based upon its current drought mitigation plan, however, Scottsdale will deny nonresidents access to the standpipe beginning Jan. 1, 2023.

Why we turned down a water district

Under state law, Maricopa County is not a water provider, but it was presented a proposal to create a new taxing district with substantial powers, a Domestic Water Improvement District, as a means to secure the services of a water provider.

However, the Rio Verde Foothills community consists of residents with differing water needs – those who have wells, rely on hauled water or use private utilities. They have competing ideas about the proper delivery of water.

The county Board of Supervisors declined to approve the domestic water improvement district because there is a better and more viable plan, with a private utility, that would take all residents interests into account and that honors Scottsdale’s plans to implement its drought mitigation plan.

Voting to deny a water improvement district formation, which was proposed by a small group of residents in the affected area, was not taken lightly. The proposal faced opposition, too, from a majority of the Rio Verde Foothills community who worried about a new governmental entity that possesses broad powers.

The Domestic Water Improvement District was not a “whole community” solution. The community shared serious concerns that water would be available only to a small group of participants who could deny access to standpipe water to nonmembers.

Rio Verde Foothills needs a ‘whole’ solution

Beyond that, I had concerns about the effect on property rights because a Domestic Water Improvement District would hold the power to invoke eminent domain — that is, condemn private property for public use — including within Scottsdale.

Therefore, an exclusionary and divisive taxing district would be inconsistent with facilitating a solution that benefits all of Rio Verde Foothills and Scottsdale.

Understanding why the Domestic Water Improvement District is not a viable option also means promoting better options, including the effort to find a permanent water supplier that’s accountable to the Arizona Corporation Commission.

Advocating for a “whole community” solution necessitates participation from all levels of government. I approached the Corporation Commission to inform them about the Rio Verde Foothills situation, and the commissioners graciously and quickly agreed to get involved.

And now, at least one supplier is interested in working with the Corporation Commission to provide standpipe water service to Rio Verde Foothills residents. That’s wonderful and encouraging.

Utility regulators are best suited to handle this

The Arizona Corporation Commission is best suited to deal with a regulated, private water utility provider. And a private water utility company has the internal infrastructure and expertise to manage a standpipe and wheel water to that standpipe.

Judging from the comments in the open docket at the Corporation Commission, a private water utility provider has robust community support. Most of the residents agree that a professionally run, regulated utility company that is in the business of providing water to an identifiable customer base is the best option.

I look forward to continuing to work with the Corporation Commission and the city of Scottsdale as part of an all-level governmental effort to help secure a resilient, reliable, relatively affordable water solution that benefits the entire Rio Verde Foothills community.

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