Arizona town searches for solutions to Western water crisis

Drive just north of Scottsdale, Arizona, and you’ll find a loose network of dirt roads known as the Rio Verde Hills. It’s home to about 2,000 families drawn to the beauty of the rural desert and the freedom of living outside the city limits, but the city is about to become a symbol of the growing water crisis in the West.

John Hornauer moved to the area 23 years ago. When he discovered his new community had no water service, he began hauling water for himself, along with some of his neighbors.

Hornauer said, “When my neighbor saw me come up to the road with the trailer, they were like, ‘Hey, can you pull over and drop off a load for me?’” “

More than a quarter of the Rio Verde depends on transported water.

Resident Karen Nebete, who moved to the area in 2014, said she tops up her tank every four to six weeks.

“We talked to a lot of the neighbors and they’ve been doing this for 50 years,” she said. “It wasn’t a big deal. We weren’t worried about it at the time.”

But times have changed as the Colorado River system has dried up. The pipe Hornauer gets its water from goes back to the city of Scottsdale, and after years of warning Rio Verde to find another source, the city will officially cut off water to the city on January 1st.

“I expected to live here for the rest of my life and now I wonder if it will be here for the rest of my life,” Hornauer said.

While he can make a two-hour round trip to another water source, it is so far away that state laws may not allow it.

According to Maricopa County Supervisor Thomas Galvin, a temporary solution has been found for the city: Utility company EPCOR could send water through the Scottsdale system for Rio Verde’s use. The catch is scottsdale has to agree first.

“We just hope Mayor Ortega can help these people in a spirit of cooperation, now that the solution has been found to facilitate that,” Galvin said, adding that he doesn’t see any other solutions that wouldn’t involve helping Scottsdale at the moment.

But Scottsdale Mayor David Ortega says the small town “must manage its own destiny on its own water” and that “they have to find their own solution.”

“Right now, they’re trucking in water, burning diesel to supply themselves, which we don’t subsidize,” Ortega said. And while the people of Rio Verde may have to burn more diesel because now they’ll have to get their water from far away, “that’s their problem,” Ortega says.

Scottsdale has its own problem, too. The northern part of the city gets 90% of its water from the contracting Colorado River.

“The continued decline in the water source is a reality,” Ortega said. “We have to adapt, and then we have to adapt more, and we have to adapt more.”

By law, seven states and Mexico set aside 16.5 million acres of Colorado River water each year. But these days, only about 11 million acres actually flow. large gathering points of the river, Lake Mead And the Lake PowellThey basically drain like bathtubs.

“If you look at two years, Lake Powell can get so low that it’s basically dry,” said Tom Bushatzky, who runs the Arizona Department of Water. “What that means if we hit that, is there is no water in the river through the Grand Canyon.”

For starters, he says, temporary drastic cuts are needed to stabilize the system, but even then, the river’s reduced flow is “highly unlikely” to be reversed.

Buschatzke said the politics behind issues across multiple states like water pricing, construction, lawn watering, and agriculture “complicate the ability to do something collaboratively.” This summer, the federal government asked states to reach an agreement to cut about 20% of their water use, but they couldn’t come to an agreement.

“Farmers want to be here and they will do everything they can to hang on and stay here,” said farmer Nancy Kaywood.

In many cases, farmers have the oldest water rights in the area and have already begun to make cuts.

“We need to keep it in our country, and we don’t want to start relying on other countries for our food and our fiber,” Kaywood said.

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