Rio Verde Foothills poised to sue Maricopa County over water woes
After months without water, residents continue to apply pressure to local government to get their taps flowing again
Residents of Rio Verde Foothills will likely sue Maricopa County over its inaction in solving the community’s ongoing water crisis.
Community members gathered to discuss next steps a week after the county rejected Scottsdale’s proposed solution. While residents had problems with the proposed deal, which would have seen Scottsdale sell water to the county for distribution to Rio Verde Foothills, they were happy that an agreement was finally on the table, and had hoped the county would negotiate to improve it.
Instead, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors rejected the proposal outright, urging Scottsdale to contract with the private water company EPCOR to provide water.
And after more than 70 days without a reliable water source and with temperatures creeping into the 80s, the people of Rio Verde Foothills are running out of time and patience.
“I am just pissed off,” Mike Miola said to the nearly 200-person crowd in a rural/metro fire station barn Tuesday night. “Our elected officials have done nothing but stonewall and deal in their own self interests. All I want is for my neighbors to have water now.”
“Now!” a woman in the crowd echoed. Applause echoed through the barn.
And while residents have in the past placed the onus mostly on the city of Scottsdale, which provided water to the community before it turned the spigot off on Jan.1, this group blamed the county for the lack of solution.
“The Board of Supervisors has really failed our community,” Donna Rice said. “The city of Scottsdale has no responsibility for us. We belong to the county.”
The roughly 500 homes that make up Rio Verde Foothills were developed through a legal loophole known as the “wildcat subdivision,” in which groups of five homes or less are built to avoid a requirement to ensure 100 years of water available to the houses.
Phoenix-based lawyer Robert Mitchell said the residents can sue Maricopa County for encouraging development in regions that don’t have a stable water supply.
“It's a concerted effort specifically involving Maricopa County that has deprived these residents of water,” Mitchell said.
He said the county’s inconsistent enforcement of statute and inaction in solving the crisis violates the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause.
Residents asked Mitchell when they could file such a lawsuit. He said he wants to do so soon, but more time is needed to gather more residents and get people on the same page. He suggested “two or three” more meetings, the next of which will happen Tuesday at the same time and place.
Meanwhile, residents are petitioning the county to reconsider negotiating with Scottsdale before bad becomes worse.
“We’re only surviving for now because it’s cool, and because our community has really gone the extra mile to conserve,” 20-year resident and water hauler John Hornewer said. “Once it warms up, we have a serious problem.”
Hornewer blamed the county for a lack of communication with Scottsdale to come up with a solution, calling county leaders negligent.
“We need to support our county supervisors coming to the table, but we need to support them from the backside with some pitchforks and a little persuasion," he said.
Some say the blame still lies with the city, not the county. Jack Wolf said Scottsdale’s proposal was riddled with issues like “exorbitant” pricing, and it's on the city to negotiate with the county.
“This group is barking up the wrong tree,” Wolf said.
But others agreed that waiting on Scottsdale to save the day is a lost cause.
“We aren’t in Scottsdale’s jurisdiction,” said Elizabeth Shaffer, the meeting organizer. “So the only people that we can bark at right now is the Board of Supervisors. We have to keep barking at them so they can keep barking at Scottsdale.”