RIO VERDE, Ariz. – Joe McCue thought he had found a desert paradise when he bought one of the new stucco homes that rise in the granite mountains of Rio Verde, Ariz. back door.
Then the water was cut off.
Earlier this month, a longtime water supplier, the neighboring city of Scottsdale, turned off the tap in the Rio Verde Foothills, blaming a drought that threatens the West’s future. Scottsdale said it needs to focus on conserving water for residents, and will no longer sell water to about 500 to 700 homes — or about 1,000 people. This means that the excluded costs of the $500,000 stucco houses, mansions and horse ranches outside Scottsdale’s borders will have to fend for themselves and buy water from other suppliers – if the homeowners could find it, and pay higher prices.
Almost overnight, the Rio Verde Foothills turned into a worst-case scenario for a hot, dry climate, showing what happens when uncontrolled growth collides with water scarcity.
For residents who invest in newly built homes that promise desert sunsets, peace and quiet (but allow for water views), the chaos is also very personal. Water disruptions have disrupted their livelihoods and put their financial future in doubt.
“Is it a campsite now?” McCue, 36, asked one recent morning, as he and his father set up buckets and rain barrels to filter drinking water.
He said: “We hope that by summer we will not be dry.” “Then we’re going to be in a very bad place.”
To protect themselves, people are flushing their toilets with rainwater and carrying clothes to their friends’ houses. They’re eating from paper plates, jumping in the rain and worrying about whether they’re going to waste their lives in a potentially dirty place.
Some say they know what it will look like to outsiders. Yes, they bought a house in the Sonoran desert. But they ask, are such external things? Arizona doesn’t need emerald green fairways, irrigated lawns or water parks.
“I’m surrounded by a golf course, which is one of the largest fountains in the world,” said Tony Johnson, 45, of the 500-acre water feature in the neighboring town of Fountain Hills.
The Johnsons built a house in Rio Verde two years ago, and they decorated the yard with stone, not thirsty greenery. “We’re not putting in a pool, we’re not putting in grass,” he said. “We’re not trying to bring the Midwest here.”
The Water Crisis in the West
The effects of severe water scarcity are being felt in the American West.
Heavy rain and snow in California and parts of the Mountain West over the past two weeks are helping to refill reservoirs and moisten dry soils. But hydrologists say just one rainy season won’t end a 20-year drought that has drained Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, and strained the Colorado River, which supplies about 35 percent of Arizona’s water. The rest comes from state rivers or groundwater.
Last week, Arizona learned that the water shortage may be worse than many people thought. As one of his first actions after taking office, Gov. Katie Hobbs released a report showing that Phoenix’s rapidly growing West Valley does not have enough groundwater to support the tens of thousands of homes planned for the area; their development is now being questioned.
Water experts say the situation in the Rio Verde Foothills is dire, but it provides a glimpse into the bitter battles and tough decisions facing the 40 million people across the West who rely on the Colorado River for water, irrigation, or data. centers and fracking rigs.
“It’s a cautionary tale for homebuyers,” said Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University. “We can’t just protect every person who buys a parcel and builds a house. There is not enough money or water.”
Ms. Porter said that many other unincorporated communities in Arizona depend on water service from nearby large cities such as Prescott or Flagstaff. They could find themselves in Rio Verde’s predicament if the drought continues and the cities take immediate action.
There are no canals or aqueducts to supply water in the Rio Verde Foothills, so for decades, homes without wells were supplied by tanker trucks. (Houses with wells are not directly affected by the cut.)
Trucks fill up with Scottsdale water from a pipeline 15 minutes from the Rio Verde Foothills, then deliver water directly to people’s front doors. Or rather, up to 5,000 gallon storage tanks buried in their yards – enough water to last a family for about a month. When the tanks ran low, homeowners would call or send an electronic message to the water carriers to bring more water.
It was very difficult in the middle of the desert, but the owners of the house said that the water always arrived, and they felt that they were reliable as a connection to the work. Scottsdale warned in early 2015 that the plan would expire.
Now, however, tankers can no longer fill up near Scottsdale, and must go through the Phoenix metro area in search of supplies, filling up in cities a two-hour drive from Rio Verde. This has meant more driving, more waiting and more money. The average household water bill has risen to $660 a month from $220, and it’s unclear how far the water trucks will be able to carry the thousands of gallons from storage facilities.
Heavy water users like Cody Reim, who moved to the Rio Verde startup house two years ago, are getting hit hard. He said his water bill can now exceed $1,000 a month – more than his mortgage payment. Mr. Reim and his wife have four young children, which always meant a lot of washing up, a lot of washing up in the toilets and a lot of laundry to wash diapers.
Mr. Reim, who works in his family’s metalworking business, is planning to become his own water supplier, loading large containers into his truck and starting to fill them. He estimates that fetching water takes him 10 hours every week, but he said he would do anything to stay in Rio Verde. She loves the dark skies and coyotes howling at night, and how her kids can run up and down the dirt road with views of the Four Peaks Wilderness.
“Even if the place was safe and I had to pay someone to take it, I would still be here,” he said of his home. “There is no other way.”
Cities in the Southwest have spent decades trying to reduce water use, restore water storage facilities and find new ways to use water to combat drought.
Experts say most Arizonans don’t have to worry about running out of drinking water any time soon, although agricultural users, who use about 70 percent of Arizona’s water, are getting closer. Phoenix and surrounding cities have implemented limited water restrictions for residents.
The Rio Verde Foothills once felt like a far cry from the cities of Scottsdale or Phoenix, residents said, with ranches and ranches scattered among mesquite and palo verde trees.
But in the past few years, there has been a housing boom in the area, due to cheap land prices and developers who took advantage of Arizona’s underground laws to build homes without standing water.
In order to prevent unsustainable development in the desert region, Arizona enacted a law in 1980 requiring that parcels of land of six or more units show evidence of a 100-year water table.
But developers in the Rio Verde Foothills have been flouting the law by carving up large parcels into subdivisions with four or five homes each, creating the image of a small area, but one that would not have to be legally certified as having water.
Ms. Porter, of the Kyl Center for Water Policy, said:
Thomas Galvin, the county supervisor who represents the area, says there isn’t much the county can do if developers divide their parcels into five lots or less to meet water requirements. “Our hands are tied,” he said.
The people of the Rio Verde Foothills are deeply divided over how to solve their water problems.
When some people decided to set up their own water supply companies, some people attacked the government, saying that this idea will make the government expensive and rob them of their freedom. The idea fell through. Other options, such as allowing greater water use in the region, could take years.
On Thursday, a group of people sued Scottsdale to get the water back. He said the city is violating an Arizona law that prohibits cities from abandoning services to customers outside their borders. Scottsdale has not responded to the lawsuit.
Rose Carroll, 66, a plaintiff in the suit, said she would support any decision that would stop her from killing her donkeys.
He moved to the Rio Verde Foothills two years ago, and runs a small farm of a dozen rescued donkeys that have been abandoned, left in slaughterhouses or doused with acid. The donkeys live in a barn on his 7-acre property, eating grass and drinking 300 gallons of water each day.
Mrs. Carroll collected rainwater after the last winter storm, enough for several weeks of sewage treatment. The new cost of providing water to the farm could reach $1,800 a month, he said, so he is putting some of the donkeys up for adoption and said he might save others if they don’t have enough water to keep them. life.
He said he received a call a few days ago, asking him to take two more donkeys that were left behind, but he refused.
“I had no water,” he said.
Erin Schaff helped publicize the story.