House passes bill getting water to Rio Verde

House passes bill getting water to Rio Verde

Rep. Alexander Kolodin stands outside the Capitol building on Jan. 11, 2022. Kolodin has been working for months to get water to Rio Verde residents near Scottsdale and finally saw a bill pass the House on May 10, 2023. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

More than four months after residents in the Rio Verde community northeast of Scottsdale lost access to the city’s water supply, a short-term remedy appears to be close after legislation to address the issue passed the Arizona House on May 10.

Representatives passed House Bill 2561, an emergency measure that would direct Scottsdale to enter an intergovernmental agreement with another entity to haul water to Rio Verde residents. The bill passed 46-13, with some Republican opposition, but a full Democratic caucus helped give the bill the two-thirds votes needed to take effect as soon as the governor signs it.

“I’m a liberty-minded guy but I’m not an anarchist,” said the bill sponsor Alexander Kolodin, R-Scottsdale. “Legislation is the last resort, but it is a resort.”
Scottsdale cut Rio Verde off the city’s water supply on Jan. 1, an action the city had been warning would happen for decades.

Rio Verde residents sued Scottsdale in an attempt to keep water access, but a judge ruled that the city is not responsible for the unincorporated community’s water needs.

Kolodin said the version of his bill that passed wasn’t the one that he prefers. Another version failed 27-30 on March 9, and Democrats voted against it because it was a proposal that Maricopa County rejected, and it didn’t close a “wildcat subdivision loophole” that allows developers to get around a state requirement of ensuring homes have a 100-year water supply by splitting the land into five or fewer parcels.

Another proposal from Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, would require Scottsdale to let Rio Verde residents use its water standpipe. Republicans preferred this measure, House Bill 2441, and Kolodin said he tried to implement this proposal in his original bill, but he couldn’t do it as “artfully” as Griffin.

Griffin said she was concerned that Kolodin’s bill violates the House’s single-subject rule since it includes language about lot splitting. She voted against his bill but said the Legislature needed to get water to Rio Verde residents and she will continue working on her solution before the session ends.

“The reason I came down here originally and am still here is because I very much care for property rights and water rights and I think people should be able live where they want to,” Griffin said.

House Bill 2441 is in the Senate and Griffin’s proposal was amended onto the bill as a striker, but it hasn’t been scheduled for a reading in the full Senate. Both Griffin and Kolodin’s measures would take effect for at least three years with the intent of Rio Verde finding a more permanent solution.

Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, said the Legislature should pass both measures and let Gov. Katie Hobbs pick the solution she prefers.

“Is this (Kolodin’s measure) the perfect fix – I’m not sure,” Cook said. “But you know what, those people don’t have water. They haven’t had water and you wouldn’t let your neighbors – if you had water – not give them a drink of water. It’s terrible what’s going on.”

Rio Verde residents are split between the two bills also. A small group of residents protested for a solution at the Capitol on April 26, and the protestors argued which measure was best and whether Scottsdale or Maricopa County was to blame for the issue. Others at the protest said they didn’t want the Legislature to get involved and demanded action from Hobbs’ office.

Kolodin said he tried several alternatives to find a solution, including reaching an agreement with Scottsdale and Maricopa County, asking for executive action, and asking the Arizona Department of Administration to sign an intergovernmental agreement.

“And none of it works,” he said, highlighting the need for legislative action.

It’s now up to the Senate to decide which bill to advance and both will need two-thirds of the chamber to pass. Kolodin’s measure will go to Hobbs if it passes the Senate and Griffin’s proposal will return to the House.