A potential solution to get water to the Rio Verde Foothills passed through the Legislature on Monday, but even though the residents like it, a different proposal might have a better chance of becoming law.
Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, sponsored a bill that passed through the House and Senate on Monday, which would require Scottsdale to resume water service to Rio Verde until a more permanent solution is reached.
Scottsdale stopped water service to Rio Verde on Jan. 1 after repeated warnings. For the past four and a half months, residents without wells have relied on others for water and severely cut back on water usage in many cases.
There were 500 Rio Verde residents who signed a petition in support of Griffin’s bill, but almost every Democrat voted against it, and Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs hasn’t indicated support for it.
Another option is a bill from Rep. Alexander Kolodin, R-Scottsdale. It’s a more complicated plan that would have a municipality (Scottsdale) enter an intergovernmental agreement with a county (Maricopa County) making the county responsible for getting the water to the residents.
It caps the surcharge imposed on residents at 10%, but Rio Verde residents don’t like the price increase.
The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors rejected a similar plan along those lines several weeks ago, and the Rio Verde residents largely resisted it.
“The bottom line is it legislates and forces us into a district that we fought for two years to eliminate we finally got it eliminated and now they’re going to force it on us,” said Rio Verde resident Christy Jackman.
That’s not how Scottsdale lobbyist Barry Aarons sees it. “It would not create a DWID,” which stands for Domestic Water Improvement District, he said on Monday. “They don’t want to understand, they’ve got their mind made up about what they want,” he said of the Rio Verde residents.
Aarons doesn’t support the Griffin bill but said the Kolodin bill is something Scottsdale “can live with.”
Apart from the surcharge and the concern about a DWID-like scenario, where Rio Verde residents are being governed by a board, resident Cody Reim said he’s concerned that this will be seen as a permanent solution to the water issue, and it will stop the progress of permanent service from EPCOR. The EPCOR plan is moving through the state corporation commission now.
Griffin’s bill moved through the Senate on Monday on party lines with no Democratic support, but it picked up a couple of Democrats in the House, where it passed 36-22.
Sen. Priya Sundareshan, D-Tucson, explained her ‘no’ vote in the Senate noting that Scottsdale doesn’t like the bill. She referenced Kolodin’s bill in a more favorable way and expressed frustration that neither bill addresses what she and her colleagues see as the root problem here: housing developments in areas without assured water supply.
Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, represents the district encompassing Rio Verde and most of Scottsdale, along with Kolodin and Rep. Joseph Chaplik, R-Scottsdale. He asked for his colleagues’ support on Monday as the bill was poised to pass with no emergency clause. Meaning, it won’t take effect for months. “These people desperately need water,” he said.
After the vote, Kavanagh said. “This one would be easier as it just gives them an additional three years, but I fear because it’s party line and has no emergency clause that the governor will veto it, and should that happen then I’m hoping members will consider the second bill.”
Representatives Lupe Contreras, D-Avondale, Alma Hernandez, D-Tucson, Consuelo Hernandez, D-Tucson, Amish Shah, D-Phoenix, and Laura Terech, D-Phoenix, were the Democratic ‘yes’ votes.
“It brings my family and I so much relief to see this bill pass with bipartisan support. We are looking forward to Governor Hobbs signing the bill to turn the water back on. Her compassion for the community is critical as we enter wildfire season,” Reim said on Tuesday.
All House Democrats voted ‘yes’ for Kolodin’s bill when it passed the House on May 10. Kolodin said he preferred Griffin’s approach and tried to implement it in his own bill earlier in the session, but he couldn’t gain Democrat votes and the bill required two-thirds of the chamber to pass with an emergency clause.
“Whether it’s my bill, whether it’s (Griffin’s) bill, that matters less than getting those people water,” Kolodin said.
Other Republicans said they were concerned with Kolodin’s bill for a variety of reasons, including the formation of an intergovernmental agreement. Rep. Matt Gress, R-Phoenix, and Griffin said last week they were concerned with language in Kolodin’s bill that clarifies that it is unlawful for a person or group to split a parcel of land, called lot-splitting. This practice is what Democrats point to as the reason Rio Verde residents ended up with no water supply.
“I believe (2441) bypasses the government bureaucracy of establishing a governmental entity and allows the city of Scottsdale to use its existing infrastructure to provide the water to these residents – they need it,” Gress said on Monday.
The measure from Griffin may be the only Rio Verde bill that Hobbs sees. The Senate didn’t bring Kolodin’s bill up for a vote Monday and the Legislature won’t reconvene until June 12.