The Water Crisis Comes Home to Roost in Arizona

Due in part to the state’s history of ‘wildcat’ real estate developments, some communities are losing access to water sources as cities and water agencies look for ways to conserve shrinking water supplies.

2 minute read

February 6, 2023, 10:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Aerial view of irrigation canal winding through Scottsdale, Arizona suburb with mountains in background

The Arizona Canal near Scottsdale, Arizona. | Tim Roberts Photography / Arizona Canal

Expanding on the saga of the Rio Verde Foothills, an unincorporated Arizona community that recently found itself cut off from water supplies from nearby Scottsdale as part of that city’s efforts to conserve water, Sarah Tory describes the situation in High Country News, speaking with Susanna Eden, assistant director of the University of Arizona Water Resources Research Center.

Now, the 25 to 35 percent of residents who have relied on water trucked in from Scottsdale have to find new, more distant, more expensive water sources. According to Eden, this is “a textbook case on the perils of Arizona’s “wildcat” housing developments, which sidestep the state’s groundwater laws to construct homes without a fixed water supply, as well as the far-reaching implications of the worsening drought on the Colorado River.”

Rio Verde Foothills residents, Eden says, “have options they’re choosing not to pursue. They could develop a water cooperative, which would tax or levy a fee on all the members to set up a water supply service. It would mean getting permission to drill wells and building out a distribution system. Or they could negotiate with private water companies to serve the area.”

Eden suggests that reimagining growth in the desert southwest means combining a range of approaches. “That is, keep looking for more, keep using less, and keep finding ways to squeeze value out of the amount of water we have now and can use.”

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