In the Wake of the Rio Verde Foothills Crisis, Water Rights Come Front and Center

Photo Credit: Mark Heinle, Arizona Republic

Regular readers are acutely aware of the water crisis in the Rio Verde Foothills, the beleaguered community on the border of Scottsdale. Their trouble securing a long-term water source has been well documented and is still an ongoing process. But as the state legislature and other entities were forced to weigh in on the subject, it has now become clear that it is becoming a cautionary tale and has provided a spark for building precedent.

A subcommittee of the Governor’s Water Policy Council recently met and discussed the priorities which will become some of the bigger hot-button issues in Arizona’s present and future growth. It also demonstrated what will clearly become points of friction and contention between growth advocates and their lobbyists and lawmakers in the future. Perhaps most notable is that former AZ Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers is now one of those lobbyists, as he now represents EPCOR, the water service company at the center of the Rio Verde Foothills crisis.

Those issues are related to water allocations for homes built specifically to rent, subdividing properties into numerous smaller subproperties and their water allocations, and grandfathered rights for water. All of them are devoted to figuring out how to best preserve our dwindling water supplies and to find the proper balance between growth and conservation.

It seems evident that there will be a clear political schism, even if everyone agrees to the core problems. The Republican caucus will lean towards the side of growth, home ownership and not overregulating the developers. The Democrats will lean towards pushing developers to properly secure all of the water rights necessary before a shovel is put to the ground, and to not build out more than is absolutely necessary.

It is worth noting that this is simply a working group with no voting power, they are simply there to put together recommendations. As we have seen, every contentious vote has a difficult pathway towards becoming approved legislation. With a Republican-led legislature and a Democrat governor, a consensus is necessary. Since the committee is under the guise of Governor Hobbs, she will likely lean towards being approving of her committee’s findings, but when numerous stakeholders will have dissenting opinions, nothing will be clear cut.

As time has shown, it is easy to identify issues, but it is much harder to find agreements amongst stakeholders on how to alleviate them. And finding agreements between non-political stakeholders does not mean that politicians will also come to the same conclusion. But it is a good start; at least we now all recognize that there are concrete issues that need to be resolved, instead of hiding our heads in the sand.