As water dries up in Arizona community, residents use rainwater to flush toilets and plastic plates to avoid dishwashing

Some residents in an affluent Arizona community are using rainwater to flush toilets and plastic plates to avoid washing dishes and buying gym memberships to shower after their water supply was cut off Jan. 1 because of extreme drought conditions in the West.

The situation compelled some of Rio Verde Foothills’ 2,200 residents last week to sue the neighboring city of Scottsdale, which had supplied water to about 500 homeowners in the unincorporated rural community.

The homeowners had relied on truck haulers to deliver water from Scottsdale, but the city stopped the long-running arrangement this year, citing drought conditions that make it unfeasible to provide water to nonresidents.

Another 200 homeowners in Rio Verde get water from wells on their property that are running dry, forcing them to periodically rely on water haulers, as well, residents said this week.

The municipal utility Scottsdale Water decided to cut off Rio Verde Foothills to reduce its consumption as drought persists throughout the West. Arizona relies on water from the diminishing Colorado River, which supplies water to about 40 million people in several states.

The utility informed Rio Verde Foothills in November 2021 that its water would be cut off starting this year.

Scottsdale’s conservation efforts have left nearby residents of Rio Verde Foothills without enough water for basic necessities, such as doing laundry and washing dishes.

“The people are trying to make water go so much further than we have been, not that you want to do it to this extreme,” said Rio Verde resident Karen Nabity, who has collected rainwater from recent downpours in buckets to flush her toilet.

She also drives dozens of miles away to shower.

“Every drop of water counts,” Nabity said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the rainwater or the water in my tank.”

The lawsuit, filed by residents Wendy and Vance Walker, claims that under state law a municipality cannot shut off water service once it has been established.

The Walkers did not respond to phone calls requesting comment Thursday, and their attorney, Francis J. Slavin, was unavailable.

Scottsdale city officials said in a statement this week that Rio Verde Foothills is a separate community governed by Maricopa County and that the city’s action does not preclude Rio Verde residents from buying water from other sources.

“Scottsdale has warned and advised that it is not responsible for Rio Verde for many years, especially given the requirements of the City’s mandated drought plan,” the statement read. “The city remains firm in that position, and confident it is on the right side of the law.”

Rio Verde Foothills residents say that as the lawsuit plays out, they are trying their best to cut back on usage in unconventional ways.

Jennifer Simpson, whose water tank on her property is about half-full, said that she has given up on watering her shrubs and that her husband plans to let go of their garden.

“We’re concerned,” she said. “Water sources are limited.”

Simpson said she has also heard of neighbors’ joining fitness clubs to shower and buying plastic plates and silverware to keep from washing dishes.

She said that many residents filled up their water tanks days before the year ended to stretch their supplies but that they will likely run out in the coming weeks.

After that, Simpson said, options are limited.

Some residents plan to have their water hauled in from several counties away, but that would be only a temporary fix, because it would eventually run out, too, Nabity said.

Simpson said: “There’s just so many things up in the air right now. There is just no answer.”

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