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Heath: Scottsdale considering surprising water conservation measures

Larry Heath
By Larry Heath | Point of View

I responded to a survey recently involving water conservation measures being considered by the city of Scottsdale.

I came away from it wondering if our municipal officials are contemplating downgrading our “Most Livable City” into a community best known for its astroturf front yards and tap water brewed from sewage.

One of the questions involved prohibiting residents from watering winter grass in front lawns. I presumed that meant under threat of fine.

If ever you wanted to irritate a large swath of Scottsdale voters, tell them they can no longer enjoy the beautiful winter front lawns they fell in love with when they bought their homes in central and south Scottsdale. Even more surprising, the survey wanted to know how I felt about the city of Scottsdale purifying wastewater for human consumption.

I realize Scottsdale has the technology available to purify it safely, but most folks I know are reluctant to ride in driverless taxis. I suspect an even greater percentage would be less inclined to drink purified water distilled from human waste. Can you imagine the headlines, if Scottsdale is the first community in the nation to charge up that hill?

If the city desires to turn tourists and conventions away, that ought to do it! Let’s face it, Mayor David Ortega already cast Scottsdale in an unfavorable national spotlight by awkwardly becoming the face of the city’s decision to cancel water service to Rio Verde Foothills on New Year’s Day, 2023. Does Scottsdale really want to double-down on the disastrous headlines that followed? It all seems avoidable looking back on it, because my understanding is the water being transported to Rio Verde was contributed to the canal system by EPCOR Water specifically for Rio Verde’s use.

As such, it did not reduce Scottsdale’s water allocation by one drop. Scottsdale was just a cog in the delivery process, and they were making a handsome profit off it. If you are unfamiliar with that fiasco, google “Scottsdale cuts off water to Rio Verde.” You’ll find headlines from the “New York Times,” BBC,” Yahoo News” and many others.

On Jan. 19, 2023, “USA Today” published an article with the headline: “Why this Arizona Community was cut off from its water?” According to the article, Mayor Ortega was reportedly concerned about water, and he was quoted as saying he was a “hard no” for helping Rio Verde residents, and that “water wasn’t a compassion game.”

Ortega’s astonishingly abrasive comments not only cast Scottsdale in a bad light, but the state’s reputation was tarnished too.

Arizonans will be answering questions about this stained chapter of Scottsdale’s history for months to come.

In the aftermath of last year’s Colorado River Basin Tier 2 Alert and Scottsdale’s headline-grabbing reaction, news watchers around the world are probably still wondering if Arizona is on the verge of hydro-extinction. Unfortunately, all that bad press diluted the good news that followed. Remember how cold and rainy it was in Arizona last winter?

It was reportedly the coldest, wettest winter in metro Phoenix in 80 years, and mountain ranges across the west received nearly record snowfall. After all that snow melted, the under-reported fabulous news was:

  • Lake Powell and (larger) Lake Mead had risen by roughly 60 and 40 feet respectively.
  • The water retention lakes around metro Phoenix were so full that water was gushing through their dams down the Salt River.
  • The aquifers under metro Phoenix were replenished.
  • And the Tier 2 water restrictions reverted to Tier 1 on Jan. 1, 2024.

With all that water peripherally at our disposal, and snow piling up again this year in the mountain ranges of Utah and Colorado that feed the Colorado River Basin, why is Scottsdale contemplating outlawing water-sipping rye grass on front lawns, and why are they clamoring to serve reclaimed water to residents and visitors? What’s the rush?

My observation is our mayor and city council are being pressured by no-growth activists led by former city council member Bob Littlefield, who cannot seem to stop trying to run the city behind the scenes. As soon as the (now retired) Tier 2 alert went into effect last year, Littlefield and his anti-growth supporters started arguing Scottsdale cannot assure water supply for apartments and other dense developments they do not like.

I’m also sensing politics at play from the Water Department and Water Resources Department that appear to be matter-of-factly asserting the west is stuck in a never-ending drought on the city of Scottsdale’s website.

If I were an elected official being asked to follow those departments down potentially untenable paths, I’d be asking them what data they rely upon to make their long-range weather forecasts.

Regardless, wouldn’t it be wiser to let state and federal officials come up with their solutions first, and revisit water reduction options later, if needed? After all, the Colorado River Basin is a regional issue, not municipal.

Back to the survey. The first question was what is the No. 1 issue facing Scottsdale? My answer is Mayor David Ortega. He’s hurting Scottsdale’s brand.

Editor’s note: Larry Heath is a resident of Scottsdale.

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