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Scottsdale mayoral candidates discuss dwindling water, development standards and the long-term effect of drought

photo of Scottsdale Mayoral Candidates
From left are Lisa Borowsky, David Ortega, and Linda Milhaven — all of whom are in pursuit of the mayor’s seat this election cycle. (File Photos/DigitalFreePress)
Scottsdale mayoral candidates offer insights into politics of water scarcity
By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press

Local voters this summer will decide from a field of three candidates who will be next to take the mantle of mayor of Scottsdale meanwhile residents will also decide from a field of nine candidates to fill three seats at Scottsdale City Council.

Scottsdale is hosting a primary election on Tuesday, July 30, to elect a mayor and three members of Scottsdale City Council whereas for a candidate to win outright in the July primary election they would have to receive the majority of ballots cast, election officials tell the Digital Free Press.

For races still in contention, a general election will be held to decide those races, election officials say.

In the race for mayor of Scottsdale, there are three candidates: Lisa Borowsky, David Ortega (incumbent) and Linda Milhaven.

The Digital Free Press reached out to each Scottsdale mayoral candidate to ask them what they think of the current flow of water in the ‘Grand Canyon State’ and how those realities ought to shape future development decisions at City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd.

This is what they had do say:

Linda Milhaven

*How do you think water scarcity will play a role in how Scottsdale develops as time carries on and water availability dwindles?

Water will be a key consideration in all decisions the city makes going forward. We continue to prepare for the future. In addition to supporting water conservation and reclaiming technologies, we continue to use part of our water allocation to replenish our aquifer for future use. Redeveloping aging parts of our city will play a larger part of our development conversation. For all projects, evaluating water needs and water saving technologies should continue to important criteria in approving projects.

*What role do you think the availability of water should play into development proposals that come before City Council today?

If we are not able to meet water demands, we should not be issuing permits. We must insist that new projects use water saving technologies to conserve and reclaim water. For large projects with high water demands, we need to require that projects purchase additional water from other sources.

*What are your thoughts on the current state of water here in Arizona and how will that play a role in governance of Scottsdale today to prepare for the generations of tomorrow?

Water is not just a Scottsdale issue. It is a regional issue. In addition to our own initiatives, we must cooperate and collaborate with our neighbors to find new sources of water and greater water efficiencies. Current examples include participating in the cost of raising Bartlett Dam which will increase available water supplies and investments in the 91st Ave. Wastewater Treatment Plant that treats wastewater for use at Palo Verde Generating Station and to irrigate non-edible crops, like cotton and grass on golf courses. We must continue to pursue these partnerships for all our sakes.

David Ortega
David Ortega

*How do you think water scarcity will play a role in how Scottsdale develops as time carries on and water availability dwindles?

Scottsdale history began in 1889, when Civil War veteran and Chaplin Winfield Scott purchased land, which became Scottsdale, for a mere $2.50 an acre. However, the true back-story is that Scott then had to purchase water rights for $7.50 per acre to make the land viable. Arizona land is worth substantially less, without water.

Prior to statehood, scarcity of water had always been a crucial development concern in a fledgling state. And certainly water shaped the prosperity of Scottsdale. In 1904, the Salt River Project (SRP) was formed and contracted with the Department of Interior–Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) to build Roosevelt Dam (1911) and the canal network to bring reliable water flow to the Valley. In 1951 at incorporation, Scottsdale shifted from a farming area to a diverse economy, conscious of water scarcity.

In 1987 a major milestone was achieved, as the city of Scottsdale began to purchase and draw water from the Central Arizona Project (CAP) canal. For decades Scottsdale Water built and operated our state-of-science water and waste water facilities so we can thrive.

Originally, Scottsdale relied almost entirely on SRP ground water until the completion of the Chaparral Water Treatment Facility, started to draft raw water directly from the Arizona Canal. SRP water is restricted–can only be distributed to serve SRP vested land, south of McCormick Ranch.

On the other hand, CAP water processed at the Scottsdale Water Campus, can serve from the Shea area, north to Desert Mountain. CAP water has propelled staggering growth. Scottsdale was the first city in Arizona to require that developments pay for water resources. Therefore all development, must pay for infrastructure, and must bring 100-year water.

By the way, Winfield Scott had to ask a wealthy relative to loan him money so that he could buy the water entitlement. Scott was the first developer of Scottsdale.

*What role do you think the availability of water should play into development proposals that come before City Council today?

Scottsdale Water was established is 1985 to operate as an enterprise, as a stand-alone business. Water resource acquisition, facilities planning, maintenance and operations are based on 20-year to 50-year horizons. Growth evolved over a 70-year history based on land use plans and capital improvements which Scottsdale voters must approve. Basically, demand for water and calculated wastewater volumes are tied to existing buildings, land use zoning and planned future build-out.

The shrinking Colorado River, fed by the Upper and Lower Colorado Basin, set off alarms in seven states and Mexico. 100- year old estimates of upstream runoff were wrong, and over allocation confirmed the looming crisis. In Scottsdale, 90 percent of sources are from SRP and CAP. Scottsdale relies on CAP water for 65% of our needs.

Ten cities, served by CAP, form the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association (AMWUA) which monitors storage levels and reduced allocations to cities, and shares conservation plans. Scottsdale Water operates the most advanced facilities in the USA and we are most prepared for challenges ahead.

*What are your thoughts on the current state of water here in Arizona and how will that play a role in governance of Scottsdale today to prepare for the generations of tomorrow?

In 2021, when I took office, the pandemic was peaking, and another major catastrophe would soon dominate the headlines. The 22-year mega-drought triggered the Bureau of Reclamation to declare a Tier 1 Shortage—ordering an 18 percent CAP cut for Scottsdale.

Also, upon taking office I was stunned to learn that for many years Scottsdale Water sold by bulk, wholesale to truckers who transported it to dry-lot “wildcat” subdivisions in the unincorporated county. Against the advice of Scottsdale Water officials, precious CAP water was exported away from Scottsdale residents, businesses, schools and hospitals.

The previous mayor and council including Lisa Borowsky and Linda Milhaven knowingly permitted the depletion of CAP water despite numerous warnings. Mayor Lane and his cohorts ignored repeated notifications from Scottsdale Water to Maricopa County officials that cutoff was imminent. Outsider interests allowed the irresponsible practice.

In the Scottsdale Progress March 13, 2023, interview, former Mayor Jim Lane admitted that in 2017 although Scottsdale Water Director Brian Biesmeyer flatly stated, “We can’t do it anymore.” Lane admitted he stepped in, “I insisted that they give them more time. “

County records show that in 2017 when Mayor Lane interfered, until 2021 when he left office, over 780 dry-lot houses were permitted and built in the Maricopa County, just east of Scottsdale. Mayor Lane and councilwomen Borowsky and Milhaven enabled irresponsible “wildcat” development.

What was the impact? For reference, Scottsdale Water delivers 65-million gallons of water every day, and during the Lane era the unincorporated area drew 66 million gallons of Scottsdale water every year. Nearly a billion gallons of Scottsdale CAP Water was depleted during the Lane era.

In 2021, under my leadership, the council unanimously followed BOR directives and reversed the irresponsible inaction of the previous councils. Beginning Jan. 1, 2022, the impact was immediate when bulk sales were terminated. Scottsdale Water has saved 60 million gallons of precious CAP water intended solely for Scottsdale residents.

Scottsdale investments in property, businesses and our economic survival depend on water. It took an intervention of the Arizona Legislature to wrangle control of Scottsdale Water facilities to suit irresponsible development. But the “interim solution” solution now excludes Scottsdale CAP water, and it expires in December 2025. I will enforce the shutoff.

It is important to note that before leaving office and afterward, former Councilwoman Milhaven stood with the Rio Verde Foothills outsiders. RVF residents sued Scottsdale, and lost, yet Milhaven spoke in opposition to our unanimous council. Former Councilwoman Borowsky was totally silent. And she also advocates for outside interests.

As mayor, I will continue to work for Scottsdale interests and abide by BOR directives and expert Scottsdale Water advice. We can navigate water shortages and future development. As mayor, I will continue to defend Scottsdale Water and guard our investment.

Lisa Borowsky
Lisa Borowsky

*What role do you think the availability of water should play into development proposals that come before City Council today?

Long-term water availability and pressure on infrastructure should be a top consideration for all new development. Scottsdale has one of the most advanced water treatment facilities in the country, and we have significant additional stored, unused, capacity should it be needed in the future.

However, the city cannot continue handing out record-breaking approvals for cookie-cutter apartments which impact water, transportation and our overall infrastructure.

*What are your thoughts on the current state of water here in Arizona and how will that play a role in governance of Scottsdale today to prepare for the generations of tomorrow?

We live in a desert and should be mindful that water must always be treated as our most critical natural resource. That means more thoughtful development and more careful planning so water is never just an afterthought. We can do better and will with stronger leadership.

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