The Colorado River Tier 1 water shortage declaration in August of 2021 and the recent actions by the Bureau of Reclamation to protect Lake Powell’s water level are stark reminders that water isn’t guaranteed, especially in the desert.  Communities such as Rio Verde Foothills that lack water resources and must have water hauled in from other locations are living proof of the looming crisis. When the Tier 1 status was reached, authorities in Scottdale moved to safeguard its water sources from outsiders.  Beginning January 1, 2023, tanker trucks will be banned from using a depot owned by the city to transport water outside the city limits, shutting off the water to approximately 500 Rio Verde Foothills homes.

In 1980, Arizona enacted the Groundwater Management Act to address limited groundwater supplies for the state in the Active Management Areas (AMAs) where more than 80 percent of the population resides.  The Act included the Assured Water Supply Program, a measure to protect homeowners requiring developers to assure that subdivisions with six or more homes demonstrate a 100-year supply of water within the AMAs.  However, builders dodged this requirement by building less than the six-home baseline within the AMAs or building outside the AMAs in areas where the water requirements were less stringent, rendering the program largely inconsequential.  With significant population growth, home development abounded overextending water supplies, causing many private wells to fail.  Rio Verde Foothills is not the only community facing a water collapse: the city of Kingman, Chino Valley and Cochise County are facing similar circumstances.[1]

Although the state has millions of acre-feet of water stored underground for future shortfalls, that supply will be quickly diminished if predictions of continued population growth and declining water supply are correct.  Approaches to navigate the scarcity under consideration include building desalination plants, enacting water conservation legislation, banning grass, and increasing the use of both stormwater and recycled wastewater.  Before any strategy can be advanced, the state must overcome the political climate opposed to any legislation believed to “challenge property rights, raise costs and impede growth.”[2]  If policy is not enacted to regulate development and water use, more communities will suffer the fate of Rio Verde Foothills, and the potential for abandoned, uninhabitable communities across the state will become more likely.


[1] Schneider, Keith. “Arizona's Future Water Shock.” Circle of Blue, Keith Schneider Https://, 29 Mar. 2022,

[2] Schneider, Keith. “Arizona's Future Water Shock.” Circle of Blue, Keith Schneider Https://, 29 Mar. 2022,