What drought? Projects abound near Rio Verde Foothills – scottsdale.org

Sunny. High 98F. Winds NE at 5 to 10 mph..
Clear skies. Low 67F. Winds NE at 5 to 10 mph.
Updated: April 28, 2023 @ 6:57 am
An old water tank is on the 270 acres that may be developed into 300 homes of the Fiesta Ranch project. (Tom Scanlon/Progress Staff)

An old water tank is on the 270 acres that may be developed into 300 homes of the Fiesta Ranch project. (Tom Scanlon/Progress Staff)
Many people around Scottsdale likely echo Scottsdale Councilman Barry Graham, who believes the city did absolutely nothing wrong by cutting off its water to Rio Verde Foothills.
Even so, Graham and others scratch their heads at the city’s mixed messages regarding water.
The city begged residents to reduce water consumption last year and yet, Graham, noted in an interview, “It’s not fair to tell people to ‘cut, cut, cut’ – and then we authorize all this growth.”
“We tell them to cut and they see cranes. It’s kind of a disconnect.”
An internal report suggests the city will be scrambling to meet a projected 9% increase in water demand within two years and a projected 35% rise by 2055.
Meanwhile, a long drought means possible reductions in the city’s Colorado River allotment – which accounts for about two-thirds of Scottsdale’s water, according to the city’s website.
Potential cuts have been used by city officials in justifying shutting off the RVF water. As Mayor David Ortega said: “The mega-drought tells us all: water is not a compassion game.”
Yet, even as city officials warily await potential water cuts, they have signed off on projects that will bring more thirsty people to Scottsdale.
When North Scottsdale residents hike the McDowell Sonoran Preserve Trails north of Rio Verde Road, the sound of traffic slowly fades, replaced by birds chirping, the crunch of boots on dirt – as well as hammers and power saws.
While the land is, as its name suggests, preserved from development, dozens of homes are being built just to the east of the pristine wildlands.
While those houses are on county land generally identified as Rio Verde Foothills, two massive developments within the city limits are hardly more than a squirt-gun shot from the existing RVF homes.
Introducing: Fiesta Ranch and Reata Ranch.
Combined, they represent around 500 homes – coincidentally close to the size of the RVF community that had been receiving Scottsdale water via hauling companies that drew water from the now shut-down Scottsdale stand pipe.
While first-term Councilman Graham and others are wondering how the city can provide water to scores of new developments, Water Department spokeswoman pointed out Scottsdale Water Management Principles were approved last year.
These principles, she stressed, “added a requirement that City Council be provided with more information on water use when considering new developments.”
And, she said, one key water management principle “requires large-water-use developers who require a General Plan or zoning change to provide additional information on their economic impact and water use as well as encouraging conservation measures above and beyond existing requirements.”
But, unless the developers make major changes, the scores of existing projects under construction can continue as planned.
Graham, raised in Scottsdale and previously a member of the city’s Planning Commission and Building Advisory Board of Appeals, said he listened to alarmed voters during his campaign.
“I ran on a platform of a little slower growth,” said Graham, who pulled in 58% of the vote to top Pamela Carter in last fall’s run-off election. “Residents were concerned with runaway growth.”
Developers paint a different picture.
“There’s plenty of water available,” said Allan Stam, of North Scottsdale Land Development. “The problem is you have to pay more for it.”
He said water hauled in by private companies costs two to three times more than what city residents pay.
He knows the Rio Valley Foothills area inside out: “I’ve built a hundred houses up there from 2000 until now,” Stam said.
He noted he doesn’t have any project under construction, but not due to the water situation, “I stopped building seven months ago to see what was going to happen because all the prices were going up.”
Many other develoeprs are not waiting.
The City of Scottsdale’s Planning Department provides an interactive map (scottsdaleaz.gov/planning-development/active-cases) showing 531 projects under construction and another 120 awaiting public hearing.
Dozens of projects are underway in northeast Scottsdale, just west of Rio Verde Foothills. They include single-family home “one-off” projects and two Goliaths both still a long way from fruition.
Grant Grether, a Scottsdale real estate agent with Morgan Taylor Realty, is selling several homes under construction on unincorporated county land on the north side of Rio Verde Road
He said buyers are attracted to the stunning views, peace and quiet – and not being on a city’s tax roll.
“Taxes are certainly less expensive, no doubt about it,” Grether said.
He said most buyers are aware of the water situation and for those who are not, “We make it very clear to people: You’re buying property in an area served by hauled water.”
Told about plans for two projects on the other side of the two-lane Rio Verde Road, with some 500 homes that will be part of Scottsdale’s water system, Grether gave a rueful chuckle.
“It’s just laughable,” he said, noting big companies are building all over North Scottsdale and that the city has plenty of water.
Indeed, water was not an issue on Jan. 21, 2020, when Scottsdale City Council unanimously approved the master planned community of Fiesta Ranch, which plans 260 houses on 273 acres.
Fiesta Ranch is south of Rio Verde Drive between 136th and 141st streets.
A November 2019 planning document describes the Fiesta Ranch developer:
“The Lyle Anderson Company is a Scottsdale-based company known for developing luxury communities throughout the country for more than four decades.”
The developer previously built “Desert Highlands, an 850-acre community, and Desert Mountain, an 8,000-acre master-planned community.”
Just east of Fiesta Ranch is another eye-opening project: Reata Ranch.
The man behind the proposed 330-home development is David Gulino, of Land Development Services.
“We’re currently processing the application for the preliminary plat,” he said.
If all goes well, he will start preliminary construction in mid-2024.
Reata Ranch is on 220 acres at the southeast corner of Rio Verde Road and 128th Street.
According to Gulino’s application, “Each neighborhood has been carefully planned to provide great home sites and abundant open space… Water service will be provided by the city of Scottsdale.” According to Gulino, “The water line first phase was approved four months ago. (Scottsdale will) bring water on a line to 128th Street.”
Another developer, who “needs a water line sooner than we do,” paid for the new line, Gulino said.
A water master plan
According to the city’s Integrated Water Resources Master Plan, approved by City Council last August, “Scottsdale Water’s vision is to achieve water sustainability through stewardship, innovation, and people.”
While acknowledging “the continuing historic drought” that has “stressed Colorado River water supply availability,” the water report also had a giant caveat:
“This master plan does not address significant Colorado River water cutbacks to be mandated in 2023 due to increasingly receding water levels in Lakes Mead and Powell, as announced by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in June 2022.”
Yet the city is growing and almost certainly will continue to do so.
The water plan cited Maricopa Association of Government projections of Scottsdale growing from 253,370 – slightly higher than the U.S. Census tally of 241,361 – to 270,740 in 2025, topping 300,000 in 2040 on its way to 315,000 in 2055.
The population growth in just the next two years is projected at just under 10%.
And these figures don’t include business growth, another huge drain on the city’s water supply.
The report states Scottsdale will be drinking, bathing in and flushing 35% more water in 2055 than it uses today.
“By year 2055, the adjusted estimated annual average water demand is 93.3 million gallons per day, which is approximately 35 percent higher than the City’s current average annual demand, it says.
The plan shows that, in step with the population increase, the city’s water use is expected to rise 9.2% by 2025.
According to the General Plan approved by voters in 2021, the western town of Scottsdale isn’t what it used to be – nor what it will be:
“In 1960, the incorporated area of Scottsdale was only four square miles. As of 2020, the city includes 184.5 square miles within its corporate boundaries… As of July 2018, Scottsdale’s population was three-quarters of the estimated built-out population projection of 316,700 by 2055.”
Though easy to breeze by in the 286-page document, perhaps the most crucial sentence is hidden on the bottom of page 21:
“A priority facing the community is finding the resources needed to provide the same distinguished level of services and amenities current residents enjoy to the numbers of new residents expected in the future, while maintaining the high quality of life for all residents.”
In other words: Where’s the water?
Schneider was asked how Scottsdale Water plans to deal with the conundrum of increasing demand and potentially decreasing supply of water.
“While we don’t know the exact cuts the federal government will mandate in the future, we are planning for worst-case scenarios,” Schneider answered.
“We are prepared to take further actions once we know what we are dealing with from the Colorado River system.”
Your comment has been submitted.

There was a problem reporting this.
Log In
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.
Never miss an issue. Sign up for free today.


(Visited 1 times, 1 visits today)