Phoenix Gives New River Residents Temporary Relief in Water-Hauling Fight

Water-hauling trucks parked outside of a community meeting near New River on October 8 brought attention to the water crisis.
Water-hauling trucks parked outside of a community meeting near New River on October 8 brought attention to the water crisis. Joseph Flaherty
Before yesterday, Phoenix was poised to turn off the tap for rural residents north of the city, where many homes have no reliable access to water. But after spending months at an impasse, Phoenix relented on Thursday.

Phoenix is still going to eventually cut off the water-hauling trucks that refill at city fire hydrants to serve these thirsty communities.

Now, however, they can keep refilling until April 30, 2018. The city initially said trucks would get cut off starting on January 1.

Residents had scrambled to lobby for a solution or an extension of the deadline through an ad hoc organization, formerly known as "No Water, No Life" and now a soon-to-be LLC called New River Desert Hills Water.

"It’s definitely an early Christmas gift," the organization's vice president Keith Turner said of Phoenix's decision.

Many homeowners in unincorporated communities of Phoenix don't have working wells on their property and rely exclusively on water hauled by trucks for their daily use. Locals estimate that over 1,500 homes are affected by the water-hauling fight. 

Without the reprieve, hauled-water prices could have doubled or tripled from what residents were paying earlier, as companies trucked water from hydrants in Peoria or Scottsdale as an alternative.

Phoenix City Councilwoman Thelda Williams announced the decision on Thursday in a letter to State Senator Karen Fann, Corporation Commissioner Andy Tobin, and Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates.

According to the letter, Phoenix only opted for an extension because plans are in motion for a permanent water station in nearby Anthem built by water company EPCOR. The water station should be operational by April, according to an EPCOR estimate.

However, New River residents shouldn't get comfortable. Williams made it clear that their reprieve is temporary. "The City has no intention of extending this final deadline," she wrote in the letter.

"While Phoenix empathizes with those who reside outside the boundaries of a water utility, it also understands that living outside a city-services area is a choice available to property owners, and we respect their right to make that decision," Councilwoman Williams wrote.

Ultimately, Phoenix water has to go to Phoenix residents, the city argues.

"Both the original and new permits were never authorizations to use Phoenix’s water supply as a permanent water source, but were always meant for temporary, short-term use only," a Phoenix spokesperson wrote in an email to Phoenix New Times in October.

Julie Elliott, New River Desert Hills Water president, said they're surveying residents on whether they should create a domestic water-improvement district. These districts allow rural communities to access grants and loans to construct their own self-reliant water infrastructure.

Elliott called the Phoenix decision a "major milestone," but added that long-term access to water will have to come through another solution.

"It’s fortunate we’re able to access it now through the water haulers," Elliott told New Times. "But it’s really not ours to control, and that’s the concern. With the district, we’ll be able to gain access to potable water that we can control."

You can read the letter from Councilwoman Thelda Williams below.

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Joseph Flaherty is a staff writer at New Times. Originally from Wisconsin, he is a graduate of Middlebury College and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
Contact: Joseph Flaherty