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Heath: Scottsdale weighing surprising water conservation measures


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 known for its astroturf front yards and reclaimed tap water.

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. 

Even more surprising, the survey wanted to know how I felt about the City of Scottsdale purifying wastewater for human consumption. In a post-COVID germ-concerned world, does Scottsdale really want to charge up that hill? 

Scottsdale already “stepped in it” by canceling water service to Rio Verde Foothills on New Year’s Day, 2023. That fiasco seemed unnecessary, because 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 allocation by one drop. Scottsdale was just the delivery system, and they were making a handsome profit from it. If you are unfamiliar with that public relations disaster, 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. 

Unfortunately, all that bad press diluted the good news that followed. 

Last winter was 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 good 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 January 1, 2024.

With all that water peripherally at our disposal, 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?  

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 number one issue facing Scottsdale? My answer is Mayor David Ortega. He’s hurting Scottsdale’s brand.

Reader reactions, pro or con, are welcomed at AzOpinions@iniusa.org.