Can New River Residents Control Development With New Water Source?

By Bret Jaspers
Published: Friday, May 25, 2018 - 8:07am
Updated: Friday, May 25, 2018 - 8:11am

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Bret Jaspers/KJZZ
EPCOR says it's committed to having a new water hauling station open by July 20. The station will serve New River and Desert Hills residents with homes constructed before Jan. 1, 2018.

Residents of New River and Desert Hills should have a new water source by the end July, capping a long year of worry.

Last summer, the city of Phoenix announced it would cut off companies that truck water to those areas. After a flurry of negotiations — and a couple of delays to the cutoff — haulers are expected have a new place to fill up: a new standpipe, built by the utility EPCOR, who expect to have it in use by July 20.

But residents want the standpipe, essentially a large tap into the EPCOR water supply, to work as more than a water source.

During a meeting of the Anthem Community Council Board last fall, New River resident Ron Bentley stood up to make a request.

MORE: New River Development Drawing Attention To Subdivision Laws

“If you’re going to do this, could you make it 'current residents only,' because you’re worried about how much you’re going to be supplying? Because they just continue to want to develop," he said.

Bentley and other residents saw over-development as one of the roots of the water problem.

Census numbers say New River’s population increased about 40 percent between 2000 and 2010. The latest five-year American Community Survey puts it at 15,305.

People who once had working wells now have to truck in water. More residents means less groundwater to pump, residents said. And if a newer, closer water tap was being built, they worried it would simply enable the growth.

The other parties were convinced. Here’s an amendment to Section 5 of EPCOR’s land lease that refers to water hauling companies:

"EPCOR warrants that it shall instruct its customers using the Water Hauling Facility that, as a condition to their continued ability to use the Water Hauling Facility, they may only deliver water derived from the Water Hauling Facility to residential dwellings within Desert Hills or New River that were constructed before Jan. 1, 2018."

Any houses built after that date would have to get their water trucked in from farther away.

So, is this legal?

In answering that question, Susan Demmitt, a land use attorney at Gammage & Burnham, said, “I don’t know that this is legally problematic so much as it is practically difficult to enforce."

Troy Day, a vice president at EPCOR, said they would make the rule part of the agreements it signs with water haulers that use the station. EPCOR water drawn from the new station is not allowed to be delivered to new homes.

"If they’re caught doing it, we can make them not be customers anymore," he said.

Day said if an infraction doesn’t get reported right away, the lease would still be intact. In the contract, EPCOR has to work “in good faith to remedy the violation.”

Haulers like Brad Phelps of Crystal Creek Water, meanwhile, see a messy situation.

“I’m gonna have customer A right here with a brand new home after January, and customer B next door, and they’re gonna be paying $100 difference between the two very same loads,” he said in an interview.

The difference in price is due to transportation costs. If the new station is off-limits to new homes, trucks will have to fill up in Carefee or Peoria for a delivery to one house. That’s a lot of extra fuel and worker time.

Phelps said he’s in the business of getting water to people, not making it more difficult.

“Instead of being a provider of water, we’re the ones that’ll have to enforce this restriction, and that shouldn’t be my responsibility.”

“Instead of being a provider of water, we’re the ones that’ll have to enforce this restriction, and that shouldn’t be my responsibility.”
— Brad Phelps, Crystal Creek Water

On the other hand, residents like Ron Bentley believe if water haulers don’t like it, well, that’s just too bad. Months after the water crisis began, Bentley’s still frustrated that housing development continues without much of a check. This is a way for New River residents — and their allies in Anthem — to make their neighborhoods less attractive to builders and buyers looking to move in.

On his back patio, Bentley pointed to a still-unfinished home going up next door.

“If I see them hauling water to that house after the EPCOR station is set up, then I’ll be on the phone to Troy Day,” he promised.

Day confirmed that residents should call, report and send documentation to EPCOR. In enforcing this clause, the company will rely solely on residents to let them know what’s going on.

“All the residents are pretty diligent out there, and if they see water haulers getting water from our station and going to a new house, I think there’s plenty of people out there who’re willing to tell us about that,” he said.

Current residents with water problems, Day said, is who the station is for.

This story is part of Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a new multimedia collaboration between Cronkite News, Arizona PBS, KJZZ, KPCC, Rocky Mountain PBS and PBS SoCal.

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