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Rio Verde Foothills residents sweat it out at new water board’s first meeting

After Scottsdale stopped supplying water to Rio Verde Foothills at the start of this year, state leaders eventually stepped in. The Legislature passed a bipartisan, emergency measure that was signed into law by Gov. Katie Hobbs in June, ensuring a short-term supply and creating a local agency – the Rio Verde Foothills Standpipe District – to represent the unincorporated community’s water interests.

The district held its first board meeting Thursday night. About 50 residents turned out, enduring triple-digit temperatures inside a Rural/Metro firehouse with no air conditioning, to hear more specifics about the community’s water future.

That included Larry Wolff, an 18-year resident of Rio Verde Foothills, who was there with his wife, Amy.

“I’ve been very active in this fight for interim water, and I am thrilled at the appointment of this board and the members of the board and I’m just here to support them,” Wolff said. “We know that our short-term water is imminent while we wait for the long-term solution, which could take a couple of years, and so this is a wonderful step forward for us.”

The five board members, who were appointed by various state officials, are Thomas Braun, Meredith DeAngelis, Chris Josefowski, Michael Miola and Kent Thomas.

As the first order of business, they elected officers: DeAngelis was chosen to be the board chair; Thomas vice chair; Miola treasurer; and Braun secretary.

Securing future water

The emergency measure passed by the state – SB 1432 – included an intergovernmental agreement for Scottsdale to provide water treatment and infrastructure for water acquired by the standpipe district for up to three more years, serving as a short-term solution.

The board designated Josefowski to take the lead in negotiating with utility Epcor and other providers on a longer-term solution.

“I’ll be speaking with Epcor immediately following this meeting,” Josefowski told the audience. “As a function of this role, my goal and first action is to formally request a proposal from Epcor to be reviewed by the board.”

He said that if approved, the proposal would then be sent to the city of Scottsdale. If all parties approved, Josefowski said, the existing standpipe on Pima Road, between Jomax Road and Dynamite Boulevard, could be turned back on to “provide immediate relief for the citizens of Rio Verde Foothills.”

That drew a round of applause.

When it came time for questions, most residents expressed a desire simply for more information. DeAngelis said the board’s website, rvfsd.org, which is still in its infancy, would soon be getting more features, including meeting schedules and agendas, and contact information.

But one resident said there’s one big question that trumps them all.

“So there’s the $64 million question: What’s the timeline for getting water?”

DeAngelis said the board is not able to answer that question now, but will be transparent in communicating updates and timelines.

Harrowing experience for homeowners

Kimberly Waldum moved to Rio Verde Foothills in 2015 with her husband and two children. She said they bought a bank-owned home in a short sale, and it appeared to have a working well. But after two weeks, the well was revealed to be dry.

She wants to make sure other people don’t have a similar experience, and she spoke up at the meeting, wanting to ensure that any solutions enacted don’t feature a grandfather clause that would leave new residents unprotected.

Since the start of the year, new families have moved into three homes near Waldum’s. And she had a chance to warn one of those families when they were still home-shopping.

“When we first met them, they hadn’t signed on the line yet,” she said. “And we were like, ‘Whoa, don’t sign. Don’t sign. This is not a done deal. Don’t buy this incredibly nice home that you’re about to buy.'”

Still, Waldum was encouraged by the meeting, and said she is optimistic that the community is on the path toward stabilizing its water situation. But it’s been a harrowing experience.

“You better hope that we come up with a solution,” she said. “And I think we are. But god, this has been really frightening, really scary.”

Growing pains

As a new entity starting from scratch, the board admitted to some first-meeting struggles. There were technical difficulties both with the microphones and an online link to the meeting, which limited what could be heard both for the in-person and remote audience. The heat inside the fire station was intense, and residents had to bring their own chairs.

Miola addressed the issues as the meeting drew to a close.

“Before we adjourn, I just want to say to everyone here that clearly this is our first meeting, and was our organizational meeting. And now that our positions are clear, we will be getting to work very quickly. Personally, I feel like a pig on roller skates tonight.”

To a round of applause, he then reassured the audience: “We’re gonna get better, and we’re gonna do it right.”

News director Chad Snow joined the KJZZ newsroom in 2016.