With their garden populated by huge cacti and their breathtaking view of the rocky peaks of the Sonoran Desert, Wendy and Vance Walker thought they had settled in a little piece of paradise in Rio Verde Foothills, Arizona… Until the water is suddenly cut off for them.

Since the neighboring city of Scottsdale, responsible for their supply, decided to turn off its tap almost three months ago because of the drought ravaging the American West, the daily life of this couple in their fifties has radically changed.

Paper plates and plastic cutlery for meals, flash showers only every four days, collecting rainwater in barrels for flushing: any means is good to minimize their consumption.

“A lot of people don’t take drought seriously,” sighs Wendy, in the kitchen of her tidy home, bought in the midst of a pandemic for US$600,000 in 2020.

“And even living in the desert, we didn’t take it seriously either,” confesses this communications director for a large group. “Until we are forced to. »

Like the Walkers, many Rio Verde Foothills residents have been overtaken by climatic reality.

In this town where villas and ranches have never had running water, around 500 households relied on the nearby city of Scottsdale to sell the precious liquid to companies responsible for delivering residents by tanker truck.

But Scottsdale must contend with the inexorable decline of the Colorado River, from which it gets 70% of its tap water.

More than two decades of drought, fueled by global warming, have seriously diminished this river that waters 40 million people in the American West. To the point that the seven states that depend on it are currently quarreling over how to cut up to a quarter of their consumption.

Faced with the inevitable restrictions, Scottsdale decreed that it could no longer meet the needs of Rio Verde Foothills, labeled as a neighbor with irresponsible real estate growth. On January 1, the city cut off access to its gas station for delivery people.

This measure completely upset the work of John Hornewer. To fill his 22,000 liter tank truck, he now has to drive for hours, in order to get supplies elsewhere in multiple stations.

“We are the first domino to fall and really feel the effects of the drought,” said this water delivery man, forced to ration some customers. “The more scarce and precious water becomes, the more cities and authorities will want to protect theirs. »

After doubling his prices to offset the cost of gas and overtime, one question nags at him as summer approaches: who will he have to deprive of water? Because with the mechanical increase in demand during the arid season, there will no longer be enough time to deliver to everyone.

This doomsday scenario caused a state affair in Arizona. After multiple political pressures, Scottsdale proposed an emergency solution in mid-February.

The Democratic municipality, which continues to water its luxury golf courses, could buy additional water and reauthorize deliveries. On one condition: that the Republican County, on which Rio Verde Foothills depends, finances the operation. But the latter rejected this proposal and the negotiations are bogged down.

Temporary, this plan would only last a maximum of three years. In the long term, Rio Verde Foothills will have to supply itself differently.

And there again, it’s war: the inhabitants have been torn for months over whether to entrust the future management of their water to a private company or a public agency. Local well owners are fiercely opposed to the second option because they fear being expropriated.

Faced with so much uncertainty, Lothar Rowe and his fifty horses could not wait. Owner of a ranch for twenty years, this German has just bought land with a well to water them, for half a million dollars.

“I can’t believe it,” the octogenarian wonders. “We’re talking about the United States: they’ve been on the moon, they’re trying to go to Mars… And they don’t have water here. »

“The problem from the start was that we were all in denial. No one really thought this would happen,” whispers Rusty Childress.

In front of his house, this photographer has planted a sign: “Buyers, beware! No water in Rio Verde. Because despite the alarming situation, construction sites are multiplying in the area: real estate developers are exploiting certain legal loopholes to build, without guaranteeing sustainable access to water.

“Here, we get drunk on growth,” regrets the sixty-year-old. “But you can’t have uncontrolled growth with a real water problem. »