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|Tombstone fights over water rights in federal court|
|Written by Michelle A. Monroe|
|Thursday, 16 February 2012 02:33|
A town famous for its battles between cowboys and outlaws, Tombstone takes on a new challenge now: the U.S. Forest Service.
The City of Tombstone is suing the Forest Service for its water rights to a pipeline in the Huachuca Mountains. City officials have maps and documents showing their water rights date back to more than 100 years ago. Last week, the hearings began at the federal courthouse in Tucson, and the city made its case before a judge.
“We’re so small,” said a Tombstone citizen sitting in the U.S. Federal District Courthouse.
“Yes, but we’re powerful,” answered her friend.
The wildfires which blazed through Arizona during last summer, and the ensuing monsoons, led to a perfect storm of trouble for Tombstone’s water line.
The pipeline runs though the Huachuca Mountains down to the city by a gravity-powered aqueduct. After a mudslide this summer, boulders the size of Volkswagens hit the pipeline damaging it in several places and cutting off the flow of water.
Gov. Jan Brewer declared an emergency state for the city of Tombstone in August, and appropriated funds to tide them over. However, these funds are intended to run out this month.
“We’ve asked to extend the emergency funds from the Department of Emergency Management,” said George Barnes, city manager.
The case between the city of Tombstone and the U.S. Forest Service was heard in federal court last week, and no one is certain when the trial will end.
City officials hope to have one permit to work on all 24 springs, but the Forest Service wants permit applications for each individual spring, and says the city is not fixing the springs with the appropriate environmental protocol.
“Right now we have two permits, and a small tractor,” said Paul Randall Bays, Tombstone’s attorney. “But that’s like using a teaspoon to move a brick.”
The Goldwater Institute has joined Tombstone in its legal battle.
“We’re little guys with little lawyers but these Goldwater guys know their way around the place,” Barnes said. “
There are seven springs readily available to be worked on, but the other 17 are under debris and their state is unknown.
The Forest Service could not be reached for comment as of press time.
“We haven’t heard anything from the Forest Service,” said Mayor Jack Henderson. “Things are pretty quiet with the litigation going on, but I’m looking forward to court.”
Last week, the city of Tombstone provided their side of the case and this week the judge heard the Forest Service.
“Well, if we can get the Forest Service folks on the stand and tell them they've been hindering our efforts deliberately, the outcome should be fairly favorable,” Henderson said.
Tombstone receives between 50 percent and 80 percent of its water from the damaged pipeline. While its reserves are being drained, the city is also concerned because in December 2010 one of the city’s wells was found to have high amounts of arsenic in it. The level of arsenic is still under the legal limit but the city purchased more than $250,000 worth of purification equipment. However, purifying work has not commenced because the city is focused on getting the main source of water back to Tombstone.
“Keep your fingers crossed for the little city of Tombstone,” Barnes said. “We’re hanging on.”