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Renzi Getting Just "Deserts"

Sometimes, not often enough but sometimes, the bad guys get their just deserts. (And yes, that's deserts not desserts in case you wondered. But I digress.)

We're speaking today of a congressman from southern Arizona named Rick Renzi. Mr. Renzi, a Republican and chairman of John McCain's Arizona campaign, persuaded Congress to enact a nefarious little paragraph in 2003 that declared the Army at Fort Huachuca not responsible for the full impact of its water withdrawals on the San Pedro River.

The San Pedro is a desert (not dessert) miracle, a verdant, meandering stream teeming with an amazing variety of wildlife, including the most varied array of mammals outside Costa Rica, or so they say. The river rises in Mexico, flows north past the fort and the town of Sierra Vista, which exists to serve the fort and its personnel, and eventually joins the Gila. The Renzi rider has blocked efforts to rein in the growth of the fort and the town. Increased groundwater pumping has been a principal cause of the river's drying up from time to time, wreaking havoc on its wildlife. Earthjustice has made some headway with litigation, but the rider is a big bad obstacle.

Three of the more than 20 species of hummingbird that live along the San Pedro. Illustration by Carl Dennis Buell.

Robin Silver, a physician who is a heroic activist in those parts and a pretty good phrase-turner, described the rider thusly: "The Renzi rider is the equivalent of allowing a surgeon to perform unnecessary cosmetic surgery on a frail, elderly patient. The outcome is predictably fatal."

So pro-river forces took a little guilty pleasure in the indictment on Feb. 22 of Congressman Renzi, first elected in 2002 and the son of a general who served at Fort Huachuca. Mr. Renzi was indicted on 35, that's right, 35 counts of conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering, insurance fraud, and extortion. The House Ethics Committee is doing an investigation of its own. The governor of Arizona, Janet Napolitano, has urged him to resign. So far he has refused, but has said he will not seek re-election. Maybe the San Pedro has a chance after all.

Tags:  Water