Conservationists Launch New Effort to Keep San Pedro River Afloat

Bad science and excessive water withdrawals slowly killing river and wildlife


Robin Silver, Center for Biological Diversity, (602) 799-3275
McCrystie Adams, Earthjustice, (303) 623-9466

The Center for Biological Diversity and the Maricopa Audubon Society, represented by Earthjustice, today filed suit in federal district court to challenge the lawfulness of a "biological opinion" written by the Fish and Wildlife Service regarding Fort Huachuca’s operations and water use. The opinion concludes that continued, even increased, water withdrawals by the Army for the fort will not unduly impact the San Pedro River. Specifically, the lawsuit argues that two species — the Huachuca water umbel (a plant) and the Southwestern willow flycatcher — will be threatened with extinction if the opinion is allowed to stand. This is the third lawsuit the groups have filed challenging the Fort’s water use.

"The Fort is doing an admirable job of controlling its on-post water use, but it is not addressing the off-post water use that is affecting the river," said Earthjustice attorney McCrystie Adams. "It’s in our power to protect this river for all the special animals and plants that thrive along the San Pedro but we need to find some additional ways to meet our water needs. The San Pedro is a world-class treasure. It deserves better than this."

Read the complaint (PDF)

The lawsuit says that rather than abide by the Endangered Species Act, the opinion makes vague promises about water conservation and other mitigation measures, without providing legally required guarantees. The measures that are mentioned in the agreement, in many cases, have no funding.

"For some reason, the government just can’t seem to get this right," said Robin Silver of the Center. "This is the third time we’ve had to go to court to to enforce the Endangered Species Act. We’re two-for-two and expect to win this time as well."

A big cloud hanging over the proceedings is a congressional rider written by Representative Rick Renzi and enacted in 2003. It declares that the Army bears no responsibility for water sucked from beneath the river by the town of Sierra Vista, even though that town exists to serve the fort. Activists may seek repeal of the Renzi Rider at some later date, possibly next year.

The San Pedro River is the last free flowing river in the desert southwest. Its headwaters are south of the border in the mountains of Mexico. It has been recognized as a world heritage natural area by the United Nations World Heritage program. 

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