SIERRA VISTA — After obtaining a 2010 confidential report on Fort Huachuca’s water usage, the Center For Biological Diversity, Maricopa Audubon Society and the Sierra Club have filed a notice of intent to sue (NOI) in regard to an alleged coverup of water usage which impacted the San Pedro River, the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area and the Upper San Pedro Basin.
The conservation organizations filed the intent to sue Secretary of Department of Defense, Secretary of the Army, Fort Huachuca Commanding General, the Fort’s Garrison Commander, the Secretary of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Tuesday “to prevent further damage to the San Pedro River and its endangered species from excessive groundwater pumping in the Fort Huachuca area.”
In a press release, the groups stated, “The 2010 report commissioned by the U.S. Army showed that groundwater pumping at Fort Huachuca was already causing harm to the San Pedro River and its endangered wildlife in 2003. The report was never given to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which decided in 2014 to approve the fort’s groundwater pumping for another decade.”
After a review of the report, they declared, “This report makes clear that Fort Huachuca should’ve been downsized in 2014 rather than given the greenlight to continue damaging the San Pedro,” said Robin Silver, co-founder and board member of the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Groundwater pumping is killing this beautiful river while Sierra Vista, Cochise County and the state of Arizona all refuse to help reduce groundwater use by Fort contractors and personnel.”
The suit questions Fort Huachuca’s 2014 environmental clearance by FWS which permitted “local groundwater pumping connected to the San Pedro River to serve military operations through 2024.”
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) was not informed of the 2010 report when it made the decision, according to the NOI.
The groups believe if the report had been made available to the FWS “it would have undoubtedly led to base downsizing.”
The fort’s future is further at risk due to local governments’ failures to keep their promises to balance the local water budget by 2011, they added.
The notice “challenges the biological opinion’s reliance on inappropriate water savings and credits as well as its failure to account for lower-than-anticipated water recharge.”
Mark Larson, president of the Maricopa Audubon Society noted, “Millions of neotropical songbirds pass through this area during their spring and fall migrations and they depend on the San Pedro. This area is too fragile to support the Fort and its surrounding population. Everything but the proving grounds can be moved to other military bases without losing national defense capabilities.”
Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter director Sandy Bahr stated, “The San Pedro River is a national and international treasure and we’ll do everything we can to save it Federal officials must ensure that groundwater pumping is reduced to levels that keep this unique wildlife corridor alive.”
The legal filing is the ninth challenge since 1994 to Fort Huachuca and its threat to the San Pedro River and SPRNCA in violation of environmental laws. So far, all the challenges were successful.
SPRNCA provides a migration haven for hundreds of bird species making it a global birding site, according to the Audubon Society.
The Herald/Review contacted but did not not receive responses from Fort Huachuca, FWS and others named in the NOI as of press time.