Saturday, June 23, 2012

Locals battle feds for water in historic Tombstone, Arizona

The dateline is Tombstone, Arizona, and the story is one of western grit, along with federal-local tension over repairing a water system as old as the city itself.  The city claims the rights to 25 springs to supply its water, and it set out to repair three of them following damage last year by rocks and trees dragged downhill in the wake of summer monsoons.  As journalist Fernanda Santos writes, "The underlying point of contention is an Old West conundrum:  who has authority over water that flows from federal land?"

Here's the lede for Santos's story in the New York Times, which highlights the federal-local tension:
The rules were clear:  no vehicles and no heavy machinery on the mountainside spot ravaged by fire and rain.  Fixing the PVC pipe that carries water from a spring in the Coronado National Forest to this old frontier boomtown, the United States Forest Service decreed, would have to be done by hand.  
* * * 
[T]his tourism outpost of dusty streets and restored saloons is waging a modern-day fight against an enemy its people say is just as threatening as the bad guys of the past:  the federal government.  
So rebel types from around the West came together to fix the Tombstone water system--by hand, insisting that the federal government had underestimated the town.  Santos described the motley crew as "men with long beards and handlebar mustaches, men in cowboy boots and roughed-up hiking shoes ... a city commissioner from Elko, Nev.; a state legislator from Utah; a rancher from Truth or Consequences, N.M.; and a Republican Congressional candidate from Arizona who is running to represent a district that is not Tombstone's."

The president of a local motorcycle group commented, "Big government has underestimated this city.  They thought we might abandon the whole thing when they made it so difficult, but this is not the way Tombstone operates."

A case about the city's claim to the springs that feed its water system is pending before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Tombstone, with a population of 1,562, is in Cochise County, Arizona, population 71,518.

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