Environmentalists Sue Fort Huachuca

February 05, 2014

(Photo courtesy of Ross D. Franklin/AP via NPR)
A Predator drone takes off on a U.S. Customs Border Protection mission from Fort Huachuca, Ariz.

Environmental groups are suing the U.S. Army post at Fort Huachuca over its impact on the San Pedro River. The river winds through southern Arizona as the last undammed river in the state. It shares part of its home in Sierra Vista with the Fort Huachuca Army post, the largest water user in that valley.

Environmentalists have said for years that Fort Huachuca ground pumping threatens endangered species and critical habitats that rely on the river. As part of the Endangered Species Act, a judge ordered the army in 2011 to produce a plan that would reduce its environmental impact on the river, but so far, army leaders have not produced such a plan, and environmental groups are asking a federal court to make them comply. McCrystie Adams, an attorney for Earthjustice, said her group is not trying to remove the army from Sierra Vista.

"We’d like to see Fort Huachuca come up a plan that lessens the impacts of that groundwater pumping and mitigates those impacts so the fort and the river can coexist," said Adams.

She said the Endangered Species Act envisions that a plan should be put together in less than a year, making the army plan far past due.

The San Pedro River is home to two endangered species as well as hosting Fort Huachuca. Environmental critics have worried for years that ground pumping from the San Pedro River has threatened wildlife. Robin Silver, a plaintiff in the case and co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity, said heavy use of the river also means losing an important piece of Arizona.

"Not that long ago when you travelled from east to west, you came across Rivers Rio Grande, Gila, Santa Cruz and Salt," said Silver. "And of those rivers, there’s only one that is still free flowing, and that’s the San Pedro."

Environmental groups are asking a federal court to set a firm deadline for the army to produce an environmental plan. Representatives from the army have not responded to calls for comment.