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Standing up for Tombstone’s Water Rights

Tombstone v. United States

Case Status

Date Filed

February 17, 2012

Last Step

Court ruled in favor of USA’s Motion for Summary Judgment.

Next Step

Case Overview

Citing the Wilderness Act, the U.S. Forest Service refused to allow the City of Tombstone, Arizona, to repair its waterlines to mountain springs it has owned for nearly 70 years.

In a showdown between the federal government and the “Town Too Tough to Die,” the Forest Service is refusing to allow Tombstone to repair its mountain spring water lines after forest fires, floods and torrential mudslides destroyed them in the Monument Fire of 2011. Not content with allowing forest fires to burn down some of the most beautiful land in Arizona, the Forest Service is willing to risk the lives and properties of Tombstone residents and tourists due to the loss of adequate fire suppression capabilities and safe drinking water.

Between May and July 2011, the Monument Fire engulfed a large part of the eastern portion of the Huachuca Mountains. Record-breaking monsoon rains followed. With no vegetation to absorb the runoff, huge mudslides forced boulders to tumble down the mountain sides, crushing Tombstone’s mountain spring waterlines, destroying reservoirs and shutting off Tombstone’s main source of water. In some areas, Tombstone’s pipeline is under 12 feet of mud, rocks and other debris; while in other places, it is hanging in mid-air due to the ground being washed out from under it. In response, federal bureaucrats are refusing to allow Tombstone to unearth its springs and restore its waterlines unless they jump through a lengthy permitting process that will require the city to use horses and hand tools to remove boulders the size of Volkswagens.

Water is indispensable to Tombstone’s hardscrabble existence. The risk of fire to this historic town of wood buildings is real. By refusing to allow the city to freely repair its waterlines to ensure that it has enough water to provide fire protection and safe drinking water, the U.S. Forest Service is threatening to kill “The Town Too Tough to Die.”

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