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Water Crisis and the 1964 Wilderness Act - Congressman Bob Beauprez

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May 14, 2012

2012 Tombstone, AZ, Water Crisis and the 1964 Wilderness Act

Should there Be Emergency Exceptions to Wilderness Act Restrictions

Interview with former Congressman Bob Beauprez, May 14, 2012, on Sharon Kleyne Hour Power of Water

In the winter of 2011-2012, a series of heavy monsoon storms hit Southern Arizona's Miller Peak Wilderness Area, causing massive slides that damaged or buried the long-established water source (since 1884) for the historic city of Tombstone, Arizona (of "OK Corral" fame), 26 miles away in the Chihuahuan Desert. A large portion of the city's spring-fed water supply lay inside the Miller Peak Wilderness.

The previous summer, during a dry season even by Arizona standards, major brush and forest fires broke out in and around the Miller Peak Wilderness. Consistent with Wilderness requirements, the Monument Fire inside the Wilderness was fought without mechanized equipment. Much of the Wilderness eventually burned.

When the city requested a permit to repair the water system, they faced the same restrictions as the fire fighters. Mechanized equipment is not permitted inside a Federal Wilderness Area.

Bob Beauprez, former US Congressman for southern Arizona discussed the Tombstone water situation on the Sharon Kleyne Hour Power of Water radio talk show on May 15, 2012. Podcasts of the interview may be heard on and Sharon Kleyne

On her show, Sharon Kleyne frequently discusses the issue of water rights. She notes that legal disputes over water can become extremely contentious (Citing the current situation in California). Globally, countless wars have been fought over water. The rebellion in Syria, says Mrs. Kleyne, was touched off by a water price increase following a drought.

Mrs. Kleyne has urged lawmakers to use wisdom and common sense in deciding whether, in an emergency, the survival needs of humans (who must have water) should or should not take precedence over Wilderness protection. She notes that these are complex issues frequently requiring compromise.

Tombstone, a city of 1,400, was granted permits by the Forest Service to use heavy equipment to repair the pumping station and two feeder pipelines located just outside the Wilderness. Permits were granted to repair 23 other feeder pipelines from springs inside the Wilderness, but only with hand tools and pack animals. The city estimated that the storm damage affected "50% to 80%" of its water supply and temporarily made up the shortfall by trucking in water from the nearby city of Sierra Vista.

Although an effort was made to organize a "Shovel Brigade" to repair the 23 pipelines inside the Wilderness, the city sued the Federal Government, arguing that the litigation had potentially wide ranging application. In May, 2012, Arizona Congressman Jeff Flake introduced in Congress, the "Emergency Water Supply Restoration Act." The bill is currently in committee and given a 2% chance of passage ( Governor Jan Brewer has declared a "State of Water Emergency" for Tombstone.

The "Shovel Brigade" collected 400 shovels and did two days work in June, 2012.

The National Wilderness Preservation Act, passed by Congress in 1964, declared that Wilderness Areas are to be preserved in a "natural state," "untrammeled" by man except as a visitor. The Act allowed exceptions for mining, grazing and water use. The 20,000 acre Miller Peak Wilderness was created by Congress in 1984. In the enabling legislation, Congress could have drawn the boundary to exclude the city's water system, or it could have required that the pipelines be removed entirely. Presumably, public hearings were held before a decision was made.

In June, 2012, the court ruled in favor of the Federal Government, arguing that although the city's water rights predate both the National Forest and the Wilderness Area, Wilderness restrictions are well established and the Forest Service has the authority to regulate activity on their lands. The court further ruled that the Tombstone situation did not warrant an exception to Wilderness regulations because Miller Peak is not the city's only water source and water from the two repaired pipelines should be sufficient to meet the city's needs. The city is appealing.

The Sharon Kleyne Hour Power of Water is broadcast live on Mondays, 10 a.m., PST/PDT. The syndicated talk show is heard on Voice America/World Talk Radio, Green Talk Network and Apple iTunes. Go to for written summaries and on-demand podcast replays.


"Tombstone Striking Out in Courts in Water Fight," Arizona Public Media (, June, 2012.

© 2012 Bio-Logic Aqua Research (137).