TUCSON, Arizona– A federal judge has thrown out the latest plan by the U.S. military and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to prevent harm to the San Pedro River and its endangered species from pumping groundwater to serve Fort Huachuca and the population of the fort in the surrounding areas.
Friday’s ruling, by U.S. District Judge Raner C. Collins, means the Army and Fish and Wildlife Service will have to produce a new environmental plan to protect the river from groundwater pumping from the Fort. The judge also ruled that officials relied on accounting that overstated the water credits claimed by the military base and failed to adequately account for the effects of climate change on the river and on endangered plants and animals. disappearance that depend on it.
“Generally, the court gives deference to an agency’s predictions about the possible effects of climate change,” Judge Collins wrote. “However, an agency cannot simply summarize the effects of climate change and then analyze the proposed action assuming that climate change will have no effect.”
This is the fourth time in 20 years that the courts have rejected Fort Huachuca’s environmental plan, including its groundwater pumping, which had been approved by the Fish and Wildlife Service.
“Pumping groundwater from the Fort’s off-post population is killing the San Pedro River and the endangered species that depend on it,” said Robin Silver, co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Instead of doing something about it and downsizing the fort, the military chose to fabricate environmental clearance studies and manipulate federal wildlife officials. Now that it has suffered yet another defeat, perhaps the Hold will finally take action to protect the last free-flowing desert river in the southwest.
The court found that Fort Huachuca ignored a hydrological study on the effects of groundwater pumping attributable to Fort on local groundwater levels, which showed a drop of more than 60 feet in some areas.
The court also said the fort had overstated groundwater credits for fallow farmland near Hereford. In memos obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Fort Huachuca officials said they convinced Fish and Wildlife Service officials to issue Fort water retirement credit by “postulating post water credits”, where they “leveraged creative solutions to achieve ‘net-zero'”. ‘ in the use of water.
However, the decision will allow Fort Huachuca to claim a water credit for future water conservation – although it won’t prevent the river from completely drying up – and will spare the Service from declaring that the San Pedro and its wildlife are in danger. The law and case law require that a determination of danger can only be avoided by concrete and contemporary actions, and not by hypothetical future actions. The Center and Maricopa Audubon plan to appeal.
In other memos obtained under the Public Records Act, a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist said “groundwater pumping at Fort Huachuca alone…causes danger.” The same biologist summed up why the agency continues to produce bio opinions which are then thrown out by the court: “Clearly the Fort does not take us (FWS) seriously…they think they have enough incursions policies with our Washington and regional offices that we, the field office, will be rolling.
“It’s absurd that we had to go to court four times to undo the lies of the Department of Defense and defend Arizona’s last free-flowing river,” said Maricopa Audubon President Charles Babbitt. “Fisheries and wildlife officials must stand firm and defend this spectacular birding Mecca for future generations, the river can no longer tolerate any further delay in the protection it so desperately needs.
The military has been told by the courts that its Fort Huachuca-related activities have been killing the San Pedro since at least 1995, when a federal judge said, “The military must not turn a blind eye to this problem…where the Uncontrolled drying up of the aquifer poses a real threat to the riparian zone.
Based on a study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Department has known for more than 50 years that Fort Huachuca’s large manpower is unsustainable due to groundwater depletion and effects on the San Pedro River. .
The San Pedro River is the last free-flowing desert river in the southwest. Endangered species dependent on them include Southwestern Willow Flycatchers, Huachuca Water Pennyfish, Desert Pupfish, Loached Minnows, Spikedaceous, Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Eryngo’s Arizona and northern garter snakes of Mexico.
Friday’s decision stems from a lawsuit filed in March 2020 by the Center and the Maricopa Audubon Society. The organizations are represented by EarthJustice.