New Study Shows Recently Approved Sierra Vista Development Will Directly Harm San Pedro River

NEWS RELEASE – enewsPark

TUCSON, Arizona–(ENEWSPF)–December 19, 2013.  A new study by University of Arizona scientists finds that a water pumping scheme to serve nearly 7,000 new homes in Sierra Vista, Ariz., will significantly decrease the San Pedro’s stream flow at the driest time of the year when the river is the most vulnerable.

The study, conducted by Hydrology and Water Resources Professor Thomas Meixner and graduate student Nicholas Randle, examined the new ground water pumping for Castle & Cooke’s Pueblo del Sol/Tribute development. Among the findings was that, at one monitoring site, Charleston, just to the east of Fort Huachuca, there will be a reduction in base flow by 13.5 percent as a direct result of Tribute’s groundwater pumping.

Charleston monitoring station (center right).  San Pedro River to the left through the trees. / Google
Charleston monitoring station (center right). San Pedro River to the left through the trees. / Google

“It’s unconscionable that the Arizona Department of Water Resources authorized massive new groundwater pumping that will so clearly harm the San Pedro while stealing its federally reserved water,” said the Center for Biological Diversity’s Dr. Robin Silver. “This new study makes clear this misguided project is only pushing the San Pedro closer to oblivion.”

On July 23, 2012, in order to provide water for almost 7,000 new homes and more than 17,000 more people, the Arizona Department of Water Resources authorized 4,870 acre-feet per year of water to be pumped from the ground for Tribute – an amount equal to the San Pedro River’s entire yearly base flow year. Groundwater in the area is already severely over-allocated; the Tribute’s yearly pumping will increase the local annual water deficit by approximately 80 percent.

Tribute has been claiming that it is going to recharge reclaimed water back into the aquifer to mitigate impacts. However, on Nov. 29, 2012, Castle & Cooke Vice President Richard Coffman testified under oath that “most” of Tribute’s reclaimed water will be used “for watering the landscaping within the subdivision” instead of being used to protect the aquifer and San Pedro River. At that time, Castle & Cooke’s hydrology consultant, Norman Fain, testified that “there is no compelling evidence that shows that withdrawal from these wells is going to have an impact on the river.”

The San Pedro River’s base flow is the stream flow during the dry times of the year when water in the stream comes nearly entirely from water that seeps out of the aquifer through the riverbanks. Local groundwater pumping intercepts water that otherwise would move from the aquifer to the river.

The San Pedro is the last surviving, undammed desert river in the Southwest. Its stream flow represents federal reserved water rights of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

Meixner’s and Randle’s new study was commissioned by the Center after the state water department refused to do the study. On Nov. 26, 2012, department attorney Janet Ronald summarized her agency’s position to an administrative law judge by saying, “…even if ADWR did have jurisdiction to examine them [Tribute’s wells], there would be no way to determine what any of the possible adverse impacts would be from PDS’s proposed groundwater pumping…”

The state’s Tribute decision is currently being challenged in Superior Court in Phoenix by the Center’s Dr. Robin Silver (represented by EarthJustice), Sierra Vista resident Tricia Gerrodette (represented by Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest) and the BLM.




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December 2013