Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, September 16, 2022


Robin Silver, Center for Biological Diversity, (602) 799-3275,
Charles Babbitt, Maricopa Audubon Society, (602) 617-1990,

Appeal Challenges Arizona Fort’s Fake Groundwater Pumping Credits That Threaten San Pedro River

TUCSON, Ariz.— Conservation groups have appealed a federal court ruling to challenge the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s granting groundwater credits to the U.S. Army’s Fort Huachuca that fail to return water to the imperiled San Pedro River.

In last week’s filing with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the Center for Biological Diversity, Maricopa Audubon Society and the Sierra Club said the lower court’s March ruling wrongly gave the Army base credit for ending groundwater pumping in an area where it had been terminated a decade earlier. The court approved the mitigation credits based on its belief that groundwater pumping was “likely” to restart in that area, even though previous court rulings require it must be “certain to occur.”

“This is like giving a hemorrhaging patient an IOU for future blood transfusions,” said Robin Silver, an emergency room physician who was also a cofounder of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Fish and Wildlife officials are failing to protect the San Pedro River from Fort Huachuca’s insatiable water guzzling. If the Fort’s off-post groundwater pumping isn’t controlled by downsizing, the San Pedro River and the plants and animals that depend on it are doomed.”

The San Pedro River and its endangered species are in trouble because of excessive, uncontrolled groundwater pumping in the Fort Huachuca and Sierra Vista areas.

Fort Huachuca's off-post groundwater pumping is the single greatest contributor to the San Pedro River's demise. In 2013 Fort Huachuca was facing inevitable downsizing because of its inability to mitigate its excessive, unsustainable groundwater pumping. Fort Huachuca intelligence operatives carried out a successful scheme to convince Fish and Wildlife officials to grant fake water credits.

The conservation groups’ appeal says Fish and Wildlife officials violated their own their water credit policy, as well as a directive to the Fort that “[t]o adequately address the overdraft of groundwater in the Upper San Pedro Basin and insure the health of the San Pedro River and the species that depend on it, some current uses of water must cease.”

Agency officials also went against their own biological opinion that conservation easements do not increase water flows in adjoining streams “unless an active water use is retired.”

“It’s outrageous that Fish and Wildlife officials have allowed themselves to be manipulated into granting Fort Huachuca water credits that add no water to the river,” said Maricopa Audubon Conservation Chair Charles Babbitt. “The San Pedro River is the last free-flowing desert river in the Southwest. It’s an international treasure and birdwatching mecca. It deserves better.”

The district court ruled that Fort Huachuca ignored a hydrological study on the effects of Fort-attributable groundwater pumping on local groundwater levels, which declined more than 60 feet in some areas. This study’s finding is consistent with a Fish and Wildlife biologist’s conclusion that “groundwater pumping at Fort Huachuca alone… results in jeopardy” to the San Pedro River. This same biologist said Fort Huachuca intelligence officers believed Fish and Wildlife officials “will roll over and accept whatever the Fort proposes.”

Based on a study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Army has known for more than 50 years that large staffing numbers at Fort Huachuca are unsustainable because of depleted groundwater supply and harm to the San Pedro River.

As the last free-flowing desert river in the Southwest, the San Pedro River is home to endangered species that rely on it to survive, including southwestern willow flycatchers, Huachuca water umbel, desert pupfish, loach minnows, spikedace, yellow-billed cuckoos, Arizona eryngo and northern Mexican garter snakes.

Earthjustice represents the Center, Maricopa Audubon and Sierra Club in this lawsuit.

San Pedro River
San Pedro River. Photo credit: Robin Silver Images are available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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