TUCSON― The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Army, Fort Huachuca and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for failing to release public records relating to the base’s coverup of a 2010 report showing groundwater pumping was harming the San Pedro River. The lawsuit also seeks documents related to the base’s new attempt to thwart river and endangered species protections.
“Fort Huachuca officials are killing the San Pedro River while they pretend to protect it,” said Center cofounder Robin Silver. “They publicize water-use reduction efforts on the base while failing to control devastating amounts of groundwater pumping from the fort’s off-post activities. Their campaign of deceit must stop.”
A previously undisclosed 2010 report commissioned by the U.S. Army showed that groundwater pumping attributable to Fort Huachuca ― including water use on and off the military base ― was already causing harm to the river and its endangered wildlife in 2003, and showed that the base has failed to account for a previously unreported 300,000 acre-feet of water use. The Fish and Wildlife Service failed to consider the key findings of this report before it decided in 2014 to approve the base’s groundwater pumping for another decade. In December the Center requested documents under the Freedom of Information Act, including correspondence and data related to the report, but the Army has ignored that request.
Today’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Tucson, also seeks to uncover documents regarding Fort Huachuca's attempts to thwart newly proposed protections for the San Pedro River’s imperiled species, including the Northern Mexican garter snake and yellow-billed cuckoo. To date the fort has managed to avoid the legally required reviews necessary to prevent the base from further harming these species’ chances of survival and recovery.
In 2012 Fort Huachuca weakened protections for the San Pedro River by securing an exemption from the Fish and Wildlife Service from protecting two endangered fish, loach minnows and spikedace. The base claimed that protecting the fish would have “a high probability of negative effects to missions that are essential to national security” because “both species require running streams for habitat.”
For more than 50 years the Army has acknowledged that Fort Huachuca has a water-use problem. In 1966 an Interior Department report showed that groundwater use by the base and its environs was directly connected to the flow of the San Pedro and was already overdrawing the local aquifer.
“The base’s own report confirms that Fort Huachuca’s off-post groundwater pumping is unsustainable and has been harming the San Pedro River and its endangered wildlife for decades,” said Silver. “This reckless groundwater pumping must be controlled or the base must downsize.”
The San Pedro River is the last free-flowing desert river in the Southwest. Endangered species dependent on the San Pedro include the southwestern willow flycatcher, Huachuca water umbel, desert pupfish, loach minnow, spikedace, yellow-billed cuckoo and northern Mexican garter snake.