For Immediate Release, August 3, 2007
Contact: Dr. Robin Silver, Center for Biological Diversity, (602) 246-4170
New Study: Government Underestimates
Fort Huachuca’s Environmental Impact
SANTA FE, N.M.— A new study from the Center for Sustainable Economy finds past government reports have likely underestimated Fort Huachuca’s impacts on the local economy and environment. The study, titled “Fort Huachuca and the San Pedro River: Improving Water Deficit Liability Calculations Through Economic Modeling,” is authored by Janie Chermak, Ph.D., John Talberth, Ph.D., and Jason Hansen of the University of New Mexico and the Center for Sustainable Economy.
The study examines earlier analyses of Fort Huachuca’s impacts by the Department of Defense and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It attributes previous underestimation of these impacts on a failure to include massively escalating annual local expenditures when accounting for the total amount of underground water pumping resulting from Fort Huachuca activities.
The study maintains that an economic model, rather than the current “per capita” model, is the best method to determine Fort Huachuca’s true level of environmental impact. At issue is the base’s level of responsibility for the underground water that must be replenished in order to replace the water consumed by its activities. The study’s preliminary data suggest that Fort Huachuca’s responsibility is likely as high as 80 percent, compared to the current 54-percent level.
“Economic-based methods, as opposed to per capita based methods, tie water deficit liability to overall economic presence and are far more likely to accurately reflect the situation,” says Dr. Talberth. Talberth is president and senior economist at the Center for Sustainable Economy in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a nonprofit consulting firm that provides expertise in economic analysis, conservation planning, and environmental law.
The study is critical of past analyses that (1) “fail to capture changes in water use and associated groundwater deficit liability as Fort Huachuca’s local expenditures change,” and (2) that “did not take fully take into account expenditures of those [Fort Huachuca] employees or procurement of goods and services by the Fort in the local economy.” This leads to underestimation of the amount of withdrawal of underground water for which the base is responsible. “Economic development is best modeled by carefully tracking the economic effect associated with the flow of funds from Fort Huachuca through the local economy and considering water use at each stage,” the study states.
During the dry times of the year, significant San Pedro River stream flow comes directly from the flow of underground water into the river. Underground water withdrawn by wells in the Fort Huachuca-Sierra Vista area removes water that would otherwise flow into the river and contributes to lowering the level of underground water to a point that does not permit flow of underground water into the river during the dry times of the year.
The new study maintains that economic-based evaluations of Fort Huachuca’s impacts would have assigned “far more of the water use associated with Fort Huachuca’s operations in the Sierra Vista subwatershed because they not only consider use by Fort Huachuca’s assigned personnel, military students, civilian and contractor employees but the indirect and induced water use associated with their expenditures in the local economy as well as the direct, indirect, and induced water use associated with the Fort’s procurement of goods and services.” Use of economic-based models, as opposed to population-based ones, will ensure compliance of Fort Huachuca’s legal obligations under both the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. Both laws require comprehensive accounting of all interrelated, interdependent, induced and indirect effects that would not occur but for the base’s presence in the subwatershed.
The study calls current methods of evaluating Fort Huachuca’s impact “facially inadequate for this task because they fail to account for water use associated with the vast majority of off post induced economic development on both sides of the border associated with the Fort’s presence, fail to capture significant variations in water use intensity, are largely invariant with respect to Fort Huachuca’s expenditures, exclude relevant population subgroups, and rely on too many unsubstantiated or arbitrary assumptions.” It concludes that improved models “are likely to find a water deficit liability greater than the 54.3% found by Fort Huachuca’s 2002 biological assessment. In fact, preliminary data suggest that a model based on share of economic activity may find the Fort’s water deficit liability to be as high as 80%.”
The findings and timing of the study are particularly pertinent with San Pedro River stream flow recently disappearing near Fort Huachuca for the third straight year in row and for the third time in more than 100 years of monitoring. In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recently approved massive new base expansion while failing to increase Fort Huachuca’s mitigation requirement in spite of massive increases in local spending.
The Department of Defense’s direct annual Cochise County expenditures have increased by more than 81 percent to more than $954.9 million from $528 million since the last evaluation in 2002. “It is not fair that the Department of Defense dramatically increases local spending but is not required to pay for the resulting impact. As San Pedro River stream flow disappears near Fort Huachuca for the third straight year, this is very concerning,” says Dr. Robin Silver of the Center for Biological Diversity.
The Center for Sustainable Economy’s website is http://www.sustainable-economy.org and its telephone number is (505) 986-1163. The study is available on the website.