COURT RULES MILITARY
EXPANSION THREATENS SAN PEDRO RIVER: WATER CONSERVATION PLAN DEEMED INADEQUATE,
EXPANSION APPROVAL STRUCK DOWN
In response to a lawsuit
by the Center for Biological Diversity, a federal judge has declared that the
massive expansion of Fort Huachuca is dewatering the San Pedro River and jeopardizing
the existence of the southwestern willow flycatcher and Huachuca water umbel.
The judge declared that the military's water conservation plan would not offset
its impact on the species. He also declared the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's
approval of the expansion to be "arbitrary and capricious."
Flowing north from Mexico
into the Gila River in southeast Arizona, the San Pedro is one of the Earth's
the most biological diverse and important ecosystems. It supports 400 species
of birds (nearly half of the U.S. total), 100 species of butterflies, 83 species
of mammals and 47 species of amphibians and reptiles. It has the highest diversity
of vertebrate species in the inland U.S. and the second highest diversity of
land-mammals in the world. It was designated the first "globally important
bird area" by the American Bird Conservancy and one of the northern hemisphere's
eight "last great places" by The Nature Conservancy. In 1988 Congress
recognized the unparalleled value of the San Pedro, designating 45 miles of
it as the nation's first Riparian National Conservation Area.
Nevertheless, the river
is drying up due to unsustainable sprawl and agribusiness. Baseflows have declined
67% since the 1940s and will eventually disappear if aggressive water conservation
actions are not taken soon. The continuous expansion of Fort Huachuca is the
single biggest contributor to the deadly overdraft of the river, thus the U.S.
Army has an exceptional responsibility to ensure the river's future.
The Center successfully
petitioned to list the southwestern willow flycatcher and Huachuca water umbel
as endangered species in the early 1990's. It then filed suit, forcing Fort
Huachuca to submit its expansion plans to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
for review under the Endangered Species Act. The Fish & Wildlife Service
issued a draft decision that expansion would jeopardize the flycatcher and umbel.
It laid out concrete actions the military would have to take to save the river.
Under heavy political pressure, however, the agency later reversed itself, declaring
that the military's water conservation plan was adequate. The Center sued over
the decision. Noting that the Service's own biologists complained that the conservation
plan "doesn't even come close" to offsetting the military's water
withdrawals, judge Alfredo Marquez ruled that the agency "sidestepped its
obligation to make an accurate "no jeopardy" decision based on the
best available evidence."
Fort Huachuca will now have
to develop a new, stronger water conservation plan and re-submit it for review
to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
To find out more and see the court order,
The Center was represented
in the suit by Susan Dagget of Earthjustice (Denver).