Friday, April 29, 2016

Fate of Arizona's only free-flowing river now in judges' hands

The fate of the Southwest's last free-flowing river is now in a few judges' hands. A panel will determine whether the state must reconsider its ruling that there is enough water to support a large housing development planned for Sierra Vista. Attorneys for the federal and state governments argued Thursday over water rights in the Arizona Court of Appeals in a suit that could make it more difficult for some developers to secure a 100-year water supply. The Arizona Department of Water Resources ruled years ago that developer Castle & Cooke had adequate water supply to build a roughly 7,000-unit residential and commercial project called Tribute. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management and two Arizona residents sued, saying that the development's groundwater pumping would deplete the aquifer and dry stretches of the San Pedro River during summer. The development would increase the basin’s pumping by about 30 percent, according to court filings.  Fort Huachuca, an Army base, has cut its pumping by two-thirds and spent millions of dollars helping groups such as the Nature Conservancy recharge water into the aquifer, whose springs sustain the river.  The real-estate development would use about the same amount that Fort Huachuca has given up. "This is a facilitated robbery by ADWR," said Robin Silver, a party to the suit who owns property along the river. At the same time, a bill in the Arizona Legislature would allow Sierra Vista and other rural cities to permit development without 100-year water-supply certificates, which could green light the Castle & Cooke project. Both chambers approved the bill but have to reconcile some amendments before sending it to Gov. Doug Ducey...more

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