July 24, 2024

Advanced Ailment Care

Elevating Health Solutions

Environmental groups sue Hobbs administration for failing to protect San Pedro River

3 min read

Environmental groups went to court Monday to seek protection for the San Pedro River, a critical natural area in Southern Arizona where litigation over water use has been ongoing for three decades.

This time, they sued Gov. Katie Hobbs and the Arizona Department of Water Resources, including director Tom Buschatzke.

The state water agency failed in its duty to review whether it’s necessary to designate active groundwater management in the upper San Pedro River, near Sierra Vista, to preserve the aquifer, said the Center for Biological Diversity and San Pedro Alliance in the lawsuit filed Monday.

A great blue heron stands in the Lower San Pedro River on May 5, 2023, near Winkelman.A great blue heron stands in the Lower San Pedro River on May 5, 2023, near Winkelman.

A great blue heron stands in the Lower San Pedro River on May 5, 2023, near Winkelman.

They claim this administration has abandoned “their duties as the steward of Arizona’s water future.”

Nine months ago, the groups asked the water agency to designate an active management area, as The Republic reported previously. The agency has already denied two petitions, the latest in 2005.

Also around that time, a judge ruled on the amount of water the upper San Pedro River is entitled to by federal right. To abide by that order, groundwater pumping would need to drop.

“Nine months since Buschatzke, as a director, has known that the game is up,” said Robin Silver, co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity. The department issued certificates of adequacy and thousands of well permits in that area knowing that the river’s federal water rights would set limits on pumping, Silver added.

The governor’s office had no comment on the lawsuit. ADWR said it hasn’t reviewed the lawsuit yet and declined to provide a statement.

A river’s future: On Arizona’s San Pedro River, hummingbirds reflect the health of a landscape

Water concerns on the San Pedro

The San Pedro River stretches from Sonora, Mexico, to Winkelman, where it empties into the Gila River. Water flowed on the surface year-round until a couple of decades ago. Today, only 30 of the 173 miles of the river have surface water by the time summer comes.

Sub-surface flows, an underground desert stream fed by the aquifer, still make the San Pedro one of the richest habitats in the Southwest desert and an internationally famous migration corridor for birds and other species. But conservationists say the clock is ticking.

Map of groundwater pumping rate in the upper San Pedro River watershed.Black dots indicate wells established after Nov. 18, 1988, after the San Pedro Riparian Natural Conservation Area was established by Congress.Map of groundwater pumping rate in the upper San Pedro River watershed.Black dots indicate wells established after Nov. 18, 1988, after the San Pedro Riparian Natural Conservation Area was established by Congress.

Map of groundwater pumping rate in the upper San Pedro River watershed.Black dots indicate wells established after Nov. 18, 1988, after the San Pedro Riparian Natural Conservation Area was established by Congress.

The basin is in overdraft, meaning the groundwater pumping is greater than the replenishment. The rate of well drilling near Sierra Vista is increasing, and the water table is dropping, The Republic previously reported.

That matters because tens of thousands of people use the same groundwater source that sustains the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, designated by Congress in 1988.

That shared use will be contested. Last year a judge quantified the federal water rights of that 40-mile section of river. That court order establishes how much water is necessary for a healthy river, and the level at which some water wells need to be.

The San Pedro River as seen on April 15, 2023, near Hereford Bridge, south of Sierra Vista.The San Pedro River as seen on April 15, 2023, near Hereford Bridge, south of Sierra Vista.

The San Pedro River as seen on April 15, 2023, near Hereford Bridge, south of Sierra Vista.

What could come of this lawsuit?

The lawsuit against Hobbs and ADWR asks the court to “order them to do their jobs” and protect groundwater, said Silver. Not only for people and development, but for rivers too.

“There is no protection for the streams we have left, particularly those ones that are being killed by groundwater pumping like the San Pedro, the upper Verde, Eagle Creek, to name a few.”

Hobbs’ pledge to protect groundwater is “lip service,” Silver said, adding that this administration is sorting a way to provide more water for development but has done nothing to protect disappearing rivers.

Clara Migoya covers agriculture and water issues for The Arizona Republic and azcentral. Send tips or questions to [email protected].

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Conservation groups sue Arizona Gov. Hobbs over San Pedro River

link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Copyright © All rights reserved. | Newsphere by AF themes.