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News Link • Events: Arizona

Judge Denies Tombstone (AZ) Water

It is fire season in the West. Reports say the early start is “not a good sign,” and forecasts claim the “combination of heat and dryness will only make western wildfires worse.” The predictions were made in the same week that US District Judge Frank Zapata made a decision to deny an emergency request by the city of Tombstone, AZ, to repair its water system damaged in last year’s Monument Fire. He doesn’t think Tombstone has a crisis. Zapata said: “Claims of a drastic water emergency related to public consumption and fire needs are overstated and speculative.”

Though he was born in a small town, seven miles from the third highest mountain in Arizona, Zapata apparently has not lived with the eminent threat of forest fire. Having grown up in the foothills of Southern California where my family had to evacuate several times as the flames pressed toward our home, I understand the importance of water.

I got interested in the Tombstone story when I heard a promo for John Stossel’s show addressing Tombstone’s water woes. He teased the show saying that Tombstone was told they could fix their broken pipes using horses and shovels. This piqued my interest. I’ve written a couple of columns addressing the Forest Service’s requirements for mining claims in Montana that included hand tools and pack mules. You’d think they make this stuff up just for TV, but it’s real—as is the threat of fire in Tombstone.

In short, here is Tombstone’s tale. (Click here for a long version.)

Tombstone is a small city in the Arizona desert. They get their water from the nearby Huachuca Mountains through one of the longest gravity-fed systems in the country. Tombstone has an unbroken chain of ownership to the water. The pipeline that brings the water the 26 miles from the springs to Tombstone goes back to before Arizona was a state, way before there was a US Forest Service, or a federal wilderness act.


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