According to a lawsuit filed against the United States Department of Agriculture, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, and the USDA Forest Service by the Arizona-based Goldwater Institute, the Forest Service is endangering the town’s supply of safe drinking water and ability to fight fires by cutting off the famous city’s access to the mountain springs that has provided the desert town with water since the 1880s.
In documents filed with the United States District Court in Tucson, the Goldwater Institute on behalf of the Town of Tombstone accuses the federal government of “enforcing fealty to an arbitrary, capricious and unlawful interpretation of federal law [the Wilderness Act] by requiring Tombstone to use hand tools and suggesting using horses to restore its water supply.”
The problem began after the Monument Fire in 2011 ravaged the Huachuca Mountains home to the pipelines that carry the town’s water down from the source in the Miller Canyon Wilderness Area.
In July of that year, rains were so heavy that enormous boulders (“some the size of Volkswagens”) careered down the mountains destroying the waterlines (some segments are reportedly buried beneath 12 feet of mud) and choking reservoirs, effectively leaving Tombstone high and dry.
So devastating was the effect of the storms that Arizona Governor Jan Brewer declared a state of emergency specifically including Tombstone within the emergency zone. Later, the state legislature appropriated funds to help the town restore its water supply infrastructure damaged by the deluge.
In the months since the record-breaking storms, the federal government has thrown up one roadblock after another blocking Tombstone’s attempts to send machinery up the mountain to repair the pipes and clear the debris that is threatening the lives and safety of its nearly 1,600 residents.