Why Are the Feds Trying to Kill Tombstone?

Katie Pavlich
Posted: May 16, 2012 3:10 PM

In Arizona, it's no surprise that water can be hard to come by, but why is the federal government is cutting off the water supply to the famous Old West town of Tombstone?  

Nearly a year ago, Tombstone's water supply lines were heavily damaged in a flood after a heavy rain due to a massive wildfire leaving loose soil in the area. (Read this article to find out why we can thank the Forest Service for catastrophic wildfires)

Since the damage, Tombstone residents have been fighting to repair the water lines, but because they run through a wilderness area, the feds are saying the only option they have is to literally dig up miles and miles of water lines by hand. Why? Machine use in wilderness areas is prohibited by federal law.

More from the Goldwater Institute:

Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Frank Zapata denied Tombstone, Arizona’s emergency request to restore its Huachuca Mountain municipal water supply. Over nine months ago, the historic town’s 130-year-old water system was destroyed by massive flooding resulting from torrential rains and the destruction of surrounding forests in the Monument Fire.

Despite the burial of water reservoirs and water lines under boulders the size of Volkswagens and as much as 12 feet of mud, the Court denied Tombstone’s request to allow it to use mechanized and motorized equipment to restore its water system. In denying the request, the Court ruled that the town did not exhaust efforts to obtain federal permits to use the equipment despite nine months of continuous efforts by the town to secure the U.S. Forest Service’s cooperation. The Court was not moved by a state of emergency declared specifically for Tombstone by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer.
The Goldwater Institute has already filed an emergency appeal of the decision.
“Requiring Tombstone to seek federal permits to repair its municipal water supply is like demanding a federal permit before the City can make repairs to a fire truck,” said Nick Dranias, Goldwater Institute director of constitutional studies and lead attorney in the case. “Under the Tenth Amendment, the federal government has no power during a state of emergency to stop a local government from repairing its own municipal property, which is essential to providing safe drinking water and adequate fire protection.”
The Goldwater Institute is representing the City of Tombstone in this clash with the federal government. Tombstone has property rights to 25 mountain spring heads and all of the water rising and flowing in two canyons in the Huachuca Mountains. Bundled with those rights are access roads and pipeline rights of way. Until last year, the U.S. Forest Service recognized and respected those rights, which date back to the days of Wyatt Earp. Today, the federal government denies they exist and refuses to allow Tombstone to restore more than three of its spring water catchments.