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Conservation groups sue Arizona Gov. Hobbs over San Pedro River

Conservation groups sue Arizona Gov. Hobbs over San Pedro River

Conservation groups sue Arizona Gov. Hobbs over San Pedro River

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Environmental groups went to court Monday to ask for 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 is necessary to designate active groundwater management in the upper San Pedro River near Sierra Vista to preserve the aquifer, the Center for Biological Diversity and Conservation said. the San Pedro Alliance in the lawsuit filed Monday.

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

Nine months ago, the groups asked the water agency to designate an active management area, as La Rep├║blica previously reported. The agency has already rejected two requests, the last in 2005.

Also around that time, a judge ruled on the amount of water the upper San Pedro River is entitled to under federal law. To comply with that order, groundwater pumping would have to slow down.

“Nine months since Buschatzke, as director, knew the game was 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 has not yet reviewed the lawsuit and declined to provide a statement.

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

Concerns about water in San Pedro

The San Pedro River extends from Sonora, Mexico, to Winkelman, where it empties into the Gila River. Until a couple of decades ago, water flowed across the surface all year round. Today, only 30 of the river’s 173 miles have surface water come summer.

The subsurface flows, a desert underground current fed by the aquifer, still make the San Pedro one of the richest habitats in the desert southwest and an internationally famous migration corridor for birds and other species. But conservationists say the clock is ticking.

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

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

This sharing will be challenged. Last year a judge quantified federal water rights to 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 must be.

What could come of this lawsuit?

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

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

Hobbs’ promise to protect groundwater is “lip service,” Silver said, adding that this administration is looking for 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. She sends suggestions or questions to [email protected].