Judge Won't Open the Water Tap in Tombstone's Battle With the Feds

Those of us interested in western-style battles over water rights and land use (and who among us isn't?) or just intrigued by doings in small towns where historic gunfights are reenacted every day at 2 p.m., should be interested to know that Tombstone, Arizona, is on the verge of going dry. That's no-water-dry, since last summer's Monument Fire torched the town's 1880s-era waterlines to springs in the Huachuca Mountains, and left the town dependent on a few inadequate wells. The U.S. Forest Service has thrown up physical and legal roadblocks to repairs, and now a federal judge has thumbs-downed a request for an emergency injunction against the feds to allow work to go ahead.

Tension between westerners and federal officials over land use is nothing new, with D.C.-based control-freakery often arrayed against an authentic, old-fashioned desire to use stuff without paying for it, but Tombstone would seem to have an expecially strong case. Its waterlines were constructed by the forward-thinking Huachuca Water Company long before wilderness designation was applied to the route — a designation that bans the the use of motorized or mechanized devices. The Forest Service sees no need to grandfather the town's claim to the water route, or to ease restrictions, which leaves town workers stuck using picks and shovels to get the water flowing again. Rangers threatened city workers with arrest when they brought in an excavator. Even the use of wheelbarrows had to be negotiated. CNN has a nice description of what this means:

If uncovering the springs was hard, hooking them up to the pipeline was even more challenging. Rudd's team dug trenches by hand in some places, ran PVC pipe along the top of the ground in others, laying down about 10,000 feet. Except for the one time they drove an excavator up in October, Tombstone's workers have done the work by hand, just as it was in the late 1870s.

On the day of CNN's visit, about 20 prison inmates worked the pipeline. For three days, they carried sections of pipe up the mountain on their shoulders and dug trenches. Tombstone showed its gratitude with pizza.

"I can't thank you guys enough," Rudd said. He estimates the inmates saved him and his small crew about six weeks' worth of work.

A few days later, Rudd was able to connect two of the biggest springs and direct the water into a makeshift basin downstream. Since the beginning of March, work has slowed because the Mexican spotted owl, an endangered species, is said to be nesting in the peaks above the pipeline.

Rudd doubts there are any owls up there.

The Goldwater Institute represents Tombstone in its legal battle against the Forest Service, saying it "seeks to uphold the principle that the 10th Amendment protects states and their subdivisions from federal regulations that prevent them from using and enjoying their property in order to fulfill the essential functions of protecting public health and safety." But Goldwater and Tombstone were dealt a setback this week when Judge Frank Zapata of the United States District Court for the District of Arizona ruled that there is no justification for an emergency injunction. He claimed the city failed to provide enough information to allow the Forest Service to issue permits, the better part of a year into the process.

With a Tenth Amendment argument in hand, the Goldwater Institute is headed for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and vows to go to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary.

Before then, Tombstone is assembling a volunteer "shovel brigade" on June 8 and 9 to repair the line and protest the Forest Service's heavy hand.

Of course, don't miss my comic-adventure novel High Desert Barbecue, which features wildfires, western-style land disputes and a cast of odd heroes and perversely inept (ineptly perverse?) villains.

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  • R C Dean||

    Since the beginning of March, work has slowed because the Mexican spotted owl, an endangered species, is said to be nesting in the peaks above the pipeline.

    I'd love to read how repairing an existing water line with hand tools threatens owls nesting in peaks above the pipeline.

  • sarcasmic||

    "Fuck you, that's how"

  • Tulpa the White||

    It's also strange that humans can be allowed to die of thirst to prevent owls from having their 40 winks disturbed by yellow monsters.

  • sarcasmic||

    I'm sure the enviromentalists who write those rules would happily murder 90% of the human race if they thought they could get away with it.
    We are killing the planet, you know.

  • Zeb||

    I don't think that anyone in Tombstone is about to die of thirst. I very much doubt that anyone living there is without the means to relocate if there is no water available.

    Not that that makes this less ridiculous.

  • ||

    I don't think that anyone in Tombstone is about to die of thirst

    Maybe not.
    If there is a large fire in town they have about a 20 minute supply to put it out.

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    "What do you want on your Toooooombstone?!"

    "Uh, just a glass of water, please..."

    Stupid government trolls are stupid.

  • wareagle||

    wow...who knew that fuckbucketry could be taken to an even higher level.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    You called down the thunder, well now you've got it. You see that? It says Caterpillar. So run, you cur... RUN! Tell all the other curs the backhoe's coming. You tell 'em I'm coming... and hell's coming with me, you hear?... HELL'S COMING WITH ME!

  • ||

    With a Tenth Amendment argument in hand, the Goldwater Institute is headed for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and vows to go to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary.

    And to SCOTUS you will be going. The Ninth Circus? C'mon, Gaia trumps the puny 10th in that arena.

    Also, excellent alt-text as usual, Tuccille. I would add the, "Also, fried chicken," meme, but that would be horribly racist of me and besmirching Cleavon Little, even though he is playing the role of an LEO.

    Jimbo, may I get a ruling please?

  • Tulpa the White||

    They'll finish the water line before SCOTUS takes it up and then it will be moot.

    Of course, RvW also dealt with a moot case but the liberals wanted that one to be decided.

  • ||

    They'll finish the water line before SCOTUS takes it up and then it will be moot.

    Unless the Ninth gives them an injunction to cease and desist, Tulpa. Apparently, according to our porcine scourge known as Dunphy, there are real, bona fide Eco-Stone Kops armed to the teeth and would be all to happy to provide "assistance" in enforcing such a court order.

  • sarcasmic||

    Enforcers don't care what they are enforcing.
    They only care about the power to commit acts of violence.

  • sloopyinca||

    According to dunphy, "They were following orders" is a valid excuse for anything they do.

  • Dr. Frankenstein||

    It's been updated to "They were following procedures."

  • BakedPenguin||

    "Procedures were followed" will be the excuse after there are 13 deaths in Tombstone. After the US Marshall kick in a few doors looking for water violators.

  • db||

    No no no. No one ever does anything or follows anything. Procedures are follwed. Shots are fired. Lives are ended. Somehow, the perps are never walked.

  • Tulpa the White||

    When your spawn finally pokes its head out into the harsh cruel world, you'll understand.

  • Dr. Frankenstein||

    Groovus, would you use the fried chicken meme on Randolf Scott?

  • ||

  • Dr. Frankenstein||

    Yes, I think that was the one referenced in Blazing Saddles.

  • ||

    Oh yeah, that is definitely fried chicken meme-able.

  • rhofulster||

    RANNNNDOLLLLLF SCOTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT!!!!!

  • R C Dean||

    ToochillAY working in a book plug show he has got it going on for a good long career at Reason. Well played, sir.

  • ||

    Yes, but I'm pretty sure he won't burn his book plugs into the ground like a certain other megalomaniacal senior editor. There are ways to plug, and there are ways to plug.

    BTW Tuccille, I have one on order. I prefer dead trees, if you find the irony in that. Did you use pyromania and sexual tension to land Dr. Tuccille?

  • jdtuccille||

    But of course! Me ardo. Now, though, she's reading "Fifty Shades of Grey" ...

  • ||

    Judge Frank Zapata of the United States District Court for the District of Arizona

    I wonder if there is any relation to a certain Emiliano Zapata.

  • Dr. Frankenstein||

    "Rudd doubts there are any owls up there."

    Well NOW there isn't.

  • ||

    Tombstone, huh.

    *pats gun* "Eventus stultorum magister."

    "I don't think I'm going to allow you to arrest us today."

  • A Serious Man||

    You die first. Your friends might get me in a rush but not before I turn your head into a canoe.

    Go ahead, skin it, skin that smoke wagon and see what happens. *slaps* I said throw down boy. *slaps* Godamn I said jerk that pistol and go to work!

    Easily most quotable Western ever.

  • yet another dave||

    Agreed, "you gonna do sumthin or are you jus gonna stand there and bleed"

  • Brandon||

    Why Warty, you're not wearin a bustle. How lewd.

  • Tulpa the White||

    As a flaming empiricist, I always hated that proverb.

  • ||

    This sounds like BLM bullshit. The forest service isnt usually this political. They seemed to be mostly interested in making money on timber, fucking up the market for private timber growers. I guess it was just a matter of time before the green nazis infiltrated the forest service as well.

  • T||

    Riggsy and Lucy are going to have to write books, just to keep up.

  • sloopyinca||

    If the Sheriff of Cochise County had any balls, he'd go out there and perform armed security for the backhoe or excavator operators. If a fed shows up without a warrant, he kindly escorts them off the land or to a nice, warm cell on a trespassing charge.

    Hell, borrow that crazy fuck Arpaio's tank for a little added lulz.

  • Emmerson Biggins||

    +1

    Sometime it's gonna happen. Just like John Titor said it would.

  • db||

    Long ago I outlined and wrote part of a novel on water scarcity wars in the American West. Partly based on my experiences doing pilot testing for water treatment systems and seeing just how tight the supplies are getting. I'm just not much of a writer though.

  • Tulpa the White||

    And the population in desert areas now is probably triple what it was when you were doing that.

  • Emmerson Biggins||

    And this would be a really good first time to do it. Because, the locals could decide to "drop the charges" and let the Feds save some face, but the fucking ditch would already be dug. So they'd still mostly lose.

  • perlhaqr||

    This presumes the Sheriff wouldn't just back the damned Forest Service.

    I admit, I had much the same thought, though, imagining there might have been a time when it would have worked.

    "Rangers threatened to arrest them? I wonder how Forest Rangers would fare against Arizona Rangers."

    I wonder if you could bull it through with video cameras. Preferably several. Just bring the damned excavator, and when the Forest Service guys say they're going to arrest you, refuse. Make them use violence, on camera, to keep a town from repairing it's water supply, in the goddamn desert.

  • SIV||

    So when is the launch of 24/7 NEWS?
    I'd like to suggest a "no-registration" comment system.

  • jdtuccille||

    Patience ... Patience ...

    It's coming soon, and I think it looks pretty damned good. More important, I think it's useful and usable.

  • SIV||

    I look forward to whatever it is.
    God luck with the new gig.

  • SIV||

    "Good luck"

  • Marshall Gill||

    I'd like to suggest a "no-registration" comment system.

    Because that worked out so well here?

  • fried wylie||

    I just wanna know when Groovus and GoJimbo became the arbiters of "Also, fried chicken."

  • Loki||

    Maybe they should get some railroad workers to help out in exchange for some land to homestead. As long as they're also willing to accept the Irish.

    Couldn't resist since the Alt-text referenced Blazing Saddles too.

  • Tulpa the White||

    I heard that Trayvon Martin's autopsy found evidence of dihydrogen monoxide in his system.

  • Marshall Gill||

    Science H. Logic, Tulpa, do you know how many Americans die from dihydrogen monoxide every year! We have to ban it!!

  • shamalam||

    Traces of lead too.

  • Old Mexican||

    But Goldwater and Tombstone were dealt a setback this week when Judge Frank Zapata of the United States District Court for the District of Arizona ruled that there is no justification for an emergency injunction.


    "Why would you need an emergency injuction? Tombstone should have plenty of ice cream to last a lifetime!"

  • John C. Randolph||

    The local Sheriff should arrest any federal apparatchiki who impede work that's vital for public safety in his jurisdiction. People need water to live, for fuck's sake.

    -jcr

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