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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Tombstone’s water conflict highlights federal government’s shortcomings

    Water is a precious commodity in southern Arizona. The blazing heat in the desert easily surpasses triple digit temperatures in the summer, making dehydration a serious threat to inhabitants. A steady supply of water is an unspoken priority and for most of us, quenching our thirst is usually just a matter of turning on the faucet.

    But if you live in the city of Tombstone, it’s a yearlong process of securing permits and fighting the federal government to access water.

    Last summer, the devastating Monument fire and a series of monsoon landslides crippled Tombstone’s 26-mile water pipeline. The small town of 1,500 resorted to using a reserve water tank that ran dry in August. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer declared the city in a state of emergency and released $50,000 in emergency funds to cover the pipeline’s repair costs.

    Tombstone repaired a few of its pipes but the U.S. Forest Service impeded its access and argued that any heavy equipment brought up on the mountain violates the Wilderness Act of 1964. The city then engaged in a legal battle with the federal government to gain permission to repair its water system.

    Tombstone officials claim the city has a right to fix the pipes because it is currently forced to use well water containing trace amounts of arsenic, along with a small amount of pipe water. The well water is dangerous to drink and doesn’t produce enough to put out a potential city fire, according to officials.

    By contrast, the federal government claims Tombstone’s crisis has been averted and its plea for help is an exaggerated scheme to upgrade — not fix — the water system. But even if the government is right, it’s hardly doing anything to improve the situation.

    Rather than negotiating with the city to find a solution to its water woes, the federal government has brushed aside the city’s qualms. Sure, it’s possible that city officials have overstated the immediate emergency and they simply want to upgrade the water system. The pipelines date back to the 1880s and 130 years of weathering wouldn’t bode well for anything. But simply pointing out a possible ploy doesn’t eliminate the fact that Tombstone’s emergency may very well indicate the need for the upgrade.

    In 2010, 40 firefighters, including some from Sierra Vista, Ariz., failed to extinguish a Tombstone fire before it burned down a restaurant. That was a year before the 2011 fire and monsoons damaged the pipeline. Whether “the town too tough to die” is seeking a pipeline upgrade or not, a fire is nonetheless a real danger.

    It makes little sense for Tombstone to have to fight so hard to gain access to safe water. The severity and immediacy of the situation may be exaggerated, but the federal government shouldn’t be an obstruction to solving the problems of the people.

    ­­— Michael Carolin is a journalism and creative writing junior. He can be reached at or on Twitter via @WildcatOpinions .

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