Thursday, August 9th, was a sad day for the Friends of the San Pedro River and everyone who cares about the continued existence of the San Pedro, a rare, functioning desert riparian area, and the wildlife it supports. By the slimmest of majorities, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled against a lawsuit that sought to force consideration of groundwater usage as part of the approval of the Tribute residential development project in the Sierra Vista area.
The Friends hoped the plaintiffs would prevail in order to require that the Arizona Department of Water Resources consider the federal water right for the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area in determining whether there was 100 years of adequate and legally available water supply for Tribute. Instead, the court ruled that ADWR is under no obligation to consider the impact of additional pumping by Tribute on the San Pedro River. Owners of residential wells in the area should be concerned because this means they too have no protection for their water source from prospective deep groundwater pumping associated with Tribute.
Pumping in the Sierra Vista area is already withdrawing more groundwater from the aquifer than is replenished. The result is a cone of depression where the aquifer is being drained. This cone of depression is spreading and adversely affects the flow of groundwater to the San Pedro River. Tribute will add 7,000 new homes that will require additional groundwater withdrawals from the aquifer. The end-result is sadly easy to anticipate.