Tombstone takes water fight to canyons, Capitol Hill
Members of the Tombstone Shovel Brigade climbed two miles up a steep canyon to repair a 26-mile water pipeline.
June 8th, 2012
09:12 PM ET

Tombstone takes water fight to canyons, Capitol Hill

Tombstone, Arizona (CNN) – Under an unforgiving desert sun, about 60 determined souls gathered in a high school football field under the banner of the Tombstone Shovel Brigade. They collected shovels and joined a pickup truck caravan across the desert. Then they climbed two miles up a steep, rocky canyon and began to move part of a mountain, one boulder at a time.

Thousands of miles away, in the nation’s capital, Tombstone’s congressman and the city archivist tried to move a bureaucratic mountain, too, during hearings before a subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee.

Tombstone, as CNN has reported, is in the midst of a court battle with the U.S. Forest Service. At issue is whether Tombstone can take heavy equipment into federally protected wilderness.

Tombstone is trying to repair a 26-mile pipeline that has brought mountain spring water into the city since 1881. The pipeline was damaged during last summer’s Monument Fire and floods that brought mud and boulders crashing down the denuded mountainside.

The city sued the Forest Service in December, accusing the agency of dragging its feet during a state of emergency. The courts have turned down the city’s request for an emergency injunction, and so the battle has entered a new phase in the court of public opinion.

Frustrated with the slow pace of the repairs, Tombstone’s supporters created the nonprofit Tombstone Shovel Brigade a couple of months ago. They are helped by the organizers of the Jarbidge Shovel Brigade, which used volunteer muscle power to move a boulder and reopen a mountain road on federal wilderness in 2000.

Tombstone has become the poster city for a sweeping resurgence of the Sagebrush Rebellion in some Western states. This time, Utah state Rep. Ken Ivory explained, the rebellion is not fueled by oilmen and cattle ranchers.

Instead, local governments are behind the movement to push back against what they say is the federal government’s treatment of them as “submissive subdivisions.”

U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake has introduced H.R. 5971, the Emergency Water Supply Restoration Act, which proposes to set aside Forest Service restrictions against the use of construction equipment during state-declared water emergencies. Flake and Nancy Sosa, the city’s archivist, were among the witnesses who testified Friday.

“The unforeseen consequences of federal laws and regulations threaten to do something outlaws, economic busts, and the Arizona desert couldn’t: Kill the town too tough to die,” Flake said. Tombstone, population 1,400, is a throwback to the Old West and is famous for the 30-second gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which is re-enacted for tourists twice a day.

“Without water, the most precious commodity in the desert, Tombstone will cease to exist,” Sosa said. She told the committee that Tombstone burned to the ground twice before the waterline was built.

CNN will have more on this developing story Saturday.

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Filed under: Arizona • Congress • Courts • Environment • Fire • Flooding • U.S. • Weather
soundoff (57 Responses)
  1. Mary

    setting aside Forest Service restrictions in an emergency would only make sense to the sensible.
    The "why" of government bureaucrats refusal to do the obvious can only be answered with those having a systematic plan up their collective sleeves that always ends in profiting them.
    What this plan entails could very well mean “Without water, the most precious commodity in the desert, Tombstone will cease to exist,” as stated by Sosa.

    June 9, 2012 at 9:16 am | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio) "Never On Time"

    Yes...nobody should get "rear ended". What would "you" like on your Tombstone?

    June 9, 2012 at 9:17 am | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Portland tony

    If that's a picture of a football field, as the article states, Tombstone has one hell of a sports program!

    June 9, 2012 at 10:29 am | Report abuse | Reply
  4. bobcat (in a hat)©,

    A nursery school teacher was delivering a station wagon full of kids home one day when a fire truck zoomed past. Sitting in the front seat of the fire truck was a Dalmation dog.

    The children started discussing what the dog's duties might be.

    "They use him to keep crowds back," said one youngster.

    "No," said another, "he's just for good luck."

    A third child concluded. "No silly, they use the dogs to find the fire hydrant!"

    June 9, 2012 at 11:47 am | Report abuse | Reply
  5. HIDE BEHIND

    It is said the power of the pen is more powerfull than the sword, and in the hands of bureaucracy........
    It is not Government land, nor does Tombstone have any right to do as they wish.
    Just as there are mo longer "States Rights" so too does that in the case of Fedetal lands locals no longetr have sole rights to that land.
    Tombstone has a city bureaucracy that in itself is just as intransgent when it wants to be so.
    The lands are held "In Trust" for all americans, and yet the lands are ruled by agency in DC.
    A little man with big ears who ran for President, Ross Perot, said the environmentalist were hypocrites, in order for them to live as they want they care not wjst others pay, and of only two of them were left to guard the last tree in existence, if they hot cold enough they burn first the other and lastly the tree.
    Public lands were set aside because if not the public would utterly destroy them,through ignorance and capital gain.

    June 9, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. mickey1313

    American bureaucracy at its worst. Let the people have there water.

    June 9, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. ColoradoGeologistJD

    I have little sympathy for Tombstone.

    It appears that they can easily construct the pipeline again, by hand. Isn't this an opportunity for jobs and community building? Really, I don't understand why people are demonizing and owl and the USFS. It's a wilderness area and therefore PUBLIC land – not Tombstone's land. They may have a water right, but water rights are severed from land rights in the West. The government can certainly protect its interests (and the public's) in a wilderness area. And remember, the government is us. I am happy that an owl is being protected by OUR Forest Service and the watershed is being protected from degradation by heavy trucks. And it wouldn't be in Tombstone's interests to have any environmental degradation near their water source.

    Finally, I think all the Tombstone supporters are racists. The Navajo people and other Arizona Indian tribes have be blackmailed by Arizona's citizens and representatives into giving up THEIR water rights and are forced to truck in water since the government has never fulfilled its promises to tribes. Both state senators will happily rob a quarter of a million Indians of their water rights, but have 1,000 angry white people? Well, then things happen on Capitol Hill... Angry Arizonans you are hypocrites.

    June 9, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. jester & jackal

    Perhaps it is time for this area to fade into the past.

    June 9, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. guidry

    Let them have the water....

    June 10, 2012 at 4:28 am | Report abuse | Reply
  10. SearchingForRuleOfLaw

    i just find it unbelievable that the Forest Service would be acting in such a reprehensible manner... Tombstone is an historic part of America... what's wrong with you people... GIVE EM THE WATER!

    –Mike

    June 15, 2012 at 8:03 am | Report abuse | Reply
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