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.

Post by:
Filed under: Arizona • Congress • Courts • Environment • Fire • Flooding • U.S. • Weather
soundoff (57 Responses)
  1. bobcat (in a hat)©,

    Giant kudos to the residents of Tombstone. The federal government with all its bureaucratic red tape is determined that it is going to be their way or no way. If you don't continue to stand up to them, another chapter in our countrys history will be closed and forgotten. That is water that has been supplied to you since 1881. If the government won't help, do it yopurself, consequences be damned. I mean what are they going to do, shut off your water ?

    June 8, 2012 at 9:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jean M. Coleman

      My husband and I lived in Tombstone when he was in the Army at Ft. Huachuca on the AZ Mexican border. It is a unique town – Boot Hill Cemetery being very famous and the Crystal Palace – which was hit hard by heavy rains when we were there and they had to shore up the walls, along with other city buildings that are old. Proud to know some of the folks there have taken a shovel and are hard at work against stupid fed regulations – They will never get rid of Tombstone – the ghosts of Boot Hill will be there to haunt the Feds! Didn't the President talk about "shovel ready jobs" – well, seems the citizens of Tombstone took that to heart right now!

      June 8, 2012 at 11:30 pm | Report abuse |
  2. BOMBO ©

    I watched the doc u mentary "Blood into Wine" recently. It's about rock musician Maynard James Keenan and some others who are trying to get a wine industry going in Arizona. They touched on the wacko water laws in Arizona. It's amazing anybody can do anything out of the ordinary there.

    June 8, 2012 at 9:41 pm | Report abuse |
  3. genomega1

    They just need to do whatever it takes to repair the water lines, if they come after them with guns respond in kind. That's the American way.

    June 8, 2012 at 9:42 pm | Report abuse |
  4. wobbles

    Once again the federal government sets itself up as the enemy of the people of this country.

    June 8, 2012 at 11:23 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Mary

    The states should have the power to determine what is a priority for their people within their own borders. The fed has continued to spread it's power over the past 8 years under the guise of 'safety & security.' Thomas Jefferson warned us that the fed could become a burden and I think we have found out exactly what he was afraid of.

    June 8, 2012 at 11:31 pm | Report abuse |
  6. dazzle ©

    @Mary, you are so correct. I am a huge fan of Thomas Jefferson and he would be rolling in his grave if he could see how the fed continues to spread. Arizona is a state in a huge world of hurt and the iconic Tombstone is just 1 example of whats wrong.

    June 8, 2012 at 11:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anvil of Reality

      As a resident of AZ, I can attest that the state is in serious trouble. It's not the federal government that created this, or really, any problem that exists in Arizona. Instead, the blame falls squarely on the people who continue to vote in the ridiculous cast of characters that fill just about every level of state and local government. Just have a look at the bills coming out of the legislature, or the way that MCSO operates and you'll understand what I mean.

      As far as the Tombstone situation, there is way more to this story than is being reported. From my perspective, it's a classic case of lack of planning and incompetence on the part of LOCAL government. Then when this situation follows its natural and predictable course, quick everybody, blame the Federal Gubberm'nt. All this coming from the people who cry "Personal Responsibility" every chance they get.

      June 9, 2012 at 2:16 am | Report abuse |
  7. Jim

    This country's security is being compromised solely by bureaucratic "constipation". It benefits the legal fraternity and those that can afford to pay for their services while thwarting the everyday, common, man. We have lost our sense of what is just and right for ALL OF US; it has been replaced by "what's in it for me?" What has happened to the good old days when we were proud to proclaim as Americans that we helped and served each other without hesitation? Yes I walked miles through snow for school and delivered newspapers by bicycle at 3 AM. THINK ABOUT IT!

    June 8, 2012 at 11:47 pm | Report abuse |
  8. brown

    Hang in there Tombstone, the fools we keep re-electing will eventually come around ... hopefully sooner rather than later.

    June 8, 2012 at 11:52 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Karl

    This report is so full of inaccuracies that it is painful. CNN should examine all the issues and not just play into the uninformed emotions of the anti-government crowd. Take a look at the leaky water resevour in Tombstone that wastes more water each day than they would gain from this leaky, contaminated pipeline. Tombsotne has better sources of water that are nearby. Tomstone is trying to tap more springs than they have historically tapped. Their rampant disregard for the environment and the water rightst of others is criminal. Come on CNN do some real reporting for a change.

    June 8, 2012 at 11:55 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Rhonda

    I want to buy a shovel and send it to Tombstone! For the people!!!!

    June 9, 2012 at 12:48 am | Report abuse |
  11. JakeAZ

    Karl, couldn't agree more. Being close to the situation there's more to this story.

    Also, yeah, lets invade all the national parks and wildlands that we have left in this country and take out all of the resources. What would we have left?

    June 9, 2012 at 12:59 am | Report abuse |
  12. janerose

    It will be a NEW WORLD!! Hope you young folk are tough!!

    June 9, 2012 at 1:27 am | Report abuse |
  13. Ravioli

    I think I'd like to hear both sides of the argument here. I know the government's not the best but it's rarely this incompetent, there must be something keeping them from making a quick decision and I for one would like to know why instead of just getting a sensationalized appeal to emotion that CNN presents.

    June 9, 2012 at 1:40 am | Report abuse |
  14. Sue

    I can understand that having their water source blocked or damaged would certainly be a problem. But if they can fix the problem themselves with equipment they have on hand, why should the federal government be blamed or billed to fix it for them? That makes no sense to me. The fire was from lightning, I think, does the government have to pay for any act of God that creates a problem. I thought Tombstone was so proud of their pioneer spirit. Pioneers didn't wait for the government to come in, fix their problems and pick up the tab, they did what needed to bo done or they did without.

    June 9, 2012 at 1:46 am | Report abuse |
    • TriXen

      With SHOVELS???? Really?!?? A TWENTY-SIX MILE PIPELINE???? Are you SERIOUS??? How in the world would you propose they fix a 26-mile pipeline with shovels and hand tools? That's like trying to build a 2-story house out of matchsticks. Good luck with that one!

      June 9, 2012 at 1:55 am | Report abuse |
  15. TriXen

    It's absolutely awful what the federal government is putting these people through. There are times when common sense ought to prevail over idealistic environmentalism, and this is one of those times. We're talking about people's lives here–their health and their safety.

    June 9, 2012 at 1:54 am | Report abuse |
1 2 3