Legislation passed by the Arizona Legislature allowing certain cities to opt out of state groundwater management rules and approve large-scale development possibly could endanger the future of Fort Huachuca, environmental groups say.
SB 1268 would allow Sierra Vista to exempt itself from a Cochise County rule requiring proof of an adequate water supply before approving development. At play in Sierra Vista is a proposed 7,000-home development that activists say could threaten the San Pedro River and the post in southeastern Arizona. If Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) signs the measure, Sierra Vista could declare that development within its borders is not subject to the assured water supply requirement and approve the controversial project, reported the Arizona Republic.
The Senate approved the bill Wednesday after the House advanced it last month. The governor has not said whether he supports the measure.
Robin Silver, a Cochise County landowner and co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity, said undercutting groundwater management around the San Pedro threatens the viability of Fort Huachuca due to its limited water supplies.
“They literally have put a bulls-eye on Fort Huachuca for a significant reduction in force,” Silver told the Republic.
The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Gail Griffin (R), defended the legislation against criticism that it could undermine the state’s groundwater law and threaten future water supplies in rural Arizona. The Sierra Vista lawmaker cited a letter from a past president of the Fort Huachuca 50, the local support group for the installation, which stated, “It is vital to the city to be able to make planning decisions that will ensure Sierra Vista can meet the needs of Fort Huachuca for the coming years.”
State Sen. Steve Farley (D), disagreed, though, stating that any action that increases water pumping in the area would endanger the post’s future, reported Capitol Media Services.
“And if there’s concern about having a lack of affordable housing, I think there’ll be plenty of affordable housing in Cochise County if this goes through because I think Fort Huachuca will be at grave risk of reducing its presence or leaving entirely,”’ Farley said.
The current drought conditions make this an inauspicious time to exempt new developments from demonstrating they have access to an adequate water supply, he added. “We could be putting our economy in southern Arizona at risk if we put this bill through.”