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Once again, science gets soaked

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In your story about the predicament facing the San Pedro River, Mark Anderson, whom the Bush administration has chosen as chief of the U.S. Geological Survey office responsible for San Pedro River studies, states that "pumping in the Sierra Vista area ... is probably not yet imperiling the river" (HCN, 8/30/04: A Thirst for Growth). This is absurd.

Studies by the Arizona Department of Water Resources, the Commission on Environmental Cooperation, and USGS demonstrate that the river’s base flow, or river flow during the driest times of the year, has already decreased dramatically. These declines have been great enough to cause loss of wetland plants. A clear trend of declining water levels in the region’s monitoring wells has been documented by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Before the Bush administration put pressure on federal scientists, the USGS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that groundwater pumping had resulted in the decreasing or intermittently absent base flow in the Palominas/Hereford area and in the Huachuca City area. The administration has also suppressed Corps of Engineers data that reveals groundwater-pumping from Sierra Vista and Fort Huachuca is now negatively affecting the flow gradient near the San Pedro.

The strategy of the Upper San Pedro Partnership and Bush administration officials has been modeled after efforts by Nogales and Tucson-area developers and farmers, who successfully promoted endless studies of the Santa Cruz River while blocking all significant efforts to control the groundwater pumping and diversions that ultimately killed it.

The San Pedro is the Southwest’s last surviving desert river. It deserves better.

Robin Silver
Phoenix, Arizona
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