Southern Arizona’s San Pedro River, the Southwest’s last free-flowing desert river, dried up for the first time since the U.S. Geological Survey started tracking flows in 1904 (HCN, 8/30/04: A Thirst for Growth). Beginning on July 4, river flows fluctuated between zero and 0.3 cubic feet per second. But when the river dried on the afternoon of July 9, it did not recover again the next morning. Robin Silver of the Center for Biological Diversity attributes the event to extensive groundwater pumping at nearby Fort Huachuca. But Chris Smith, assistant director for the USGS in Tucson, believes it’s the result of drought — though, he adds, "long-term drought does affect groundwater, and you do see that in streamflow."

Contractors at Oregon’s Umatilla Chemical Agent Disposal Facility are still trying to figure out how to destroy rockets without actually making them explode (HCN, 10/11/04: Follow-up). This spring, three explosions caused fires during the "rocket-chopping process." The state suspended operations, but less than a month later, it gave Washington Demilitarization Co. a green light, satisfied that work could safely resume. In July, the state also slapped the company with a whopping $7,200 fine for earlier violations, including incinerating hazardous waste at the wrong temperature and taking pollution monitoring systems offline.

President Bush has nominated Granta Nakayama, former chief engineer of the Navy’s nuclear propulsion program, as the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency’s enforcement division (HCN, 2/7/05: Bush's second-term shake-ups). More recently, Nakayama has been a partner at Kirkland & Ellis, which, according to its Web site, has ranked for 10 years "among the top five most frequently used (law firms) by Fortune 500 companies." It has helped a tobacco company disqualify 50 million smokers from medical claims, currently represents Dow Corning in its breast-implant lawsuits, and helped W.R. Grace — the company that was knowingly responsible for asbestos-related deaths, including hundreds in Libby, Mont. — declare bankruptcy in 2001.