FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

How a Mega-Development Threatens the Last Free-Flowing River in the Southwest

Photograph Source: Katja Schulz – CC BY 2.0

The San Pedro River is the last free-flowing river in the desert Southwest and one of the nation’s environmental crown jewels. It provides crucial habitat for about 45% of the bird species in North America and is home to a rich variety of native wildlife.

Millions of songbirds migrate through this birding mecca every year. The river’s health is critical to the long-term survival and recovery of endangered species, including the yellow-billed cuckoo and the Huachuca water umbel.

But the river is in trouble. According to reports by the U.S. Geologic Survey and the Upper San Pedro Partnership, excessive groundwater pumping has depleted the aquifer that feeds the river, creating a groundwater deficit that leaves the San Pedro River with little or no water to spare.

Now, Scottsdale developers behind a proposed mega-development near the San Pedro want to pump much more — 8,427 acre-feet per year — and they are desperate to deflect attention from the devastating impacts the project would have on the San Pedro.

Groundwater pumping hurts the river

With help from a high-priced Washington, D.C., crisis-management PR firm, they’re fighting to avoid a detailed environmental analysis of their sprawling Villages at Vigneto development.

They know such an analysis would show that the San Pedro is drying up due to excessive groundwater pumping and that Vigneto would be a nail in the coffin for this beloved river, along with the animals and plants that rely on it.

Vigneto’s spokesman Lanny Davis ignores key issues about the impact of this 28,000-home development near Benson in his Sept. 14 homage to development at any cost.  He glosses over the development’s massive groundwater pumping that would feed four golf courses, lakes and fountains in the 12,000-acre faux-Italian village.

Davis fails to mention that the health of the San Pedro depends on groundwater contributions from the aquifer, especially during the driest times of the year. If excessive pumping causes the groundwater level to drop, the aquifer can no longer feed water to the river. The river’s cottonwoods, willows and other native plants will die and the birds and other wildlife will be gone.

Loss of the San Pedro will be particularly disastrous in light of a recent study that found three billion North American birds have vanished since 1970.

‘Adequate water supply’ means little

Davis claims we need not worry because the Arizona Department of Water Resources has certified that Benson will have an “adequate water supply” to support the development. But the agency’s certification does nothing to preserve the San Pedro.

The agency refuses to even consider what groundwater pumping does to nearby rivers.  They claim that it’s not their job and that there is no connection between groundwater and surface water under Arizona law.

Davis also cannot paper over the staggering volume of groundwater pumping with vague statements about how Vigneto’s developer might “assist” with recharge facilities. We need an extensive study on the environmental impacts of the Vigneto development as the law requires.

The massive Vigneto development will pump groundwater from the same aquifer supplying surface water to the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area’s St. David Cienega, as demonstrated byisotope-tracer studies and hydrological modeling.

Congress designated the conservation area 30 years ago as rare river habitat deserving special protection. Hydrologists and biologists have determined that sucking up this much groundwater would further lower the water table, reduce water flow and harm the National Conservation Area.

This influence should concern you

Vigneto also offers a disturbing example of political influence at work.

As The Arizona Republic reported, a career U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official said he was pressured by the Trump administration to reverse his position that a broad environmental review of the development was necessary to protect threatened and endangered species in the area. As a result, federal officials issued a critical permit to Vigneto without looking at the potential environmental harm posed by the entire 12,000-acre development.

U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., is investigating reports that the politically connected Vigneto developer held a “secret meeting” with then-deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt shortly before the Fish and Wildlife official reversed his decision on Vigneto.

Everyone in this state who loves the wild outdoors, who cares about our water supply and who wants sustainable communities should be concerned.

Arizonans love our surviving desert wetlands and rivers. We will continue to do everything that we can to protect these spectacular places and the plants and animals they sustain for generations.

Robin Silver, a Flagstaff resident and an emergency room physician, is a co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity. Reach him at rsilver@biologicaldiversity.org.

More articles by:
bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
January 23, 2020
Richard Moser
Ten Best Messages for Waging Peace
Thomas S. Harrington
The Catalan Crisis Threatens to Reopen a Debate That the EU’s Power Brokers Thought They Had Long Ago Quashed
Martha Rosenberg
SARS-Like Disease Could Become a Pandemic
Ron Jacobs
A Cesspool of Constitutional Nonsense-Impeachment in the Senate
Gaither Stewart
One Hundred Years: the Proletariat in Search of a Class
Nick Pemberton
Final Phallus
Russell Mokhiber
PBS Public Editor and the Disease of Contempt
Thomas M. Magstadt
The Myth of the Free Market
Mandy Smithberger
How the Military-Industrial Complex Gets Away With Murder in Contract After Contract
Russell Rickford
The Paradox of Populism
Howard Lisnoff
Action Research: Acquiescing to the Awful
George Ochenski
Comes Now the Winter of Our Discontent
Binoy Kampmark
Diminishing Returns: Calculated Misery in Air Travel
Nick Licata
Do Republicans Have More to Lose Than Democrats in the Impeachment Trial?
Dean Baker
The Myth of China’s Population Crisis
John Kendall Hawkins
Steal This Whistle
January 22, 2020
Melvin Goodman
The Media and the Military Mindset
John Davis
The Real Megxit Deal
John O'Kane
The Obama Legacy: Reform Versus Revolution
Kenneth Surin
The “Evolving” Scotty Morrison From Marketing
Martin Billheimer
“The Cops & the Klan Go Hand in Hand!”
Thomas Knapp
Executive Power: Alan Dershowitz’s Imagination Versus the Constitution
Jacob G. Hornberger
Egypt and the Destruction of Civil Liberties in America
Justin Podur
The People of Colombia are Cracking the Walls of War and Authoritarianism
Kelsey Hawkins-Johnson
Our Final Decade to Get Climate Policy Right
Jonah Raskin
Terence Hallinan: Fighter for the People and for the Legalization of Marijuana 
Colin Todhunter
Challenging the Flawed Premise Behind Pushing GMOs into Indian Agriculture
January 21, 2020
Sheldon Richman
Warmonger Cotton Accuses Antiwar Think Tank of Anti-Semitism
John Feffer
Trump Makes Space Great Again
Patrick Cockburn
The US and Iran’s Perpetual Almost-War is Unsustainable – and Will End Badly
James C. Nelson
Another Date That Will Live in Infamy: 10 Years After Citizens United
Robert Fisk
Iran Will be Changed Forever by Admitting Its Great Mistake, Unlike the West Which Ignores Its Own Misdeeds
Dean Baker
Did Shareholders’ Benefit by Paying Boeing’s Fired CEO $62 Million?
Susan Roberts
The Demise of the Labour Party and the Future For UK Socialism
Binoy Kampmark
Janus-Faced on Climate Change: Microsoft’s Carbon Vision
David Levin
The Teamster Revolt Against the Hoffa Era
Victor Grossman
Defender and Spearheads
Russell Mokhiber
BS Public Editor and the Disease of Contempt
Tiffany Muller
Get the Money Out of Politics: 10 Years After Citizens United
Laura Flanders
Iowa is Not the Twitterverse
Graham Peebles
Education: Expanding Purpose
Elliot Sperber
Handball in Brooklyn 
January 20, 2020
Paul Street
Trump Showed Us Who He Was Before He Became President
Eric Mann
Martin Luther King and the Black Revolutionary Tradition
Ipek S. Burnett
MLK and the Ghost of an Untrue Dream
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail