Apr 24, 2014 9:52 PM by John Patrick
TOMBSTONE, Ariz. - A recent fire in Tombstone's historical district has brought back the battle between the city and the feds over the town's water supply.
Tombstone gets its water from a highly protected wilderness area in the Huachuca Mountains. The pipeline that transports water 30 miles across Cochise County has had problems since the Monument Fire in 2011. According to the City they still haven't been able to get the proper equipment into the area to permanently fix the issues.
The structures in Tombstone's historic district are like a tinderbox. In the past few years alone the site of what is currently Old West Studio has burned down twice and continued water worries have some residents like Hal Cloughley on edge.
Cloughley's home has caught fire twice in the last three years. The most recent time was just a couple of weeks ago as flames from Old West Studio jumped onto his property.
Cloughley said, "This whole town could have went up. I was up there fighting it with a water hose."
The last time Tombstone had to put a fire out of this size firefighters used up nearly one third of the towns water. Tombstone Mayor Stephen Schmidt says if their water pipeline was running at full capacity they wouldn't have the threat of running dry.
"We've put temporary fixes on them but every monsoon they get washed out," explains Schmidt.
Without being able to access all of their spring heads in the Huachucas with mechanized equipment, every time the pipeline gets washed out they are forced into a long process of getting it fixed.
"One time they shut us down for using a wheelbarrow because it's mechanized. I guess it is because it has a wheel I don't know," says Schmidt.
According to the Goldwater Institute who is representing Tombstone in its fight for water rights, the U.S. Forest Service has only allowed Tombstone access to three of their twenty five springs.
Heidi Schewel says the U.S. Forest Service is open to working with the city but is bounded by certain laws put into place by the Wilderness Act of 1964.
"These are laws that we have to follow. We don't have a lot of wiggle room when it comes to the law," explains Schewel.
The Goldwater Institute says this has been an issue for several years and may not be solved for several more. Until than devastating fires will be in the forefront of minds like Cloughley's who is still cleaning up from the most recent fire.