Nearly two decades of simmering conflict over water resources in Cochise County reached an explosive climax recently when bureaucrats with the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued an unprecedented and stunning ultimatum to the state of Arizona: Stop development near the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (SPRNCA).
The federal government’s demand came in an ominous letter to the Arizona Department of Water Resources regarding a long-awaited residential construction project in Sierra Vista that received preliminary city approval nearly six years ago. The project would provide new homes to thousands of residents and would feature a water treatment plant capable of allowing over
4 million gallons of water to be recharged into the aquifer each day.
In spite of this, the BLM claims that the project should not be permitted because a sufficient water supply is not “legally available.”
The agency’s letter, and its choice to use the phrase “legally available” has chilling implications for all residents, property owners and property rights advocates in Cochise County as well as the entire country. By claiming that sufficient water for the development is physically available, but is legally the property of the federal government, the Obama administration is signaling its determination to control the water, not only within the SPRNCA, but anywhere near it as well.
This blatant attempt to steal Arizona’s water begins a new chapter in a decades-long struggle over property and water rights in Cochise County. This struggle started with the creation of the SPRNCA in 1988, and has continued ever since. It has pitted property owners and civic leaders against federal bureaucrats and radical environmentalists determined to stop all private development near the San Pedro River.
While the current dispute revolves around one specific project, Cochise County residents should be under no illusion regarding what’s really at stake: the federal government’s ability to take away your water rights, and thus, your freedom to use your property as you see fit. We all want clean air and a clean, renewable supply of water, and we can have both without surrendering those rights.
If the BLM is successful, the federal government’s power to halt growth will be unfettered. Radical environmental groups, with their partners in Congress, will be able to create wilderness areas and no- growth corridors throughout the country and declare that any nearby supplies of water are “legally unavailable.” Certainly, this is not the kind of government our founders envisioned when they crafted the Constitution, with property rights as one of its core principles.
Now that the federal government has made its intentions clear, it is time for Cochise County residents to respond by telling their local, state, and, most importantly, federal leaders to stop the BLM’s water grab. If Cochise County and the state of Arizona stand firm against this blatant abuse of federal power, we can send a powerful message to policymakers in Washington D.C. that Arizona residents will fight for our property rights. On the other hand, if we submit without a fight, another precious freedom will be lost to unelected bureaucrats and their partners in the radical environmental community.
As the old saying goes, “He who controls the water, controls the land.”
These latest moves by the BLM show that, in Cochise County, the federal government is desperately trying to control both.
— Gail Griffin, a Republican, represents Legislative District 25 in the Arizona Senate.