Smoke rises from the Monument Fire billows from a steep ridge of Copper Canyon on the southern end of the Huachuca Mountains as seen from Montezuma Pass along Montezuma Canyon Road in Coronado National Memorial near Sierra Vista, Ariz., on Sunday June 19, 2011. Greg Bryan/Arizona Daily Star

The "Town Too Tough to Die" says it doesn't need any stinkin' permits to make emergency repairs to its water source in a wilderness area in the Huachuca Mountains.

Tombstone City Clerk/Manager George Barnes said the town tired of waiting for the U.S. Forest Service to give permission to unearth springs and pipes in the Miller Canyon Wilderness Area that were buried in debris after the Monument Fire this summer.

On Tuesday, a crew of Tombstone employees headed up the dirt road into the wilderness with heavy equipment.

"We were met by a herd of folks," said Mayor Jack Henderson.

The Tombstone crew was armed with paperwork regarding their water rights and an "irrevocable federal right of way" that predates the establishment of national forest and wilderness areas in the Huachucas, said Barnes.

Officials from the Forest Service and other agencies told city officials they wouldn't be cited but "were in violation of the Wilderness Act," said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Heidi Schewel.

The Tombstone crew backed off and attended a meeting at Forest Service headquarters in Hereford where they were promised speedy action.

Permission from the regional forester is needed to operate heavy equipment in wilderness, Schewel said. "We're trying to expedite a process that usually takes weeks to months. Everybody is trying to line up to help the city of Tombstone."

The springs in Miller and Carr canyons were first developed in 1881 by the Huachuca Water Company. Tombstone bought the pipeline and water rights in 1946.

Since June, Tombstone has relied solely on water from city wells to supply its 700 customers. One of those wells is close to EPA limits on arsenic.

Barnes said it costs the town $10,000 to $12,000 a month to rent equipment and pump water to replace the Huachuca springs.

Normally, the system is fed by gravity.

Water flows from five springs in Miller and Carr canyons to a low point at the San Pedro River. At that point, the line is charged with up to 1,400 pounds per square inch of pressure, Barnes said, enough to bring it uphill to Tombstone's 1.2 million-gallon reservoir.

That reservoir now contains a two-day water supply, said Mayor Henderson. "If we have a major fire, we don't have the water to fight it," he said.

The Forest Service can allow heavy equipment in wilderness but it must follow a "minimum requirements decision guide" that will "preserve wilderness character," said Schewel.

That process addresses whether an action is necessary and how it can be accomplished with minimal activity, she said.

Barnes said he received a call Friday from Southwest Regional Forester Corbin Newman, who assured him the decision would be made in "a few days."

Henderson said Tombstone wants to make emergency repairs, using $50,000 provided by the state. It will take about a month, he said, and the town wants to finish up before snow makes things more difficult.

Heavy equipment is needed, Henderson said. Some of the pipe is 10 feet in the air and some is buried in 10 feet of rubble.


Contact reporter Tom Beal at or 573-4158.