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EPA halts water pollution from construction sites in Benson, Ariz.

Release Date: 3/23/2005
Contact Information: Wendy L. Chavez, (415) 947-4248,

SAN FRANCISCO -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered three Arizona construction companies to halt unauthorized activities on natural waterways within the San Pedro River watershed near Benson, Ariz., about 90 miles southeast of Tucson.

EPA inspectors, along with inspectors from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Arizona Dept. of Environmental Quality, visited the area in February and determined that the companies -- all of which are engaged in residential and commercial development -- were violating state regulations and federal Clean Water Act requirements for construction sites.

The companies involved are the Whetstone Development Corp., which is building "The Canyons at Whetstone Ranch" and the "Whetstone Corporate Center;" Cottonwood Bluffs, LLC, which is building "Cottonwood Bluffs;" and K.E. & G. Development, LLC, which is also building "The Canyons at Whetstone Ranch."

Federal and state inspectors found the companies had not properly implemented or maintained adequate storm water pollution controls, and that construction activities had resulted in discharges that filled desert streams or "washes." These washes provide important habitat for wildlife, and their flows feed the nearby San Pedro River, an internationally recognized ecological treasure.

"The San Pedro River watershed is a beautiful and much-valued resource for both Mexico and the U.S.," said Alexis Strauss, director of the EPA's Water Division for the Pacific Southwest region. "We will do all we can to protect Arizona's water resources, and the habitat they support."

Under the EPA's order, the companies must stop the discharge of pollutants, including fill material, into the area's washes, prepare restoration and monitoring plans, and put in place a system to ensure there will be no further violations.

The Clean Water Act requires developers to obtain permits when altering natural waterways, including desert washes. The Corps of Engineers issues permits to fill-in "waters of the U.S.," and the state of Arizona issues permits dealing with the release of pollutants in stormwater from construction sites.

In their natural state, desert washes provide many benefits including accommodation of flood waters, maintenance of water quality, recharge of groundwater, and support of fish and wildlife populations. Once damaged, these environments are difficult to restore and the benefits are often permanently lost.