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Keeping water flowing to Tombstone no easy task

Kevin Rudd stepped out of his truck in Carr Canyon, his $200 hiking boots crunching on the loose rock underfoot. He reached into the backseat for a short dagger because he'd forgotten his gun.

Slinging a bag over his shoulder, he began the mountain trek he makes every weekday.

Rudd, who came to town as a neophyte by way of Tucson, Scottsdale and the Florida Keys, found a Tombstone in trouble when he began his job as the city's public works project manager.

The town too tough too die had only two aqueducts bringing mountain water to its 1,000-plus people, and they'd both run dry. 

This summer's Monument Fire ripped through Carr and Miller canyons in the Huachuca Mountains, and subsequent landslides wreaked havoc on the town's water lifelines. A chance meeting with Mayor Jack Henderson and then $50,000 in emergency funding from Gov. Jan Brewer led Rudd to Tombstone, where he has been charged with keeping the town from drying up.

For the last 130 years, iron and nickel pipes have pumped water more than 30 miles from mountain springs to town, using only gravity.

"This system is really a historical marvel," Rudd says, his eyes scanning a section of the corroded pipe.  

The pipe eventually leads to a tarp lashed over a concrete collection tank. Rudd's eyes widened as he looked into the tank, where water waits to flow into the pipes leading to town.

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When Rudd first went into the mountains, this same tank was filled to the brim, not with water, but with dirt and sediment. A few days of arduous digging with his coworker, Mike Kern, and the tank was clear.

Then the rains came. Then the landslides came. Days of work were gone in a twinkling.

"So, we did it again," Rudd said.

Now Carr Canyon's water flow is protected by a collection of cloth and tangled wire, looking more like a contraption than an engineering solution in a disaster area. But, as Rudd noted over the audible gurgle of water sloshing in the tank, it's working.

At Miller Canyon, however, the sights were not quite so welcoming.

The road to Miller winds through the mountains, mountains that are dotted with blackened trees and vegetation, a stark reminder of the cataclysmic events that caused Rudd's clean-up.

As his truck bumped over a wash area, Rudd said, "Man, they had a major flow event through here."

The walk-up to the work area did nothing to allay his fears. Portions of the trail that were smooth days earlier were covered with sediment.

And there was no water because the flow was blocked upstream.

With every step there was more evidence of Rudd's fears. Sides of the canyon were bowed inward, cut by a sudden swell.

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He stopped as the work area came into view. His and Kern's work was gone. The rain and following flooding had washed away their labor.

Rudd said that only a massive amount of water—he estimates a flow of 500 feet a second—could have done this.

Rudd tramped upstream, his boots splashing through the trickle of water that determinedly forged a new path through piles of debris. He reached a small fall, where the water trickled down a series of rocks. Placing his bag nearby, he cupped his hands in the stream, catching the water as it fell.

"This is the freshest water you will ever find," he said, sipping the water from his hands.

"This is what I'm here to do, to get this water 30 miles to Tombstone."

Rudd said there is no timeline for finishing the project, but that ongoing temporary repairs will continue until February. As for the damage in Miller Canyon, Rudd knows exactly what to do.

"Do it again," he said. "It might take a couple of weeks, but we'll do it."

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Luke Money/ASNS

Kevin Rudd, Tombstone’s public works project manager, points to damage from a recent flood in Miller Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains. Rudd has been working to repair damage to aqueducts in Miller and Carr canyons that carry water to Tombstone.