Friday, August 28, 2015

The Friday Video: The Bridge at Q’eswachaka

Speaking about engineering:

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EPWU Premiers New Water Purification Pilot Facility

CEO John Balliew welcomes visitors and gives an introduction to the plant and the need for it.
The El Paso Water Utilities (EPWU) unveiled their new water purification pilot facility at the Bustamante Wastewater Treatment Plant this morning. More than 60 visitors consisting of the general public, EPWU employees, some PSB members and other officials learned more about the process, took a tour and viewed a video. Their reaction: Wow!

EPWU wastewater plants clean water for use in irrigation and industrrial porcesses and aquifer recharge. Because of drought and low river water allocations, our water utility is pumping more water from the aquifer which cannot be replenished quickly. So EPWU is considering a number of options to ensure water supply to its service district - us. "Advanced Water Purification is a drought-proof sustainable option."

The Advanaced Water Purification Pilot Plant is critical for a sustainable water supply for El Paso's future. 

There are several steps in the process. First, nitrates and nitrites are removed from the reclaimed water. Then solids, bacteria, portozoa and some viruses are removed by a filtration system. Two systems are currently being tested: microfiltration and ultrafiltration. The third step of nanofiltration and reverse osmosis removes dissolved salts, metals and dissolved organic molecules "and other materials many of which are more than 50,000 times smaller than the smallest bacteria or virus." 

The penultimate step removes all remaining contaminants through a dual process of the additon of hydrogen peroxide and the use of ultraviolet light. Finally, water goes through granular activated carbon to remove the last of the remaining peroxide. The result - pure, drinkable water from reclaimed water.

Because the process is still being tested and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality won't yet give the greenlight for the system to be used in the public's drinking water, we couldn't get a refreshing drink of this water today. The day will come when all of us can enjoy this sustainable source of water.

Two thoughts: First, I have a love for industrial plants and for all engineering projects. They are beautiful forms of humanity's ability to solve problems scientifically. Unfortunately, some of our processes have wreaked havoc on the planet. Still I have faith in science and technology not only to make all human lives better but to do so in a way which preserves and protects Mother Earth and all of its inhabitants. This marvelous work of water treatment technology is doing just that.

Finally, and quite sadly, it was obvious that not one single member of City Council was there today in spite of the fact that they were invited two weeks ago. The most critical issue facing El Paso is the scarcity of water. It is good to know that El Paso Water Utilities is leading the way to a sustainable future. I'm afraid that the current City Council is tugging in the opposite direction.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

What's Wrong with Fracking: A Review

Would you let your children or grandchildren play here?
". . . fracking wells release compounds into the air, such as benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene and n-hexane; long-term exposure to these has been linked to birth defects, neurological problems, blood disorders and cancer." From
Check out What goes in and out of Hydraulic Fracking. Just keep scrolling down.

Do read livescience's Facts about Fracking and Grist's Ask Umbra: What's so bad about fracking?

Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is "the procedure of creating fractures in rocks and rock formations by injecting fluid into cracks to force them further open. The larger fissures allow more oil and gas to flow out of the formation and into the wellbore, from where it can be extracted." At the end of the process is injecting wastewater into wells (injection wells). The information above concentrates on what is wrong with fracking in terms of air and water pollution. But what about surface damage?

The damage to ecosystems by road building, trucks, drilling pads, spilled toxic fluids is irreparable. Flora and fauna are killed. The ecosystem benefits of soil and flora are eliminated. 

Of course, fracking has led to greater oil and gas independence for the United States. It has given us lower and still falling prices at the pumps. But ask yourself this: realizing that we can also become energy independent with renewables and have a cleaner environment, why frack? The picture above is repeated all across the country. The Diablo Plateau of Hudspeth County next to El Paso will soon resemble it. What do you want? Further destruction of our planet or a green, clean earth?

We  have become so confined in the walls of our offices and homes by electronics, television, interstate highways that we think that all is well as long as our little patch of grass gets watered, fertilized and mowed. Scenes such as the one above are unfathomable. It's happening over there but not in my backyard. Trouble is: it is someone's backyard and outdoors. And yours could be next.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Celebration of Our Mountains Kicks Off this Weekend

"Hike our mountains. Explore our desert. Discover our wetlands."
The Annual Celebration of Our Mountains begins this weekend with four exciting hikes. 

"For 21 years, we’ve been hiking, biking, birding, climbing, photographing, geocaching, studying and celebrating the natural wonders of the Borderland." This year's line-up of Fall events will continue that tradition of numerous and diverse events.

For a list of events go to either or, simply, Celebration volunteer events along with Wyler Aerial Tramway State Park events are listed under "Events". But that isn't all! Check out the pages of events in the Franklin Mountains State Park and the Guadalupe Mountains National Park as well as "Back by Noon" events sponsored by the Southwest Environmental Center.  

Want to begin mountain biking, see nocturnal slitherers or bats, take some spectacular hikes, stroll with the kids and the family dog, learn about wolves, climb the highest peak in Texas, enter an old copper prospecting mine, go inside a flourite mine, see petroglyphs and 280 million-year-old footrpints, take a tour of El  Paso geology, look at a real dark sky full of stars - all these and more are part of the line-up of this year's events. 

Four events headline this first weekend:

Friday, August 28, 2015, 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM
Sunset Hike Loop

Saturday, August 29, 2015, 7:00 AM - 8:30 AM
Palisades Loop

Sunday, August 30, 2015, 6:30 AM to 8:45 AM
Early Birds Loop

Sundays, August 30, September 27, October 25, November 26, 2015, 7:00 AM
Last Sunday Hike

Again, for more information about these events, visit Follow Celebration on Twitter. Visit and like the Facebook page. Spread the word. Tell family and friends.

Fall weather in El Paso is great. So, go hike your mountains, explore your desert, and discover your wetlands.

Click on image to enlarge.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Park Ponds Again Cut into Open Space Funds to Preserve the Mountainside

Read it and weep. Or, as one El Paso conservationist put it, "something to make your blood boil."

Open space in El Paso is funded by 10% of your stormwater fee. Precious mountainside land could be preserved with that money as long as it has a stormwater function. That's not hard to imagine as water rushing down the mountainside is stormwater. Increasingly, that money is being depleted by park ponds with "grass-covered athletic fields, a landscaped perimeter, picnic tables, park benches and a tree-lined walking path."

Nothing wrong with those amenities. But the money should come from Parks and Recreation and not open space!

Is this a good time to approach this City Council (or T-Rex) and ask that P&R pay for the amenities and not open space funds. Hell no. The ponds with their greenery are pork to them to offer the folks in their districts.

Is this the way it is done in other cities? Hell no. However, it should make us the envy of Van Horn, the standard Cortney Niland has set for us.

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Monday, August 24, 2015

Living Green in the Southwest: Water and Solar Energy

The oil industry oligarchy and their supporters will tell you that natural gas and even coal use less water to produce electricity than solar power. They are half-right.

You have to distinguish between two types of solar energy: photovoltaics (the panels you put on your roof for example) and concentrating solar thermal - big mirrors that gather heat from sunlight to heat water to be used in a thermoelectric plant. As you might guess, concentrating solar thermal requires tons of water for steam for generating and for cooling - more so than natural gas or coal unless dry cooling is used which cuts water usage by 90% but also cuts efficiency and costs more.

On the other hand, photovoltaics require little water, the least of all in renewable energy except for wind powered generators. How much water? Enough to clean the dust (or smoke in some places) off the panels. My brother, Paul Tolbert, who lives in Upland, California installed solar panels on his home this past winter. Here is what he said about cleaning the panels:

"My installer estimated cleaning every 6 months. But it depends on where you live. EP may have less soot/smog than I have. My panels have been up 6 months (since mid Feb) and don’t need cleaning so far. I recently checked and my electricity generation has not dropped. (However, a couple of recent smoky days may change this). Google says to clean the surface of a solar panel much like you would clean your car -- with warm water and dishwashing soap to remove any accumulation of dirt and grime. I plan to use a long handled squeegee."

6 months and he is going on 7 now without a drop in generation! A bucket of soapy water, a squeegee (a jug of wine, a loaf of bread . . .) We aren't talking about much water. 

[Just a word about wind powered generation. Those spinning blades do kill birds but far less than my cat, Aristotle, and his feline friends from coast to coast do, and far less also than power lines, window panes, pesticides, automobiles and lighted communication towers. Tens of thousands by turbines versus millions by the other causes. Newer turbine technology is reducing the number even more. Sorry, oil industry cronies.]

The process for making the solar panels like all industrial processes requires some water. Still, panels use less water from production to installation to service than thermoelectric plants driven by gas, coal, concentrating solar thermal technology, nuclear, etc.

There are some nasty molecules involved in photovoltaics (as there are in the computer chips that make your smart phones and televisions, well, smart.) The industry (at least in the United States) is very careful about the proper disposal of these chemicals. (I won't get into rare earth metals here. We want quantum electronics for our convenience but we need rare earth metals to accomplish that. I don't know about you, but I don't like to be dependent on China so the trade-off is rare earth mining. More on that later.)

The technology that uses the least amount of water after wind turbines is photovoltaics. The best place to employ that technology is on your own home or business if you want to be part of a community that conserves water. Of course, at the present time, you don't use all of the electricity generated from your solar panels. Without batteries you have to sell that power back to the grid. The "grid" at least the El Paso Electric Company wants to increase substanially how much a solar user pays for a kWhr while buying back at $.03/kWhr. An Australian system uses the excess to heat water. If you own an electric car, you can recharge its batteries with your excess. Bottom line: getting off the grid (and thus the community's consumption of more scarce water) is the way to go.

More on passive solar next. - Jim Tolbert

For more information and references for above:

Water Use by Solar Projects Intensifies
Environmental Impacts of Solar Panels
How It Works: Water for Power Plant Cooling
Fact Check: How Much Water Does Solar Power Really Use?
Get more out of your solar power system by using water as a battery
Do wind turbines kill birds?

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Friday, August 21, 2015

The Friday Video: El Paso Outside: A Promise For Future Generations

Landscaping with native plants is the way to go. Just take the next step and create a back or frontyard habitat that will attract birds and butterflies and other wildlife. It doesn't have to be done all at once and it's easy to do. You can even register your front or backyard with the Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition (CDEC). Their program makes it fun to landscape for beauty and for habitat with native plants. Also check out the City of El Paso's Get Outside program, a joint effort between the Office of Resilience and Sustainability and the Zoo. Visit and like CDEC on Facebook. BTW, CDEC's 11th Annual Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta, a Celebration of Our Mountains event, is coming up on September 19th from 9 AM to 3 PM at the Tom Mays Unit of the Franklin Mountains State Park.

Now watch an outstanding video:

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