"Bird watching alone is significant for New Mexico, and the state ranks fifth nationally with 46 percent of its birders coming from outside its borders. The Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, for example, brings in $13.7 million annually from non-residents to the three counties of Socorro, Bernalillo, and Sierra; along with $4.3 million in regional tax revenue."
Friday, September 30, 2011
Thursday, September 29, 2011
"The 3 photo pairs in the attached PowerPoint file compare some cottonwoods and willows in the southern part of the park. The first photo in each pair was taken last year in Sept or Oct. The second photo was taken this year in July.
"With the first two photo pairs, the trees are in worse shape today than they were back in July. A photo taken today would give a more dramatic comparison.
"With the third photo pair, the cottonwood featured was dead by mid-July. The clumps of green in the July photo are all mistletoe."
". . . Riverside Canal or the Riverside Drain. Discharges to the Riverside Canal are used chiefly for irrigation purposes. Discharges to the Riverside Drain go mainly to the Rio Bosque Wetlands Preserve where they help maintain and sustain the aquatic habitat required by the diverse animal and plant species present."
"Most of the groundwater monitoring wells are lower than in 2006 drought. Seven out of the 13 wells are dry. Most groundwater levels are below 20 ft, while 5 ft is more normal. This is the driest year for rainfall on record for the park and we expect the driest year for surface water too."
On September 13th water distribution from the Elephant Butte reservoir stopped. That usually happens in mid-October and signals the end of the irrigation season and the start of water delivery to the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park from the Bustamante Wastewater Treatment Plant. However, the El Paso Water Improvement District #1 says they need every drop they can get and the park might get water by Christmas.
The Rio Bosque Wetlands Park is a 372-acre City of El Paso park that the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) manages through its Center for Environmental Resource Management. The City of El Paso's contribution to the Bosque is a mere $10,000/year. A recent meeting of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board revealed that Parks and Recreation Director, Nanette Smejkal, has little interest in the Bosque.
At the recent PSB Strategic Planning meeting it was rumored that UTEP was not interested in continuing its committment to the Bosque. However, PSB/EPWU officials at yesterday's Open Space Advisory Board reported that Richard Adauto of UTEP had reaffirmed UTEP's committment to the management of the Park.
The City may show little interest in the Park. However, it has targeted $170,000 for a public arts project for a sculpture and new signage at the park. The slide show given by Public Art Program Coordinator Pat Dalbin to the Open Space Advisory Board yesterday describes the plans for the Bosque art and signs:
One wonders whether the sculpture and signage will preside over a dead park. There is $170,000 for public art but nothing to help with water especially to buy an $8-10,000 pump to replace a broken one so that the park might get to some needed groundwater.
Speaking about the forced water-shortage to the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park, Urban Biologist, Lois Balin, asks: "This is ridiculous. Enough is enough. What can we do to rectify this dismal situation."
Perhaps a first step is to join the Friends of the Rio Bosque. Beyond that talk to PSB and EPWU officials who have been important partners to the Park. Talk to your City Council Representative and to Parks and Recreation and Open Space Advisory Board members. Call members of the Board of Directors of the Water Improvement District. Email Chuy Reyes.
I have a few more questions myself especially about that 7,800 acre-feet of water that could go to the Park but is being swallowed by the Improvement District, Chuy Reyes (brother of Silvestre) General Manager.
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
. . . And wrong. If you haven't read his last editorial piece, Getcher El Paso tap water, only one dollar per glassful, don't waste your time. It's based on the misinformation/propaganda/lie that says that the PSB sells land in order to keep your water rates low. If they don't sell the land in the Scenic Corridor that now just about everybody wants to save, then your rates will skyrocket. 780 acres and you'll go broke. Ask yourself this: the PSB has given other land (not useful for their infrastructure or too costly to develop) to the State Park. When they did so, did your rates go up? No. 780 acres won't kill them - and I'm beginning to believe that PSB members know this and may be more amenable to preserving land in the Scenic Corridor.
Monday, September 26, 2011
Friday, September 23, 2011
Regarding the Rio Grande Rift, Dr. Phil Goodell emailed: “Yes, the Rio Grande Rift is widening, east to west, maybe 1mm/year, or less. Buy some land and watch it grow! And buy earthquake insurance.”
If you take tomorrow morning’s hike from Hondo Pass to Smuggler’s Gap, you might want to take the time to drive from Hondo Pass south on Magnetic/Alabama Street. Although urbanization hides much of the natural landscaping, you will notice as you pass Zion Lane going south or Stoney Hill Drive going north, places where the hillsides have just dropped off. These are scarps – evidence of more ancient faulting as the Rift rifted and the Franklins grew. You are driving along the Eastern Boundary Fault Zone.
You will see a water tank sitting atop a scarp, the result and evidence of a fault. The “dirt” is the Fort Hancock sediment of just a few million years ago deposited as the ancient Rio Grande (and other mountain streams) filled a vast lake geologists have called Lake Cabeza de Vaca. Movement along the fault resulted in the stair-stepping of the sediments and, when the Rio Grande finally broke south and drained into the Gulf of Mexico about a million years ago, the scarps were exposed revealing the fault lines. Further erosion defines these steep slopes for us today all along I-10 on the west, the bluffs by El Paso High School and along Mesa and Alabama.
Horses, camels, mastodons, giant sloths and other mammals lived along Cabeza de Vaca and their fossilized bones can still be found today.
By the way, as Cabeza de Vaca formed and gave a home for ancient animals 3.6 million years ago or so here in a place where we now live, Australopithecines appeared on the other side of the world and then the first Homo species whose descendants, a couple of million years later, would look up at the top of a rift and marvel at the beauty of the Franklins.
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Friday, September 16, 2011
Here’s the issue that is now bubbling up: some developers are asking City Council to amend the recent Landscape Ordinance arguing that the new ordinance will mean huge usages of water and, thus, undermine El Paso’s great conservation efforts. Mr. Richard Williams of Jerry Rubin’s River Oaks Properties has taken the lead on attacking the new ordinance. That new ordinance goes into effect on October 3. The Boards that reviewed the ordinance before (Open Space and Parks and Recreation Advisory Boards) are rushing to review the modifications and make recommendations to Council before September 27th. It would be best if there could be a 30 day review period.
No doubt, water conservation is key. However, more of the right kind of trees and the right kind of landscaping will reduce water usage, harvest rainwater, and minimize stormwater run-off and damage. When the PSB was first implementing conservation measures long ago, they recognized the fact that trees are critical to reduce urban islands of heat which require massive amounts of heat in a City that uses evaporative coolers – the most affordable cooling by a large segment of the El Paso population. In fact, EPWU’s Desert Plants List is one of the best resources for homeowners, builders and landscapers in El Paso. (Here in another month is a good time to plant and that list is very, very valuable.)
David Kania, the City’s Landscape Plan’s Examiner, reviewed Mr. Williams’ numbers and reported:
“River Oaks is miscalculating what an emitter is to what a drip hose is. Each emitter, whether it is a 2 gallon or 1 gallon per hour has only 6 outlets. So for every three shrubs you are using one emitter and for every tree you are using one and a half to one and three quarters of an emitter. I believe the way they calculated it was based on two full emitters per shrub and eight emitters per tree. In that case you would get four maybe even five hundred percent more.”
Williams has been described as being “very smart” and a “good developer”. But, says a keen observer, he “ just doesn’t ‘get it’, and will absolutely not try anything new. Ever.” You may recall his op-ed piece for the El Paso Times earlier this year in which he attributed high crime rates to Smart Growth/Smart Code. Huh? City Manager, Joyce Wilson, wrote a rebuttal.
Perhaps Mr. Williams has made some wrong assumptions: “we can’t use very low water plants, like natives”, and “We can’t afford to swale for water collection”, and “We can’t collect enough rainwater for cistern collection”, and “We can’t afford to incorporate organic matter into the soil prior to planting”. All of these are strategies that make smarter landscaping possible in a City keen on water conservation.
Still, it is worth seeing if there is some water “going down the drain” although it won’t be as much as Williams has calculated. Perhaps a good trade-off would be requiring a bit less landscaping in exchange for more landscaping whenever there is a request to upgrade an existing structure.
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Texas Parks and Wildlife to host the 7th Annual Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta at Franklin Mountains State Park
El Paso, Texas—Many people living in El Paso are not very familiar with the natural and cultural history of the Chihuahuan Desert including the Franklin Mountains in the heart of the city. At almost 26,000 acres, Franklin Mountains State Park protects prime Chihuahuan Desert habitats within an urban setting. The park is home to numerous species of plants and animals. On September 17, 2011, the park will host the 7th Annual Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta at the Tom Mays Unit, located 3.5 miles east of I-10 on Trans Mountain Road. The main objective of this Fiesta is to get people outdoors and to help increase awareness of the uniqueness of our desert. This event will not only showcase the natural and cultural resources of the Chihuahuan Desert, but also the recreational and educational opportunities that exist within Franklin Mountains State Parks and other state parks within the region.
The FREE COMMUNITY event will run from 9AM-3PM and will offer various activities, presentations, and exhibits throughout the day. During this event park staff, members of the Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition, and other environmental education groups will be on hand to offer free demonstrations, guided tours, guest speakers, and informational booths designed to introduce the curious to the wonders of our fascinating southwest desert. Drive thru the park where you will find different activities and groups providing information about their conservation efforts in our area. Vendors will be on site to sell food, snacks, and drinks. Visitors can check out the Wildlife Viewing Area and enjoy interpretive programs on plants and animals while spending time watching birds coming back and forth for water and food. Hay and horseback riding will also be available. Franklin Mountains State Park is also hosting a Chili Cook-off sanctioned by the Chili Appreciation Society International. Public tasting will be available around noon. Live music by local group Slackabilly. The entrance fee to the park is waived due to the Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta joining the celebration of the Franklin Mountains State Park Lone Star Legacy. Donations to Franklin Mountains State Park are accepted. So come and join us for a fun, exciting, and enjoyable outdoors experience and discover more about the Chihuahuan Desert.
Friday, September 9, 2011
I attended both days of the PSB Strategic Planning meetings. They were held at the TecH20 Center, one of my favorite places in El Paso - and a place that, if you haven't visited, do so. You'll enjoy your time and learn a great deal about water conservation. The sessions were facilitated by Scott Haskins from Seattle. (My only regret about the meetings is that I didn't introduce myself to Scott and talk "Seattle". He mentioned in passing the Cedar River watershed which made me think of Rattlesnake Lake and remember some great hikes with my children around that area. SPU's management of the watershed is a remarkable example of land and habitat conservation.)
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
The PSB Strategic Meeting schedule has been changed. Below is the “current” schedule. Note the change for tomorrow:
Thursday, September 8, 2011 – TecH2O Center
9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. Continental Breakfast
10:00 a.m. Strategic Planning Meeting #1
Friday, September 9, 2011 – TecH2O Center
7:00 a.m. – 8:00 a.m. Continental Breakfast
8:00 a.m. Strategic Planning Meeting #2
Not much information regarding the agenda. However, there may be a number of items that they should look at including:
- Sustainability of water and long range implications especially noting that water rights are being bought up from farms in Hudspeth County (Dell City); assume 2 million (or even less) people in El Paso in coming decades X 130 gallons per day per person – what’s the plan?
- What about real cost of water? Selling land and development really doesn’t pay for it.
- What plans are there to conserve other natural resources including land? What are their plans for the NW Master Plan? Why are a few acres in the Scenic Corridor so sacred to them?
- What about information sharing with PSB members themselves. Reportedly, that’s been a real problem – keeping Board members in the dark (not to mention the public). Did El Paso Times or the Inc. report let you know about the strategic planning sessions in a very visible story at least in one of the main sections?
Just food for thought. Remember, public comment is appropriate.
Now here’s some food for thought regarding the petition and the Scenic Corridor:
- Since petitioners are not willing to compromise on land and all want the removal of Paseo del Norte, how can a second petition for an election be prevented if Council does nothing on the 20th or tries to extend or votes the proposal down?
- As stated before, Paseo could be an interchange to no where. El Paso has an interchange to no where. Here are the coordinates: 31.809394,-106.539134. Check out the Google maps link. TxDOT built it. The Army Corps put in a dam. End of story.
- The “box” of 792 acres really gives a buffer to development encroachment. Shrinking it anymore gives permission for encroachment.
- All of us need to advocate for immediate open space conservation of all Natural Open Space and arroyos already promised in the original Westside (Northwest) Master Plan . City Council and the PSB have already voted to change all acreage in the NW Master Plan to Urban Reserve District until smart code is implemented. The problem with a zoning designation is that it can always be changed to residential or commercial or industrial or whatever. 792 acres (the Scenic Corridor) and all the other areas previously promised to be preserved should be preserved under a conservation easement. The remaining acres should be rezoned using smart code ASAP.
Sunday, September 4, 2011
Friday, September 2, 2011
Because of the Virginia quake that shook D.C. and NYC followed quickly by the fury and floods of Irene, there was another seismic event that may have had more significance yet was overlooked.
On Monday, August 22nd, just before midnight a 5.3 earthquake occurred near Trinidad, Colorado. The Colorado Geological Survey issued a preliminary report with pictures. It is believed that the quake was the result of movement along the Sangre de Cristo Fault which is part of the Rio Grande Rift system. What’s a rift? Forces on the earth’s crust can cause it to thin, then fracture (fault) and spread apart. The Rio Grande Rift began between 35 and 29 million years ago (although some date the event between 29 and 20 million years ago.) The Rio Grande Rift extends from Chihuahua, Mexico to Leadville, Colorado. Considering that in May there was a swarm of earthquakes in Chihuahua, Mexico just 85 miles from El Paso and just below Fort Hancock, Texas (an area also part of the same rift system), one must wonder what the continued widening of the crust beneath may portend – if anything in our lifetimes.
Here is some interesting speculation as well as information:
By the way, the Rift in our area is not visible because sediment from the ancient Lake Cabeza de Vaca has filled it from rim to rim. The Rio Grande’s movement south finally drained the lake about a million years ago into the Gulf of Mexico. Sediment is clearly visible along I-10, the bluffs above El Paso High and along Alabama. How deep is the sediment in the Rift below El Paso before you hit bedrock? Geologist Eric Kappus tells us that the depth below the Airport is 10,000 feet! On the west side it’s variable but “MUCH” less. Wow! The highest peak in the Franklins, North Mount Franklin, is 7,192 feet high (not counting all of the mountain that you don’t see below the surface which is about 18,000 feet total uplift!) Our Rio Grande Rift rivals the Great Rift Valley in East Africa – the place of our evolutionary roots.
Thursday, September 1, 2011
Click on the image to enlarge.
Here is where things are today with the certified petition:
This past Tuesday it was “introduced” to City Council. There was some question about 14 acres of the land described in the petition having already been conveyed by the City to TxDOT. City Attorney, Charlie McNabb, made it quite clear that the petition was perfectly okay and the slight variance does nothing to impeach it. All the petitioner leaders whom I have spoken with have no difficulty with an ordinance that accommodates for the conveyance of those few acres in the past.
September 20th has been set for Council to make a final decision on the ordinance proposed by the petitioners.
As the ordinance came closer to being introduced, the usual backdoor politics began. For the first time since the entire debate about preserving land on the Westside began, Ed Archuleta signaled that he was willing to make some compromises. His “compromise” still would exclude 314 acres. (See the map.) 22 of those acres are stuck in the middle of what would be conserved as open space and would be for low cost housing. (I guess people will have to “fly” over the open space to get to their homes. Of course, PSB’s suggestion is really a ploy to open “open space”.)
When I asked Nick Costanzo what was so vital about these few 314 acres, I didn’t get a straight answer. Indeed, there was the tired old attempt to say that our water rates are kept low as if land sales really count and as if EPWU’s incremental block billing system doesn’t simply give an appearance of low rates. In between Nick’s hemming and his hawing was the sense that leaving Paseo del Norte where it is currently planned is sacred to the PSB and their plans. (I believe that it is sacred to them because it is sacred to their developer – dare I say – “masters”.)
Mayor John Cook’s sincere hope is that an alternative can be worked out using the Open Space Advisory Board as the venue. Indeed Costanzo was at OSAB’s meeting yesterday for that very reason.
TxDOT was also there to give an update about the final changes that they have made to their Transmountain plans for which they have a FONSI. When asked whether they would still build the Paseo del Norte interchange even if Council or an election should exclude the building of Paseo through the Scenic Corridor, Mr. Ray Davolina of TxDOT, very nicely said that it made no difference. They have their money, their plan and their green light to build. That is what they are going to do. They still have no real safe means of getting people into and out of the State Park except a frontage road on the north side of Transmountain that could route people to the Paseo del Norte interchange. I guess that, if Paseo itself is not ever built to connect with the interchange, then that interchange becomes a very expensive way to provide safe access and egress from the Park. TxDOT’s plan still allows making a left turn into the Park for cars going east – but soon that turn will be against two lanes of traffic with an estimate of 70,000 vehicles per day. So strap on your rockets – unless a Sierra Club lawsuit stops the folly completely.
OSAB adopted a proposal that recommends that discussion begin that might (and I emphasize “might”) lead to an alternative to the petitioners’ ordinance – a discussion to be worked through Dover Kohl (this still has to be approved) and Planning and Development and most certainly will include the PSB. At least now the PSB can discuss matters in the open. The public just needs to be aware that they will say just about anything to manipulate the outcome. Just yesterday Costanzo said that they would build a safer road to the Park. Huh!? Now they will have to tell the public why 314 acres are so important.
To be sure, as a member of OSAB, I voted for the proposal. (And note that twice before OSAB has voted for all 792 acres even when shown a map similar to the one Mr. Costanzo revealed yesterday.) The proposal to discuss does not change the fact that it is up to petitioners whether they want to discuss further or whether they want a straight vote from Council and will follow-up with their intention to do another petition asking for an election if their ordinance is voted down. The proposal simply gives another means for land to be conserved in perpetuity as open space. In fact, a perpetual conservation (one accomplished by a Conservation Easement) entered into immediately by the City with a land conservation organization such as Frontera Land Alliance is essential to preserving the open space. Anything short of that will not do. The fact that City Council and City Planner, Matthew McElroy, have already made it clear that the rest of the NW Master Plan will be done in compliance with Smart Code is also a good thing. Smart Growth is the way the City is going so expect under-the-table push back from some.
Besides conservation of the open space in perpetuity, two more conditions are essential and not debateable. First, any fees associated with the easement for surveying, administration, a conservator shall be paid for by the City (or PSB). And, second, any infrastructure that must be built should be at a minimum and limited to utility needs, with Green Infrastructure/Low Impact Development standards including proper re-vegetation.
One more thing. Any discussion to be had must begin and move forward quickly.
With respect to preserving the Scenic Corridor, keep in mind one historical fact: the very first petition (which was not written as an ordinance) which was signed by 2,000+ people and so far another 1,300 people online calls for the preservation of all of the land in the NW Master Plan. The current petition which petitioners have legally brought before City Council is the compromise with a land description that calls for conserving 792 acres and the condition that no major roadway (Paseo for example) can be built through the land. That’s the compromise.
By the way, you, your friends, your family – even unregistered voters or newcomers – can sign the petition to conserve all of the land in the NW Master Plan. Sign it online. You can even comment. Several hundred have signed it since I have begun to publish the fact that it is still online.
Please comment on this blog post of this e-letter. It will be powerful to hear others speak out. Also, I invite anyone – anyone – to submit anything about any of this subject to me for posting on the blog. I will even post anything written by Mr. Archuleta, a developer, anyone. Elpasonaturally believes in talking about things in the open. If our debates and conversations all were done with transparency, then there would be much more trust.