Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Water Conservation

On Tuesday, July 17, Planning and Development staff will present their proposal to City Council that land in the NW Master Plan be conserved by transferring the land to the State Park with a reversion clause that the land will return to the City if it doesn’t remain in use as natural open space recreation. (Some contingencies will be in the deed to allow utility infrastructure if needed.) As reported, the PSB unanimously supported a conservation easement be placed on the land if it should ever revert. Of course, that only begs the question, why not use a conservation easement now? On the 17th staff will make their recommendation (see Scribd insert at elpasonaturally post). PSB will report their recommendation. Frontera Land Alliance and others will present a case for a conservation easement now. A good way for you to learn more about these easements is to read an article published in the El Paso Inc. by Janae Reneaud Field, the Director of the Frontera Land Alliance: How land trusts conserve natural areas. Do note that the area being “conserved” in the NW Master Plan does not include the principal arroyos through the developed areas. What happened to them?

With water running again in the Rio Grande, El Pasoans are once again enjoying a normal watering schedule. However, one word to the wise from EPWU CEO Ed Archuleta after he recently met with the New Mexico and Texas Irrigation Districts plus Mexican officials and IBWC:  “[I]t looks like the water from the river will last until September 1.  As you know our season is normally March through October so this season started later and will end sooner.”  No doubt that one of the best water management strategies is the one Archuleta has used: limiting the use of water particularly outdoor watering. Along with that restriction has been a concerted effort to educate the public about water conservation including giving away water-saving devices. In a recent Texas Tribune article, confirmation is given to the EPWU’s strategy to conserve water.

Nevertheless, fixing leaks, limiting outdoor watering and using water saving appliances and devices really only postpones the problem of water shortage. It buys time.  Some thoughts:

At a recent City Council meeting, City Engineer Alan Shubert attested that he was already formulating a new list of park ponds to re-do with turf. Guess where they will steal the money from for more turf to water – the 10% stormwater fee meant for natural open space acquisition. More turf or more natural open space? Which conserves more water? Also keep an eye on the fact that City officials have begun calling some parks as “open space” parks. It’s propaganda.

The Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Committee looking into PSB land management and acquisition issues is now meeting. One issue before them is the method by which land is declared inexpedient by the PSB so that it can be sold. Besides potential revenue, there should be another reason for declaring land inexpedient: the need to preserve natural open space for the sake of natural open space. Some might argue that we would be giving away land. In fact, we would be keeping land that is ours and increasing the value of our land not preserved. Why would the value increase? Because land without water is worthless and, if we keep up the pace of sprawl without preserving natural open space, we will end up with a lot of worthless land.

Smart growth-smart code is good for long-term water conservation.  Just add green infrastructure/low impact development.

Get visionary – really far out there visionary. Los Angeles, a city built on stealing vast amounts of water from other areas to grow a population in an arid environment like ours, is trying to be proactive.  Learn about C-Change.LA, a program for water and energy conservation in the face of rapid climate change.

One of the strategies employed by C-Change.LA is the increase of the urban canopy of trees. Read L.A. Climate Study Shows Need for Cooling Effect of Tree Canopies. Yet, the City of El Paso has only maintained as a tree SUB-committee (of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board) what once was a Tree Board. The SUB-committee is there for mere window-dressing for its Tree USA trophy. Now that Parks and Recreation is reviewing their Design and Construction Standards, one would think that P&R Director Nanette Smejkal would have long sought a meeting of that SUB-committee. Trees must be a huge part of the City’s water conservation, energy and sustainability strategies. As of now, we have a City Arborist under the direction of Transportation and a genuine “blue ribbon committee of tree experts” relegated to sub-committee status.  (Those experts include State Forester, Oscar Mestas, horticulturalist and curator, John White, tree experts Vern Autry and Lewis Wright, City Arborist and tree farmer, Brent Pearson, landscaper Jennifer Barr, Master Gardener President Dave Turner and many other well-qualified persons. AND, they are a SUB-Committee!)

Do checkout Tucson’s rainwater harvesting program. El Paso/PSB/EPWU, where are you? (TecH20 does have a short presentation about rainwater capture on Saturday, August 18th, from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Presenter Doc Stalker is quite the expert.  Plan to attend.)

Think water footprint. This way we look at the larger global picture of water and our participation in waste and/or conservation. Don’t get me wrong. Archuleta’s and the EPWU’s water conservation program is great and ought to be followed. But in terms of what is sustainable today, tomorrow and beyond our grandchildren’s great-grandchildren, there is much more to do and to change.

Do check out your water utility’s Less Is the New More program and get involved. Like and follow EPWU’s Facebook page. Finally, if you twitter and tweet, follow EPWU on Twitter

And the biggest matter when it comes to saving water and managing an increasingly scarce resource: water law and policy which must become more publicly directed. The PSB is not “public”. Did you vote for anyone on that board? Can you the public remove any of them? Water decisions for the Water Improvement District are limited to a few large farmers and other “water rights owners” now thanks to “Chente” Quintanilla  and Sen. Jose Rodríguez. Instead of disenfranchising 75,000 voters, they should have looked at including all voters. Water law and policy must change . . . radically.

Finally, for what it is worth, my two cents about the new ballpark.

Play Ball - My Two Cents

An artist's rendering of baseball stadium to be built in downtown El Paso

It's not quite a done deal, but it sure looks like a new baseball stadium will be built on the site where City Hall now sits. A Triple-A baseball team will make it their home and the stadium will also host other sports and recreational events. If voters in November agree, the stadium will be built with an increase on the hotel tax. It's a pittance really and one must agree with City Rep Cortney Niland that it is time that others pay for our buildings just as we have been paying for theirs. Better the hotel tax increase than other ways to finance the stadium. And, if people listen to Rep. Steve Ortega (and they should), the stadium will have an international footprint.

Read the Times report or see artist's renderings of the stadium at KVIA.

Just speaking with a few friends in the environmental community, I haven't heard a great deal of support. There's concern that, once again, a few will get richer on the backs of the many and that no really high-paying jobs will be created in our City. Yes, some persons/corporate entities stand to make more money - but we will all be enriched greatly by the new stadium with a Triple-A team playing in it. It will even be good for the environment.

I'm not a big sports fan. I may make two or three games at the most. I stopped being interested in sports when Tommy Lasorda left the Dodgers and Koufax and Drysdale had become pictures on the wall. I loved Dandy Don Meridith and Roger Staubach - but they're long gone and the Cowboys have an owner who hated Coach Landry. The last team I followed passionately was the U.S. Women's Soccer team with Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain. Ah! The good ol' days! So, don't expect me at too many El Paso Padres or Mountainstars games. 

Nevertheless, the stadium is a good idea. Why? It means more tourist dollars for one thing. Also, a baseball park won't create many high-paying jobs, but remember that creative class we are trying to attract? Give them Triple-A ball and more high paying jobs will come to El Paso (especially now that there are more restaurants that serve food past 9 or 10 p.m. - and I say this somewhat tongue in cheek but it's true. In addition, the kinds of neighborhoods and social/entertainment life created by Smart Growth/Smart Code also is attractive to the creative class.) The Triple-A team with a downtown stadium will contribute largely to attracting companies and high-paying jobs and building the tax base (if City Council doesn't give that base away with frivolous incentives to companies as if El Paso wouldn't be worthy otherwise.)

The stadium will spur more downtown development. All of us in the environmental/conservation community favor infill over sprawl - this stadium invites infill. Downtown won't be vacant - it will be filled and vibrant.

It will be sad to see the burden placed on Insights but maybe this will be just the thing to get them off their butts and working hard on preserving the dinosaur tracks on the land that they own in Sunland Park. They need this opportunity for values clarification. 

Finally, one of the biggest eyesores downtown is City Hall - a building that members of City staff tell me is already too small. When friends of mine from San Antonio stopped briefly at Union Station on an Amtrak trip through the West, their only site of El Paso was City Hall. They were aghast. We want infill, we want conservation, we want the arts, we want the aesthetically pleasing to go with our order for a Mexican plate. Adios City Hall.

Hello Triple-A baseball!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Guided Hikes

Take your friends and family on a guided hike at the Wakeem/Teschner Nature Preserve at Resler Canyon this Sunday, June 24th, at 8 a.m.  Meet where Cadiz Street dead ends at the Canyon. (Map) Take the Sunland Park exit, turn right onto Sunland Park, then left at Cadiz Street. Follow Cadiz all the way to the end. Although the hike will take an hour or a bit longer, take plenty of water, use sunscreen and wear a hat. You’ll learn about the plants and animals in this conserved natural arroyo. You also will learn how arroyos work. Your guide will be Scott Cutler, exhibits curator at UTEP’s Centennial Museum.  Scott also serves on the Board of the Frontera Land Alliance which manages the nature preserve.

Remember that Scenic Drive is closed every Sunday morning from 6 to 11 a.m.  It’s a 4.1 mile hike from one side to the other and back. This walk takes in a dazzling panorama of El Paso and Juarez and a display of 500 million year old fossils! It’s a good recreational walk and can be done in an hour and a half. Join me at 7 a.m. this coming Sunday at the west entrance to the Drive (the intersection of Robinson, Rim and Scenic). Rumor has it that there will be some geology talk as we walk.

Peak Fitness Challenge is off the ground!  Check out great hikes and prizes.  Information and sign up is available at Get more information and like Challenge on Facebook.  Do visit the blog, One Foot in Front of the Other.

Franklin Mountains State Park Ranger Extraordinaire Adrianna Weickhardt sent out word about some very special guided hikes that are by reservation only. Experts on various natural history subjects will accompany you. All guided hikes are $3.00 in addition to the park entrance fee of $5.00 for adults 13 & over. Guided hikes for ages 5-12 is $1.00.  Contact Adrianna Weickhardt at 915-566-6441 ext. 224 or email or Erika Rubio at 915-566-6441 ext. 221 or email

JULY -- The guided hikes for July are as follows:

Saturday, July 7, 2012 @ 7:30 pm – Guided night hike Nature Walk/Explore the Arroyo (1 – 1.5 hours)
Sunday, July 8, 2012 @ 6:30 am – Guided hike Schaeffer Shuffle (1.5 - 2 hours)
Thursday, July 12 @ 9:00 a.m. – Nature Walk, 25 kids (7 – 12 year olds)  (1-2 hours)
Saturday, July 21, 2012 @ 7:30 pm – Guided night hike Nature Walk/Explore the Arroyo (1 – 1.5 hours)
Sunday, July 22, 2012 @ 6:30 Ron Coleman/Smugglers Pass (1.5 – 3 hours)
Friday, July 27, 2012 @ 6:15 am – (Women’s Only Hike) Lower Sunset Trail (1.5 – 2 hours)
Sunday, July 29 - @ 6:30 am (Peak Fitness Challenge Hike) Aztec Caves (1 – 2 hours)

We also have the hikes continuing through the rest of the month of June:

Friday, June 22, 2012 – Lazy Cow Trail @ 8:00 a.m.  and again @ 5:00 p.m.
Saturday, June 23, 2012 – Lazy Cow Trail @ 8:00 a.m.  and again @ 5:00 p.m.
Sunday, June 24, 2012 – Mine Shaft Tour @ 8:00 a.m.
Thursday, June 28, 2012 – Women’s Hike on Upper Sunset Trail @ 8:00 a.m.


Democratic Nominee for U.S. Congress Beto O’Rourke has written Zia Engineering of Las Cruces expressing his support for a continuation of the Fort Bliss RAB (Restoration Advisory Board) and his opposition to its adjournment. The Ft. Bliss RAB is key to keeping the drive to conserve Castner Range on track.

Here is an image of O'Rourke's letter to Zia:

Click on image to enlarge.

Previously elpasonaturally posted a letter by Richard Teschner to Zia urging the same thing. Teschner is the V-President of Frontera Land Management and  has been personally involved with efforts to conserve Castner as a member of the Castner Conservation Conveyance Committee and RAB delegate.  In an email to others in the environmental/conservation community, he writes: "If you yourselves have not yet written Zia Engineering & Environmental Consultants (755 S. Telshor Blvd., Suite F-201, Las Cruces, NM 88011), please do so right away. The public-input period comes to an end by the Fourth of July. Let’s all support (and thank) Beto for his willingness to stand up for the RAB!"

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Peak Fitness Challenge Begins Today

New Hiking Challenge for Far West Texas Launches Today

The Peak Fitness Challenge, a free hiking program for Franklin Mountains State Park and Guadalupe Mountain National Park launches today, June 21st   at the monthly meeting of the El Paso Hotel Motel Association.  A joint program of the parks, the Texas Mountain Trail regional non-profit, El Paso’s and, the Challenge encourages everyone from beginning hikers to experienced trail runners to get out on the park’s trails.  Participants can earn prizes for their accomplishments.

“Hikers can use the program to build their fitness and confidence levels to reach the highest peaks in the Franklins and the Guadalupes, if they want,” says Don Baumgardt, creator and publisher of the El Paso Visitors Guide.  “Participation is easy and free.  Folks can go online to register, log miles hiked and compete for prizes.  This Challenge is for regional residents and visitors to Far West Texas.” 

Information and sign up is available at .   Hikers and trail runners can compete as individuals or team members.  Participants may count the miles they log on organized hikes or adventures they tackle with friends and family members.  Everyone is invited to join the Facebook community for the challenge at

Planning for the Peak Fitness Challenge began last fall, when the new Superintendent of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and El Paso native, Dennis Vasquez, approached the Texas Mountain Trail for assistance in planning the park’s 40th anniversary.  “The park had ideas for a hiking challenge similar to programs we’d been considering for some time,” said Beth Nobles, Executive Director of the Texas Mountain Trail, a regionally-based heritage tourism non-profit organization serving Far West Texas. “When we invited and their developer Phidev, Inc. to join the project and handle the technical aspects of the Challenge, the program really took off.  With the addition of Franklin Mountains State Park, we knew we had a winner.” 

From the beginning, the Peak Fitness Challenge was designed to encourage everyone to get out on our Far West Texas trails, including beginning hikers.  Adrianna Weickhardt, Parks Interpreter/Ranger at Franklin Mountains State Park, started Women’s Only Hikes earlier this year to encourage more participation at the park.  “They’re great opportunities for females of all ages who may feel some apprehension or fear about starting this new activity.  We cover the fundamentals of hiking, and we take a slower pace, starting with beginner level trails.  There’s an experienced guide along for the entire hike to lead them, assist, and answer any questions.”

To encourage new hikers, Nobles began a blog called, “One Foot in Front of the Other,” (  which features fitness tips and interviews with hikers, runners and cyclists.  The blog has several “Hiking 101” entries already addressing topics such as, “What’s a Trailhead?” and “How do I Find the Trail?”

Some of the trails are labeled “Texas Mountain Trail Heritage Hikes,” to encourage participants to learn about the heritage of the Far West Texas region.  One trail runs past a historic stagecoach route, another was the site of a murder of a Texas Ranger.  The Texas Mountain Trail is a regional non-profit heritage tourism and economic development organization, representing the six westernmost counties of the state.  It participates in the Texas Historical Commission’s Texas Heritage Trails Program.

In the days after the June 21st launch, participants may choose join hikes organized and led by volunteers or rangers at the participating parks:

Franklin Mountains State Park:
Make your reservation by calling:  (915) 566-6441
Bring:  Water, snacks, sturdy hiking shoes/boots, hiking stick, camera, binoculars, a flashlight for the tin mines, a map and dogs are welcome on leashes!

Saturday, June 23 –“Couch Potato Hike” on the Lazy Cow Trail   
Start Time: 8:00 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Length: 6.3 miles/ 2 – 3 hours
Trailhead:  Meet at Chuck Heinrich Park/East side of the mountains (call for directions)
*Difficulty Level:  Easy to Moderate.  This single track trail is often used for mountain biking, but is a nice leisurely stroll as a hiking trail as well.  It is not difficult terrain to traverse, however, it is a longer distance and may be challenging for new hikers.  The plant and animal life in this area is readily seen and with the Franklins as a backdrop, this hike is beautiful.

Sunday, June 23rd– Mine Shaft Exploration
Start Time:  8:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.
Length:  1.4 miles / 1.5 - 2 hours
Trail:  Begin on West Cottonwood Springs trail, then enter the mineshaft to explore and end on the Agave Loop. *Difficulty Level:  Easy to Moderate.  Rocky along some sections, with a few short steep stretches.  The exploration into the mineshaft is fun and easy with one initial short belly crawl through the opening. 

Friday, June 29 – Women’s Only Hike – Upper Sunset Trail
Start Time:  8:00 a.m.
Length:  2.6 miles / 1.5 - 2 hours
*Difficulty Level:  Easy to moderate.  We’ll encounter some elevation gains, with some short steep inclines/declines, a few rocky/rough sections, and great vistas as we walk along the ridgeline.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park:  All hikes begin at 8:00. Bring water, food, sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, and wear sturdy footwear.

Saturday, June 23-- Devil's Hall
Start time:  8 am.
Length:  4.2 miles roundtrip, moderately difficult, but very rocky, 3-4 hours.  Meet at the Pine Springs Trailhead near the RV campground.  Bring water, food, sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, and wear sturdy footwear.

Sunday, June 24-- Smith Springs
Start time:  8 am   (2.3 miles roundtrip, moderately difficult, 2 hours) Meet at the Frijole Ranch Trailhead.  Bring water, food, sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, and wear sturdy footwear.

Sunday, July 1--McKittrick Canyon to Pratt Cabin
Start time:  8 am (4.8 miles round trip, moderately difficult, 3-4 hours) Meet at the McKittrick Canyon Trailhead.  Bring water, food, sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, and wear sturdy footwear.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Columban Mission Community Garden

The Columban Mission Center is found at the corner of St. Vrain and Magoffin in downtown El Paso, 816 Magoffin Avenue. (Map)

Visit and like them on Facebook.

The video was created by alternative energy expert and permcaculturist, David Williamson.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Join the Peak Fitness Challenge

Tomorrow, June 20th, 5:09 p.m. the sun will be as far north as it will be for 2012. It’s the solstice – the sun stillness – as it seems to hover above for a couple more days in this northernmost reach. On Thursday, June 21, sunrise will occur at 6:01 a.m. Go outside just before that time and mark how far north of Cerro Alto the sun rises. Mark that spot and remember it. Perhaps like Naturalist, Donald Culross Peattie “[o]n this, the summer solstice [you] would enjoy lighting bonfires to the sun. . .”

On Thursday something very special is set to begin: Peak Fitness Challenge! Along with the Franklin Mountains State Park, the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and, Texas Mountain Trail is launching a fun hiking challenge called the PEAK FITNESS CHALLENGE! Learn more at their web site as well as on their special Facebook page. Participate!

For walkers, the City of El Paso has begun a program called Move El Paso and has mapped out four short-distance walking courses so far: Downtown, the Segundo Barrio, the Mexican Consulate, and the Medical Center.

Remember that Scenic Drive is closed every Sunday morning from 6 to 11 a.m.  It’s a 4.1 mile hike from one side to the other and back. This walk takes in a dazzling panorama of El Paso and Juarez and a display of 500 million year old fossils! It’s a good recreational walk and can be done in an hour and a half. Join me at 7 a.m. this coming Sunday at the west entrance to the Drive (the intersection of Robinson, Rim and Scenic). Rumor has it that there will be some geology talk along the way.

Due to fires and the closing of some areas in the Glenwood area, the Auduboners are changing their Gila Wilderness trip this weekend (June 22-24).  They will be going to the Silver City area instead and will plan to bird Cherry Creek, Signal Peak, the Lake Roberts area, Gila  River and Cliff Dwellings, Nature Conservatory in Mimbres, the Big Ditch in Silver City, and the Gila River bird habitat area.  Those going may see  Red-faced Warbler, Bridled Titmouse, Painted Redstart, Broad tailed Hummingbird, Western Scrub-Jay, Pinyon Jay, Indigo and Lazuli Buntings, among others.  Field leader, Mark Perkins, will be camping at the Cherry Creek Campground.  The campgrounds are open and fires are allowed in the Forest Service pits or camp stoves.  For those who do not want to camp, there are motels in Silver City and cabins in Pinos Altos.  Those wishing to go on this trip need to let Mark know before this Friday, June 22. Contact Mark Perkins at 637-3521 or   They will send you itineraries upon request.

Keep an eye on all hikes posted through the El Paso Hiking Meet up Group and check out the June schedule of hikes in the Franklin Mountains State Park.

Finally, Insights Science Museum now has the Marty Martin fossil exhibit.  Eric Kappus says, “Go check it out!” So . . . go check it out.


Council Saves 2% for the Arts

Good news.  Item 5A on today's City Council agenda was an attempt to strip the 2% for the arts from street construction projects. Council members Acosta, Ortega and Niland argued forcefully for keeping the 2%. In addition, Ortega and Niland made the argument that to change the policy on funding of the arts should be something that originates with Council and not the City Manager and the staff. By a vote of 5 to 2 the item was deleted, in effect deep sixing the de-funding of the arts. Ann Lilly voted against deletion but had already said that she would go with a compromise proposed by Mayor Cook for funding 1%. No surprise: Dr. No voted no. Representatives Robinson and Holguin voted for deletion. Rep. Byrd is absent today.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Save Arts Funding in El Paso

How we treat our environment and relate to our ecosystem are just two facets of what makes life for us and our grandchildren’s grandchildren sustainable. But sustainability also has to do with cultural issues and what it is to be truly human.

Our ancestors who lived more than 40,000 years ago were not much different anatomically from us today. However for over a million years before a marvelous event of 40,000 years ago man-made artifacts consisted of nothing more than crude tools and weapons fashioned mainly from rocks. Then something happened. Archaeologists call it the Great Leap Forward for it was a quantum leap in culture that would affect humanity and human society henceforth. Suddenly, there were paintings, carvings, figurines, ornaments and murals such as those at the Lascaux Caves.  Human culture, the brilliant blooms of the human spirit, was born not from engineering or mathematics or scientific achievements – but from art. Indeed, art not only preceded all other human discoveries, it foreshadowed, foresaw and nurtured them.

Whenever a government cuts funding for the arts, it is a fatal mistake. There is plenty of research to suggest that children enriched by fine arts do better than other students. There is something about the warp and woof of our brains that, with a musical tempo or a swirl of color and shape, our minds conceive quantum mechanics and relativity, unlock genetic codes and can solve Fermat’s Theorem or twist a Rubik’s cube so that each side has a single-color. It is always foolish to cut-back on the arts to penny-pinch a budget to balance. Any municipality that does this, does so with an atavist’s nostalgia for the good old days before the Great Leap Forward. It does so with total disregard of what makes a City vibrant and worth living in and worth visiting.

Yet, the City of El Paso is on the verge tomorrow of de-funding the arts. Item 5A on tomorrow’s agenda introduces an ordinance to cut funding for the arts for (they claim) six years. The public hearing for this ordinance is scheduled for June 26th but it would be great to contact your representative now and nip this one in the bud.  There are many good reasons for City Council members to say “NO” now and Arts Advocate, Katherine Brennand (who is also a member of the PSB), makes the case. Please read her powerful argument to deep six this new ordinance at its introduction.  Then, please contact your City representative. (Just click on the image of your rep and follow the links to contact.)

Also in regard to our sustainability as a people and culture, we need to be mindful of the education we provide our children and all citizens. We are all familiar with the sickening scandals that have rocked the El Paso Independent School District. Thanks to real public heroes such as former Senator Eliot Shapleigh and diligent journalists such as those at the El Paso Times, we know the story. Yesterday the Times took the unprecedented but necessary step of publishing an editorial on its front page.  That piece written by the editorial board of the paper called for the immediate resignation of five of the EPISD board members. The El Paso Times is right. They also published the names of the five board members who should resign now and gave their email addresses. They urged readers to email these persons and demand their resignation. The Times editorial board wrote: "It will take a strong public outcry to get these board members to finally do the right thing."

Here are the names and email addresses:

David Dodge,  
Patricia Hughes,  
Isela Castañon-Williams,  
Joel Barrios,

Please email them if you agree that they should go. 

Don't De-Fund the Arts

El Paso Arts Advocate, Katherine Brennand (who is also a member of the PSB) fought for a 2% for the Arts ordinance for years.  Cities all over the country were already funding arts in this manner - some at 1%, some at 2%. In fact, the federal government passed a law (as did the State) years ago that required that any construction paid for with state or federal funds had to set aside a certain portion for public art.  Beginning in the 90's, Katherine began efforts to see El Paso take similar action. Such an ordinance eventually passed although, under Mayor Joe Wardy, it skipped and jumped around, and the ordinance changed from including revenue bonds to not including Certificates of Obligation. But in 2006 City Council finalized the 2% ordinance to include ALL bonds. Therefore, any municipal construction would include 2% for Public Art. Now Council is being asked to consider waiving that source of funding from the Street Infrastructure Capital Plan. An ordinance will be introduced tomorrow (Item 5A on the Agenda) with public hearing tentatively scheduled for June 26th. One hopes Council will deep six this matter now. The introduction to the ordinance suggests that in lieu of the 2% requirement, "street construction projects will incorporate a public art component as part of the design." (See attachment to the agenda item.)

Ms. Brennand writes:

"The commitment has been made that, if the 2% is waived for 6 years, then, in lieu of that requirement, the City would incorporate art into each of the reconstruction projects.  The rationale is that when the larger Quality of Life bond issue is presented in the Fall, Public Art will be adequately funded.
An alternative, suggested by the mayor, is to reduce the 2% to 1%, given the size of the obligations.

Any responsible, committed arts advocate will question these proposals for the following reasons:

  • Without a doubt, having a 2% for the Arts Ordinance is quite enviable, although many, many cities across the country have this same ordinance.  In El Paso’s case, it took about 20 years of hard and consistent work to achieve this goal.  Once the 2% is suspended for any reason, and for such a lengthy time, it will be extremely difficult to get it reinstated….no matter the promises.

  • How can the City be promoting a Quality of Life bond issue, and, at the same time, want to cut a fundamental funding base of Public Art?

  • This sends a message to our artists, to our community, and, most importantly, to our children, that the arts can be funded whimsically….or not.

  • It sets a precedent.  Even if the 2% for the Arts is reinstated in 2019 (!) what is to keep this from happening again?

  • If the City is making the commitment to incorporate art into the road construction projects, which will cost money, why not leave the 2% in place and let those monies pay the expense?

  • 2% of these bond issues is a minuscule amount compared to the city’s needs.  Is it being said that with the 2% going to the arts that it’s too much??  If that is the case, why aren’t we intelligently discussing  alternatives that will keep the 2% ordinance, but will augment/enhance  how we are using it?  Perhaps the amendment  should  include salaries and/or administrative costs for the Public Art program.  Why has there not been an opportunity to discuss proposals that could greatly benefit the community and the City?

  • The 2% for the Arts from bond issues is the ONLY source of funding for this program.  As we know, bond elections happen every few years, not once a month.  Budgeting for the Public Art Program is difficult.  Administrative costs for the program cannot be taken from the 2%.  That means  cash flow for the program can be compared to a roller coaster ride. Without bond elections, the monies from the 2% for the Arts diminish quickly.

  • El Pasoans seem to be very excited about a Quality of Life bond issue. The economic impact  from it should be impressive  This city is on the move….things are happening….we are “growing up”… young people are excited!  Suspending the 2% for the Arts for any reason at this point is completely regressive and will not be well received.  Reducing it from 2% to 1%  is even worse.

The arts are NOT the icing on the cake . . . they are more like the flour and butter.  They hold us together, soothe our souls, lift our spirits, give us hope.  It is a known fact that some children stay in school and do not drop out because of their interest in an art form - theatre, dance, painting.   It is also documented that children who are exposed to the arts score significantly higher on the ACT and SAT.  It is the creative output from the arts that we leave to future generations: the terra cotta warriors and horses from Xian, China, rock art paintings and murals that have endured for thousands of years, the renown works of Renaissance painters, the output of great literary artists, the great architectural edifices.  The list is endless.

 So, why do we EVER diminish the importance of artistic endeavor???  But we do!  We are doing it right now with the proposal to suspend the 2% from the streets infrastructure bond issue.  And, here’s a question.  Can we afford to make this cut?  The answer is simply: 'NO, WE CANNOT!'"

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

PSB Endorses Use of Conservation Easement

MORE BREAKING NEWS: By a unanimous vote today, the PSB passed a motion made by Mayor John Cook to deed the open space land in the NW Master Plan to the State for inclusion into the Franklin Mountain State Park. There would be deed restrictions which would require the land to revert back to the City if it is not used for passive recreation, etc. Upon reversion, the motion states, a Conservation Easement will be put on the land. As one conservationist has already put it: “Thank you, PSB!” The motion is much better than one sought by the Risher-Adauto presentation which called for no conservation easement at all and rather pushed the concept of a “Utility Green Space”. 

Conservation Strategy - PSB 061312 Ppt

PSB’s recommendation still begs the question why there shouldn’t be a conservation easement put on the land from the very beginning. Now that all of the red herrings have been disposed of and it has been shown that Frontera does have money, a back-up is there as evidenced by a recent letter of support from the Texas Land Conservancy to Frontera, managing the easement is not an expensive proposition and Frontera would be glad to do the job if asked – there is no reason why a CE couldn’t be put on the land in the first place as PSB member, David Nemir, expressed in one of his questions. In fact, Frontera President, Mike Gaglio, praised the idea of deeding the land to the State while at the same time adding the CE. Hired PSB attorney Gilbert argued that a CE shouldn’t be accepted because it would be another layer of protection and bureaucracy. There really isn’t any bureaucracy involved but she is exactly right about the extra layer of protection – exactly the reason for a conservation easement.

A Conservation Easement is the only means by which the land is preserved in its natural open state. The State of Texas can always sell land. With the current expansion of Transmountain by TxDOT and the planned expansion of Paseo del Norte, pressure will begin for commercial development. Look at any frontage road or any major thoroughfare especially in East El Paso.  Look at the shenanigans with Blackie Chesher Park property at the burgeoning corner of I-10 and Zaragoza. No wonder some want to conveniently lose, alter, challenge or whatever deeds that required the land to be used for a park. Had there only been a CE on Blackie Chesher, City Council Representative Eddie Holguin would not have to deal with evasion after evasion.

Additionally, some State of Texas parks have come with conservation easements. There is nothing new or illegal with placing that kind of easement on the land prior to transferring to the State.

The matter now goes to the City Council and is currently scheduled for their July 17th meeting.

Another critical issue that still needs to be fleshed out is the preservation of the arroyos in their natural state. The arroyos should not be treated simply as stormwater flow paths but as the sensitive riparian corridors that they are. Unless green infrastructure/ low impact development tools are employed in the proposed Dover Kohl development, then the arroyos will have to be modified. The Risher-Adauto presentation doesn’t quite get it and it speaks of trying to save the arroyos as much as possible with hybrid channels and environmentally sensitive infrastructure. It seems that they are still coming from the perspective of maximizing development and doing the best one can with the arroyos. The real approach should be to maximize the preservation of the arroyos which the presentation seems to suggest as well by using LID goals (page 8 of the presentation). If you follow those goals and modify (if necessary) the development plan, then there will be no reason not to keep the arroyos completely natural – no modification. Nothing has happened yet - no bulldozer has scraped natural earth. Now is the time to assure complete protection. Here’s an idea: take a GIS map of the area, draw where the arroyos are and overlay where development structures (e.g., homes) will be. 

Elpasonaturally wants to see that map with the overlays.

Obviously there is much more to be said about all of the above including that today’s vote may be the dawn of a new era. The PSB/EPWU should be a natural ally with the conservation/environmental community. Because of so much animosity and distrust over power issues involving land, this is currently not the case. This vote begins to take us there – a new partnership among conservationists, City Planners and the PSB to conserve our beautiful part of the Chihuahuan Desert. Let us hope.

Finally, with the update of the Parks and Recreation Master Plan in progress much has been said recently about seeing Parks and Recreation in a different way than the current business model of turf, organized recreation and bingo. Parks can be a powerful tool for creating a more walkable community that connects people with Nature and each other. Please read Masters of the Master Plan from this month’s Parks & Recreation magazine. Oh – and I can’t help throwing in one more/last thing: please visit the City of Tucson’s rainwater harvesting page. If only . . .

Don't Adjourn Fort Bliss RAB

In an email this past Monday to conservationists, Dr. Richard Teschner urged people to write the Zia Corporation in an effort to stop the adjournment of the Fort Bliss RAB (Restoration Advisory Board) whose main concern is Castner Range and its clean-up. Dr. Teschner wrote:

Dear everyone— This is a strictly information-only mailing. No organizational action or even consideration of the fate of the Fort Bliss RAB (Restoration Advisory Board) is being solicited here. Instead, I am simply letting you know what’s now going on anent the Fort Bliss RAB, whose main concern is Castner Range. In a nutshell, the Fort Bliss Environmental Division and the Fort Bliss Garrison Commander are recommending that the RAB be “adjourned” for at least the next two years, i.e., no more RAB meetings until the post decides to start them up again. I oppose this. See my letter attached. Justification of the “adjournment” recommendation appears in an April 23, 2012 e-mail from Joel Reyes, Restoration Program Manager etc., Environmental Division, Fort Bliss: the Garrison Commander will “consult the Environmental Protection Agency, state, tribes, Fort Bliss RAB members and the local community to recommend the adjournment of the fort Bliss RAB. At this moment, Fort Bliss does not have any restoration projects to justify the need of the RAB … [T]his does not mean the RAB will be permanently dissolved. … As required, Fort Bliss will continue to move forward with the Military Munitions Response Program (MMRP) process at the two sites currently under investigation [including Castner Range], as required under … CERCLA, and support the Technical Project Planning and public meetings that are an important component of this process.” And indeed, a few TPP meetings have been held since 2008. All public meetings however have been held under the aegis of the RAB. No other venues have been realized or proposed. What exactly is “the RAB”? The following comes from the first page of : “Department of Defense (DoD) policy calls for Restoration Advisory Boards (RABs) to be formed at all closing installations and at non-closing installations where the local community expresses interest. RABs are an expansion of DoD’s Technical Review committee (TRC) concept. The boards are a forum for exchange of information and partnership among citizens, the installation, the EPA and the state. Most importantly, they offer an opportunity for communities to provide input to the cleanup process. It is our view that RABs will improve DoD’s cleanup program by increasing community understanding and support for cleanup efforts, improving the soundness of government decision, and ensuring cleanups are responsive to community needs.” If you personally support my opposition to the adjournment of the RAB, please write Zia Engineering (see attachment) as I myself have done. (I was elected to the RAB in early 2011 and my term of office runs into 2014.)
 Best regards, Richard Teschner

Here is Teschner's letter to Zia Engineering:

Click image to enlarge.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Why a Conservation Easement Still Makes Sense

Frontera Hugs Its Cactuses but Also Lugs Its Load

Many people think of the Frontera Land Alliance as just another little cactus-hugging group. “Oh those people mean well, but …” It’s true of course that the current members of the Frontera Board of Directors—Mike Gaglio (president), Richard Teschner (vice president), Scott Winton (secretary), Charlie Wakeem (treasurer), Scott Cutler (at large), Doug Echlin, John Moses and Kevin von Finger, and our Executive Director Janaé Reneaud Field—never forget to hug their front-yard ocotillos as they head for work each day. But Frontera itself is somewhat more than passing prickly hugs. Thanks to the generosity of our donors and the wisdom of our investments, with $100,000 in the bank we are not “broke” (as our critics have contended). Thanks to on-going supplementary donations we routinely consult with our traditional law firm and also hire attorneys from smaller firms as the need arises. We are engaging in partnership with the Texas Land Conservancy for “back-up” and continuity in the hyper-unlikely event that Frontera blows away in the winds of April. Our fees for managing a conservation easement are not “exorbitant”; in fact, and as Janaé pointed out at one of the meetings of the Joint City-PSB Committee she was invited to speak and interact at, easement management costs depend entirely on the details of the easement, which she is asking the City to provide—such things as appraisal, survey, title, Environmental Phase One and so forth. To quote Janaé, “the direct cost to Frontera to hold a conservation easement is just the annual site visit, which on the average is $500. And if any violations occur then we’re also dealing with legal fees and staff time.” Janaé continues: “If Frontera were to manage the Scenic Corridor as a park for public use, the City must tell us what it wants—restrooms? Parking? Trails? Campgrounds? Picnic sites? Barbeque grills? Swings and slides, sandboxes and teeter totters? The City hasn’t told us that. That is why a partnership with Texas Parks and Wildlife is best: Frontera holds the conservation easement (thus guaranteeing that the 837-acre Scenic Corridor property remains conserved in perpetuity), while the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) manages and/or owns the land.”

And in light of the report (presented to OSAB just yesterday—June 6—by staffer Carlos Gallinar of the City Development Department) from the Joint City-PSB Committee, that’s what Frontera supports: a combination of Plan One (whereby the City enters into a partnership with the TPWD, dedicating and/or selling the 837 acres to TPWD for incorporation into the Franklin Mountains State Park) and Plan Four, which deploys a conservation easement to Frontera [the El Paso area’s only 501(c)3 non-profit land trust] so the land can be conserved in perpetuity. The problem with not deploying a conservation easement is that TPWD has sometimes sold its park land to private concerns, and this would set a bad precedent for the 837 acres. The problem with the Joint City-PSB Committee’s fall-back recommendation—that the land be dedicated as a city park—can be summed up in just two words: “Blackie Chesher.” That city park’s history is well known. Gifted to the City in the early 1960s with several deed restrictions, the Blackie Chesher Regional Park (of the City of El Paso) is now the home to several uses that the deed restrictions don’t permit. Had a conservation easement been applied to Blackie Chesher, none of that would have happened. Instead, the land would be preserved in perpetuity. As we insist the 837 acres be.

--Richard Teschner

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Public Meetings on Parks Master Plan Update + Breaking News on NW Master Plan

Elpasonaturally readers, please pay close attention: The City of El Paso is updating the Department of Parks & Recreation’s Master Plan, which is their main guide for what they do. The current leadership at Parks and Recreation is narrowly focused primarily on turf, club sports and senior citizen bingo.  These are good things BUT conservation, preservation of eco-systems, learning about nature and using natural open space are nether regions of monsters and abyss beyond their flat earth thinking.  There will be two meetings to present recommendations and receive public input on the Parks Master Plan. Please make plans to attend either meeting and provided your input for parks in El Paso.  Meetings are this Thursday, June 7th at 6 p.m. and Saturday, June 9th at 10 a.m. Both will be held at the El Paso Museum of Art, 1 Arts Festival Plaza, off Santa Fe Street downtown. (Map) Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition President Scott Cutler says, “In addition to more natural open space parks for people to participate in and learn about nature, there are a number of other new concepts for parks that the Parks and Recreation Department should consider.”  Dave Wilson of the Borderland Mountain Bike Association wrote: “I'll be attending the one on Thursday evening.  Hopefully I'll be able to present some ideas for Chuck Heinrich Park in regards to safe access, more parking, etc. for the mountain bikers and hikers trying to access the state park.” Please read some thoughts about the Master Plan at elpasonaturally.  Also read a great article from the April 2012 Parks and Recreation magazine and a great article about planting more trees. You can see the current Master Plan online.

Sample questions to ask and/or things to look for in the updated Master Plan: How much focus is there on conservation and conservation education? How well does the new plan connect people with Nature? Is bicycling, walking and hiking main considerations? What kind of connections are made between parks, neighborhoods and natural open space? What is being done to build the urban tree canopy? Do birds and other animals have a place in the plan? Are natural open space parks being given proper attention? (There are actually several of these properties in the Parks inventory and most are ignored.) How are Seniors and others connected with the outdoors and plant and animal studies? Any mention of parks programs with emphasis on the natural sciences? What about organic maintenance of our parks and recreational facilities, the use of rainwater harvesting? BTW, the Department of General Services now maintains our parks, ball fields and recreational facilities. What role have they played in shaping the new Master Plan? How will our parks program participate in the City’s new comprehensive plan, Plan El Paso? Will it help promote Smart Growth and Green Infrastructure/Low Impact Development? Will it seek to protect the environment, ecosystems and habitats?

Please make an effort to attend at least one of these meetings.

BREAKING NEWS: The City/PSB Committee charged with making final recommendations for the NW Master Plan has unanimously decided that the best way to preserve land in the NW Master Plan in perpetuity is through a partnership with the Franklin Mountains State Park. Their fallback position is to dedicate that land as a City Park. Mr. Carlos Gallinar of City Planning gave the presentation just this afternoon to the Open Space Advisory Board on behalf of a joint City-PSB Committee that has been charged to make recommendations to City Council regarding the NW Master Plan especially in the light of a successful petition drive that calls for preserving land in its natural state in perpetuity.  When asked about the “negatives” for choosing a conservation easement, Mr. Gallinar would not elaborate.

There have been recent attempts to undermine conservation easements based on falsehoodsabout Frontera Land Alliance: Frontera is broke, their fees for managing a conservation easement are exorbitant, and that there is no back-up should Frontera not be able to fulfill its duties as land trustees. All of these statements are false as an email from Frontera Treasurer Charlie Wakeem explains. (Link directly above.) 

No matter the committee has unanimously recommended a partnership with the State Park. You can see the presentation to OSAB.  I will post more at elpasonaturally and through this e-letter as I learn more.

Charlie Wakeem gave an excellent Annual Report about the Open Space Advisory Board to City Council yesterday. See the presentation.

Now that O’Rourke has ousted eight-term Representative Silvestre Reyes, what is next for the conservation of Castner Range?  This is an important question since Reyes’ office had worked closely with the Castner Conservation Conveyance Committee (“4-C’s” crafted from Frontera Land Alliance and the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition) and had engineered a $300,000 earmark that funded a critical study essential for conveyance and a work in progress, the Castner CLUP (Conceptual Land Use Plan). It will take anywhere from 32 to 64 million dollars to clean up unexploded ordnance (UXO) on the Range. However, it isn’t all just a matter of money. Castner is somewhere in the middle of a Department of Defense list of properties that not only need this kind of clean-up but are actively seeking it. O’Rourke has made it clear that he supports the clean-up and preservation of Castner Range so that the natural open space can be enjoyed by all. A political-insider has said that O’Rourke “understands the wonders of the Chihuahua Desert ecosystem.”

Finally, if you have an interest in weather and would like to help your local community as well as scientists and others interested in precipitation, then there is a fun program for you: CoCoRaHS (the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network). Learn how you can get involved by becoming part of the backyard rain gauge brigade.

Joint City-PSB Committee Says NO to Conservation Easements

Below is a presentation given by Mr. Carlos Gallinar of the City of El Paso Planning Department to the Open Space Advisory Board this afternoon giving recommendations from a joint PSB/City Committee to City Council regarding going forward on the NW Master Plan. A critical component of their recommendations is to preserve land in the NW Master Plan area in its natural state through a partnership with the Franklin Mountains State Park. I will be discussing this matter more in depth probably in a post tomorrow. For now, here is the presentation:

NW Master Plan Presentation to OSAB with Recommendations 060512

Open Space Advisory Board - 2012 Annual Report

Osab City Council Report 6-5-12

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Untruths Continue to Circulate about Conservation Easements

From a story (Saving water, preserving land) by Colin McDonald in today's San Antonio Express-News, is this strategy for ensuring clean water:

"Levels of a colorless solvent that the Environmental Protection Agency links to liver damage and possibly cancer recently spiked in a monitoring well of the Edwards Aquifer on San Antonio's North Side.

"San Antonio's only defense against this and other pollution reaching its production wells is dilution from the clean water flowing into the aquifer from the rural land west of the city.

"To ensure that there is clean water entering the aquifer, the city's Edwards Aquifer Protection Program is about to spend an additional $90 million from a voter-approved one-eighth-cent sales tax to buy conservation easements over the aquifer's recharge zone. So far, the program has spent $135 million from the tax, protecting more than 90,000 acres."

The italicized letters are my emphasis.

San Antonio has had this enlightened, progressive program going for a number of years now. When the President of El Paso's Frontera Land Alliance, Mike Gaglio, urged Mayor John Cook and EPWU/PSB CEO Ed Archuleta to consider a similar approach in El Paso, his response was no response. Gaglio tells us:

"A few years ago I sent an email to Ed Archuleta and Mayor Cook about San Antonio's Conservation Easement Purchase Program and urged them to consider something similarly progressive in El Paso.  I never received a response.   It would be nice to talk to them about this and use it to demonstrate the excellent use of CEs by public entities for the purposes of water protection.  Frontera has contacts and maintains regular dialogue with the folks that actually put this program into place."
Again, emphasis is mine.
One of the principal stumbling blocks for finally bringing the protection of the Scenic Corridor to completion is the issue of a conservation easement. Petitioners asked that land in the NW Master Plan be preserved in perpetuity as natural open space along with some other requests. Many, but not all, petitioners are at least willing to see a scenario presented by Dover Kohl and approved by City Council as a compromise plan just as long as arroyos are preserved and natural open space (including the arroyos) are preserved in perpetuity. 
From the very beginning of working out "compromise" there has been a steady misrepresentation of conservation easements by PSB (and elpasonaturally believes) City attorneys. Hired PSB gun, Risher Gilbert, made some inaccurate claims publicly especially that municipally owned lands can never be under a conservation easement. In fact there are examples of such all over the country and in Texas and in El Paso: Thunder Canyon.
Now there are a new set of blatant untruths about the conservation easement process making the rounds in an effort to assure that the final legal product employed is one by which the City and/or PSB maintains control enough over the land to take it out of preservation at a time of its own choosing. 
The lies (and let's not mince words) go like this: Frontera Land Alliance is broke. Their management fees are too high. They have no back-up plan should  they indeed go broke. In an email, Charlie Wakeem, Treasurer of Frontera, repied:
  1. Frontera "isn't" in the red!!!!  I should know.  I'm the Treasurer.  There's over $100k in the bank and no liabilities.   
  2. Frontera has no management fee for CEs.  There are costs associated with starting up the CE, such as a survey, appraisal, attorney's fees, title search, and an environmental assessment.  Those costs can be negotiated between the Grantor and Grantee.  After the conservation easement is in place, the land trust solicits donations for an endowment to manage the terms of the CE, and not management of the land.  The property owner may or may not choose to donate to the endowment.
  3. What happens to the CE if Frontera folds?  The CE runs with the land and another land trust would take over, and could be specified in the CE document, but is optional.

That's the truth. The question is whether members of City Council will hear it or be led by those who really don't want to give up control of the natural open space in question. Just look at Blackie Chesher Park - land given with the clear, unequivocal understanding that the land be used as a public park. In attempt to undermine that perpetual desire, the PSB and the City seem to have problems coming up with a proper deed and cannot even answer Rep. Eddie Holguin's questions. 

One more question: what possibly can be accomplished by spending tens of thousands of taxpayer and rate payer dollars to come up with something that a conservation easement already does? Answer: the top brass will spend your money ad infinitum to get their bloody way.

Even as River Water Returns, EPWU Urges Conservation

The El Paso Water Utilities/Public Service Board just issued this press release:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                   
June 5, 2012

Even as river water returns, EPWU urges conservation
Utility calls on customers to resume two-day-a-week voluntary watering schedule

EL PASO – El Paso Water Utilities has resumed treatment of river water at two plants that were shut down when the Rio Grande ran dry in May.
“El Pasoans worked together to answer our call for conservation and avoided mandatory water restrictions during a critical two-week period,” said EPWU President and CEO Ed Archuleta, “but we mustn’t let our guard down. Even though there’s water in the river, it’s not going to be nearly as much as we get in a typical year.”
EPWU is asking residential customers to resume voluntary outdoor watering on only two days per week and only on designated days.
    Even-numbered addresses: Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday.
•     Odd-numbered addresses: Wednesday, Friday or Sunday.
•     Before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m.
Additionally, EPWU has adjusted its goal for daily water use. The utility is seeking to keep city-wide use below 145 million gallons per day. Daily updates can be found on the front page of the El Paso Times, at and by following @EPWater on Twitter.
“While this critical period has passed, drought conditions continue across the Rio Grande watershed,” Archuleta said. “Since the drought is not expected to end anytime soon, now is the time to adopt the ‘Less is the New More’ lifestyle.
“It’s about conserving water, saving money and living more responsibly in the Chihuahuan Desert.”
El Paso Water Utilities has a complete water conservation guide at A similar “Less is the New More” guide was mailed to EPWU customers with the May bill.