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.

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