Thursday, August 30, 2012

Ballpark Fits; Proceeds for EP Charities

Click on image to enlarge.

Representative Susie Byrd's office sent out this email announcement this morning regarding the ballpark:

"The City’s Engineering and Construction Management Department  has retained Populous, Inc. consulting to produce conceptual designs and a program for the stadium that establishes the dimensions and elevations of the stadium as well as its relationship to the surrounding streets and buildings. 

"They have produced some work that shows in no uncertain terms that the stadium fits the City Hall site.  The City Hall site consists of the Insights Museum and adjoining parking lot, City hall and its parking lot and surrounding area.  The survey performed on the site shows it to be almost 5 acres.  The area is bounded by Durango St., Missouri St., Santa Fe St., and the Union Pacific Trainway.  In producing the concept, the ballpark has been placed where its footprint is not over the trainway, but access to the park could be from over the trainway on the south side.  
"The conceptual plans show the ballpark fits comfortably within the bounds, giving a unique and intimate park and still providing adequate dimensions for the playing field.  There will be a 360 degree concourse, program areas for restaurants and concessions as well as play areas for children and other amenities

"In the very near future, a Request for Qualifications will be released from the Engineering and Construction Management Department soliciting Architects for the actual detailed design of the stadium.  It is one of many actions that will be taken to City Council subsequent to the approval of the team purchase by the Pacific Coast League and approval of a Lease Agreement between the Mountain Sports Group and the City Council. 

"Additionally, we are currently having a traffic study performed to establish how much of the surrounding streets could be taken into the ballpark to maximize land use without negatively affecting the circulation of the surrounding area." 

Here is the letter from City Engineer Alan Shubert:

Memo_ AAA Ballpark 08 29 12
Click on title or icon on bottom right-hand corner to enlarge.

Mountain Star Sports Group announced yesterday that all of their profits will go to local charities. That announcement was heralded yesterday by Rep. Cortney Niland's office: 

"Dear Friends and Neighbors:

"AAA baseball is a great economic opportunity for the City of El Paso.  Our City is growing so very fast and with growth comes growing pains. It is only through the dedicated efforts of a local business group to purchase a team at a premium price and the City Council's commitment to host the team in a new downtown facility that we are faced with this opportunity, dialogue and conflict.

"Mountain Star Sports Group announced today their intention to donate all Baseball profits proceeds to charitable causes in El Paso. I hope this gesture reinforces the spirit of this public/private partnership and further reiterates that the Baseball project is not about profits but geared towards improving the quality of life of all El Pasoans.

"The focus on relocating City Hall has overshadowed the excitement that should accompany this great opportunity for our community.    The reality is that the decision to relocate City Hall occurred in 2009 when the City Council decided not to make any further significant investments to improve and modernize the building.   At that time the City Council determined that City Hall should be located in the government center of downtown and that the current site held for a future redevelopment opportunity.    Some concepts previously explored included a new multi-purpose event and entertainment facility; a mixed use commercial/hotel/retail project; and conceptual charrettes as part of Plan El Paso.   However, the consistent theme has been that there is a better and more productive use for the City Hall site than the current activities.

"AAA Baseball was the first serious economic development opportunity to present itself that was worthy of moving City Hall.   The economic direct spending impact of AAA baseball is estimated to be between $15-18 M annually.  The ROI occurs between years 6 and 10.   This should not be lost because of the drama surrounding moving City Hall.   This project will change our national status to one of 30 cities hosting AAA professional baseball in this country.   It also will be a huge redevelopment boost to downtown, as has been documented and demonstrated by numerous other cities that have made similar investments in recent times.

"If we allow this opportunity to pass us by, it will be years if not decades before we are ever again seriously considered for professional sports.   Equally as important, any future private sector group wanting to undertake a major project in El Paso will think twice about our city as a serious partner.  

"There is a lot a stake besides demolishing a building.   Our reputation as a serious national player is on the table.   Every community that undertakes this type of initiative faces opposition, yet they struggle forward because the long-term vision and gains are worthy of the challenge and conflict.   I hope we will follow these same footsteps and leap forward with this bold adventure."

Cortney Niland

Friday, August 24, 2012

To the A

On Sunday, August 26, at 7 a.m., we are hiking to the top of the mountain with the big letter “A” on it. The starting point is where Memphis Avenue dead ends into the mountain at a dam and the intersection of Memphis, Kentucky and Mayfield Terrace on the southeastern side of the Franklins in the neighborhood just north of Scenic Drive and Richmond Avenue. (Map) Our plan is just to hike to the top of this red bluff granite formation on which sits the largest known graffiti in El Paso. I will be documenting the environmental damage caused by maintaining the A which, by the way, stands for my old high school, Austin. This is a moderate hike as it is all uphill. The trail to the A is good but we will be off trail and climbing just a bit to get to the top. The view is great so bring a camera. Do wear a hat and sunscreen and bring plenty of water. Again, this is an hour and a half or so out and back hike – great for your early morning stair steps.  Beginning hikers can do this. We won’t rush. This is not a race. Just a chance to climb a very familiar peak and enjoy the scenery. Bring plenty of water. Wear sunscreen and a hat.

On Sunday morning there is another event that many of you may prefer over a climb to “A” peak:  Rosario Walton is leading a backwards then forwards walk over Scenic Drive beginning at 6:30 a.m. The meeting place will be the west side at Scenic and Robinson. (Map) You read that correctly: backwards! Walking backwards is something of a rage in Japan and parts of Europe. There are physical benefits and mental as well. Here’s a testimonial video.  Get details of Rosario’s event here.

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. 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.

Next Thursday, August 30 at 7 a.m. we will return to McKelligon Canyon and hike to the Electra Crash Site. Meet at end of McKelligon Canyon Road at the start of the Ron Coleman trail. (Map is to Ranger Station, 1331 McKelligon Canyon Rd., almost at the end of the Road.) We are in the Franklin Mountain State Park so use your park pass or pay a $5 per person fee at the iron ranger at the beginning of the Ron Coleman Trail. We will do a simple hike up a very lovely arroyo to a spot just above the crash site and then return. This is a moderate hike and should take no more than one and a half hours.  Do bring plenty of water (liter and a half at least), wear a hat and sunscreen. Wear good hiking shoes or boots. There is no trail. Be careful driving in and out of the canyon at this time in the morning. Herds of Ft. Bliss soldiers walk, march, do whatever they do up and down the canyon road.

The plane has been identified as a Lockheed C-40A (aka Lockheed Electra Junior) probably from the US Army Air Corp pictured above. The plane was built from the 1930s to 1941 although there are still some crafts in use today.

Our hike from the Kenyon Joyce Trailhead yesterday turned into something very fun. Not only did we have horticultural experts John White and Brent Pearson on board, we also were joined by hiking legend, Karl Putnam. Karl played the Pied Piper and took us into the canyon where lies the “corkscrew of death” – a steep drop along the canyon floor that requires some thought and careful maneuvering. Karl carefully coached each one of us down the drop. Afterwards he led us to an out pocket high above in the canyon wall.  You can view a few photos of our adventure.

There are so many great, organized hikes now. Just check out El Paso Hiking Group, Guadalupe Mountains National Park Meetup Group,  Las Cruces & El Paso Adventurists, Celebration of Our Mountains and Peak Fitness Challenge – just to begin with.

Finally, Sergeant Major Judy recommends using two pairs of hiking footwear at a time. Rotate them after each hike so that you never use the same pair consecutively.  (I recommend that you change socks after each hike too.)


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Take Me Out to the Ballpark . . . and the Arena

Mayor Cook’s Blue Ribbon Advisory Committee on PSB Land Management met yesterday. You can read my post on what happened.  That post includes the complete presentation on land management given by Pat Adauto. It’s an education. It also includes the resolution proposed by the PSB and passed by the Committee as that resolution was finally amended. Finally, the good news: the Committee rescinded its earlier proposal which in essence stripped the PSB of its land management role especially determining inexpediency.

The ballpark issue remains controversial. This evening several City Council representatives are giving town hall meetings to discuss that issue.  City Representatives Steve Ortega, Dr. Michiel Noe, Cortney Niland, Ann Morgan Lilly, Emma Acosta and Susie Byrd will host these meetings from 7 to 8 p.m.  The purpose of the meetings was announced this way: “City Reps. want to ensure that the public has the correct information on the downtown ballpark project.”

Meeting locations are as follows: 

Get more information online as well.

Whether you approve or disapprove the new ballpark or tearing down City Hall and the Insights Museum (and these are emotionally charged issues), there seems to be a common perception that the deals went down in the dark of night without citizen input or involvement. What adds to the alarm is that these issues are coterminous with the Quality of Life Bonds and in the context of an economy still hurting which translated means that people are still hurting. One of the Quality of Life bonds is titled “MUSEUM, CULTURAL, PERFORMING ARTS, AND LIBRARY FACILITIES PROPOSITION”. Hidden in that is the downtown arena. I for one am having a hard time justifying building an arena/performing arts facility when we are building a ballpark, HOT tax notwithstanding.

Finally, and this is what has bothered me the most and keeps bothering me – there is a persistent rumor that the City Manager’s undisclosed plan is to tear down the Abraham Chavez Performing Arts Center (and, of course, Convention Center) and replace it with that “arena” per the bond. Symphony lovers have long complained about the acoustics of the Plaza theater and have indicated a preference for Chavez Center. Unfortunately, the very powerful El Paso Community Foundation insists otherwise. Talk about colonialism.

Blue Ribbon Unties Previous Proposal

Mayor Cook's Blue Ribbon Advisory Committee on PSB Land Management met yesterday in the City Council chambers, on television, with City and PSB staff and members of the conservation community present. In brief, here's what happened.

Pat Adauto gave a presentation about EPWU's Land Management Program giving history, policies, guiding principles, water and land planning and more. You will have a thorough background by reading each slide carefully either by clicking on the title of the presentation below and opening in a new tag or window or clicking on the bottom bar's far right icon. Here it is:
Land Management Program

After the presentation, Adauto and Committee member also PSB Chairman, Ed Escudero, went over a proposed revision to a joint resolution between the City and PSB about land management. It adds language about land sale goals "D", and methodology for land expediency "E". Again read carefully either by clicking on the title and opening in a new tag or window or clicking on the bottom bar's far right icon.
Land Management Program Proposed Revision

Committee members did some tweaking and then passed a motion first rescinding their previous proposal of a new committee to determine if land can be sold and second of all adopting the resolution.

Thankfully the previous proposal was abandoned. That proposal in essence would have taken land management away from the PSB and given it to a Committee of two members of City Council, two from PSB with the Mayor presiding. Most objected to it because it was designed to speed up land sales in total disregard to water conservation management.

The new resolution keeps PSB in control of land management, provides for more transparency between the PSB and City Council, and puts in writing what the criteria are for determining inexpediency.

Now here's the rub: many in the conservation community were hoping for a clear statement that one reasonable condition for declaring property inexpedient should be its intrinsic value as open space. However, land sales goals include the preservation of open spaces and critical arroyos, protecting water supply and so forth. Moreover, item 4 of methodology states as a criteria for inexpediency that "[t]here is adequate water resource supply to serve the land and development contemplated." Item 5 says that the "land will be developed in a manner that will enhance regional watershed management." I.e., not enough adequate water supply + no enhancement of the watershed - no development and certainly preservation of open space could follow.

It was explained to me that, had land preservation been a "method", then there could be no other reason for selling the land. As a goal, land preservation is always a consideration.

Still some are not yet convinced that the resolution goes far enough. There, of course is one more meeting of the blue ribbon to be held September 10 or 17 to consider financial and water use questions followed by a joint City Council and PSB meeting on September 26. There is time for more tweaking as well as perhaps looking at the role of the Open Space Advisory Board regarding land management and its relationship with the PSB and City Council. 

Perhaps one very easy fix is to re-title section D as follows: Land Sales, Preservation and Development Goals. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

On the Eve of the Televised Blue Ribbon

Briefly, here are a couple of points I'd like to make before tomorrow's blue ribbon committee meeting:

First, Dr. Rick Bonart, a PSB member, proposes a Water Use Budget. Currently, a department such as Parks and Recreation can buy all of the water it can with the budget that it has. Instead, they (and others) should be limited to a certain percentage of the water supply - that and no more. A water use budget. 

Second, I'm not sure that I made myself clear in the e-letter yesterday posted on this blog. Some interpreted what I had to say in #2 of that letter was a call to end the 10% of the stormwater fee for purchasing open space. What I was trying to say is that 100% of that 10% should go for purchasing natural open space. As it is now, City Council plays politics with it and spends it on popular shrubs and turf for park ponds for each district. Here we are trying to conserve water which can be done by preserving natural open space in perpetuity but instead we are buying more turf to water! We need to stop that policy now and, in fact, reverse it. Make Parks and Recreation (which already has a bloated budget via the Quality of Life bond) pay it back. Let OSAB and PSB work directly together.

Please read Dr. Bonart's response to Dr. Goodell's letter. It's a comment that he made about that letter. I call your attention to these words:

". . . the Far West Texas 50-year water plan identifies 141k acre feet of water as our sustainable supply (combined from all sources). Last year we used 114k acre feet. In order to achieve the 141k a lot of expensive infrastructure to recycle and distribute will be required.

"Regardless, if the service area population increases at 5%/year as projected, the difference of 27k acre feet will be consumed in 5 to 6 years."

Sustainable supply is what it is all about. Thus, the need for a Water Use Budget and the need to use 100% of the 10% of the stormwater fee to purchase natural open space not more grass to water!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Please Attend Wednesday's Blue Ribbon Meeting

The next meeting of Blue Ribbon Advisory Committee on Public Service Board (PSB) Land Management will be held on Wednesday, August 22nd at 8:00 a.m. in the City Council Chambers. The meeting will be open and televised.  El Paso’s water future is the key issue. Do we want the PSB to continue to manage land deliberately as part of an overall water conservation effort or do we want to sell land quickly for development and sprawl?  Judy Ackerman has stated it best: “Please invite others to attend and encourage the termination of the “Blue Ribbon” committee.  The reason that the PSB exists is to remove politics from sales of city owned land.  The purpose of the “Blue-Ribbon” committee is to put politics back in land sales.”

Please visit the elpasonaturally post Update on Sad Blue Committee for more background.  EPWU Public Information Specialist, Martin Bartlett, has provided some strong bullet points for keeping PSB doing what it has been doing since 1952.  See the post, Why the PSB Should Continue to Manage City Land.

Elpasonaturally continues to call for making the preservation of land as natural open space in perpetuity as one of the reasons why land should be declared inexpedient by the PSB and set aside rather than put on the market. (A reasonable condition for declaring property inexpedient is its intrinsic value as open space.)  Here are a few more action items for City Council to take rather than forming a committee to hurry-up land sales:

1.       The City is using too much water for turf parks. ( 20% of this year’s river water!)  We need to limit turf parks by setting a limit on the municipal water supply available for turf parks to a max of 10% of the project river water per year.  Conservation of water requires a transition to natural open space and passive recreation.

2.       The City Council needs to get out of the relationship between the Open Space Advisory Board (OSAB) and PSB regarding spending the 10% of your stormwater fee for open space.  This is really a PSB budget item and City Council needs to stop draining those funds and PSB needs to stand up to Council.  

3.       An OSAB member needs to be allowed to participate in land negotiations conducted by the PSB on open space land purchases.

4.       And again, dissolve the Blue Ribbon Committee and start putting more time and effort into strategic planning (both PSB and the City working together) about our water future in light of global warming, water shortage and drought.

Low flow shower heads and house by house rainwater harvesting make sense and do make a difference locally – but they are just drops in the bucket compared to the overall water issues currently facing us. Marshall Carter-Tripp wrote to say:

“I attended the Rain Harvesting session today. [TecH20 workshop this past Saturday.]  Reasonably informative.   But I kept thinking that this is in the category of the deck chairs on the Titanic.  If we save and use some rainwater, fine, we can reduce our reliance on city water.   We personally don't have the storage capacity to live off the grid as it were.   And of course, as rainfall totals drop, where are we going?  If every new house in EP had to have harvesting capacity installed, even if we retrofitted every house in EP, would that help?  At 4500 gallons a year total from a roof, seems unlikely to keep the problem under control, especially if we continue the headlong expansion of the city. Low-flow toilets, efficient washers, Yada Yada.   Helpful but . . .

“That big gorilla over there in the corner is our totally wasteful and totally unsustainable agriculture, which cannot be fed by rainwater harvesting.  (Nor can all those new swimming pools going in around the City.) What we are doing now is promoting minor actions that make a small number of people feel that something important is being done while we ignore that gorilla and his twin, "how many people can live in the Paso del Norte region?  Have we already reached that number?  What happens in 2042?”

It is time to look more critically at our choices of water hungry crops, irrigation canals subject to evaporation, and a water district out of our control – and more out of our control since the number of people who can vote in Water Improvement District #1 was cut dramatically through legislation by State Senator José Rodriguez. WID Manager, Jesus “Chuy” Reyes, won’t answer questions about voting rights denied.

There are those who are more optimistic about El Paso’s water future. Dr. Phil Goodell, THE Dean of Geology and a hero of mine, believes El Paso with its desalinization plant and prospects for importing water will have water for “hundreds” of years even if that water is much more expensive. I suspect that the truth lies somewhere between the most pessimistic assumptions and centuries of time. Do read, Dr. Goodell’s email to me posted here. Whatever the case, for sure his optimism is yet another reason to let PSB continue to manage land and water conservation. Manage with more transparency for sure. Manage as part of a comprehensive El Paso strategy for its water future, definitely. And manage with more environmental/conservation experts on the Board and less tied to development and industry and less whose institutions benefit from PSB/EPWU largesse.

Finally, if you don’t believe that global warming, long-term drought and water shortage are issues, just turn on the news. A reader just pointed out that last winter the north rim of the Grand Canyon received eight inches of snow when the average is 142 inches! Here’s a quick read about drought impact including links to more information. Cut to the chase? Just go to the Drought Mitigation Center.

Geologist Disputes El Paso Water Shortage Claims

Dr. Phil Goodell is a giant and a legend. He's one of my heroes. He's an El Paso treasure. Nineteen years ago he began Celebration of Our Mountains because he wanted to take lay people on the same kinds of geology field trips that he took his students.  Yesterday he took me to different sites in El Paso that had been contaminated  by nasty things such as benzene, diesel fuel, leaded gasoline and more. He's thinking about putting together an "environmental" tour for this year's Celebration of Our Mountains. He recently emailed me because he disagreed with the prospect that El Paso was running out of water. He is far more optimistic than many and points to the desalinization plant as the main reason for his optimism. 

Here is what he wrote:

"I was born and raised in El Paso and graduated from El Paso High in 1960.  Drought and water scarcity were constant issues.  Water rationing was periodic; and when our student club wanted to raise funds by a ‘car washing event’,  we had to get special permission.

"I returned to EP in 1975 as a geologist/geochemist, and have taught at UTEP ever since.  I taught 7 years simultaneously in Juarez at UACJ.  My interests and professional activities have naturally expanded to include many environmental issues in El Paso/Ciudad Juarez, and students have received their degrees studying relevant topics and we have published scientific articles on some topics.  This has drawn me into regulatory and scientific data about the area.   The world forgets that the ‘low level nuclear waste environmental saga’ which took place here lasted over a decade.  Prof Dave Lemone, County Judge Luther Jones, and others participated in Phase 1 at Fort Hancock.

"Bill Addington and many others (including myself) participated in Phase 2 at Sierra Blanca, and we won. (Some from our group slept on the top of the Cordova Bridge and fasted for 30 days).  And then came ASARCO.  Whew!!  A history better remembered but we won that too.

"I don’t get involved in environmental issues as much, but some of the statements in your letter disturbed me, about water in El Paso.  When I was a kid, El Paso always only had 20 years supply left.  That was 1960.  When I returned to El Paso in 1975, El Paso had a 20 years supply of water left.   In the 1980s the PSB spent $10M, mainly in legal fees, challenging 'The Law of the West' that groundwater cannot be transported across state lines.  Through the 1990s El Paso always had a 20 year water supply left.  Look at the reports.  And then things begin to change.  The PSB went out and purchased ranches with water rights north and south of Van Horn, Texas, with the idea of future pipelines.  And then the 2000s came along, and, a near miracle:  the desal plant (desalinization).  The military would not have expanded Ft. Bliss is that had not happened.  Largest inland such plant in the world.    An incredible effect on El Paso’s resources.  You now read 30 years and 50 years for the future  water supply.  Actually, it is 100s of years. (Just don’t tell people, because they want to think otherwise.)  So, I do not believe El Paso is running out of water, and I think this is a false fear.  Import water?  PSB owns the ranches; you cannot import water from New Mexico or Mexico.  Under the El Paso airport, there is 9,000 feet (vertical) of salty water, and that extends to the NM state line.  So you calculate how many cubic miles of water that is that we have to send through a desal plant.  That’s why I say we have 100s of years supply.  However, we still must conserve water."

When Dr. Goodell speaks, I listen. We discussed this "difference" of ours briefly yesterday just before we said "goodbye". I'm not sure that we disagree on the quantity of the water but on the quality and maybe on the rate of recharge. With global warming and drought, the recharge of the Mesilla Bolson by the river will certainly decline. The interplay between desal and the Hueco Bolson is unclear. Salt contamination of wells near the airport occurred due to over-pumping the bolson thus the the desal wells are located to intercept brackish water from potable. As a friend of mine who eats, sleeps and drinks this stuff says: "If you can over-pump the bolson and draw salt, then you can over-pump the salt and draw potable."

All of this is as clear as mud to me. I gathered that Dr. Goodell doesn't dispute the quality of water but clearly he believes that the desal plant will make all of the water in the Hueco Bolson available to us for hundreds of years and not 20, 30 or 50. That and importation give him hope. I'm not confident that we will because of politics import water. He and I do agree that  desalinating the water and importing water will ultimately mean more expensive water. We both agree that "we still must conserve water."

Friday, August 17, 2012

Why the PSB Should Continue to Manage City Land

This coming Wednesday at 8 a.m. in the City Council chambers the Blue Ribbon Committee looking at PSB land management will once again meet - this time in full view of the public and televised. Bulldozing Ted "TxDOT" Houghton will not be able to complain about the meeting being open rather than closed. 

The PSB exists to remove politics from sales of city owned land. It would seem that the Blue Ribbon Committee so far wants to put politics back into land sales.

In a response to an email from activist, Judy Ackerman, Martin Bartlett, Public Information Specialist for the EPWU, sent the following reasons for keeping the status quo - i.e., letting the PSB manage land and determine when the land will be sold:

0816 Ackerman Request

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Land of Lost Borders

Land of Lost Borders may be the first film with sound documentary on the Chihuahuan Desert. It was produced by Harry L Gordon for the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute and filmed largely in Big Bend National Park, Texas. The film is part 1 of a three part trilogy. While the film quality is not that great compared to the films being made today, none the less the production is a work of art. Narrated by Burgess Meredith, Land of Lost Borders is a deeply personal, almost spiritual journey through the Chihuahuan Desert in the company of an unseen wise old man.

I am working with the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute (CDRI) in helping to preserve Harry's work by uploading this and other films on YouTube. Soon CDRI will have its own channel.

I met Harry at an evening program in the Chisos Basin at the campground amphitheater when I was a ranger naturalist working for the National Park Service in Big Bend National Park sometime during the late 1970s. Harry told me about the project and we spent hours over the years visiting about good locations to film different animals and sequences.  On a number of occasions I helped him film some of the scenes he needed to complete the project.

Completed in 1982 Land of Lost Borders won a CINE GOLDEN EAGLE FILM & VIDEO COMPETITION award.

Land of Lost Borders, 26 minutes
PRODUCTION: Lehr Picture Company -
Alpine, TX
Desert Research Institute - Alpine, TX
Producer: Harry L. Gordon
Director: Harry L. Gordon
Writer: Marshall Riggan
Editor: Harry L. Gordon
Camera: Harry L. Gordon
Music: Bob Farrar
Sound: Harry L. Gordon

Rick LoBello
Education Curator
El Paso, Texas  79905

Monday, August 13, 2012

Chuy Reyes Is Silent about Voting Rights Denial on Water

"A megadrought would present a major risk to water resources in the American West, which are distributed through a complex series of local, state and regional water-sharing agreements and laws. Virtually every drop of water flowing in the American West is legally claimed, sometimes by several users and the demand is expected to increase as population grows."

Senator José Rodriguez' egregious mistake in working with El Paso County Water Improvement District's Chuy Reyes to deny voting rights to citizen on water issues will cost us - probably for a generation or more.

Read NY Times opinion piece, Hundred-Year Forecast: Drought, by scientists, Christopher R. Schwalm, Christopher A. Williams and Kevin Schaefer.

In May I asked the Water Improvement District for copies of the following records:

  1. 2008 List of Eligible Voters: provide name, address, owner number of each eligible voter at EPWID in 2008;
  2. 2012 List of Eligible Voters: provide name, address, owner number of each eligible voter at EPWID as of April 2012.
  3. 2012 Registered Voters: provide name, address, voter number and owner number of registered voters at EPWID as of May 1, 2012;
  4. Letters, Instructions, Certificates to Eligible, Registered Voters: please provide a copy of all letters, instructions, certificates or other information that EPWID has mailed to eligible or registered voters in 2012.
  5. Lobbyists, Attorneys Fees: please send a copy of all lobbyists and attorney fees statements together with amounts paid by EPWID to lobbyists or attorneys from January 2010 to present.
Without commenting now on items 4 and 5, the two lists of eligible voters revealed that one list (significantly smaller than the other) revealed the qualified voters for the May 12, 2012 election while the other list includes voters disqualified by the Rodriguez/Chuy Reyes effort.

Instructions for voting also made voting very difficult. With looming megadrought, who controls the water from the river? Not El Pasoans but a select few elite, privileged voters.

Subsequent questions by email to Chuy Reyes (July 8 and August 2) have gone unanswered although Mr. Reyes acknowledged by email receiving the questions in an email dated July 8, 2012.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Editorial: TEA must dissect cheating scandal

A must read especially noting the dereliction of the TEA in Austin: "There's another disgrace in this conspiracty: No details hav emerged through the initiative of the Texas Education Agency."

Editorial: TEA must dissect cheating scandal

Update on Sad Blue Ribbon Committee

There has been a change of venue for the Blue Ribbon Advisory Committee on Public Service Board (PSB) Land Management. The next meeting will be held on Wednesday, August 22nd at 8:00 a.m. in the City Council Chambers. The meeting will be open and televised. Now that more and more thoughtful El Pasoans are learning that this committee is making recommendations that will compromise El Paso’s water future, there is a greater urgency to open their deliberations to the public. In fact, many are now calling for the dissolution of this committee. Elpasonaturally hopes that will mean that the City will put more time and effort into strategic planning about our water future in light of global warming, water shortage and drought.

In  an email which I sent earlier today to Ed Archuleta, President and CEO of PSB/EPWU and Ed Escudero, Chairman of the PSB, I made a few suggestions:

·         Although the petition for preserving the scenic corridor has led to several benefits already, one negative result was the creation of the Blue Ribbon Committee because of the animosity over the intense struggle with the PSB to preserve any of that land. It’s a negative now because the Committee has been co-opted by a group whose objectives are totally opposite of land and water conservation. Instead they are motivated by the instant gratification of profit on the one hand, and the City’s urgent need for more revenue on the other.

·         Marketability should not be the only reason for declaring land inexpedient for the utility’s uses. Preserving land in its natural open state in perpetuity is and should be a very valid reason as part of a water conservation strategy. Besides taking land out of the system for development will only increase the value of other, scarcer land.

·         A closer working relationship between the PSB and the Open Space Advisory Board would be to the advantage of all El Pasoans. The desire to take politics out of water management led to the creation of the PSB. Yet, preserving open space per the master plan remains difficult because of politics. Rather than purchasing more natural open space or working on valuable projects such as Feather Lake, we find ourselves buying water thirsty sod and shrubs for a host of park ponds with more such “parks” being contemplated – even announced by City Engineer Alan Shubert at a recent meeting of City Council.

·         Seats on the PSB must include more conservationists and environmentalists.
Both Mr. Archuleta and Mr. Escudero met yesterday with Senator José Rodriguez’s Environmental Committee chaired by Dr. Richard Teschner. Several  points were made:

·         Although the PSB does determine whether land is inexpedient, the final decision of what to do with the land belongs to City Council.

·         PSB wants to know what they can do better or what problems there may be so that they can fix them.

·         PSB keeps the city staff informed and the Mayor sits on the PSB.  PSB briefs each new City Council member one on one.  PSB is willing to brief City Council verbally or in writing as often as needed.

·         The first Blue Ribbon Committee meeting didn’t even follow the agenda. Discussion began about taking decision-making about inexpediency away from the PSB.

·         The PSB is and has been the best place to manage land and water together apart from politics.

·         The PSB is not a broken system. [What may be more broken is the City’s ability to deal with budget, debt and revenue.]

·         PSB members carefully and thoroughly debate issues with water conservation first in mind.

·         The PSB prevents leap frog development.

·         PSB has been a leader in determining that water hungry industries either do not come to El Paso or have conservation plans if they do. [Remember the issue of water foot prints. Many industries bring good jobs without having heavy water needs.]

·         The PSB welcomes a better organized environmental community because that means being able to work more effectively with them.

Judy Ackerman, a member of the Senator’s committee, took some notes and you can read her summary as well.

It may be good to let the City Planning Department master plan – but taking the management of land and water away from the PSB and removing the key decision about determination of inexpediency would be disastrous for the short and long-term sustainability of El Paso, Texas.

Two things: in spite of the “battle” over the corridor and inanities of declaring a vacant lot as natural open space, conservationists and the PSB should be natural allies. Setting aside land in perpetuity as a reason for determining inexpediency and working more closely with open space advocates can only foster this better relationship. Throwing the baby out with the bath water will only serve the interests of those who prefer the bulldozer to water in your pipes.

Just know that the sustainability of our water supply is not just a local issue and will require much more than the important steps each and all of us take for water conservation in El Paso. It’s a regional/national/global issue. Whether it is the overuse of water in the Ogallala Aquifer or the demands on the Colorado River Basin, the scarcity, control and management of water will be the single most important issue of the 21st Century. What has been going on in Western U.S. water policy impacts us here in El Paso.  We are just now beginning to see the consequences of bad water policies by generations of decision makers. Let’s make good ones in El Paso, Texas. Selling land for a quickie profit rather than carefully and conservatively managing our land and water is a prescription for disaster.

Finally, please do go to and bookmark Kids First/Reform EPISD and sign the petition.  Like them on Facebook.

Summary of Meeting with Rodriguez Environmental Committee

I will say more about yesterday's meeting of Senator Rodriguez's Environmental Committee with Ed Archuleta and Ed Escudero in an e-letter to go out in just a bit. In the meantime, here are some notes taken by Judy Ackerman, a member of that Committee. They have not been checked for accuracy and Judy admits that they may reflect her biases. Nevertheless, it seems that she covers much of what was said. I have not corrected typos:

"Ed Escudero (EE) started with an overview of what the PSB does for the best interest of El Pasoans managing water and land.  EE explained the complicated bond process.  He praised PSB staff, who are experts with extensive experience in water, management and finance issue.   Audits come back with no errors.  PSB members have studied issues for years.  Board members are diverse, dedicated, work hard and do their homework.   They do not always agree, but respect each other and have learned to work together.  The Blue Ribbon committee cannot gain needrd knowledge in a short time.  City Council suggested that BSP look to Albuquerque and San Antonio for best practices, but at the same time those cities were looking to El Paso as the leader in these issues.    EE did not realize that PSB needs to sing its own praises to make City Council aware of El Paso’s supremacy in water management.

"Ed Archuleta (EA) praised Environmental groups getting their act together.  When EA came to EPWU, it was easy to chew up the land without objection.  EA praised Susie Azar for leading on water conservation and impact fees and praised former Mayor Chew for his comments on not building too fast – Mayor Chew had no ulterior motive for his comments.

"PSB keeps the city staff informed and the Mayor sits on the BPS.  PSB briefs each new City Council member one on one.  PSB is willing to brief City Council verbally or in writing as often as needed.

"In 2012 there was an MOU between the City and PSB on the process of selling City land.  Plots less than 25 acres follow a process.  Lots of more than 25 acres must follow the City’s Master Plan and comply with all city codes, plans and policies.

"We need a more clear definition of when land is “inexpedient”.  The Blue Ribbon committee appears to want to take the decision process of when to sell land away from the PSB so that the city can capture some profit from the sale.  This violates the whole concept of the creation of the PSB – removing politics from land sales.  If the City takes money for land sales away from the PSB, then the price of water will go up – a backdoor or hidden tax.

"By law, the PSB can only own 3,000 acres in the lower valley and they are at that limit.  That is land with irrigation water rights.

"PSB spends about $50 mil / yr.

"Westway Colonia was a success.

"Dr. Bill Hutchison, former EPWU Water Resources Manager, will speak at the PSB meeting in Sep.  He is the expert and might speak at other venues.

"PSB is currently using a new USGS model that took five years to develop.  

"Impact fees are a step in the right direction, but not sufficient.  The City still subsidizes development at city taxpayer’s expense.   By TX law, water rights cannot be included in the impact fees.

"PSB is currently paying $35 / acre foot for brackish water from Bliss and $280 / acre foot for river water (paid to the irrigation district).  PSB could take more water from the river.  Desalination is expensive.  We can get more water, but it will cost more.

"Wildwood Canyon was a success.

"PSB had success in reducing the number of small independent water utilities in the area.

"PSB works with REDCo on businesses that want to more to El Paso.  They need to NOT waste water.  The jean factories used too much water.

"City Council members who say, “Just drill more wells,” clearly are ignorant of water issues and should NOT be in charge of making any decisions on land or water.

"Don’t rush to sell land if you want to get the most value from it.  The land value can go up dramatically based on development of private land.

"Blue Ribbon committee should go away.  In the meantime, the public should attend Blue Ribbon committee meetings.

"Richard T.  – There are many Environmental organizations.  How can we help?

"Judy Ackerman – Praised for EA and PSB on their visionary work on water conservation leading to national and worldwide recognition by educating the public.  Can the PSB do similar education on the link between land, water, and population issues?  Answer:  Yes.  Christina Montoya is working on education issues now.  How can local Environmental Organizations help?  Answer:  Get the word out with newsletters, etc. 

"Rick Bonart – focus on NE and NW master plans.

"EA –  We need to think regionally El Paso County, Doña Anna Co NM, 6 counties in W. TX.  We need to work on not just Smart Growth, but Smart Buildings that are water and energy efficient.  We need revised laws on solar power.  The Desalination plant wants to use solar energy but is currently prohibited. 

"Ceci suggested the PSB should bring their legislative issues to Senator Rodriguez. 

"Sherry Bonart pointed out that putting grass in park ponds is a waste of water – stop it.  PSB members only get paid $20 / month."

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Environmental Committee Invites Archuleta

I previously reported that PSB Chairman, Ed Escudero, will be meeting tomorrow (Thursday, August 9) with Senator José Rodriguez's Environmental Committee. That meeting will take place at 2 p.m. at 100 N. Ochoa. Members of the Committee voted unanimously to invite PSB/EPWU CEO Ed Archuleta as well. The vote was held after Mr. Escudero urged the Committee to include Mr. Archuleta. The Environmental Committee wishes to be updated about the Mayor's Blue Ribbon Committee and attempts to speed-up the process of selling City land managed by the PSB for development. (See post.)

Environmental Committee Chairman Richard Teschner has said that, although he will not go along with the Committee recommending any particular land management plan, he will allow the forum. According to Teschner, ". . . while as chair of the committee I will not go along with our supporting or opposing a particular committee-structure plan, I nonetheless see no harm in our providing a private forum for discussing these vital, water-related concerns."

Unfortunately, he seems to be limiting the forum to the membership of the Committee while attempting not to publicize the event to the general public even though he admits his committee is the only "envirocentric" committee currently meeting to discuss this topic.

This meeting is a good opportunity to encourage the PSB/EPWU to declare land as "inexpedient" to water/stormwater/sewage needs in order to preserve that land in perpetuity as natural open space as part of a water management strategy in light of drought, global warming and water shortage. Removing more acreage from development will only make the market value of developable land more expensive and, thus, more profitable for the water utility and City.

Meetings such as the Senator's Enviromental Community are by law open to the public.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Learn about Water and Rule of Capture in Texas

Texas is the only State in the West where rule of capture determines ownership of water. Groundwater is precious and scarce and drought and more drought is causing a shortage. This sad law explains why the El Paso Water Improvement District wells next to the Rio Bosque Wetland Park is swigging the water in the park and dramatically dropping the water table. It explains why there is a need for radical reform of our water laws regarding control and conservation of water. As we discuss attempts by some in El Paso to sell land more quickly for development, knowing more about water laws and hydrology is a must. Here's important reading for your education:

Texas Co-op Power Magazine - Texas Stories: It’s All the Same Water - An Online Community for Members of Texas Electric Cooperatives

Return to the Bedrock Mortars

Check out  El Paso Hiking Group for a number of great upcoming hikes including three this weekend. Also go to Guadalupe Mountains National Park Meetup Group.  Remember also the Las Cruces & El Paso Adventurists.

One great place to find trail maps is at the Borderland Mountain Bike Association site. Many of the trails that we enjoy hiking were “constructed” by the BMBA. Also go to for great maps. While at GeoBetty, check out the Peak Fitness Challenge and sign up. Several of the hikes at FMSP are official peak challenge hikes. Check out the August schedule.

Speaking of BMBA trails, on Thursday, August 9, at 7 p.m. sharp we will do the Bedrock Mortars Hike. This hike includes following a lovely, narrow arroyo farther into the Franklin Mountain State Park and looping back to where we started. A bedrock mortar is a circular depression in rock used by ancient people to grind grain or other food products. The number of such mortars at this location suggests that the grinding was a communal activity. Very easy, scenic and fun. Bring at least a liter of water. Remember sunscreen and a hat.  Meet in the parking lot on the south end of Chuck Heinrich Park at the end of Jon Cunningham just off MLK in NE El Paso.  Plan to be there before 7 a.m. We will leave promptly and not wait for anyone after 7.

Since we will be in the Franklin Mountains State Park there is a $5 per person fee collected at the Iron Ranger at the trail head. The fee goes to the maintenance and program of the park and is well worth it. You can purchase a Texas State Parks Pass but it requires a visit to the FMSP headquarters in McKelligon Canyon. The TPWD has yet to learn that there is such a thing as purchasing conveniently online and probably could collect much, much more if they became just a tad more technologically savvy.

Join the El Paso Trans-Pecos Audubon Society tomorrow,  Saturday, August 4, 2012 for a trip to the Reservoirs Down the Valley.  You will travel down I10 east to visit the Reservoirs of McNary, Ft. Hancock and Tornillo.  Possible sightings will be Western & Clark's Grebes, Eared Grebes, pelicans, gulls, egrets, sandpipers, cormorants, herons and ducks of many species.  Meet at 6:30 a.m. at the parking lot at Burlington Coat Factory, at 1144 N. Yarbrough.  Exit at Yarbrough.  At the light, turn left under I10.  Burlington is on the right.  Bring a lunch, water and sun block.  Open to the public.  For more information contact Mark at 637-3521.

Finally, if you like this e-letter, please forward to all your friends. The El Paso Hiker tries to present in one place what you can get only by visiting multiple sites or receiving multiple emails. If you aren’t  a subscriber, please reply to this email and ask to be added to the list. Please also visit elpasonaturally and join that email list too.


Jim H. Tolbert
Publisher, Elpasonaturally and the El Paso Hiker
Leading the way for sustainable living in the El Paso Southwest

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The El Paso Hiker E-Letter Volume 2, No. 22, August 3, 2012

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Sustaining a City: Water and Education

Water and human minds are too precious to waste – especially here in El Paso. Here are the scoops:

Center stage now on the conservation front is the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Committee on PSB Land Management. Some facts:

·         Tens of thousands of acres of City of El Paso land is managed by the Public Service Board.

·         It is the PSB that determines when land is “inexpedient” to the water utility and can be sold on the market for development, quarrying or other uses.

·         Land has been deemed inexpedient because it is not needed for utility infrastructure and conveyance, stormwater management,  water harvesting or conservation or the like and there is a market for the land – i.e., a developer or business wants the land.

·         Historically the PSB has been slow to declare land inexpedient and put it on the market.  Their additional  concern has been managing the scarcity of water.

Now comes a number of El Pasoans with City Council Rep. Cortney Niland leading the charge saying that land should be sold more quickly for development in order to spur economic growth. Sounds good – just one problem. El Paso is running out of water. Estimates show that we are only 30 years away from having to import water which will be quite expensive and it is not guaranteed that we will even be able to import when the time comes. More and more local communities are beginning to prevent water from leaving their locale because they face the same critical water shortages.

At the last Blue Ribbon Committee meeting, Niland (not a member but in attendance) argued that the 30 year estimate for needing to import water is a scare tactic. She further suggested that all we need to do is drill more wells. Some geological insight here will be helpful. El Paso draws water not just from the Rio Grande in season but from two underwater “lakes” – the Hueco and the Mesilla Bolsons. Those lakes are like bowls filled with water. Put a few straws in the bowl and start sucking and the water table begins to drop. Put a bunch more straws in the bowl, and you run out of water faster.  But, some argue, the bolsons are recharged with rain water and water from other sources seeping into the ground. Trouble is – the recharge is now negative. Why? This summer gives all of us good empirical evidence: prolonged drought and global warming which will lead to more prolonged drought.

So, shouldn’t there be another reason to declare land inexpedient and not just to sell it for development or industrial uses? More and more – much more – City land should be set aside as preserved natural open space in perpetuity. Why? Because we just don’t have the water and the climate is heating up meaning we aren’t going to be getting the water to recharge the bolsons and swell the Rio Grande. Besides, putting more land under conservation easements as natural open space will only make land to be sold for development more valuable because of supply and demand. As El Pasoans we stand to make more money on our land.

The Blue Ribbon Committee voted at their last meeting to recommend to City Council a new committee to determine whether land is inexpedient. This committee would be composed of the Mayor as Chair, two City Council representatives and two PSB representatives including the PSB Chair. This committee would do in essence what the PSB now does but faster – sell land for development . . . spur economic development at least until El Paso runs out of water and we repeat the lesson of the Mayans and the Anasazis of Chaco Canyon. This isn’t far-fetched and it isn’t a scare tactic.

One agrees that there needs to be better communication between the City and the PSB. The Blue Ribbon Committee also voted to suggest that the City’s CFO and Deputy City Manager in PSB financial meetings which will foster better communication (except that DCM Bill Studer who sits on the Blue Ribbon Committee didn’t seem at all thrilled with the additional work load of PSB meetings as well). Certainly we want better communication but let’s not be quick to change a relationship that has worked very well even if the process has been more judicious and conservative which is really what is in the best interest of El Paso.  Unfortunately, the PSB has employed the same reasoning as Niland and her backers would – sell land for its marketability and profit to the City and not as a key policy to conserve water by conserving land in perpetuity. Changing that policy (that zeitgeist really) is what needs to happen not usurping land management from the PSB.

So – two suggestions:

1.       Make setting land aside in its natural state forever the first reason for declaring City land managed by the PSB inexpedient. Marketing should be only the second reason.

2.       Don’t waste time on Blue Ribbon Committees based on economic development (and more revenue for the City – their real intent as demonstrated by a Ted Houghton motion).  Form now a Task Force on long range City planning as the City faces climate change, prolonged drought and increasing water shortages. Those issues should be the critical concerns and not speeding up land sales for the instant gratification of a few.

Upcoming elpasonaturally e-letters will discuss these issues further. The primary issues – the issues that drive all others – is the growing shortage of water and the control of that water. For now, read a letter to Rep. Niland from one of El Paso’s most respected jurists, Justice David Chew, who also served on City Council. Also watch Blue Gold – World Water Wars. See free water conservation movies on August 3 (tomorrow) and August 17 in McKelligon Canyon at 8 p.m. sponsored by the FMSP. (The ads say $1 – but the movies will be free.) Attend a seminar on rainfall capture at TecH20 on August 18 beginning at 10:30 a.m. And go see the film Chaco on Sunday, August 19th, at 2 p.m. at the El Paso Museum of Archaeology.

The sustainability of this home that we call “El Paso” drastically depends on water. It also depends on an educated citizenry. Minds must not be wasted and the El Paso Independent School District needs reform now. The dereliction of each and every member of the Board of Directors of EPISD has been well chronicled in the El Paso Times recently. Nixonian attempts to hide, conduct audits in the dark, admissions of ignorance and ever-shifting stories and excuses are the identifying qualities of the current Board of Directors.

You don’t need to have a child or grandchild in the school system. As citizens we all depend on having a well-educated citizenry for the good of our “commonwealth” and community together. More of our tax money goes to the district which manages a budget much larger than the City, County and Airport combined.

Please go to and bookmark Kids First/Reform EPISD and sign the petition.  Like them on Facebook. If you can, please attend Senator Shapleigh’s second Town Hall Meeting this evening at 5:30 p.m. at UTEP’s Union Cinema located in the Union Building.  (#24 on campus map; 109 on Union Complex map)

Finally, probably one of the best restaurants from the Pecos to the Pacific is Ardovino’s Desert Crossing nestled beneath the west side of Mount Cristo Rey in Sunland Park, NM. (Map) Their brunch menu is the envy of the region. All this month (August) a portion of their proceeds from Sunday brunch (10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.) will go to the Southwest Environmental Center. Be sure you read SWEC’s Summer 2012 newsletter, the Mesquite Grill.

Finally finally, there are some must see videos – blasts from the past, old videos that Rick LoBello of the El Paso Zoo is preserving. See In Memory of the Last Wild Mexican Wolf shot on 8MM in the late 1970s and what may be the first film with sound documentary of the Chihuahuan Desert – the 1982 Land of Lost Borders narrated by Burgess Meredith. Although many of you may know Meredith as Mickey in the Rocky movies, those of you who are older will recall that he was the Penguin on television’s Batman.