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.