Monday, December 31, 2012

Top Green Cities

Our Green Cities along with Corporate Knights has issued its list of the greenest cities in the United States.  The good news for El Paso is that it has made great strides and is one of the cities that has “exhibited the most changes”. Still El Paso is ranked 33rd in a list of 54 major cities.  Several southwestern cities ranked above El Paso – Denver (4), Albuquerque (5), Phoenix (8) and Tucson, tied with Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth (17). The methodology (criteria) for determining the rankings includes smart growth activities; land-use planning, programs, policies and zoning; transportation planning programs and policies; pollution prevention, reduction and remediation, efficiency and sustainability projects and administration. We are on the right track – but there is more to do. Grow but grow smart.

El Pasoans deserve the pats on the back for conserving water in 2011. But what more is being done to conserve water, recycle water, utilize rainwater? Whenever I discuss rain and water conservation, I get email reminding me of the programs by the City of Tucson which has a number of web pages devoted to rainwater harvesting. Their online publications are instructive. A leading El Paso LEED designer especially recommends the Water Harvesting Guidance Manual.

It’s often thought that a “green” house is quite expensive. However, read about this Washington D.C. empower house that produces all of its own energy and harvests rainwater too.

By an overwhelming 70% El Pasoans said “yes” to investing in projects that will make our great city greater. Among the projects to be financed is the Interactive Digital Wall at the El Paso Museum of History. Exactly what is a digital wall? There’s one in Copenhagen and here is the description.  Also watch this short video.  Pretty cool technology indeed. The question some ask is: Will our wall display El Paso history and culture or be a mere PR piece such as this video recently presented by the Museum of History?  The video is good PR (a savvy friend of mine in New York City liked it), but is short in substance when it comes to El Paso, its neighborhoods, history and culture. It makes me wonder what will be displayed on the Digital Wall. What can be displayed is prehistory, geological history, history of the indigenous, the Spaniards, the Mexicans, the Gringos, railroads, cattle, gunfighters and outlaws – all tied into events, tours, reenactments and more. Like ecotourism, heritage tourism can be a multi-million (some say billion) dollar industry for El Paso. Relish and take pride in what has made us El Paso and El Pasoans. That is why, for example, it was good to see that the City decided to refurbish our old street cars rather than buying replicas. Will the City also refurbish the old trolley barn or a build a new one for $4 million? Will a trolley system provide access for tourists to historical treasures such as the Magoffin Home, a Texas State Historic Site? By the way, streetcars have helped to revitalize city transit in Portland, Oregon, number one on the Greenest Cities list.  Elpasonaturally will be talking more about heritage tourism in 2013.

Finally, get away from electronics (the computer, your cell phone, iPad and so forth) and go backpacking or just take a hike. A recent study indicates that nature nurtures creativity. Of course, creativity can lead to better productivity and efficiency. Hmmm . . . keeping that open space natural may just mean more economic wealth – a tangible metric many can get their arms around and embrace.

Friday, December 28, 2012

First Day Hikes

"First Day Hike" on the Lower Sunset Trail

Franklin Mountains State Park Interpreter and Ranger, Adrianna Weickhardt, relayed this bit of news:  “America's State Parks announced that all 50 state park systems will sponsor guided First Day Hike Programs on New Year’s Day 2013. America’s State Parks First Day Hikes offer individuals and families an opportunity to begin the New Year rejuvenating and connecting with the outdoors by taking a healthy hike on January 1, 2013 at a state park. First Day Hikes offer a great way to get outside, exercise, enjoy nature and welcome the New Year with friends and family. Currently there are 657 First Day Hikes.”

She added:

“The First Day Hikes are an initiative by State Parks across the country to get people on the right foot for promoting healthy living, new year’s resolutions, and promoting the support of their state parks.  Texas State Parks has more than 40 participating parks so far for 2013, and all three located here in El Paso are among them (Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site, Franklin Mountains State Park, and Wyler Aerial Tramway State Park).  Last year Franklin Mountains SP led over 30 people on its first annual First Day Hike; we are hoping to get even more folks out on the trails for the 2nd annual First Day Hikes!  Park staff and volunteers will be leading the hike, providing fun facts and education about our beautiful Chihuahuan Desert, the uniqueness of the Franklin Mountains, and will offer support all along the way.”

Information about the FMSP, Hueco and Wyler Tramway hikes can be found online:

Weickhardt advises that,

“. . . after people start their year off with a Texas State Parks First Day Hike, the next steps would be to keep posted on all of the activities and events going on throughout Texas via the TPWD Calendar of Events page:, and by purchasing a Texas State Parks Pass.  The Texas State Parks Pass is an annual pass that offers many special benefits.  As a pass holder, he/she and their guests can enjoy unlimited visits to more than 90 State Parks, and enter without paying the daily entrance fee. One can also receive exciting discounts on camping, park store merchandise and recreational equipment rentals and be eligible for other specials.”

Call 915-566-6441 for more information about obtaining a parks pass.

Be sure to see all of the January 2013 Franklin Mountains State Park hiking and event schedule.

From Randy Limbird of El Paso Scene:

Friends and family in town? HERE'S THE PERFECT THING TO DO!

Mount Cristo Rey Hike Through Time — A guided hike is at noon Sunday, Dec. 30, at Mount Cristo Rey, Sunland Park, N.M. Length: 5 miles round trip (2-3 hours).  Cost: $5 ($2 for children) donation requested for the Mt. Cristo Restoration Committee. Information: 252-9840. No reservation is required.  A presentation on the history of the monument will be given at the summit. The four-story-tall statue of Christ on the cross was built in 1938-40 by sculptor Urbici Soler. The mountaintop is 4,576 feet above sea level, in Sunland Park, N.M., near the junction of Mexico, Texas and New Mexico.  The hike is sponsored by El Paso Convention & Visitors Bureau and El Paso Scene. Security is provided along the trail and in the parking lot.  The 5-mile hike is easy to moderate, and is suitable for all ages. Free bottled water provided for hikers.  Meet at the large parking lot at the trailhead to Mt. Cristo Rey off McNutt Road (NM 273). Take the Racetrack exit off Paisano and cross the Rio Grande.  NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE FORECAST FOR SUNDAY: Mostly sunny, with a high near 55. East southeast wind 5 to 8 mph.

Get a copy of the January Scene here.

Finally, that ol’ Rio Grande River Rift produces some hot spots underground for sure. The earth’s crust is thinning due to hot mantle material “unwarping” way below our feet. The result in numerous places is thermal water.  Many weekend hikers, travelers, hedonists and health buffs hankering for a hot bath head to the spas such as those at Truth or Consequences (formerly Palomas Hot Springs).  Bobby Byrd owner of Cinco Puntos Press writes:

“For the hot baths, go to T or C.  Sierra Grande and the River Bend motels have hot baths for their clients. When we're traveling through, we get baths at the Indian Hot Springs ($4 a person) but it's real rasquache. We love it, others don't love it so much.”

Besides a good soak, the underground hot water can be a source of geothermal energy.  Ft. Bliss is hoping to tap into that as reported in a recent El Paso Inc. article by Robert Gray: Bliss journey to the center of the earth.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

FMSP January 2013 Event and Hiking Schedule

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The Continued Destruction of Mother Earth

A Facebook friend, Rosemary Pureaverdad Martinez, posted the picture above of the Cemex Quarry at McKelligon Canyon. That operation has torn up way too much of the mountain now. Her caption reads: "The continued destruction of Mother Earth."

Friday, December 21, 2012

Water and a Great City of Great People

My apologies. It has been nearly a month since I last wrote the elpasonaturally e-letter. I started on the 7th – but never finished. A two-week flu/bronchitis bug bit me and, until this week, much has been a blur. In the meantime a number of you emailed and wondered if I had dropped you off the list or I had dropped off the face of the world. I hadn’t, of course. I was just in the never-never land of chills and fever and coughs. And I had the flu shot in September! Anyway – some words before the year disappears.

First, congratulations to John Balliew who has been chosen by the PSB to be the next President/CEO of our water utility. This is great news. John is a roll-up-your-sleeves and solve the problem kind of guy. He’s affable; he listens; and, most important of all, he’s very, very smart. His selection bodes well for El Paso.

And, congratulations to Ed Escudero who has left the PSB where he has been the Chairman and has accepted a position on the board for El Paso Electric. Ed built bridges between the PSB and the conservation community. He brought that community to the table and made sure it was heard. Like Balliew, Ed Escudero took time to go out to sites and see the situations of concern to environmentalists.

One would have to write a tome on the work and accomplishments of Ed Archuleta. I am so glad that he has been appointed to be one of the Board of Governors that will oversee the mess at EPISD. El Paso will benefit greatly for having his guidance.

I know that I often talk about the PSB or about water – but water is the single most critical issue not just facing El Pasoans but the nation and the world.  Because of drought, climate change, bad water practices in the Western United States for over a century, and just living in a desert where water is a scarce resource, its use, re-use, and conservation must be our key concerns. I do not share the optimism of some that we will have water for centuries to come. Sooner not later there must be a regional meeting of County, City, International, Water Utility, urban and rural stakeholders regarding water. Until then, it will do us good not only to continue PSB’s conservation policies but to make our building codes, landscape codes and so forth much more water smart. (Ed Archuleta’s water smart home project needs to come to full fruition.) Any water that falls as precipitation should stay on the ground and not flood through the streets and down outdated, technologically-dumb concrete canals with tiny culvert trash receptacles. If rainfall stays on the ground, it nourishes landscapes that help cool us (or feed us). If it stays on the ground it eventually helps to restore the aquifers below us.

Sooner not later state and national legislation regarding water rights needs to be drastically re-written. Water belongs to all of us. As it is now in El Paso, water is owned by a few agrarian interests, sold to the municipality (EPWU) and piped (the Rio Grande has ceased being a living, breathing creature and has been reduced to a mere plumbing system) to farms that too often grow crops which require large amounts of water. Thousands of people who previously could vote on water district policies were recently disenfranchised and the ability to vote became more difficult – thus leaving ultimate water decisions in the hands of a very few people. This needs to change and so does much of our crop and irrigation choices.

Learn more about potable re-use as well as non-potable use (purple pipe water). The National Academies has this good introduction:

Understanding Water Reuse

Wetlands can become integral parts of sewage re-use. They are already in use in El Paso. But imagine recapturing the vitality of the Rio Grande as a vast ecosystem performing ecosystem services worth millions of dollars to taxpayers. Mike Landis of the Bureau of Reclamation has imagined such. Read his String of Pearls on the Rio Grande:

String of Pearls on the Rio Grande

LEED, Green Infrastructure/Low Impact Development, New Urbanism – the tools are there. Development, economic growth – these are good things if they are done smart with our grandchildren’s grandchildren in mind and not just the instantaneous, private profit as its goal. Encourage infill not sprawl.

More to talk about and learn for sure.

Some final thoughts: Today wasn’t the end of the world. (Did anyone seriously think that it would be?) Some talk about the beginning of new thinking. That’s always good. So let’s give up some bad thinking and get some good thinking. By the signs of the last votes on bonds, etc., El Pasoans are doing just that. I’m tired of those who say “we can’t”, “El Paso is too poor”, “it can’t be done here”. Forgive the language . . . but . . . bullshit and baloney. You’re an El Pasoan by birth or by choice. I’m an El Pasoan by birth and by choice. We know that we can get things done. Our question is “what can’t we do as El Pasoans?” The sky is the limit and we have lots of sky. As our exemplar we have Kevin Von Finger who our County Judge and Commissioners just honored as “friend and environmental activist”.  I’m also tired of scapegoating those with lots of money just because they have lots of money. Let me just mention the medical school, the hospital, downtown re-development, etc. I’m grateful not resentful for philanthropy. I am so thankful daily for people like Eric Pearson, President of the El Paso Community Foundation, or souls such as Dr. David and Carolyn Gough. Politics are in philanthropy too; but in American politics we all have a right to speak up. And, speaking about politics (and sustainable living in El Paso), government is only sustainable and stable in its republican/representative form. As a democracy we elect representatives and we protect the rights of each individual even from majority rule. Petitions are great. I can think of more. But, this notion that we should get rid of a representative just because we disagree with a decision he or she makes can only lead to anarchy and failure of our governments to be effective for any of us. Except for cases of misfeasance or malfeasance, we keep people in office, respect them, speak up when we need to.  We elect people not just because we agree with them on some issues, but because we believe that they will make the best decisions on our behalf. Time with patience is our best perspective. You don’t get rid of someone just because you don’t like this vote or that vote. You can’t keep changing policy on whim. An apology restores harmony. Forgiveness sustains that harmony. Move on.

As El Pasoans what can we achieve?  Everything.  Next question.

Kevin Von Finger Proclamation

At its meeting this past Monday, the El Paso County Commissioners honored "friend and environmental activist" Kevin Von Finger with a special proclamation:

Click image to enlarge.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Balliew Chosen CEO

December 12, 2012

Public Service Board selects Balliew
as President & CEO of El Paso Water Utilities
EL PASO – The Public Service Board has selected John E. Balliew, P.E., to serve as the President & CEO of El Paso Water Utilities.

Balliew, a native El Pasoan, currently serves as the utility’s Vice President of Operations and Technical Services. He oversees operation of the utility’s six water treatment plants, 150 groundwater wells, the system of pipes and reservoirs which deliver and stores water around the city, and the maintenance and operation of EPWU’s stormwater management system.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering from Texas A&M University, Balliew returned to his hometown and began work as a laboratory technician at EPWU. He rose quickly within the organization, holding several leadership positions before being named Vice President in 2007. He has served the Utility for nearly 30 years.

Balliew is a licensed professional engineer and was named by the El Paso Chapter of the Texas Society of Professional Engineers as its Engineer of the Year in 2012 and its Young Engineer of the Year in 1992.

During his career at EPWU, Balliew has been directly involved in many of the innovative projects which have helped secure El Paso’s water future. Those projects include construction of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Desalination Plant, expansion of groundwater resources, and on-going projects designed to mitigate the impacts of the region’s on-going drought.

The board engaged the services of Bob Murray and Associates to lead a nationwide search for the new President and CEO who will oversee EPWU’s water, wastewater, reclaimed water and stormwater divisions. Balliew, who was selected from a field of more than 40 applicants, will replace Edmund G. “Ed” Archuleta, P.E., who is retiring after leading the utility for 24 years. Archuleta will remain on the job into 2013 to oversee the transition. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Dave Meslin's antidote to apathy

Although this video is by a Canadian talking about "barriers" in his country to change, the lesson can easily be applied to our own:

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Questions for the Candidates for CEO President of EPWU

In less than an hour, the PSB will convene and then move into Executive Session to interview four candidates for CEO to replace retiring Ed Archuleta.

Read more information about the finalists from Chris Roberts.

Here are the questions I want the candidates for CEO to answer and the PSB should ask:

  1. Are you willing to use the 10% of the stormwater fee to purchase natural open space as prioritized by the City’s Open Space Advisory Board rather than funding more (frivolous)park pond projects?
  2. How do you see yourself working with the Open Space Advisory Board?
  3. In what ways do you see preserving natural open space as a land management and a water conservation strategy for the utility?
  4. Recently the State Legislature passed a law disenfranchising thousands of people from voting in the WID#1. Will you work for its repeal?
  5. Mr. Archuleta envisioned a water smart home project. How will you help move that project forward and what do you think makes a home water smart?
  6. What strategies would you employ to postpone or replace the need to import water from faraway to El Paso? What about recycling and reusing water?
  7. Can and should El Paso limit growth and sprawl in the interest of conserving the scarce resource of water?
  8. How will you work regionally to conserve water?
  9. In what ways is water wasted or overused in our region? What can the EPWU do about it?
  10. What are your thoughts about rainwater harvesting? About green infrastructure/low impact development?
  11. Will you fight tooth and nail for every inch of land in the PSB inventory against conservationists/environmentalists or will you work with them?
  12. What is your leadership style?
  13. PSB members often complain that they do not get all of the details and facts before a decision on any matter of great or small value. Are you willing to be more open and transparent with the PSB? With the City? With the people of El Paso?
  14. How do you see yourself working with the City Manager, Mayor, Council and City departments especially on issues affecting water management and conservation?
  15. What improvements can the City and its departments make regarding water conservation?

And, in case you haven't heard, the TEA Commissioner just announced that he has stripped all power from the EPISD Board of Directors and is appointing a Board of Managers which will include Mr. Ed Archuleta. Elpasonaturally believes that Mr. Archuleta will bring the kind of expertise, experience and wisdom that the City and School District sorely need. His appointment is very good news.

Recycle Your Old Tennis Shoes!

Here's a great way to recycle your old tennis shoes and sneakers. One creative Girl Scout is collecting these old shoes to be ground up and used to re-surface playgrounds. Here's her Mom's message and a contact number for them:

Dear Friends,

Sofia is working towards her Girl Scout Silver Award Project. The project focuses in making an impact in improving our communities
Her GS troop decided to collect old tennis shoes/ sneakers that will be turned into grind used to resurface playgrounds.

She is working collectively with her troop however each girl scout has an individual commitment.

We are collecting tennis shoes of any brand any size any gender. This is a great opportunity for all of us to clean up our closets and help.

Let us know and we will pick up the items at your home.
Also if you have any friends and family that you would like to forward this message, we are appreciative of any and all assistance you can provide us.

Kindly note that we will pick up any donations

Please help Sofia meet her individual goal and also help our troop meet the project objective of a 1,000 pairs.

With your help we are confident to meet the goal!

Thank You for your support

Erika Marquez & Sofia