Friday, January 31, 2014

The Friday Video: It All Goes Together - Alan Watts

Today's video was suggested by a blog post from Pachamama Alliance (and on Facebook). In it they discuss the Lakota Sioux concept of “Mitakuye Oyasin" or interconnectivity of all that is. It is definitely worth a read and you can see it HERE.

The video is from the YouTube channel, Tragedy and Hope, which follows the writings of Alan Watts, one of my favorite philosopher-theologians. This video is entitled "It all goes together":

Support the 2014 Poppies Fest - Here's How

A view of the Mexican gold poppies on the grounds of the El Paso Museum of Archaeology, courtesy of the El Paso Museum of Archaeology

The Poppies Fest Committee in Collaboration with the
El Paso Museum of Archaeology and MCAD Announces
2014 Franklin Mountains Poppies Fest
on Castner Range March 29, 2014

The eighth annual 2014 Franklin Mountains Poppies Fest on Castner Range will take place on Saturday, March 29, 2014 from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm at the El Paso Museum of Archaeology at 4301 Transmountain Road.

The Poppies Fest Committee welcomes everyone to this free family fun day which features a program of nature walks, educational exhibits and demonstrations by local environmental organizations and wildlife displays include a live socialized wolf from the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary and Houdini the Harris Hawk from the El Paso Zoo. A children’s activity center will offer a variety of arts and crafts led by local community members including Girl Scouts. Local performing groups will provide music and dance. Local vendors will be offering original and hand-made merchandise for sale.  Lunch and snacks can be purchased from food vendors on-site.  Additional details will be announced in future press releases.

Free parking will be off-site with handicapped accessible shuttle bus service provided from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm, funded by the City of El Paso Museums and Cultural Affairs Department.  The location of off-site parking will be announced soon.

The Poppies Fest Committee is seeking donations to support the event and volunteers, to assist please contact Lisa Gutierrez at 915-269-1239 or

The Poppies Fest celebrates the marvelous open space in Northeast El Paso where the 15 acre grounds of the El Paso Museum of Archaeology are surrounded by the 7,000+ acre Castner Range, a former artillery range known for its unique cultural, geologic and biologic features. If the rain and weather cooperate, it is most known for its beautiful and vast display of Mexican Gold Poppies in the spring.

The Poppies Fest is an opportunity to enjoy our beautiful outdoors while learning about what our mountains and desert have to offer. For example, the museum's Chihuahuan Desert Gardens boast examples of more than 200 native plants and Franklin Mountains State Park offers trails for hiking and bicycling, camping, day use, environmental education programs and festivals such as the Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta.

Information: Marilyn Guida, 915-755-4332, guidamr@elpasotexas.go

Our Mission:
The El Paso Museum of Archaeology is dedicated to the interpretation of archaeological and anthropological artifacts through research, exhibits, and education.  We focus on the prehistory and culture of the El Paso-Juárez region and the Southwest.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Open Letter to Mayor Leeser on City Manager Search

Read HERE today's El Paso Time's story about those meeting with Affion Public as part of the search for a new city manager. What's missing in those meetings is the green community of El Paso. Here is a letter that I wrote Mayor Leeser and hand delivered to his office today:

January 28, 2014

The Honorable Oscar Leeser
Mayor of the City of El Paso
300 N. Campbell
El Paso, TX 79901

Dear Mayor Leeser,

After reading the El Paso Time’s front page story this morning about the search for our next City Manager, it became clear to me that a very important part of El Paso stakeholders are not part of the search process. My hope is that you can help correct this oversight. There are no representatives from El Paso’s open space/conservation/environmental community.

It is essential that a City Manager possesses good business and financial sense, education and experience and has strong, well-honed administrative and managerial skills. So it is a good thing that Affion Public is visiting with our Chambers of Commerce and that the successful business community is well-represented by the Council members’ appointees to the advisory committee. On the other hand, a City Manager also helps to shape the culture throughout city government and participates in the formation and implementation of a City’s vision based on [all of] our City’s values.

El Pasoans do care about issues related to the environment, sustainability, open space and natural areas. El Pasoans have a deep sense of family and generations and want to see precious resources such as water and open space conserved for their great-grandchildren and beyond. 

We reflect these values in many ways. You yourself will be an introductory speaker at the Eco-El Paso Symposium next week. The El Paso Convention and Visitor’s Bureau regularly promotes outdoor recreation in our natural open spaces. Through the Office of Economic Adjustment our City received a grant to develop a forward-thinking Master Plan, Plan El Paso. Senator Rodriguez has a citizen’s advisory committee on sustainable energy and another on the environment. The Master Gardeners have a new community garden at Ascarate and the Columban Fathers have a community garden on Magoffin. El Paso has important and involved organizations such as the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition, the West Texas Urban Forestry Council and the Borderland Mountain Bike Association to name just three. Celebration of Our Mountains had a very successful 19th annual schedule of fall events in 2013.

Please consider inviting one or two members of El Paso’s conservation community to meet with Affion on Thursday. May I suggest that you invite persons who are not only successful business people but who also  highly value our outdoors? Charlie Wakeem has the most city expertise. Don Baumgardt does the official El Paso visitor’s guide. Robert Ardovino is someone with great business and “green” sense. There are others.

Thank you for considering this proposal. Thank you for your great leadership in bringing El Paso together.


Jim Tolbert

RIP Pete Seeger 1919-2014

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Lingering Doubts about EPWU and Rio Bosque Are Much Ado about Nothing

Just in the past week I have written two posts about the great news coming out of the El Paso Water Utilities regarding the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park. You can read those posts HERE and HERE. A new authorization for reclaimed water is found in the first of those two links or you can go HERE

In spite of the good news and the new authorization, some in the environmental community have continued to have doubts and suspicions. What everyone needs to know is that the new authorization supersedes "all of the above".

Better than my explaining, here is how EPWU CEO John Balliew answered the questions in separate email messages that I have combined together. I have also clarified when necessary by using []:

"Many have seen the proposed TCEQ language [in the current and previous authorizations] and are questioning whether or not it gives EPWU authorization to discharge effluent to the Rio Bosque. As a point of clarification, 'effluent' becomes 'reclaimed water' when it is beneficially used. So, any time you take effluent and put it to a beneficial use rather than to a disposal situation, it becomes reclaimed water. So, the use dictates the distinction[my emphasis]. When we take effluent and put it onto Rio Bosque it becomes reclaimed water.

"Once you are talking reclaimed water, which we are, then you next talk about quality. Reclaimed water can be Type I or Type II depending on quality measurements. Type I is the higher quality designation. There are three measures: Biochemical Oxygen Demand, Turbidity and Fecal Coliforms. Type II has only two measures: Biochemical Oxygen Demand and Fecal Coliforms. There are numerical standards for these parameters. We feel the effluent from the Bustamante plan would meet Type I requirements most of the time. However, we only need Type II for this purpose.

"A question has arisen about the term 'rapid infiltration' [my emphasis] and that is something different from what we have talked about in terms of Rio Bosque and effluent. We did not request authorization to do rapid infiltration because that has some specific connotations and it is likely approval of that use designation would require soil modification to the Bosque and further treatment at the Bustamante plant. I do not think any of us had in mind that kind of drastic changes to the Bosque nor were we thinking costly treatment. Based on the quantities of surface water applied to the Bosque by the District, we know that application of reclaimed water to the Bosque is going to result in recharge.

"The term 'Rapid Infiltration Basins' in TCEQ lingo is something very specific and refers to a method of effluent disposal. Rapid infiltration basins are typically artificial creations. We have several in the NE part of town. Our primary purpose with the Bosque is to supply water to the wetlands. Secondarily, we recognize that some water will infiltrate. We know from the water that EPCWID#1 has provided in the past that the amount of that recharge is significant. But, we are not going to alter the Bosque to accomplish more recharge than would naturally occur. So, we did not apply for a rapid infiltration permit because that is not our intent."

The new authorization again supersedes previous documents. It is a blanket authorization which includes the Bosque or any other wetland for that matter. As the semantics shift with the new authorization, a permit for a third, fourth, fifth . . . tenth turnout is not needed. It is authorized. Period. No further authorizations, MOA's, whatever are required. 

As I reported in my last post on this issue, Balliew stated and he stated again to me today in a telephone conversation: the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park will have 3 sources of water including the turnout which is ipso facto authorized.

Here's what I wrote which was almost verbatim from Balliew:

"Bottom line: the Rio Bosque will have 3 sources not just 2 for water: directly from the Bustamante, from the turnout at the Riverside Canal as it currently gets from the WID#1, and now water from the ponds owed to EPWU by the WID#1."

All of the above is not just good news but great news. If some find it necessary to continue to look for cabals and hidden agendas, I am powerless over them and their distrust. The sky is blue. There is no attempt to make it just seem so. It does not help our cause for the environment and conservation to see things in every instance as dirty dealing - to see things broken and demand that those things be fixed by the very system one can't trust. (Never mind taking personal responsibility with lifestyle choices.) I'll agree that institutions have inertia and much too often people seek and hold power to control policy for special interests and reap personal benefit. But keep this in mind: CEO Balliew is the same guy who instituted a policy to save wildlife habitat and has already put it in action at the Charl Ann Pond, a natural bird preserve. When habitat was being destroyed this past summer in the Upper Valley, Balliew responded by bringing together wildlife experts and ecologists with an EPWU attorney and an environmentalist along with crew members. They crafted good wildlife and conservation policy. I do not recall many in the environmental community speaking out. In fact, I remember lots of Chamberlain whispers and inaction. The proof is in the pudding. Balliew is making lots of pudding.

CRRMA Unanimously Ends Relationship with Predatory Lenders

By a unanimous vote at it meeting this morning, the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority directed Executive Director, Raymond L. Telles "to issue written notice to the CRRMA's back-office service providers [North Texas Tollway Authority and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority] to end their acceptance of cash payments at local retail locations for the César Chávez Express Toll Lanes." The local retail locations in question is the payday lender, ACE Cash America. 

The same motion also asked the Director to "continue working with the City of El Paso's One-Stop Shop for acceptance of cash payments for the same toll lanes.

Bottom line: the CRRMA unanimously did the moral thing - they ended their relationship (although indirect through other tollway authorities) with a company in an industry that too often victimizes the most financially vulnerable in society. The need for the cash option, as Director Telles explained, is that El Paso has a large population of people who use cash only. Also, the cash option is the least expensive means to purchase a toll tag.

According to CRRMA Chair, Scott McLaughlin, the CRRMA will work toward using other local retailers. Besides taking cash payments, authorized dealers will need to be able to set-up customer accounts with the NTTA. 

Mr. Telles' presentation to the Board can be seen HERE.

If you emailed a Board member, please thank them for listening and responding to El Pasoans regarding this moral issue. Contact info is HERE.

Finally, consider that, except for one vote, the CRRMA and City Council unanimously agreed to do something about payday lenders. The one lone vote came from a man who never says anything at City Council meetings but apparently will speak-up for predatory lenders: District 2 Representative Larry Romero. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Friday Video: Zoo Doo

Why not El Paso? Come on El Paso Zoo? Come on Sustainability Office? Transportation - got plants in medians and along streets? General Services - got any vegetation? Any gardeners, permaculturists, farmers in El Paso County? Tree Farm? Got Zoo Doo?

Rio Bosque News Is Better than Imagined

I had the opportunity to speak in person with Mr. John Balliew, the CEO of the El Paso Water Utilities this morning. The topic of conversation was the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park. Our visit followed my Monday blog post More Good News for the Rio Bosque. The post raised some anxieties among members of the conservation community. 

To help visualize what I'm going to say, take a look at the map below. You will definitely want to enlarge it (maybe in a different tab) and refer back to it:

The map shows the relationship among the Bustamante Treatment Plant on the right, the Rio Bosque in the center and the Socorro Ponds/Reservoir on the left. The Socorro Reservoir is the project that Mr. Chuy Reyes and his engineer both from the El Paso County Water Improvement District #1 proposed to the PSB this past Wednesday. They have worked out an arrangement with the EPWU for ponding areas to reserve water for El Paso County farmers. Currently, stormwater moves down the river past our County and to the Hudspeth County reservoirs. Because of the arrangement, the WID#1 will be able to capture that water for our farmers and owe water back to the EPWU. (The EPWU owns the land where the ponds will be.) The water owed back to the EPWU will be used to help irrigate the Rio Bosque.

The red line on the bottom of the map indicates where a pipeline will go from the Bustamante to the Socorro Ponds. It is the extension of that pipeline that has delayed going to bid since the pipeline will also be part of the relationship among the ponds, the Bosque and the Bustamante.

Bottom line: the Rio Bosque will have 3 sources not just 2 for water: directly from the Bustamante, from the turnout at the Riverside Canal as it currently gets from the WID#1, and now water from the ponds owed to EPWU by the WID#1.

One big concern that some had as the result of Monday's post was the TCEQ authorization. The new authorization (now being finalized) mentions nothing about "effluent" only Type I and Type II reclaimed water. Balliew explained that "effluent" often is Type II reclaimed water as its turbidity and bacterial counts are low enough to be re-categorized. In other words, what may be called effluent, is most often Type II water that the TCEQ will permit to go to the Bosque. Note again that the new authorization allows for water from the Bustamante to be used for the irrigation of "constructed wetlands".

But the news just gets better. The EPWU has already begun working with the Army Corps of Engineers to produce a wetland park at the Rio Bosque much like the Rio Grande Valley State Park in Albuquerque. (You can still see online an initial presentation of this Corps of Engineers project from 2010 complete with a virtual tour.) Add to this vision of the Bosque another one: the EPWU is acquiring other drains so that one day you may indeed enjoy walking along a parkway from Ascarate to the Bosque.

A final P.S. about an EPWU project I get super-excited about: Our utility has become quite successful conserving water; and let us hope that they conserve much more and that the City will indeed move toward some enlightened rainwater strategies that will help even more and perhaps to codifying truly water savings building practices.  A downside of that success though is the fact that they are selling less of their product thus making staying in business, so to speak, more difficult. Mr. Balliew has proposed new products: producing phosphorous and nitrogen for commercial use. Currently EP farmers purchase millions of dollars of fertilizer. Also currently, most of the nitrogen and phosphorous available from water treatment is lost. Capture it. Sell it. Voilá! New products. Balliew and company are working on it. Now, if only the TCEQ (and EPA) would allow the use of the effluent "cake", rather than being forced to bury that product that also contains needed soil micronutrients, local growing industries could benefit. I say this as one who has asked for years now why we don't sell Zoo Doo as they do in Seattle for example.

Again, the news at and for the Rio Bosque just gets better and better.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

PSB Meeting 15 Jan 2014

There are many thing happening in the El Paso area that deserve the attention of the general public and especially the environmental / conservation community – TOO many things for one person to attend to.

At today’s PSB meeting, I sincerely missed environmental activist Rick Bonart.  BIG things are happening with water.  The current hot item is a 300 acre reservoir proposed for the old Socorro Waste Water Treatment Plant.  El Paso County Water Improvement District # 1 (EP#1) and EPWU/PSB have formed an executive committee to discuss the reservoir project.  Let’s find out if meetings are open to the public and find someone to attend.

The reservoir will have huge benefits in our drought stricken area and potential benefits to the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park.  It may also have unintended consequences.  We need to pay attention at the beginning, while this project is in development.

EP#1 is the biggest player on local water issues.  Have you ever attended their board meetings?

El Paso environmental community, let’s get involved in water issues. Learn more about the El Paso Water Improvement District at their web site
Judy Ackerman

Monday, January 13, 2014

More Good News for the Rio Bosque

More good news for the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park.

The El Paso Water Utilities has received a draft authorization from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality which will allow water from the Bustamante Treatment Plant to go to the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park. 

Here is the draft agreement. Note the language on the first page that Type I and Type II reclaimed water will be used for the irrigation of "constructed wetlands" - e.g., the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park.

EPWU has responded with some minor typographical corrections. The TCEQ should respond with a signed final copy in about two weeks. EPWU CEO John Balliew says that, once he receives the final copy, he will "immediately give them [TCEQ] a 45 day notice that we will begin transferring water to the RB [Rio Bosque] - even though it will take longer to build the line."

There has been concern within the environmental community that nothing was actually getting done to get water to the Bosque from the Bustamante. The pipeline has not yet gone out to bid. Changes suggested by the PSB in the design of the pipeline has caused the delay. Nevertheless the process, though slower than expected, is continuing. The new authorization is proof of the seriousness and sincerity of Balliew and the EPWU regarding a committment to the Bosque. The process is not a Hail Mary if you will; but a slow, methodical working the ball down the field, avoiding mistakes and penalties while doing so. A touchdown is pretty much certain and the environmental fans are sure to roar delightedly when the ball crosses the goal line.

Recently anxiety levels increased over an item on this coming Wednesday's PSB agenda. Item #5 is a proposal by the Water Improvement District #1 for additional surface water (not effluent) that will come from the construction of a regulating reservoir where the old Socorro wastewater plant was located. Some identified this item as a possible alternative to the pipeline from the Bustamante and there was speculation whether the length of time to begin the pipeline project wasn't a stall in order to slip in something more favorable to the WID#1. CEO John Balliew responds: "It does not have anything to do with wastewater effluent or the Rio Bosque. The Rio Bosque line will still be built."

It would be good for the environmental community to dial back its distrust and paranoia buttons just a bit. Good things are happening albeit slowly - but they are happening. Balliew has been good to his word. It might help to remember that this is the guy who recently authorized an environmental policy that protects wildlife by doing EPWU projects in accordance with habitat schedule. By itself, that was a huge victory for local ecology and the environment.

In fact, at the next PSB meeting (Wednesday, January 15, 2014), consideration will be given to award a contract to CMD Endeavors to clean up the organic sediment at the Charl Ann Pond off Doniphan in the Upper Valley. (See background material for Item #14.) CMD will be using a technique that unobtrusively removes the sediment through a vacuuming process. Their work schedule was determined in consultaion with wildlife biologist, Lois Balin and in accordance with the new policy authorized by Balliew. CMD officials toured the pond recently with members of the public including an experienced birder, James Newlin. Charl Ann pond is a favorite of birders in El Paso and was one of the outdoor birding events of this past fall's Celebration of Our Mountains. Here is a video of the technique:

Muchas gracias, John Balliew.

Planning Summarizes Palisades Charrette

In an email this morning, City Planner Elizabeth Gibson announced the results of the November charrette on the Palisades. She summarizes that " a clear preference for a minimalist approach to trailhead design and access improvements was communicated. Limited intrusion into the natural environment and the use of materials native to the site that serve to enhance its function, scenic views and other natural features were repeated themes." However, "parking including its location, layout, size and composition remains a central issue and warrants further input from the community prior to a final design decision being made."

A second charette is now scheduled for Monday, February 17th, to look at additional plans and alternatives. I wonder whether a natural scheme for flood control can be a part of this plan or if we are locked into the stale, old engineering approach of building a huge artificial dam. A less obtrusive parking lot would also be nice. Street parking has worked well for quite a long time now and it may make more sense to simply pave along Robinson rather than asphalt more natural areas.

Here is Gibson's message:

Community Members –

On November 18th, 2013, the City of El Paso’s Planning Division, in conjunction with its Parks & Recreation Department, held a public meeting and design charrette to obtain public feedback about various elements of the future Palisades trailhead and access improvements project. As a 2012 Quality of Life Bond funded project, public input received during our November meeting serves as a critical first step in understanding the community’s vision for this uniquely located central gateway to the Franklin Mountains State Park. In recognition of this project’s importance to our City, over 50 members of the community came together at the November 18th meeting to discuss their ideas and preferences for the trailhead.

I am writing to you today to share the results of that charrette and to provide you with an overview of our next steps. Please use the link included in this email to access the full report, which provides a detailed look at results from each of the charrette’s activities. To briefly summarize, a clear preference for a minimalist approach to trailhead design and access improvements was communicated. Limited intrusion into the natural environment and the use of materials native to the site that serve to enhance its function, scenic views and other natural features were repeated themes. Finally, parking including its location, layout, size and composition remains a central issue and warrants further input from the community prior to a final design decision being made.

With these ideas in mind, City planners, parks officials and engineers have gone back to the drawing board and are working together to develop several alternative designs for review and input by the community. To this end, we plan to hold a second public meeting and design charrette on Monday, February 17th where the community will be invited to comment on and contribute to the design process.  Details regarding meeting time and location are forthcoming. In the meantime, please review the charrette findings report accessed via the link below and forward it to any other individuals or groups you think may be interested.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions, concerns or ideas about how we can improve the public input process.

Thank you for your help and I look forward to seeing you soon.
Elizabeth Gibson
Lead Planner, Long Range
City Development | City of El Paso
222 S. Campbell St.
El Paso, TX 79901

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Friday Video: Building with Glass

Definitely get to know Wendy Jehanara Tremayne and Mikey Sklar of Hot Springs (Truth or Consequences, New Mexico). They moved from their home and jobs in New York City to Truth or Consequences where they have built "an off-the-grid oasis in a barren RV park..." She authored The Good Life Lab which is at the top of elpasonaturally's recommended book list. 

In today's Friday Video, Wendy demonstrates how to build with glass. Of course, what can be done on a small scale, can be done on a larger scale. I once asked Stanley Jobe about using glass in building roads and sidewalks. He told me that the first step is to get the City to approve the using recycled glass in its building codes. So, come on El Paso. Using recycled glass in construction doesn't have to be required - just acceptable. I'm sure there are standards out there that can be applied here in El Paso.

One more thing before the video. Many of you know that Target advertises that it recycles glass. You can find a bin for glass recycling at each store. elpasonaturally reader, Marshall Carter-Tripp, wanted to know how they recycled - where the glass was taken, how much was taken, what are the logistics for collection. Good questions because they really ask one question: Does Target really recycle glass. Never hearing back from a local store manager, Marshall wrote Beth M. Jacob, the Chief Information Officer of the corporation at the corporate headquarters in Minneapolis, MN. That was mid November when she wrote. It is now just about mid-January. There has been no response. So, one wonders whether collecting glass at each of its stores is just marketing hype that Target employs to brand itself as an environmentally-conscious retailer. One wonders.

Anyway, if Wendy can build with glass, any contractor in El Paso can do it and we have plenty of glass. Here's Wendy:

Thursday, January 9, 2014

O'Rourke Gives Strong Support to FMSP Connectivity Proposal

In a letter to a TxDOT official, Congressman Beto O'Rourke supports the most recent entrance proposal because it offers safety and connectivity. He applauds TxDOT for working with "the community, environmental groups, and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department". 

Here is his letter:

Click to enlarge.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Good News for Now for the Rio Bosque

John Sproul, the Manager of the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park, is upbeat in the latest (January 2014) "Rio Bosque News". About winter water, Sproul reports:

"At Rio Bosque Wetlands Park, the wet season is here. Water is flowing the length of the old river channel in the park. The wetland areas are flooded. Over 2,500 waterfowl are present. It's a great time to visit Rio Bosque!

"On Nov 3, ElPaso Water Utilities (EPWU) began discharging treated water from the Roberto Bustamante Wastewater Treatment Plant to the Riverside Drain, through which El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1 (El Paso No. 1) delivers it to the park. Then, on Nov 19, El Paso No. 1 opened the new turnout on the Riverside Canal, sending water fro the first time directly from the canal to the park. Thanks go to El Paso No. 1 and EPWU for making water from these sources available.

"Once the 2014 irrigation season begins, these flows will end; the park will again be largely dry. But as the year progresses, that could change. The new turnout is performing well. If we identify water rights holders willing to assign irrigation water to the park, the turnout makes delivery of that water possible. Also at its Nov 13 meeting, El Paso's Public Service Board gave EPWU the go-ahead to put the planned pipeline from the Bustamante Plan to the park out for bid. Once built, the pipeline will enable water deliveries to the park year-round."

To read all of the newsletter, go HERE. You will find information about events and volunteer opportunities at the park and how you can join and contribute to the Friends of the Rio Bosque.

One hopes that the news will continue to be rosy. There are some concerns:

One week until the next PSB meeting and there is still no bid out for the pipeline from the Bustamante plant to the Bosque. This means that PSB action may not come until February or March and construction 3 months after that. This could mean no water until August. Is there a backdoor deal between EPWU and El Paso No. 1 to stall construction until after the coming irrigation season in order for the El Paso No. 1 to continue to get the extra effluent this year as the drought continues - free of charge, of course.

The current TCEQ permit for the Bustamante Wastewater Treatment Plant expires in September of this year. Will the renewal contain the third outflow as needed for watering the Bosque?

"The proof is in the pudding." That's what I said to EPWU CEO John Balliew after the last PSB meeting. Let's hope that Mr. Sproul continues to get good news. A healthy, greening, wildlife abundant Bosque is good for our environment, our health and our economy.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Romero Lone Vote for Predators

Although usually quiet at Council proceedings, Rep. Larry Romero today, in effect, supported payday predatory lenders.

Although usually silent at City Council meetings (probably having gotten his voting instructions ahead of time), District 2 Rep. Larry Romero* was the lone vote on City Council this morning against the ordinance to regulate predatory payday lenders. El Diario reporter, Karla Guevara Walton**, tweeted: "City Rep Larry Romero concern with the City invading personal lives . . ." Romero also used an analogy that the City should control alcoholism by limiting drinks at bars. (Sounds like someone may be concerned about his tab at the Pershing Inn.)

By a vote of 6-1 Council voted to support the ordinance passed last year and let it go into effect on January 16th. 

The payday lending scheme that victimizes so many families in financial crisis has been in the news recently also because of the CRRMA's contracting with the North Texas Tollway Authority which uses ACE, a payday lender. (elpasonaturally blog post HERE.) Disgust has been voiced with our regional mobility authority for a plan that will introduce some of El Paso's most vulnerable citizens to loans of up to 533% per annum. At today's Council meeting Lisa Turner, the Conscience of El Paso, criticized CRRMA's contract that allows a payday lender to collect tolls for the newly completed Border Highway.

The issue has even spilled over into the Texas gubernatorial race. Senator Wendy Davis, the likely Democratic candidate, laid blame on Greg Abbott, the likely Republican candidate.

*BTW, does Rep. Romero still live in District 2 as he has not resided with his wife at 2630 Savannah Avenue for most of his term now. Can the Municipal Clerk certify that he is a resident of District 2?

**Also BTW, if you can't attend City Council or watch it on digital television (there is no other way to watch it), then I highly recommend that you follow Karla's tweets HERE.

Monday, January 6, 2014

No CRRMA Meeting on Wednesday

The Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority will not meet this Wednesday, January 8, in spite of the fact that they publicly advertise a schedule of their regular meeting dates. (Their web site flashes in red that they meet the second Wednesday of each month at 9 a.m. on the 1st Floor of City Hall.) 

The word is out that they may meet on Wednesday, January 22nd, or wait until their next "regularly" scheduled meeting date which is February 12th. elpasonaturally will keep an eye on this and let you know in plenty of time so that you can attend and speak out regarding their use of a predatory lender to collect toll tags paid in cash by those without credit cards - the perfect victims for predatory lenders.

By law, the CRRMA must give 72 hours of advanced notice prior to a meeting.

The Huffington Post may be listening to elpasonaturally because they devoted a story about the El Paso situation. I posted a link to it on Facebook, but go HERE to read it.

Tomorrow, at its regularly scheduled meeting, the El Paso City Council will review a delayed ordinance which would "regulate" payday predators such as the business contracted to do the work for the CRRMA. The current Council delayed the beginning that ordinance would take effect to January 16th. The ordinance had been introduced by progressive, Susie, Byrd, during her last term on Council. The current and more reactionary, recidivist Council (and atavistic judging from their behavior) may decide to rescind the ordinance. They can and hopefully will allow it to take effect on the 16th. The El Paso Times story is HERE. Read yesterday's editorial board piece urging Council to affirm the payday loan rules already passed. Also read today's excellent guest editorial by Larry Garcia. Garcia well chronicles the advantage taken of families in financial crisis. 

So, while we wait for the CRRMA to meet again, we can do better than reading their canned responses to the public. Let's enjoy instead a dramatic reading of the immortal poem, The Spider and the Fly:

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Friday Video: 365 Grateful

This video was published on September 12, 2012. I first saw it New Year's morning when Upworthy posted it on Facebook. The video is by Aussie Hailey Bartholomew. See her and her page on Flickr. Although the video shows her using a Polaroid (I have one of those stashed in a drawer some place around here), Upworthy introduces the video with this title: "You Take Zillions Of Photos With Your Cellphone ... Why Not Try Something New With Them?"

You know, if each of us does no more than finds one thing to be grateful about each day of the year, I bet a lot of sustaining and conserving and preserving would get done.

The video: from hailey bartholomew on Vimeo.

CRRMA Issues Canned Response

As many of you are now discovering and telling me, the Board members of the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority (CRRMA) are responding to your email concerns about their relationship with a predatory lender with a canned response. Here it is and you will recognize it:

"Thank you for your email  and your feedback – I intend to put the issue of how the tags are distributed and tolls are paid on our January Agenda and we will discuss and make any changes at that time.  We have been discussing the possibility of other physical locations to process tags or accept payments and I hope to have an update at that meeting as well –  

"Since our inception in 2007 we have been involved in over 400 Million dollars of regional projects and our board has always worked and will continue to work to make the best decisions for the region -

"Below is a bit of information on the CRRMA and our relationship with the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA)–

"The CRRMA is a small, relatively young organization that is opening its first toll facility on January 8th– the Cesar Chavez Express Toll Lanes, which consists of a nine-mile, managed lane in each direction on El Paso’s Loop 375. While developing this project, we looked to partner with a tolling agency in Texas to provide back office services (essentially, the toll processing and collection services associated with transponder transactions). In the end, we partnered with the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) - a tolling entity with over 850 miles of toll lanes in the DFW area, processing over 1,400,000 transactions a day. This partnership simply means that the NTTA will process only those transactions occurring on the express toll lanes that arise from the use of a transponder (i.e. TollTag).

"We asked the NTTA to provide online, mobile app, phone and cash alternatives for El Paso transponder users. The NTTA has an existing relationship with ACE in DFW, which provides a cash payment option. So, in order for El Paso users to be able to pay cash for transponder transactions in El Paso (as opposed to payments online, by phone or mail), ACE was the only option available to us – just as it is for users in DFW. The CRRMA does not have a direct partnership with ACE – rather, ACE will be providing these services through their relationship with NTTA, but only as they relate to transponder transactions paid in person with cash.

"You can find more information about the various alternatives at -

"Thank you again for your email and your feedback – I do appreciate you taking the time to provide your comments."

To be fair, they may be receiving quite a few emails regarding their policy to sell toll tags through a predatory lender. However, it shows that, as a Board, they are circling the wagons. 

It is true that they did not directly contract with the predatory lender. They contracted with the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) which contracts with the lender. That, however, is no excuse. The CRRMA's actions still result in people who are (for whatever reason) vulnerable financially. Would these same Board members send people into the clutches of a human trafficker (read slaver) or a crack cocaine or meth dealer? Of course not. Yet, morally, there is little difference. 

Their canned response says that the predatory lender "was the only option available" to them so that those who pay only with cash can purchase the tags. This just isn't true. In the City of El Paso there are a number of supermarkets, convenience stores, dollar discount stores, etc. that take cash!

Although there is no published agenda for next Wednesday's meeting, the canned response does read: "I intend to put the issue of how the tags are distributed and tolls are paid on our January Agenda and we will discuss and make any changes at that time." (I guess each board member intends to put the matter on the agenda.) It will be good for many of us to be there next Wednesday morning, to speak to that agenda item and to hold their feet to the fire. Information about that meeting can be found HERE.

In the meantime, boycott the purple lanes:

Click on image to enlarge.

Also, know that the El Paso City Council will revisit its ordinance limiting predatory lenders this coming Tuesday, January 7, 2014. It is Item #5 on the Regular Agenda. Know that the CRRMA is a BOARD of the City of El Paso created by an ordinance passed by City Council. They are no different than the Open Space Advisory Board or the Parks and Recreation Board. They are a Board appointed by your City Council. You may want to address City Council on the subject of predatory lenders during the discussion of Item #5. 

One last suggestion, if you have received the canned response or get one eventually, reply by sending an email with a link to this post.

If you want to contact a CRRMA Board member, go HERE.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

We're on Facebook!

The first big news of 2014: We're now on Facebook! is where you will find us. Please visit the page and "Like" it. The more likes, the better the promotion and the better all of us will be at getting the word out about sustainability and becoming more earth and animal friendly in our daily lives and in our government, organizational and business policies.

Please visit the page often and like and share its posts. Facebook is a powerful tool for dispersing good information about why caring for our land and water and developing new and cleaner energy is better for us today and will provide a brighter future for many, many generations to come. Our alternative based on sustainability is in an uphill struggle with those who base their decisions on cheap real estate, cheap labor, sprawling, and transportation and food systems that are modeled on the rapidly depleting resources of oil and gas. Their way of doing things may stuff the pockets of a few today but will leave more empty homes and mouths tomorrow.

I started elpasonaturally on December 17, 2008. It has evolved since then but the core value of sustainability has remained. I will continue with this blog but am excited by the new Facebook venue.

Please visit And, again, please "Like" it and keep sharing its posts.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Earth and Animal Friendly Resolutions for 2014

We all know the joke: New Year's Resolutions are our To-Do List for the first week of January. Like many morning dreams, they disappear from our minds quickly. Nevertheless, resolutions can be great values clarification tools. It's helpful to write them down and look at them now and then and see how we are doing. Resolutions should be flexible enough to change as we better judge our time and ability to commit. If we decide that something is a deeply held belief or value, then we should try to live more accordingly while remembering the words from Max Ehrmann's Desiderata: "Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself."

I'm not going to share my list of resolutions, but they really fall under two bold sub-headings: 
  1. Live a more sustainable, earth-and-animal-friendly life in which I make more things myself and greatly reduce my carbon footprint. 
  2. Live my Quaker faith of simplicity, community, integrity, peace and equality. (I don't have to say "Quaker", because my faith is my faith. I'm responsible not an organization. But I do belong to a community of people who have historically and continuously tried to bear certain values as personal testimonies while working for justice and peace. That witness gives me context for e-value-ating myself.)
Since elpasonaturally is about sustainable and just living here in the El Paso Southwest, I'll spend more time this year writing about how we can live such lives and enjoy more of the beauty and holiness of the place in which we live. I so often go after the bad guys and poor policies that I often forget what it is that I love so deeply and want to preserve and proclaim. This doesn't mean that I will stop calling out the bad guys - and there are bad guys who need to be encountered and not placated. But the fact is that most people, even poor policy makers, are good people. It's about values and what to value and how to live according to those values and even about how to change. First and foremost I must be the change I wish to see in the world, as Gandhi advised. (HERE is a list of 10 things Gandhi said that might help when thinking about resolutions.)

Also, as you think about your resolutions (and each time that you review them), here are some places with some ideas about resolutions to be more earth and animal friendly and live more sustainably:

Sierra Club's GoGreen 2014
Green Living's Resolutions
Biological Diversity's Resolutions (You'll love the one about Hump Smarter. Be sure to visit
Fair Trade Resolutions 

Expect some big changes with elpasonaturally that I hope will be helpful to all of us as we try to live more sustainably. Look for a new venue in the next few days.

You will notice that I have removed the list of blogs and links on this page. Many will be back. But it is time to re-e-value-ate.

Happy New Year!