Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Open Space Should be Included in New Community Developments

Bird of Paradise blooms in Resler Canyon, a nature preserve managed by Frontera Land Alliance.

Over the past several years The Frontera Land Alliance has been working with Sumner Swaner (Utah State University; Swaner preserve and Eco Center; Swaner Design; American Institute of Certified Planners, etc.). Mr. Swaner was one of the expert practitioners that we asked to participate in a webinar to share his approach to large landscape conservation. The Franklin and Organ Mountains Conservation Cooperative hosted a webinar (June 2013) with experts from The Conservation Fund, the University of Utah Ecological Planning Center and the North Carolina Department of Natural Resources to learn about various approaches to community-based  landscape conservation.  

Mr. Swaner has shared a presentation that The Frontera Land Alliance feels would be of interest to all.  His findings state that there are two basic reasons that make open space so important. On one hand, there are many advantages to conserving and protecting open spaces, including physical, psychological, economic, and ecological gains. On the other hand, there are disadvantages to losing open spaces. Opportunities for exercise and for mental/emotional fulfillment are diminished. Aesthetic quality, habitat connectivity, and environmental conditions are degraded. Open space is important, therefore, both as a means of capitalizing on major benefits and of avoiding serious costs.

The open space connectedness survey, conducted by Mr. Swaner, consisted of 800 randomly selected people from seven states, who participated in phone or online interviews: approximately 115 participants each from California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, New York, Oregon, and West Virginia. They targeted specific counties within each state were targeted, in order to reach people living in a range of urban, rural, and suburban areas. 

The open space connectedness survey had three objectives. First, to determine the opinions and feelings of Americans regarding their connection to open space in their residential communities. Second, to confirm that, in addition to deriving physical and recreational benefits, Americans have a deep psychological connection with open space. Third, to determine Americans’ preferred methods of residential open space planning. The survey had two targeted research questions: 1) Is there a preference for development with a significant proportion of open space?   2) Is this preference so important that city planners need to integrate open space into their planning and subdivision regulations?

The open space connectedness survey showed that the majority of Americans place a high value on open space. More than 80% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with these statements: “Open space is important to mental well-being,” and “Open space is an integral part of any community.”  Regardless of age, geographic location, urban or rural living conditions, and even political affiliation, people across the country feel that their community cannot do without open space, and that open space is important not only for exercise and recreation, but for mental and emotional health and rejuvenation. 

Americans are calling specifically for open space planning and development. Around 75% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with these statements: “Open space should be automatically included in new community developments,” and “Real estate development and land conservation should occur together.” 

Similarly, around 60% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with these statements: “I would prefer to have my same residence, but in a neighborhood that has large, shared open spaces,” and
“A lack of coherent planning of open space will prevent conservation.”  Residents quite clearly think that their cities should be taking active steps to protect the places they love.  

The Frontera Land Alliance is working with a wide variety of agencies ranging from local, state and federal to achieve these very goals. If you are interested in conserving your land whether it is urban or rural feel free to contact The Frontera Land Alliance at 915-351-8352. 

The Frontera Land Alliance
Janae Renaeud Field

Monday, December 29, 2014


A simple request by the EPWU to have an easement across an abandoned water drain owned by the El Paso County Water Improvement District has been delayed now for months because the water district board won't act on it. EPWU wants to provide water for the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park from the Bustamante water treatment plant; but the water district has stalled the pipeline project and done so without accountability or transparency. (Read Judy Ackerman's post on the subject HERE.)

The water district had the matter on their October 2014 agenda. It went into executive session and never made it out. The matter was not brought up in November and December. In answers to pleas to allow the easement, District Manager Chuy Reyes only says that he is working on an agreement with John Balliew. It appears that Reyes wants to dictate when and how much water will go to the wetlands as a condition for the agreement. 

It is difficult to understand what goes on behind the closed doors of an executive session especially one so tightly controlled by a clandestine coterie: the water district board. In addition to their lack of public accountablily and transparency is their violation of Texas State Law by failing to post all of their agendas and minutes online. Just take a look at their gaps in posted minutes.

The Board meets the second Wednesday of each month at 8:30 AM in Clint, TX. There next meeting then will be January 14, 2015. The address for the water district office and board meetings is 13247 Alameda Avenue.  It may be a long drive but worthwhile to press the water district board to act on an easement with the EPWU and to do so without any conditions.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Boy Scouts Land Conservation Far from Good

In my post about the Boy Scouts possibly taking over Cement Lake, I wrote: "BSA has an excellent reputation for land conservation." But do they? In fact, are they not better land developers and tree farmers than conservationists or preservationists?  Read the NBC/Bay Area Report: Dispute Between Boy Scouts, Whistle Blower Rooted in Rare Plant's Destruction.  That report states: 

"While the Boy Scouts have drawn national attention for their intolerance toward gays, the organization also has compiled a poor record on environmental protection. In 2009, Hearst Newspapers reported that the Scouts clear-cut tens of thousands of acres of forestland across the country and operated a dam at Camp Pico Blanco that killed at least 30 federally protected steelhead trout. The camp installed a fish ladder as part of a no-fault settlement."

The NBC Report discusses not only the destruction of the endangered lousewart by the Boy Scouts, but their clear-cutting old growth trees including redwoods.

The Parks and Recreation Management Program of Northern Arizona University revealed how some scouts tossed a 190 million-year-old set of dinosaur tracks into a reservoir, leaving deep scars in the fossil beds.

Now take a look at this video of scout leaders destroying a 200 million year-old rock formation. Let's call this elpasonaturally's Friday video: 

Read and view a commentary about this Boy Scout vandalism HERE and further story HERE.

After I published the blog post about Cement Lake mentioned above, a friend emailed to say: "Activities with lots of young people wandering around, as children are wont to do even when they are supervised, would do a lot of damage.  Campsites for overnight stays, activity areas, trails, restroom facilities, kitchen and dining halls, etc, all adds up to a lot of impact which goes beyond the definition of open space. I imagine this and possibly more would be in the plan."

And what about the issue that BSA bans gay scoutmasters and what does that have to do with conservation? I find that there is a direct correlation between people who discriminate against other people and those who oppose conservation. Those who disrespect human rights will invariably disrespect the environment also. Hate people. Hate Mother Earth. Or love people and love the planet. Simple as that. The question must be raised as a good reason to oppose a lease agreement between the Texas Transportation Commission and the Boy Scouts of America for Cement Lake and the surrounding area - 222 acres in all. There should first be a conservation easement along with a statement by the Yucca Council of El Paso that it is okay to be a scout leader and to be gay.

The Boy Scouts may have an excellent reputation for land conservation - at least if never examined. No one dares speak badly about this American shibboleth. But who was it who said that sacred cows make great hamburger?

Why Is the Rio Grande Pipeline Stalled?

El Paso wetlands park has no water!  The pipeline to pass water from the Bustamante Waste Water Treatment Plant (BWWTP) to the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park is on hold.  Most of the project is done, but there is a gap where the pipeline crosses an abandoned drain owned by El Paso County Water Improvement District #1 (EPCWID#1).   To complete the pipeline as designed, El Paso Water Utilities (EPWU) needs a license from EPCWID#1, to cross their drain. 

In the early 1990s, Rio Bosque Wetlands Park was identified as the preferred site for a wetland project to mitigate for natural habitat loss caused by the American Canal Extension.  The wetland project at the Park was designed to utilize effluent from the adjacent BWWTP.  Currently, the Park only receives water from BWWTP for a few months in the winter.  To realize its potential for critical habitat restoration, ecosystem services, aquifer recharge, and economic benefit from eco-tourism, the Wetlands Park needs water.

Water in the Rio Bosque will recharge our aquifer benefiting farmers and all El Pasoans.  The water from the BWWTP will improve the quality of the water in the aquifer which according to Art Ivey, EPCWID#1 Vice President, is so salty, "We're pouring poison on our [pecan] trees.”  (El Paso Times, 15 December 2014).  There is also the possibility of extending the pipeline to a proposed regulating reservoir immediately south of the Park which will capture “tail” water and make it available to farmers.

Wetlands ecosystem services provide a myriad of benefits to El Pasoans including clean air, clean water, and esthetic, cultural and spiritual values.  Services provided by wetlands include stormwater storage, nutrient removal and climate regulation.  Using extremely conservative estimates by Robert Costanza, Professor of Public Policy at the Crawford School of Public Policy, the value of the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park ecosystem services would be over $1 million per year.  Using data from the nonprofit independent research group, Headwaters Economics, ElPasoNaturally (30 September 2011) estimates that the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park could bring $18 million in Eco-Tourism dollars to El Paso. 

The Rio Bosque Wetlands Park is a tremendous classroom in the open.  Visiting children learn critical STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) skills and, if there is water, graduate students utilize the Park for scientific research projects.

In July 2014, EPWU Public Service Board awarded the $1.1 million contract for construction of the pipeline (BWWTP) to the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park.  The project should have been completed by 26 December 2014.  Now, instead of delivering water to the Park, the pipeline is stalled because EPCWID#1 has not issued a license to cross its drain - a drain that is non-functional and has been abandoned for more than 30 years. 

To complete the pipeline, EPWU could bypass the EPCWID#1 land, but that would unnecessarily complicate the pipeline, make it significantly longer, cause additional delays and increase the cost all EPWU ratepayers.

EPWU owns the effluent from the BWWTP, but they have no facilities to hold that water.  Once water enters infrastructure owned by EPCWID#1, as happens today without the pipeline, the water belongs to EPCWID#1.  According to the 2001 Implementing Third-Party Contract, BWWTP delivers 13,333 acre-feet of water to EPCWID#1 each year.  But EPCWID#1 actually receives about 31,000 acre-feet per year, nearly all that BWWTP produces.

Could it be EPCWID#1 wants control of when and how much water enters the pipeline, before they license an easement across their abandoned drain?  EPCWID#1 already controls all the water in the Rio Grande.  Maybe they want to be sure they also control water that belongs to all El Pasoans. 
- Judy Ackerman

Monday, December 22, 2014

Boy Scouts to Take Over Cement Lake?

In case you missed the story in last week's EP Times, the Texas Transportation Commission okayed leasing 222 acres of public land to the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) for what might be the largest urban BSA camp in the country. The land between Executive Blvd. and Sunland Park and I-10 and Paisano includes Cement Lake, one of the priorities for preservation by El Paso's Open Space Advisory Board.

Marty Schladen, who wrote the Times article, included the angle that the International AIDS Empowerment of El Paso and Las Cruces opposes the lease because the BSA discriminates against gay men. Openly gay youth may join the scouts but a ban on gay scoutmasters persists. (If you are a gay Eagle Scout and want to continue in the organization as a volunteer leader, you are suddenly unworthy.) The BSA policy may be based on the irrational fear that gay men are sexual predators - a notion that is easily dismissed by the facts and statistics. There may also be something akin to "don't ask/don't tell" at work here.

Skip Rosenthal, the Executive Director of International AIDS Empowerment of EP and Las Cruces, points out that El Paso has a policy of non-discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. The municipal code reads:

"The City shall afford equal employment and benefit opportunities to all qualified individuals in compliance with all applicable laws, without regard to their race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status, color, religion, ethnic background or national origin, age, disability, or any other characteristic or status that is protected by federal, state, or local law."

Putting aside the issue of discrimination for a moment, there is the matter of preserving this spring-fed lake and the land around it.  The proposed lease is for 25 years with an option to go another 25 years after that. How well can we expect the Boy Scouts to preserve and conserve Cement Lake? 

BSA has an excellent reputation for land conservation. They even have an "idea sheet" about conservation planning for boy scout properties. The "sheet" mentions that land will not be abused but it also discusses resource management and it does suggest land development and the use of "heavy equipment". So can the local Yucca Council of BSA be trusted to be good stewards of Cement Lake and its pristine surroundings?

If the Texas Transportation Commission truly cares about the preservation of this land, one way to ensure it is to place the land under a conservation easement. That way there would be precise preservation language in the lease agreement and a third party overseeing the easement to make sure that neither TxDOT nor the Boy Scouts violates that language. A conservation manager can be a land management organization such as Frontera Land Alliance or even the City of El Paso.

Something tells me that the Transportation Commission will never enter into any kind of conservation agreement. So, no matter how good the reputation of Scouts may be, without solid assurances that the land will be carefully conserved and preserved, there is good reason to oppose any kind of lease especially if there are no non-discrimination assurances by BSA. 

elpasonaturally will keep an eye on this one.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Rio Bosque Pipeline - Your Action Needed!

Click image to enlarge.

Dear Friends,

The Rio Bosque Wetlands Park needs your help.  Please contact members of the El Paso County Water Improvement District # 1 (EPCWID#1) and ask them to approve a license to allow completion of the pipeline from the Roberto Bustamante Waste Water Treatment Plant (RBWWTP) to the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park.  A sample letter and EPCWID#1 members’ contact information are below.  Please e-mail, phone, and / or send a US Postal letter to all members. 

Also, plan to attend the next meeting of the EPCWID#1 Board, Wednesday, 14 January 2015, 8:30 AM, District Board Room, 13247 Alameda Ave, Clint, TX.


Construction of the pipeline is almost complete except for where it would cross a drain owned by EPCWID#1.  The drain, abandoned for at least 30 years, has filled in and is nonexistent in the area of the pipeline.  In July 2014, EPWU Public Service Board awarded the contract for pipeline construction and expected completion by 26 December 2014.  Without a license from EPCWID#1, the project will be delayed increasing the costs and unnecessarily complicating the pipeline design.

EPWU owns the effluent from the RBWWTP which produces an average of 28 million gallons per day, but they have no facilities to hold that water.  Once water enters infrastructure owned by EPCWID#1, the water belongs to EPCWID#1.

In the early 1990s Rio Bosque Wetlands Park was identified as the preferred site for a wetland project to mitigate for natural habitat loss caused by the American Canal Extension.  The wetland project at the Park was designed to utilize effluent from the adjacent RBWWTP.  Currently, the Park only receives water from RBWWTP for a few months in the winter.  To realize its potential for critical habitat restoration, ecosystem services, aquifer recharge, and economic benefit from eco-tourism, the Wetlands Park needs water.

Wetlands ecosystem services provide a myriad of benefits to El Pasoans including clean air, clean water, and esthetic, cultural and spiritual value.  Services provided by wetlands include stormwater storage, nutrient removal and climate regulation.  Using extremely conservative estimates by highly regarded researchers, Robert Costanza et al, the value of the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park ecosystem services would be over $1 million per year. 

Farmers benefit from having water in the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park because it will recharge the aquifer they pump from to irrigate their fields.  The water from the RBWWTP will improve the quality of the water in the aquifer which according to Art Ivey is so salty, "We're pouring poison on our [pecan] trees.”  (El Paso Times, 15 Dec 2014).  There is also the possibility of extending the pipeline to a proposed regulating reservoir immediately south of the Park which will capture “tail” water and make it available to farmers.

Sample Letter:

Dear EPCWID#1 Board Member,

I implore you to approve a license that will allow completion of the pipeline from the Roberto Bustamante Waste Water Treatment Plant to the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park by allowing the pipeline to cross the Rio Intercepting Drain right-of-way. 

Without the license, El Paso Water Utilities (EPWU) will need to design and engineer a more convoluted route for the pipeline that will increase the expense to all EPWU rate-payers and delay completion of the pipeline. 

Adding water to the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park will benefit farmers by recharging and improving the quality of the aquifer.  Farmers will also benefit when the pipeline is extended to the proposed regulating reservoir where “tail” water can be utilized by irrigators. 

Your Name and Contact Information

EPCWID#1 Board members’ contact information: 

Jesus Reyes
General Manager
Johnny Stubbs
Art Ivey
Vice President
Indar Singh
Miguel Teran
Board Member
Larry Ceballos
Board Member

US Postal address:  PO Box 749, Clint, TX 79836-0749
Phone:  915-872-4000

Thursday, December 18, 2014

TWDB May Do Much Good but Does It Always Tell the Truth?

The Perry appointed Texas Water Development Board may do much good with the dispersal of SWIFT (State Water Implementation Fund for Texas) funds, but does it always tell the truth?

Daniel Borunda reported in a story in today's El Paso Times that TWDB Chariman, Carlos Rubenstein, said at a meeting at El Paso's TecH20 center yesterday that "state funding will pump millions into water projects in the region the chairman of the Texas Water Development Board said Wednesday during a meeting in El Paso."

Borunda also wrote that "John Balliew, the president and chief executive officer for El Paso Water Utilities, said EPWU will seek SWIFT support for an expansion of the Jonathan W. Rogers Water Treatment Plant, an advance purification system to turn waste water into high-quality drinking water and systems to capture "tail water" or unused water."

All of the above is good. Read the Times story. Judy Ackerman emailed me these notes about the high points of yesterday's meeting:

"About 50 attendees including Jesus “Chuy” Reyes, Edward Drusina (IBWC Commissioner), Pat Gordon (Rio Grande Compact Commissioner).

"Senator Rodriguez introduced the only speaker:  Carlos Rubinstein, Chairman of the TX Water Development Board.  

"The main point was how to apply for SWIFT $s, who can and when.

"In his opening remarks, Rubinstein mentioned the Rockefeller Resilience award given to El Paso - kudos.   He said “No issue is more important to TX than water.”  The State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT) will “ensure water for 50 years.”

"By legislation, they must use At Least 20% of the funds on Conservation and Reuse (which includes lining of irrigation canals and municipal water line losses).  At Least 10% of funds must go to Rural communities and agriculture.
They are working on the issue of assigning capital costs to conservation.  (what is the dollar value of water lost to seepage in open irrigation ditches, etc.)

"Sierra Club is in the conversation with TWDB on conservation issues.

"Sen Rodriguez’s question:  what about Fracking and water use? 
Answer:  Statewide, fracking uses only 1% of TX water.  Expect frackers to use more brackish water.  Frackers may receive “incentives” to reuse their water.

"TWDB hosts meeting for innovative ideas on water and they are always packed."

The emphasis on fracking is mine. If Rubenstein and the rest of the TWDB believe that fracking only uses 1% of Texas water, he and they are either not telling the truth or they are misinformed, deceived or having pipe dreams. Because of the incestuous relationship that Texas Republican government has with big oil, I unfortunately believe that they are not telling the truth and are attempting to deceive us.

Read my two posts about the math of fracking water consumption HERE and HERE

Coincidentally to yesterday's TWDB meeting, Governor Cuomo of New York announced that his state was banning fracking because of health and environmental concerns. Also yesterday, Politico ran this report about the Texas energy revolt especially in Denton, Texas which banned fracking in a vote last November. 

I'm sure that Senator Rodriguez's question to Rubenstein was inspired by elpasonaturally's exposure of plans by Torchlight Energy Resources to frack on the Diablo Plateau (part of the same ecosystem as the Otero Mesa) mere miles beyond Hueco Tanks and the city limits of El Paso.

Keep in mind that El Paso Water Utilities may sooner than later be importing water from that plateau in Hudspeth County. We have to ask how Torchlight or any other fracker will pollute that groundwater. The TPWD should be asking the same question and, rather than enabling the fracking industries destruction of the scarce commodity of water, it should be fighting it. Unfortunately, big oil elects governors of Texas along with Railroad Commissioners, Land Commissioners and governors appoint the TWDB members.

Be sure to read a November press release by TWDB announcing the adoption of the final rules for the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT). Be sure to click on the links on the bottom of the release and read the information.

BTW a group of El Pasoans involved in the Texas Water Captains initiative met on Wednesday at the Columban Mission Center.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Friday Video: Perspectives:The Frontera Land Alliance

Learn more about the Frontera Land Alliance as well as the relationship between land conservation and water conservation. The latter is critical and is why you don't want City Council in control of PSB land so that they can sell it off for the immediate gratification of instant revenue. Keeping your Public Service Board independent means water today and water for your grandchildren's grandchildren.

Save our land. Save our water. Save our PSB.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

What Was Really Insulting at Yesterday's PSB Meeting

In a statement to the El Paso Times, Mayor Leeser explained his "no" vote to the new El Paso Water Utilities proposed budget and rate hikes: "It was insulting to see that type of presentation . . ." Huh? Apparently he objected to a presentation about the budget given a few weeks ago in a public budget hearing and given again yesterday for a vote. At issues seems to be the fact that your water utility will begin showing on your bill in March the amount you pay (10%) that goes back to the city (not counting the amount businesses now pay for the City Council directed tax aka fee). His resposes to Times reporter Vic Kolenc were vague.

Here's the deal: the Mayor's was the only nay vote because he said that he was "insulted". Six other members of the Board - all smart, professional people - were not insulted. Apparently only one person, the Mayor, found the budget presentations "insulting". Word on the street is that the Mayor was engaged in political posturing. He has said on more than one occasion to various people that he believes that the utility should be run by the city not the PSB. In other words, his "nay" vote and his suggestion that he was insulted are, at the least, clear indications of his lack of support for the PSB if not a means to undermine the PSB. 

More proof: the Mayor chairs the PSB selection committee. He did not attend and did not take part in the nearly unanimous highest rating of current board member, David Nemir. When the matter went before Council, he was silent allowing the selection of Brad Roe who has ties with the El Paso Builders Association. One keen observer of El Paso politics commented: "You can bet the Bowlings got the votes [for Roe] from Council." 

You might also want to peruse Oscar Leeser's campaign finance reports of 2013. See how many sprawlers you see listed as giving the big bucks. These are the very people who want to get their hands on all of that PSB land and a shortsighted Council wants to sell off as fast as they can to make up budget shortfalls. (And once you've spent all that you have on bloated credit card expenses, you find that you can't pay for the extravagant purchases you keep making. Imagine the city running the water utility. Just how fast do you think that we will run out of water?)

What was insulting at yesterday's PSB meeting was how the Mayor voted and how he left the meeting with important agenda items still pending and how he does not do his duty to communicate what the PSB is doing to City Council. That is what is insulting and every single El Pasoan should be insulted.

By the way, even with the rate increases, El Paso Water Utilities' rates are still the lowest or second lowest when compared to other Texas cities and to other regional cities in the southwest. Here are the charts:

Save our water. Save our land. Save our PSB.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Gloves Are Off

City Council's land grab is becoming more and more obvious. It entails destroying your Public Service Board, the very people who have made sure that all of us who live in this desert city even in the midst of drought have water. Why the land grab? So that they can sell off land in little bits at a time to the sprawlers who are funding their campaign coffers and pulling their strings. What we have now is no longer a representation of us, but an autocracy of a very few people with the greedy intent of getting richer and richer. Damn our children and grandchildren and their children. Let them thirst, they say. Their profit now is all that matters.

Let me give you four examples of the land grab. Pay attention El Paso Times, El Paso Inc., El Paso Diario, KVIA, KTSM, et. al. especially to this first one:

First, Council's most egregious and covert attempt occurred at last Tuesday's City Council meeting. There was a strategic effort made by Rep. Cortney Niland to put control of all PSB managed land under the control of City Council by amending the language in a bond issuance proposed by the PSB. PSB bonds are backed by the assets of the utility pledged as collateral. In the bond language the PSB is referred to as the "system". Niland wants the land NOT to be part of the system but under the control of City Council. The problem with that is the fact that bondholders could then sue the city because there would no longer be collateral backing the bonds. The solution proposed was to alter the language in the bond issuance to prevent bondholders from having grounds to sue. 

24 hours before Council Sylvia Firth, who works directly under the Mayor, announced this new language. In executive session, the Bond Counsel, Paul Braden convinced City Council that it was impossible to make this change with only 24 hours notice. The language was dropped and the usual language remained. HOWEVER, we can expect Niland, et. al. to be better prepared in 6 or 8 months when more bond issuances go to Council.

Know that Niland has been heard in public that she does not care about EPWU's prestige for being one of the best water utilities in the country, she wants the utility to be under the direct control of Council so that our land can be sold for revenue. Her shortsighted plan is completely contrary to the vision for having an independent PSB/EPWU in the first place - a vision that has led successfully to our having water and water at a very low rate. (Those rates will still be lower than the average rates across the country even if it should go up another 8 percent or so. And remember, businesses, that it was Council not the PSB who levied that exorbitant franchise tax - I mean "fee" - on you and not the PSB.)

Second, Council's most egregious and overt action to destroy the PSB and grab land for their sprawler masters occurred just two hours ago. They appointed the third-rated candidate (Bradley Roe) over the first-rated and current PSB member, David Nemir. Why? Refuse the Juice said it the best in a post just minutes after the vote: "[Roe is] clearly a pick that will vote to sell all of the PSB land to home builders in tiny parcels so that parks don't have to be included . . . among other amenities. Smart code is out the door with this guy."

"The fix was in" as Refuse the Juice explained. As soon as the candidates were introduced, Lilly Limon moved to accept Roe. She did her part. It was all orchestrated beforehand. Only Rep. Robinson and Rep. Ordaz voted against the motion for Roe.

Thirdly, last March 18th City Council seemed poised to jettison smart development from the Northwest Master Plan - a plan forged by the efforts of so many El Pasoans. Their efforts were thwarted by an outcry by many of us and they reaffirmed (at least for now) that Master Plan. It bears vigilant watching however.

And finally, the recent attempt to take money from that portion of the stormwater fee dedicated to buying and preserving natural open space for flood control projects was a means of undermining not just the PSB but the Open Space Advisory Board. As an OSAB member I took the position that we could afford to be part of the City's efforts to help flood control. I was wrong. Many of you told me before that I was wrong and now you hear me saying it. It was an attempt to undermine the PSB by taking that decision away from them. It was an attempt to undermine the Open Space Advisory Board by setting the precedent that open space money is merely a slush fund. Hopefully the matter is dead as I posted last week. I can tell you that, when several of us were first invited by the Mayor to his office to discuss his proposal, I asked whether he had spoken to John Balliew about the proposal. Surprisingly he hadn't and he seemed to be caught off guard by my question. He promised to do so but I bet he wouldn't have had I never asked the question. I'll use another post to relate how we were sold a car. For now, know that I will ask that the matter be put back on the OSAB agenda so that we can rescind our recommendation.

I like to get along and always give the other side the benefit of the doubt and believe that win-win solutions are always best. I believe that there is good in each and every person. However, the beliefs, habits and practices of the El Paso autocracy (and the fact that they are an autocracy) - the sprawlers and their Council lackeys (who I will stop referring to as "representatives" because they don't represent the people) - are shortsighted and simply bad for our future. I will for awhile be posting daily about this land grab and the machinations of the autocracy. I can't be nice any longer. 

The gloves are off. It's time to fight back. El Pasoans are about to step up. Save our water. Save our land. Save our PSB.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Stormwater happens, though not often

Below is a response to elpasospeak's December 5, 2014 post Fixing Nature. We often like the posts by "Brutus" but know that he needs some more information when it comes to stormwater issues and matters about EPWU. Here is what Judy Ackerman says:

By nature’s design, arroyos carry stormwater downhill, across alluvial fans to where water can recharge the aquifer and/or join the Rio Grande. Every time we build a roof, road or sidewalk, we create impervious surfaces that block Mother Nature’s plan and magnify the drainage problems for those living further downstream.  Mother Nature always bats last.

Back in 2007, just after the floods of 2006, El Paso tasked EPWU with stormwater management, because city departments and elected officials did not have the expertise or the will to do effective maintenance or future planning for stormwater emergencies (this fact proven by the 2006 flood damage).  EPWU did not want the responsibility, but accepted it because they (Ed Archuleta) knew it was the right thing to do.  They had the expertise.  They are the experts on water management.  AND they are not subject to the whims of politicians who will never spend money now for the inevitable future flood.

EPWU estimated the funds needed for stormwater infrastructure and assessed land owners fees based on the amount of impervious surface they owned.  That seems fair.  BUT, El Pasoans objected because schools and churches with big impervious surfaces (parking lots) would pay too much.  So, we exempted schools and churches from any fees.  Now, the rest of us property owners must make up the difference. 

We El Pasoans made those choices and must pay the necessary fee.   For the future, let’s stop making any more impervious surfaces.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Diversion of Open Space Funds May Now Be Dead Except for Park Ponds

Prior to the Mayor's deletion of item 13.2 from yesterday's City Council agenda, substantial pushback to the proposal began to show up especially from some members of City Council who either felt uninformed or feared the loss of money that they could tap into for future park ponds. There must have been considerable emailing back and forth among members during an discussion of an earlier agenda item. I'm privy to some of that.

Just a few minutes ago I sent an email message to the Mayor and Ms. Niland. Here is what I wrote:

"Mr. Mayor and Ms. Niland,

"It appears that there is substantial pushback to the proposal to divert up to $3.2 Million from open space funds for flood issues. I certainly understand your need to delete the item yesterday, Mr. Mayor. Given the pushback from some on City Council and substantial opposition to the proposal among many in the public, it may be best to just let this one die. I like "creative financing" but know that there are funds elsewhere to accomplish the same tasks. Additionally, the current PSB rate increase now just makes more sense. 

"I have been concerned that some see open space funds as just a means of buying "pretty" land. As you know, those funds are to purchase natural open space land that has stormwater function. In other words, those funds are meant for the health, safety and welfare of all persons in the City of El Paso. I have also been concerned that the open space funds will become just a "slush" fund for other projects. I know that you both do not want that to happen and I appreciated your willingness to place restrictions on the proposal. But given the failure of some to see that the funds are meant for the safety of El Pasoans and instead see them as a frivolous means of purchasing and conserving land for being simply "pretty", then the use of this money as a slush fund may become the rule and not the exception in spite of our best intentions.

"Of course, conserving land is critical given the scarcity of our most precious and needed commodity: water. Moreover, such conservation prevents the burden of higher property taxes for additional infrastructure, maintenance and services. Too much development on the edges of a town does not pay for itself but creates additional expenses for the city and the taxpayers. Infill projects such as the Northgate project which you approved yesterday and called "incredible for the city" do more than pay for themselves - they are indeed a boon for jobs.

"I certainly value and appreciate the leadership both of you are giving the city. Your theme that El Paso is open for business is so exciting and it is working. Jobs mean more revenue from sales tax and thus a way to alleviate the increasingly unbearable burden of property taxes. I am grateful to you for seeking my input. I hope that we can continue to work together on many other items. "Green" and "prosperity" go hand in hand. A resilient city needs both. You know that you can call on me at any time. 

"Sincerely and with all best wishes,

Jim Tolbert"

Let us hope that this is now a dead issue and move on to the more critical issues of water scarcity and land conservation. There is much to be done here and park ponds are not part of the solution. Those on Council who wish to take open fund money for park ponds are doing so against ordinance.

Let me quote Charlie Wakeem from an email he recently sent:

"No where in the Municipal Drainage System Ordinance of June 19, 2007 does it state that the 10% money could go for park ponds.  If that was the intent of council while you were there, Susie, then it should have been stated in the ordinance.  The ordinance specifically states, Section III (C) "Notwithstanding anything herein to be contrary and even to the extent such operation may constitute storm water maintenance, the city shall continue to be responsible for ... (iv) parks"."  Section III (D) "The Capital Plan shall identify stormwater infrastructure projects (including land acquisitions) which have the potential dual purposes of storm water management and preservation of the City’s open spaces, greenways, arroyos and wilderness areas in their natural state in accordance with the City’s Open Space Master Plan and the City’s Parks and Recreation Master Plan (“Green Projects”).  The Board shall allocate an amount equal to ten percent (10%) of the System’s annual drainage utility revenues for such Green Projects". [emphasis added]  There is nothing ambiguous about the ordinance.  If council wants to change the ordinance to include park ponds, they have the power to do so, but it wasn't what the community voted for when it endorsed the ordinance which established the Municipal Drainage System.

"I've always been in favor of park ponds where they are safe (i.e. shallow in grade and depth), but it's a Parks budget item, not the Storm Water Utility's.  Also, ponding areas should be planted with the use of native vegetation, which do not require watering and manicuring, as recommended in both the Parks and Open Space Master Plans."

I'll write more about all of this later.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

This Changes Everything

So how did the vote on the open space $3.2 million go today? There was no vote. Instead the item was deleted and will most probably go to a Legislative Review Committee of the City Council. How did this come about? Rep. Emma Acosta has other plans. What are the other plans for the $3.2 million? More park ponds! This changes the calculus completely.

Already the email is flying between current council members and at least one former member. Dr. Rick Bonart, our hero for his open space trail blazing and his days on the PSB, doesn't want to give an inch on the $3.2 million and he has some good reasons.

Expect meetings and for the Franklin Mountain Wilderness Coalition to get involved.

Can of worms? You betcha.

Stay tuned.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Correcting a Misstatement and Focusing on the Real Concerns

I misstated something in yesterday's post and I need to make a correction for the record. In a post published just yesterday but meant for last Friday, I wrote: "Not long ago, City Councilwoman, Cortney Niland, was heard to say that the City needed $3.2 Million to keep a promise made to developers. Amazing how that $3.2 Million is exactly what she and the Mayor propose to take from that portion of the stormwater fee meant to go to open space over the next couple of years." 

I checked my source because the item regarding the $3.2 Million for open space being re-directed comes up tomorrow. I was corrected. Ms. Niland made the statement in regards to an earlier decision by Council to charge businesses an extra fee on their water-sewer bills for road repairs. That amount was $3.5 Million. Ms. Niland was trying to find a means to address a budget short fall while providing a source of money to improve the pace of permitting by contractors with the City and thus reducing wait time. I did not inquire about the particulars.

Tomorrow's agenda item 13.2 does have to do with the use of the ten percent of stormwater fees that would normally go to the purchase of open space. Instead, over the next two years up to $3.2 Million will be diverted to flood water construction projects. The ordinance language (click on supporting document HERE) is quite specific and is in harmony with what the Open Space Advisory Board recommended: up to $3.2 Million over the next year (nothing more and it could be less) will be spent for these projects. Furthermore, the money does not get transferred to the City. It remains on the Stormwater ledger under the control of the Public Service Board. 

As a member of the Open Space Advisory Board I also voted to recommend. Quite frankly, it was the best thing to do noting five things: Open space priorities are being acquired or are in the act of acquisition. Second, there will be $800,000 in the open space account after the acquisitions. Third, we don't have a Council generally favorable to conservation at this time. (That $3.2 Million could have been nearly $5 Million more without our discussions with the Mayor.) Fourth, the language of the ordinance is as we discussed. All is honest and above board. Finally, OSAB only advises and recommends. The City Council passes ordinances.

I understand that some of you disagree with the recommendation but keep in mind that there are more critical concerns. One of them may be in item 8.1 on tomorrow's agenda. I'll cut to the chase. Read page 25. (Click on supporting document HERE.) My sources (far better than the $3.2 Million one) tell me that the City Attorney may have made a substantial re-write at the last minute without any notice. We will see tomorrow. At issue is who controls bonding and land sales and all of that - the PSB or this City Council bought and paid for by the El Paso sprawlers. 

The really critical issues: keeping the PSB in control and conserving more land.

As conservationists, let's work together on the critical issues which really count.

Opposition to Fracking Grows

Click to enlarge. Map from NewsOK
Reno, Texas has taken steps to ban fracking by "limiting disposal well activity to operators who can prove the injections won't cause earthquakes," reports Emily Schmall of the Associated Press. The oil and gas industry pumps waste water from fracking deep underground supposedly to prevent contamination of the water table. 

Schmall's updated article was republished in various places online and in major newspapers such as the Washington Times and the Minneapolis Star Tribune. In its issue today (Monday, December 1, 2014) the El Paso Times buried the article on page 4 of Borderland. I have yet to find a link to it on the El Paso Times online. (On its front page, the El Paso Times major headline was "Fans Remember Icon 'Chespirito'". The front page had nothing about opposition to and dangers of fracking across the country now that the threat of fracking is just a few miles beyond Hueco Tanks.)

Reno, a town between Paris, Texas and Texarkana has experienced hundreds of earthquakes just in the past year. A Magnitude 4.2 earthquake rattled Medford, Oklahoma yesterday following on the heels of two other earthquakes in the region - some felt in neighboring Kansas. The cause? Fracking.  Read or listen to an NPR interview about Oklahoma quakes and fracking.

No wonder Reno and communities across the country are fighting fracking including conservative Denton, Texas.

And thanks to the El Paso, Times front page story by Diana Washington Valdez yesterday (Sunday, November 30, 2014) and Robbie Gray's El Paso Inc. story on the first page of the "Your Money" section, signers of our online petition jumped overnight from 138 supporters to 551 and during this morning to 658! (Sorry no EP Times link yet to Valdez's Sunday story but one to her Saturday story.) Both Valdez and Gray mentioned elpasonaturally's petition.

Growing opposition to fracking is certainly a silver lining as are falling oil prices worldwide. Just don't ever expect the Texas Railroad Commission, the Texas Land Office or the University of Texas to ever be enviromentally moral and responsible - at least while the current oligarchy rules the Lone Star State.