Friday, January 30, 2015

The Friday Video: Ecosystem Services

This should really be called Ecosystem Services 101. After watching this simple video, think about all the ways that El Paso compromises its ecosystem services and, thus, leaving a poorer world to our children and grand-children and our grand-children's grand-children. That's far too many generations to grasp for sprawlers and City Council members who want to short-sightedly sell land now managed by the PSB for a short-term fix to their budget problems. The video:

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Ackerman Calls for Conservation of Castner Range

Photo compliments of Doug Agee

Judy Ackerman, one of El Paso’s most outspoken environmental advocates and Secretary of the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition (FMWC), spoke last night to a nearly packed auditorium at the Chamizal National Memorial Theater about conserving Castner Range. Entitled “Conserving Castner Range, Crown Jewel of the Franklin Mountains” Judy urged the audience to sign a petition to save Castner Range from any future development.

Photo compliments of Virginia Galarza

The presentation was sponsored by the El Paso Sierra Club Group and UTEP’s Environmental Advocates. FMWC formed in 1978 and was largely responsible in organizing local citizen efforts to create Franklin Mountains State Park in 1979. Today the organization is working with stakeholders across the city in helping to preserve from potential development the 7,081-acre Castner Range—previously used by the Army for artillery exercises from 1926-1966. Located at the state park’s eastern boundary, the range is closed to the public. 

Prior to Judy's presentation, Jackson Polk introduced and showed his video:

Visit Jackson's El Paso Gold web site to see and purchase his outstanding documentaries about El Paso history and lore.

City Parks Director Neither Sought nor Approved Removal of Palms from San Jacinto Plaza

"No Responsive Documents" - that is the official City of El Paso response to this open records request made by me:

"Mr. Novak [Tracy Novak is the City Parks and Recreation Director], The Policy and Standards Manual for the Care of Trees and Shrubs in the City of El Paso 17.1.4 stipulates "in the case of park trees, the Parks and Recreation Department Director approves the removal in writing after consulting with the Project Arborist." The California fan palms were taken from the San Jacinto Park and given to the contractor rather than to the El Paso Tree Farm. Please supply me with all documents (email, letters, etc.) which reveal your consultation with the Project Arborist and/or our City Arborist, Brent Pearson, prior to the removal of the palms. Please also supply a copy of your approval in writing of the removal of those palms."

"No Responsive Documents" means that Mr. Novak failed to approve the removal in writing. There is no record that he consulted with either the Project Manager or our City Arborist.

Why pass ordinances and have policy and standard manuals when City officials just ignore them?

Also read elpasospeak's post today. 

Why tell the truth at all?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Bosque to Get Pipeline from Bustamante

Click on image to enlarge.
From Richard Teschner just now:

"All: Good news. The EPCWID#1 Board just passed, unanimously, Item 1683, which will allow the B-to-B Pipeline to cross over District land. Hooray!"--Richard

The "District" is the El Paso County Water Improvement District #1. Their agreement allows a pipeline to be extended from the Bustamante Treatment Plant directly to the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park. The agreement was necessary because the District owns a narrow strip of unused and abandoned land over which the pipe needs to be laid.

What does this mean? A true wetalands all year round with numerous bird species and other animals nesting and living there. It means more ecotourists and birders coming to El Paso spending money and paying sales tax.

Hooray indeed!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

El Paso Sierra Club Hosts Public Event at Chamizal for Conserving Casner Range

Click on image to enlarge.

Did you know that, if it wasn’t for a group of El Paso citizens back in 1978 coming together to support protecting the Franklin Mountains, we might not have the Franklin Mountains State Park today?  If you have ever traveled across Trans Mountain Road you know that in the northeast there is a large area of the Franklin’s administered by Fort Bliss.  This area used to be an artillery range and over the past ten years a new movement has developed to protect what is called the Castner Range as an addition to the State Park. 

Click on image to enlarge.

A growing number of people across the city are showing their support for this effort and a number of organizations are hosting a free public presentation on conservation efforts to protect the Castner Range at Chamizal National Memorial next to Bowie High School on Wednesday night, January 28 at 7pm. (MAP

After introductions by El Paso Zoo Education Curator, Rick LoBello, El Paso's renowned documentary producer, Jackson Polk,  will show his film about Castner Range. Then Judy Ackerman of the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition will speak and give a presentation about conserving Castner Range. She will take questions at the end of her presentation.

Learn more about the program HERE.

elpasonaturally urges you to attend and bring family and friends.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Monday Links: Rio bosque, PSB, City Planning and More

[Monday is "Links Day" with links gathered over the past week to online "stuff" to read and sites to surf that impact us directly or offer information about our regional issues. Please feel free to send me links to any conservation, environmental, simple living, city planning, energy and water, etc. stories that you have come across online.] 

The Rio Bosque Wetlands Park

Austin bird lover had great visit to El Paso, wetlands (A must read proving the point so many of us have made. Austinite writes: "The Rio Bosque wetlands were a real jewel that the whole city can be proud of. Please appreciate the intrinsic and economic value of your unique local wildlife, and preserve and restore habitat where they can continue to flourish."

EPWU, irrigation district working together on pipeline, drain, new lake Looks like the Rio Bosque will finally get a steady, permanent supply of water. Birds and birders will flock to El Paso now.

The Public Service Board (PSB)

David Nemir: City Council must leave El Paso PSB alone (online the Times now has it right)

Keystone Pipeline and Climate Change

Heinrich Speech In Opposition To Keystone Pipeline (It's not just the pipeline that's bad. What's worse is the vast ecosystem destruction caused by tar sands mining. We need to realize that we are part of these vast ecosystems that have evolved with us. Destroy them, and we undermine our survival.)

This chart of rising ocean temperatures is terrifying (Drives home more of what Sen. Heinrich was saying)

City Planning

Green Cities Provide Demonstrable Health Benefits (Note to City Manager Tommy Gonzalez: trees work.)

Online course and webinar

WEBINAR: Green Infrastructure and Flood Resiliency – Land Use Management as an Adaptation Strategy in the Built Environment 
January 29, 2015 – 12:00 PM EST
This webinar addresses assessment, planning, and adaptation to not only better prepare for the next emergency, but to sustainably manage flooding, and stormwater to maintain human health and a vibrant local economy. Participants will leave this webinar with knowledge about the latest innovative approaches to understand the effects of inland flooding and apply low-impact development (LID), site design, and smart growth practices at different scales of implementation. There will be reference to pioneering hydrology-based, sub-watershed approaches that have shown mitigation potential not only for storm water and flooding, but to the loss and degradation in water quality. 
Learn more and register here.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

City Council Must Leave the PSB Alone

[This is an op-ed piece written by David Nemir who just recently left the Public Service Board. It was published in this morning's El Paso Times. Their title: "City Council must not leave El Paso PSB alone" was a huge mistake. Read David's op-ed piece and you will understand why City Council must leave the PSB alone and not try to take over its management and trusteeship of land nor must it attempt to reduce the EPWU to a department of the City of El Paso. Leave the PSB alone. If you forward any link to an elpasonaturally post, this is the one to forward.]

As an outgoing member of the Public Service Board, I have had a front row seat in observing water management in El Paso, both present and past.   This history guides El Paso’s water future.

In 1951, El Paso was out of water.   Drought, depleting wells and dwindling river allocations compelled El Paso leaders to seek bond approval to acquire needed assets and infrastructure.   When voters said no, El Paso leaders formed an independent Public Service Board and made it custodian of El Paso Water Utilities, the revenue from which could be pledged to servicing debt.   With the combination of an independent management and an independent revenue source, the PSB could raise bond money without voter approval, using bond proceeds to expand water and sewer systems. 

The model has worked well.   For much of the past 63 years, the PSB has used bond funding to leverage its asset base, addressing water needs proactively.   Indeed, strategic planning has been fundamental since the PSB’s inception.    Capital projects are planned and budgeted years in advance and are almost always completed within 5% of budget.   

The result is a water utility that is among the best in the country --- winner of awards and provider of some of the lowest cost water services in the state.   And as part of its planning, the Public Service Board has acquired significant land assets, paid for by ratepayers, that will play an important role in funding El Paso’s water future.

However, water ratepayers are falling victim to this success.   Since its inception in 1952, the PSB returns 10% of all water revenue annually back to the city as a franchise fee.    But recent City Councils have sought to modify that arrangement in order to generate new revenue for the City.  

In 2012 Council formed a blue ribbon commission to analyze the revenue share model and to benchmark it against franchise fee and payment in lieu of tax models used for water utilities in other cities throughout Texas and the U.S.   This resulted in a July 2013 report to Council that concluded that El Paso’s revenue share model is in line with other communities and is fair to both ratepayer and taxpayer.   

Unfortunately, City Council chose to ignore this report and in August of 2014, increased the revenue transfer to the City by a whopping 30%  by imposing an annual  “street rental fee” on El Paso Water Utilities, advocating that this be raised by new fees on non-residential ratepayers (eg: churches, schools and business).  

When City Council imposes a dollar of pass-through fees to the ratepayers, zero cents of that dollar go to meet water needs.  Regardless of whether a new fee is called a franchise fee, a street rental fee or an easement use fee, it is still a cost to the water ratepayer without an offsetting benefit in water services.   And it sets a dangerous precedent.   

Through 63 years of strategic planning the PSB has acquired an inventory of land and water infrastructure which it holds in trust for El Paso’s water future.   Through those same 63 years, City Councils have often had a shorter term, less strategic focus.  The PSB, its asset base and its operations should be left alone until Council can articulate a good reason for change.  City budget challenges are not a good reason.   

David Nemir

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Friday Video: The Andidote to Apathy

In 2013 just 6.97% of registered voters elected the new bunch to City Council - the bunch that promised more transparent, open government. Only a whopping 5.43% of voters participated in the run-off.

The low voter turnouts aren't because people don't care. It's because they believe that they don't count. 

In today's video Dave Meslin addresses a Toronto Canada audience. Although his examples are drawn from Canadian political culture, they easily apply to the United States and, yes, to El Paso. 

Meslin says that we live in a world that "actively discourages engagement by constantly putting bariers in our way." He names 7 barriers:

  1. City Hall
  2. Public space
  3. Media
  4. Heroes
  5. Politcal parties
  6. Charitable status
  7. Our elections

This video will only take 7 minutes of your time. Listen to it and think about El Paso: a closed, non-transparent City government, a City Manager who clamps down on "leaks", the price-tag on freedom of expression, the lack of news about how to get involved, the message that we can't act unless called upon or chosen, the lack of really bold, creative ideas, the inability of organizations such as the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition or the prohibition of city employees to get involved politically - all while corporations and powers are considered people who can be involved - and the message that we just don't count.

Ask yourself this: Why do we have to ask for information via open records requests? Why aren't records just open?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Mr. Mayor, Tear Down that Barrier to City Hall

In my last post, More Than Just One Tree, I explained that Tree-gate is more about the lack of openness and transparency in our city government and the cavalier way that many city departments disregard policies and procedures.

Have you been to the new City Hall since the 2013 elections? We supposedly elected a whole new group that was going to bring more openness and transparency to city government. If you have been to the new City Hall over the past year or so, you will know that it is not easy to visit with the Mayor, your Representative or anyone else. You must first sign-in. A guard/receptionist asks for your destination and they call to confirm that you have an appointment. You then must pass through a metal detector - something that was only required for City Council meetings in the now demolished City building. 

Not long ago I had a meeting with the Mayor at his invitation. Although I made it through gestapo-gate, I was detained downstairs and not allowed to go to the Mayor's waiting area on the 2nd floor until I was summoned. 

On another occasion I went to another city building to get something from a friend who works there. I was confronted by one of El Paso's finest (really?) and had to explain where I was going and why I came through a door supposedly for city officials only. 

None of the check-in procedures represent good customer service or openness. 

I have never been to Mayor Leeser's Hyundai dealership but something tells me that there is not the check-point with the guards that clear you before you can gain entry to see a salesperson.

Not only is the El Paso government our government - they serve us and we don't serve them - we are their customers.

Here's a modest proposal: Move the Mayor and City Representatives and the graduate of the Tricky Dick Nixon School of Government, our City Manager, to offices downstairs, each office having a large glass window. Now that would be openness and transparency. The bunch who got elected because the previous city government and staff were supposedly so secret wouldn't be able to hide behind check-points and intimidating officers. Well - at least not the ones who are accountable enough to be full-time servants available to citizens at all time.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

More Than Just One Tree

I didn't catch this but I should have. However, elpasospeak caught it in their post Naturally Secret. I quote:

"Also troubling is what the city manager wrote in an email to city council:

'Staff has proposed alternatives to me, and apparently somehow the information has made it out to the public.' [Emphasis mine]

"The very thought of a public servant serving the public is evidently an abnormal event and it sounds like he plans to investigate the leak.  Maybe they should kill the tree in executive session." 

OMG! The public found out! How horrible! We need to find the source of the leak and clamp down or punish. We also need to stop future leaks.

What happened to all that talk about transparency during the last City Council and Mayoral elections? Weren't El Pasoans fighting mad that the decision about a ballpark was all done secretly? 

Check out transparency talk in the final 2015 Strategic Plan for El Paso:

5) Promote Transparent and Consistent Communication Amongst All Members of the Community
5.1 Set a climate of respect, collaboration and team spirit among Council, city staff and the community
5.2 Leverage and expand the use of current and new technology to reduce inefficiencies and improve communications
5.3 Promote a well-balanced customer service philosophy throughout the organization
5.4 Enhance internal communication and employee engagement 
5.5 Advance two way communications of key messages to external customers

5.6 Strengthen messaging opportunities through media outlets


Even in violation of a Strategic Plan that he helped to fashion, our City Manager sends out a memo that strongly suggests that information about our San Jacinto Plaza Park's remodel and the damage done to our Holiday Christmas Tree somehow should have been kept under wraps.

The issue facing us is more than just one tree. It is the LACK of transparency in this City and the total disregard of citizen initiatives, ordinances, procedures such as the Tree Manual and all the work done by Mayor Wardy's Green Sweep Program. 

I don't know Mr. Gonzalez. I've never met him and my attempt to get a meeting with him resulted in his getting surrogates to contact me. He may be a great guy but I'm beginning to wonder whether he isn't a graduate of the Tricky Dick Nixon School of Government. (Google "Watergate" if you are too young to know the reference.)

elpasospeak says it the best: "We deserve better."

Much more later. Stay tuned. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Monday Links: Francis, Fracking, Foam and More

Friday (most of the time) is video day here on elpasonaturally. Daily I'm either running into interesting and informative pages or sites online or I receive links to online info and articles from many of you. So, Monday is going to become (most of the time) "Links Day" with links gathered over the past week (or so) to online "stuff" to read and sites to surf.

Please feel free to send me links to any conservation, environmental, simple living, city planning, energy and water, etc. stories that you have come across online. 

Here's the first batch:

Two stories on fracking:

Pope Francis Says No to Fracking
26 Earthquakes Later, Fracking's Smoking Gun Is in Texas

Ecology and Ecosystems:

Wetlands Ecosystem Services (cool EPA slide show in pdf form especially good for understanding why preserving and watering the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park is so critical for the El Paso region)

The Environment:

Rejoice! New York is the biggest city to ban foam packaging


What America's nutty demand for almonds is doing to California (not to mention what growing water guzzling pecan orchards and cotton in the Rio Grande valleys of El Paso is doing to us)

Add to Your Bookmarks:

YES! Magazine
On the Commons

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Disturbing new evidence that our planet's groundwater is being pumped out much faster than it can be replenished

Last fall on November 16 I watched a very disturbing episode of the CBS Sunday night program 60 Minutes about how our groundwater is being pumped out much faster than it can be replenished. I wonder how many of ElPasoNaturally readers saw this episode. It is available online at 60 Minutes November 16, 2014.

I am sure that many agree that speaking out on environmental issues is critical to our quality of life and the quality of life of those who come after us. I plan to watch this episode again and then come up with a new list of questions for those who may have some answers. We have good people working in El Paso for the El Paso Water Utilities. They need our support and feedback and I hope that more people in our community will become involved with our water concerns.

Last year Jim Tolbert launched a petition calling for saving land on both sides of the Franklin Mountains, One of the reasons why Jim believes that this effort is so important is because "preservation means conserving our scarcest resource: WATER. We have more land than water. " Can we all agree that Jim is correct? Is protecting natural open spaces before they are bought up and subdivided important to conserving water? If we agree then we need to be working with Jim now in gathering more signatures. I hope you will join me.

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Friday, January 16, 2015

The Friday Video: A Double Feature!

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Today we have a double feature! We begin with "Love At First Bite - The Ad Doritos Don't Want You to See". Here's the scoop: 

"Rainforests across Southeast Asia are being destroyed every day to make way for massive palm oil plantations, where workers, even children, are trapped in modern slavery to cultivate the vegetable oil. The clearing of these rainforests and peatlands are driving many species like the orangutan and Sumatran tiger to the brink of extinction, while also polluting the Earth's atmosphere by releasing gigatons of greenhouse gases.

"Each year, PepsiCo buys 427,500 tonnes of palm oil. Given how high profile the Doritos Super Bowl campaign is, we're [SumOfUs]using this opportunity to let consumers around the world know about PepsiCo's irresponsible palm oil sourcing policy. there's never been a better time to spread the message and make friends, family and colleagues aware of PepsiCo's practices."

There's an online petition associated with the video. Also be sure to download the El Paso Zoo's palm oil app.

Speaking about the El Paso Zoo, here's one from Rick LoBello, the Education Curator there. Rick has a YouTube Channel where you will find more videos. The following went viral after NBC's Today show used it:

We need to post more of Rick's videos here on elpasonaturally!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Ackerman to tell story of efforts to conserve Castner Range on January 28

Judy Ackerman speaking at the Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta

I have been working with Judy Ackerman on a variety of conservation issues and educational initiatives for a long time going back about eight years when we worked together on the board of the Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition. Those who know Judy know that she is very passionate and knowledgeable about every project she gets involved in and like many of us baby boomers we know the reality of Margaret Meade's famous quote - "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

Judy and a large group of her friends and conservation stakeholders are out to change El Paso.  We want to see the city become a vibrant community of environmentally conscious citizens who know how important the environment is to their quality of life and well-being.

Because of Judy's passion for conservation I recommended to the El Paso Sierra Club Executive Committee that we invite her to speak at what we hope will become an important venue for conservation events in El Paso, the National Park Service's Chamizal National Memorial, in the heart of our city.

You can support efforts to help protect Castner Range so that someday it can be a part of Franklin Mountains State Park or perhaps protected by National Monument status or some other protected designation by attending her presentation on Wednesday evening, January 28 at 7:00pm.  The free community event will take place in the beautiful Chamizal National Memorial theater across from Bowie High School and everyone in the community is invited. Make plans to attend with your co-workers, family and friends and show your support for our mountains and our quality of life.   Learn more on the Sierra Club website at 

So what happened with the EPCWID#1 Board Meeting?

Apparently the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park will get its water via a direct pipeline from the Bustamante Waste Water Treatment Plant. The EPWU's plan to build the pipeline had been delayed because that pipeline crossed a narrow section of abandoned land owned by the El Paso Water Improvement District #1. It took getting something in return to gain the easement.

John Sproul reported that, at the end of its open meeting yesterday, "the [EPCWID #1] Board discussed scheduling a special board meeting to take place in a week or so.  Board President  Johnny Stubbs said this will be the meeting at which the board takes action on Application 1683 for the Rio Bosque pipeline crossing."

At the beginning of yesterday's meeting, Board President Johnny Stubbs stood and addressed the seven or so members of the Friends of the Rio Bosque and explained that the Improvement District was their best friend and that they would soon grant the EPWU's request. He mentioned that they had concerns. What he didn't mention was their wanting something in return. Nevertheless, members of the Friends thanked him and, when I addressed them, said that I took them at their word.

Apparently the EPWU agreed to pay for some improvements to the drain downstream of the Bosque for a small sum. (Unknown what that is.) The EPWU has issued the Improvement District a check for the license fee and it should be issued within a day or two - perhaps after their special meeting. The date and time of that meeting has not been posted yet on their web site.

City Cover-up of Christmas Tree Scandal in Full Swing

Click to enlarge. This photo was taken 1/9/15. Note the orange netting around the trunk of the tree. It should be around the drip line of the tree. (The drip line is the circumference of the tree below the farthest extended branches.) Note all of the trenching and concrete work inside of the drip line. Does anyone think that Engineering or anyone else from the City really heeded expert arborist advice?
Here's the word put out by the Public Affairs Coordinator of the City of El Paso's infamous Engineering Department:

"Good Evening Mayor Leeser and Honorable Members of the City Council:

As you know, the San Jacinto Plaza renovation project is garnering renewed media attention. We are responding to the questions as they come in. This is the information we are providing them broken down by topic:

  DECISION ON THE PINE TREE: Since learning from the City Arborist and other tree experts that the large pine tree in San Jacinto Plaza was damaged, the City of El Paso has carefully weighed all of its options to save it. The city’s assessment of all options on how best to save this valuable community asset continues. At this time, no decision has been made and we will continue to update the community as information becomes available.

  CARE OF THE PINE TREE: The City Arborist has been consulted on at least three occasions regarding the large pine tree at the Plaza.  After consultation with the arborist, an element of the project design was significantly altered to minimize large-scale damage to the Christmas tree.  The tree has been watered at least twice weekly since the beginning of the project. Additionally, a project arborist was retained by the contractor.

  PALM TREES: Eight palm trees were removed and salvaged by the contractor. The value of them (approximately $5,000/tree) was credited to the city."

Here's what we know:

Through several sources elpasonaturally knows that the advice by the City Arborist has largely gone unheeded. In fact, Engineering routinely does what it wants to do. Reaction from several persons who deal with Engineering regularly goes something like this: "Engineering is deaf.  They do what they want to do and they dare anyone at the City to take them on.  Irene Ramirez, the Director of Engineering, has a history of completely ignoring management when it suits her purposes and her staff protects her."

One City Council rep was advised about the lack of protection for the tree and that representative's concerns were ignored by both the Engineering Department and the Parks and Recreation Department.

More concerns were raised last spring. Again, those concerns fell on deaf ears.

Sadly, the response by the Public Affairs Coordinator for Engineering quoted above was most probably dictated by management.

The cover-up has begun. (And it's not going to work.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

If they can't handle a tree, how can they handle a lake?

If they can't handle a tree, how can you expect the City of El Paso to handle a lake - Cement Lake in fact? That was the rhetorical question that a friend posed to me earlier today. His point is well taken seeing the city's negligence with the beloved Holiday Christmas Tree in San Jacinto Plaza.

When TxDOT purchased the land on which Cement Lake lies, there was still the possibility of the City taking possession and preserving it as a wildlife area. TxDOT Engineer, Bob Bielek, told Dr. Rick Bonart that, if the City wanted to discuss the lake, just send him a letter saying so. The letter could have come from anyone - the Mayor, a City Council Rep, Tommy Gonzalez, anyone. Dr. Bonart even went before Council and informed them about Bielek's offer. The City's response? The perfect vacuum - something that no one thought existed in nature. Thus, the inspiration to lease it to the Boy Scouts.

The lease agreement between the Boy Scouts and TxDOT is now I understand a done deal. I have two friends who have persisted in their defense of the Scouts and their ability to preserve the land. I have my doubts and I certainly would never get any pleasure out of saying "I told you so". We will just have to see and I hope that I have to eat my words.

I don't trust the people behind the deal. On the other hand, I do admire their committment to Scouts and the fact that some of them were Eagle Scouts especially Ted Houghton who has three sons all of whom are Eagle Scouts. That's something to be very proud of.

Time will tell. I still hope that the Scouts (and TxDOT) will, at the least, make a good faith effort to use local wildlife and ecology experts when developing a conservation plan for their Cement Lake camp. At the most, they could enter into a conservation easement agreement with a third party ensuring that the land is preserved and well managed rather than merely mining and exploiting the land's resources.

It's CYA Time at the City of El Paso Regarding San Jacinto Plaza Tree

Construction at San Jacinto Plaza, January 9, 2015

"Taking any action foreseeable leading to the death of a tree or shrub or permanent damage to its health, including but not limited to excessive pruning, cutting, girdling, poisoning, improper irrigation, unauthorized relocation or transportation of a tree, or trenching, excavating, altering the grade, soil compaction, or paving within the drip line area of a tree."
- from the "Policy and Standards Manual for the Care of Trees and Shrubs in the City of El Paso", Section 10.4 "Other prohibited actions" 

Beginning Monday, when word leaked out about the City's intentions to take down El Paso's beloved San Jacinto Plaza Holiday Christmas tree, City officials have been backtracing and rushing to cover their considerable posteriors.

Major media outlets such as KVIA have picked up the story. 

As of this morning, I think this is the official City word: They are trying to save the tree (the word to City Council members) but it has been severely damaged by construction. They have also begun a PR effort which suggests that El Pasoans want quality of life, recreational opportunities - i.e. "we had to cut down the tree because you all voted for the Quality of Life bonds". Put your boots on folks, because it's getting thick. 

The backtracking is being done without any accountability. My call to City Manager Tommy Gonzalez's office two days ago for a meeting has not been returned. Instead I first heard from Parks and Recreation Directory, Tracy Novak, telling me that the CM wanted him to call me. During his call, I got a message from the Convention and Visitor's Bureau telling me that the City Manager thought it best for me to talk to them. Where does the buck stop?

Of course the tree has been damaged but I have learned from expert arborists that it still could be saved. What has caused the tree to be damaged? "Trenching, excavating, altering the grade, soil compaction and paving within the drip line area of a tree." (See above guideline in the City's official Tree Care Manual. That's another publication like Plan El Paso that city officials have shelved even after meetings and meetings involving citizens helped to create them.)

It seems that the City has a terrible track record when it comes to protecting trees. A private tree expert has said that in the past the city has been very bad about making contractors keep their trucks and equipment away from existing trees on construction sites.  It was a big problem years ago at Eastwood/Album park when a recreation center was being built.

I was serving on the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board when plans for the Plaza remodel were being made under the supervision of then Deputy City Manager, Debbie Hamlyn. The tree was there. The most recent December 16, 2014 Project Update merely mentions "trimming the tree" (page 11). The report is also interesting because it shows pictures of the lack of following the city's tree manual. City officials in charge of the San Jacinto Plaza remodel should have known about the tree care standards adopted by City Council and made modifications to the park remodeling to protect the Mondel Pine, El Pasoan's beloved Holiday Christmas Tree. They have and did not.

And what's the update on the California Fan Palms that were removed? An eye-witness says that the contractor did not take them to be replanted somewhere else. The contractor cut them down. Standard operating procedure would have been for those palms to go to the El Paso Tree Farm to be replanted at another city site.

Frankly, the contractor should be back-charged for the damage to El Paso's Holiday Christmas tree, particularly if it has to be cut down, and for cutting down the fan palms. Better yet, charge El Paso's Engineering Department, the worst Department in the City of El Paso and that for many years running now.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Plan to Attend and Support the Rio Bosque

Please plan to attend and speak out for the pipeline to be extended from the Bustamante Treatment Plant to the Rio Bosque without further delay:

El Paso County Water Improvement District #1 Board Meeting
Wednesday, January 14, 2015 at 8:30 AM
13247 Alameda Avenue, Clint, TX 79836-0749 (MAP)

Here's the background:

In July 2014, El Paso Water Utilities (EPWU) Public Service Board awarded the contract for a pipeline to allow effluent form BWWTP (Bustamante Waste Water Treatment Plant) to flow to the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park.  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 been filled in and is nonexistent in the area of the pipeline. Without a license to cross the drain 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, as happens today without the pipeline, 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 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.

Wetlands ecosystem services provide a myriad of benefits to El Pasoans including clean air, clean water, and aesthetic, cultural and spiritual value. 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. 

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 BWWTP 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.

The Water District maintains that they have reasons to extort money from the EPWU concerns about the project which need to be addressed. John Balliew, CEO of EPWU, says that they are trying to respond to those concerns so that the pipeline can be put on the water district agenda soon. That agenda item has been effectively tabled since the October meeting.

Question to raise: What are the concerns that they have about the pipeline going across abandoned, unused land? (Question for John Balliew and the PSB/EPWU: Why did you not know in the first place that you didn't need easement across this land?)

In spite of State law requiring the water district to post agendas and minutes, the EPCWID#1 still does not do so. No agenda for tomorrow's meeting is posted on their website anywhere.

Several members of the El Paso conservation community plan to attend tomorrow. A letter from State Rep. Joe Moody (District 78) in support of the pipeline will be read.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Red-spotted toad by Rick LoBello

Many of our desert neighbors sleep for months, waiting for warmer days

-Discover your sleepy neighbors, the ones who spend most of their lives underground

-Zoo FrogWatch Workshops Planned for 2015

Most people in El Paso have a pretty good idea on how to survive in our desert climate. When it’s cold like most days and nights in January we turn on the heat. We turn on the air conditioners in our cars and homes when the temperatures start to climb, we go to the refrigerator when we need a cold drink, but for most of our desert neighbors things are very different. Ever wonder why the desert seems so barren with few animals in sight? It is not because they do not exist; after all you can see pictures of desert animals in books and on the TV and Internet. And here at the El Paso Zoo you can see many species native to our Chihuahuan Desert. Believe it or not our Chihuahuan Desert is one of the most biodiverse deserts in the world with thousands of known species of wildlife and plants including reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals, invertebrates, cacti and more.

One group of desert animals that you hear very little about is desert toads. If described on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the most out of mind, El Pasoans would probably rank desert toads as a 10. A new Frogwatch Chapter forming in El Paso hopes to change all that. The El Paso Zoo is now a FrogWatch USA sponsor and in 2015 we will host two FrogWatch workshops. Make plans now to join us for one of our four hour sessions on Saturday mornings at the Zoo on February 21 and May 23. To register online click the workshop dates on the Zoo’s event calendar at

FrogWatch USATM is a citizen science program dedicated to collecting information about frog and toad populations, raising awareness about amphibians and wetlands, and engaging the public in science. With all the development going on in El Paso frogs in our area need our help more than ever. Once a piece of land is graded most biological organisms and the soil structure is destroyed. No one knows how to recreate what nature has taken thousands of years to create so you can imagine how many living things are affected. That’s where FrogWatch members come in, they help to monitor the frog populations that still exist in hopes that by increasing awareness more frogs and other creatures that share their habitat can be protected.

Here in El Paso we have three very common frogs. The most common is probably the red-spotted toad. They are often seen hopping around neighborhoods as soon as temperatures warm up in the spring and are great climbers. The red spots are very prominent and it’s hard to confuse a red-spotted toad with other species. Like all of our frogs red-spotted toads spend the cooler and dryer parts of the year underground waiting for the rainy season and for temperatures to warm up.

Another common species, the Couch’s spadefoot toad, has little black spade projections on its hind feet to help the toad burrow underground. Right now as you sit at your computer and read this blog there are literally thousands of spadefoot toads waiting beneath the soil surface a foot or so below in a state of estivation. This form of sleep is different from hibernation that occurs with some animals during the winter. Estivation is a state of inactivity and a lowered metabolic rate entered in response to high temperatures and arid conditions during the summer. So when it dries up after our summer rains most of our desert toads estivate. When conditions are right with warmer temperature and heavy rains they all come out of the ground focused on eating and breeding. In some areas it may seem like its raining toads! You can see a great video I took of breeding Couch’s spadefoot toads and red-spotted toads a few years ago here in El Paso on YouTube.

Another toad that we have in El Paso is the biggest one of all, the Woodhouse’s toad reaching a length of 5 inches. On rainy summer days and nights it is often seen on the grounds of the El Paso Zoo near the Franklin Canal. It is very similar to the Texas toad, but does not have a stripe on the back and crests on the head. During the rainy season they sometimes lay their eggs in our animal exhibit moats. Up to 28,000 eggs are deposited in long stringers. This toad was named for naturalist Samuel Washington Woodhouse who explored the Southwest during the mid 18th Century.

Amphibians play an important role in the food chain as predators of insects and as prey for other animals. They also help people by acting as environmental alarms because their thin skins are especially sensitive to environmental changes. We hope that you will learn more about the frogs in our area. Like so many of the animals that we rarely see and are often misunderstood, frogs need friends too.

Save El Paso's Christmas Tree

It's insane but true. The City of El Paso is planning to cut down the tall Mondel Pine in San Jacinto Plaza which has served for years as the annual Christmas tree. As everyone knows the Plaza is being completely re-done. Rumors first surfaced that Rep. Cortney Niland wanted the tree pruned and re-shaped to resemble a more triangular tree. Now it seems that the City is looking for a company to take down the tree. Only problem is that the City (its, Manager, Mayor, City Council representatives) are violating city ordinances regarding the removal of such trees.

When the pine was trans-planted at the park, Texas State Urban Forester, Oscar Mestas, wrote about it:

"The new 50’ tall Christmas tree, a Mondel Pine (Pinus eldarica), was transplanted by Environmental Designs of Tomball, Texas. Mrs.Corrine Boyce of El Paso provided the tree in memory of her late husband Chuck Boyce. It was moved from her front yard in the Upper Rio Grande Valley of El Paso to San Jacinto Plaza in Downtown El Paso. The tree was moved on the 9th of September 1998 at a cost of $19,000. In the past the El Paso Parks Department used to send a crew each year to harvest five trees where they would use the branches to construct a 70’ tall artificial Christmas tree at the plaza. This new tree should save the City of El Paso approximately $60,000.00 a year, in labor, equipment costs, travel, materials and supplies, according to Richard Garcia Parks, Maintenance Supervisor. The new living tree is decorated with 3500 lights, and 1000 new ornaments donated by the El Paso Community Foundation. The old artificial tree was flocked, so it is taking a little time for El Pasoans to adjust to the natural green color. The tree is only 25 years old, so it is expected to add on another 20+ feet in height and should live at least another 50+ years. Let’s not forget to mention the other benefits of shade, oxygen, beauty, and pollution control, that this tree will be providing during the rest of the year. If you haven’t seen the tree, take a trip downtown it is worth the trip.The new 50’ tall Christmas tree, a Mondel Pine (Pinus eldarica), was transplanted by Environmental Designs of Tomball, Texas. Mrs.Corrine Boyce of El Paso provided the tree in memory of her late husband Chuck Boyce. It was moved from her front yard in the Upper Rio Grande Valley of El Paso to San Jacinto Plaza in Downtown El Paso. The tree was moved on the 9th of September 1998 at a cost of $19,000. In the past the El Paso Parks Department used to send a crew each year to harvest five trees where they would use the branches to construct a 70’ tall artificial Christmas tree at the plaza. This new tree should save the City of El Paso approximately $60,000.00 a year, in labor, equipment costs, travel, materials and supplies, according to Richard Garcia Parks, Maintenance Supervisor. The new living tree is decorated with 3500 lights, and 1000 new ornaments donated by the El Paso Community Foundation. The old artificial tree was flocked, so it is taking a little time for El Pasoans to adjust to the natural green color. The tree is only 25 years old, so it is expected to add on another 20+ feet in height and should live at least another 50+ years. Let’s not forget to mention the other benefits of shade, oxygen, beauty, and pollution control, that this tree will be providing during the rest of the year. If you haven’t seen the tree, take a trip downtown it is worth the trip."

Mestas wrote the above in 1998. Based on his expertise that tree should have another 34 years of life and service to El Paso. 

It's a beautiful tree.

Please sign the online petition to save the tree.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Coincidence? Frack No!

You have probably heard about the spate of earthquakes in recent days around Irving, Texas and again in Oklahoma. What's going on? Take a look at a few maps:

Irving Texas is right on the borderline of a major fracking area - the Barnett Shale Basin.

Oklahoma earthquakes are in the midst of fracking sites.
Fracking and earthquakes - a coincidence? Frack No! Watch this video:

Fracking is the smoking gun. Research in Ohio confirms the relationship between fracking and earthquakes. Even conservative Forbes has picked up on the story.

We need to think twice before welcoming Torchlight Energy Resources to Hudspeth County. Of course, they may not be in business long. Their stock prices sank to sixty-seven cents a share today. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Are Sprawlers Behind TxDOT-Boy Scout Deal on Cement Lake?

The Boy Scouts are green all right - green as cash. In spite of their unquestioned reputation as conservationists, they really manage land for its resources. Their record as deforesting clearcutters (its a resource that pays big bucks) is abominable. 

In a previous post I mentioned instances of environmental destruction by boy scouts. Sadly there is much more to this beast. Read about their environmental hypocrisy. When BSA clearcut land that provided habitat "for a host of protected species, including salmon, timber wolves, bald eagles and spotted owls . . .", they defended their reprehensible deed. And, although the BSA has backed down on other clearcutting projects, Planetsave documents more cases where they haven't. They leave no trace all right - no trace of natural land.

On the other hand, one could argue that such acts of deforestation and habitat destruction happened years ago and faraway. But what about the local Yucca Council of the Boy Scouts of America. Here though we encounter the footprints of El Paso sprawlers.

In spite of a successful camp in Cloudcroft, Camp Dale Resler, the Yucca Council Scouts have looked for other campsites most recently near Kingston, New Mexico. When scout leader, Bill Hagan sought to obtain land, he ran into stiff opposition from locals who did not want their land disturbed. You can read about this affair HERE. What should pop out about this story is Bill Hagan's involvement. Let's connect the dots. 

Mr. Hagan is the Vice-Chairman of the Rocky Mountain Mortgage Company of which Harold Hahn is the Chairman and CEO. Harold Hahn's buddy is none other than Ted "TxDOT" Houghton. Rocky Mountain is associated with sprawler Doug Schwartz. (BTW, you can see Rocky Mountain loan officer Adam Hagan's Boy Scout affiliation on the company web site.)

It's obvious how the deal between the Boy Scouts and TxDOT went down. Does anyone seriously believe that this group will preserve Cement Lake? Shall we let the fox guard the henhouse. Please!

No matter what, the deal is just wrong. The land around and including Cement Lake should be an El Paso Commons - a wilderness and a wildlife preserve for all El Pasoans to enjoy and not just an exclusivist, homophobic organization. Of course the argument is made that it is TxDOT land and they can do with it whatever they like. But I say that any land owned and managed by TxDOT belongs in trust to the people of Texas - us. Any decision about that land should involve us. In this case it was a deal done behind the closed doors of an elite oligarchy: Houghton, Hahn and Hagan - and let's not forget Schwartz.

No matter how above reproach and question the Boy Scouts are held, any lease agreement involving Cement Lake between them and TxDOT should be opposed. This El Paso Commons should be preserved.