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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

When Will T Rex Ever Learn?

You would think that after his staff (Tommy Gonzalez doesn't meet with any of us peon citizens directly) met with representatives of the West Texas Urban Forestry Council and then made some staff changes, that he would reverse a very expensive edict issued from his office. The edict: plant only 4" caliper trees.

What T Rex ("rex" means "king") doesn't understand is that, in order to procure 4" caliper trees, city workers and contractors must use vendors as far away as Florida or Dallas. 3" caliper works just as well and a 2" certainly catches up in time. But why pay less than $100 for a tree, when you can pay a $1,000 or more?

So much for Lean Six Sigma.


Please support elpasonaturally©. Go HERE to donate and help turn El Paso "green". 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Living Green in the Southwest: What NOT To Put Down Your Drains

[Each Monday elpasonaturally© will discuss ways to live more "green" in the southwest. (Actually, the tips can be followed most anywhere else.) Living "green" means living simply while recycling, reusing and repurposing. It means not only having a green home or business, but also being a good neighbor, knowing that we are part of a community and that our actions affect others, our ecosystem and the world. Today the subject is what NOT to put down your drains. BTW, for those of you who receive elpasonaturally© via email, videos do not display. Please go to elpasonaturally.com to view a video.]

I asked El Paso Water Utilities for a list of things not to put down a drain or flush down a toilet. EPWU's Pretreatment Manager, Nancy Nye gave me this list and reasons for following each item:

Food scraps (especially from meat), dairy products, cooking oil and grease and condiments and sauces that contain oil or butter. All of these contribute to sewer line stoppages and overflow.
Paper (besides toilet paper), cloth, sanitary supplies such as paper towels, wipes, etc. These also contribute to sewer line stoppages and can cause damage to pumps when they become entangled. (Guess who pays for the pumps?)
Paint, solvents, motor oil and other automobile fluids. These are toxic to the microorganisms used in treatment of wastewater and they are harmful to aquatic organisms and human health.
Medications/drugs (human and veterinary) can accumulate in the environment and lead to accumulation in human tissue and blood. They are associated with other health effects including endocrine system disruption.

Greenhome.com gives a similar list along with some suggestions about what to do instead.

Care2.com also tells you What Not To Put Down Your Drain.

Angie (Angie's List) Hicks tells us that a minor clog can cost us from $100 to $200 and even a $1,000 (or more) if pipes need to be replaced. (All of us who have ever had sewer blockages can verify these numbers.)

The fact is that fat clogs (including those in human arteries) can be as tough as cement. Here's a video from London (England not Texas) of a "fatberg". I was totally repulsed:



Go HERE to read more.

Southern Water (this is not Mississippi and Alabama but Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight) has a very informative web page about the effects of fat, oil and grease on sewage systems. Particularly watch the video HERE. (Scroll down.)

If you think that municipal sewage clogs is something endemic to Merry Ole England, know that it is a problem in every urban water system across the Good Ol' U.S. of A. costing each large municipality millions of dollars per year. (And you know who pays for it so help out.)

This is why the City of Bothell, Washington has a web page devoted to fighting F.O.G. (fat, oil and grease). Oklahoma City too. Et. al. 

Bottom line: read the EPWU list above and in the links provided. Follow the directions.


Please support elpasonaturally©. Go HERE to donate and help turn El Paso "green". 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Pay Attention to the Colorado River Crisis

Navajo Generating Station. Photo by Connie Crawford
Here's a little light reading for the weekend: Pro Publica's series Killing the Colorado. The analogies to our own situation with the Rio Grande are acute: highly subsidized cotton farming, urban sprawl, demand for water outgrowing supply and, thus, water importation. The water problem in the west exemplified by the situation with the Colorado River, is human driven and not climate driven although, often the power needed to "solve" water shortages releases tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. (Read End of the Miracle Machines in the series.)

Since sprawl and growth are such sacred cows here in El Paso, read the 'Water Witch'. (Apologies to my Wiccan friends.) Be sure to use the interactive map showing the sprawl of Las Vegas. Wish we had one for El Paso. Of course, it would probably make the ticky-tacky building sprawlers of El Paso lustfully drool.

The environmental reporter who investigated for the Pro Publica series, Abrahm Lustgarten, was recently interviewed on NPR. You can listen to that interview by going HERE.

Since this is video Friday, here is a whimsical look at the Navajo Generating Station of Page, Arizona. Subtitle: "Combining Carbon and Oxygen for a Warmer Tomorrow!"




Help El Paso Naturally turn El Paso "Green".

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Juarez Valley Groundwater Crisis Should Be a Warning to Us


[Many might shrug their shoulders when they see the article from New Mexico State University's Frontera NorteSur reprinted below. It's a problem in Mexico not here, they might say. That's why elpasonaturally© continues to publish the map above. People in the Juarez Valley draw from the same groundwater that we do - the Hueco Bolson. If they are having to dig farther for good water, farmers in our lower valley have to be drilling farther as well.  

To subsribe to Frontera NorteSur by email go HERE.]

June 23, 2015 

Ciudad Juarez-El Paso News

Border Wells Drying Up 

A groundwater crisis is literally deepening in the Juarez Valley across from Texas. Mexican officials report that wells drilled to a depth of about 400 feet are drying up or producing poor quality water, forcing users to contemplate drilling new wells of depths of 750 feet or more. 

Gabriel Urteaga Nunez, municipal president of Guadalupe, blamed the situation on recent drought. 

“It’s due to the lack of rain, because the level of aquifer is going down and some wells are beginning to be exhausted,” Urteaga was quoted in the local press. “The quantity of water that is extracted from the wells that supply the town of Guadalupe here has been considerably reduced.” 

Three municipalities in the rural Juarez Valley-Juarez, Guadalupe and Praxedis G. Guerrero-are reportedly affected by groundwater supply problems. Historically, the Juarez Valley has been an important producer of cotton and other farm products. 

But Urteaga insisted that the overexploitation of water for agricultural purposes is not to blame for the aquifer’s depletion since local crops are irrigated with recycled water drawn from wastewater treatment plants in neighboring Ciudad Juarez. 

The Juarez Valley shares an aquifer with Texas that encompasses the growing Lower Valley of El Paso and adjacent rural communities where pecans, cotton and other crops are grown. Besides the availability of groundwater, some communities in the Juarez Valley report supply troubles related to the malfunctioning of pumps and other infrastructure. 

Chihuahua State Representative Fernando Rodriguez Giner said he expected the state legislature to begin taking action on the Juarez Valley water crisis this week. 

According to Rodriguez, scientifically-based legal reforms will be proposed to adopt “very extraordinary” measures designed to counter aquifer depletion, an issue the lawmaker called of global concern.  For the short-term, the Federal Electricity Commission and Central Water and Sewerage Council of Chihuahua have been petitioned to repair broken wells and fix other technical problems, he added.  

Sources: El Diario de Juarez, June 19 and 20, 2015. Articles by Horacio Carrasco. 


Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico

For a free electronic subscription

email: fnsnews@nmsu.edu

Please Celebrate the Majesty of the Franklins

Just a reminder . . . 

Click on image to enlarge.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Contrast Desert Beauty with Sprawl

[What I like about Rick LoBello's video below is that it provides a stark contrast between the beauty of the Franklin Mountains in the Chihuahuan Desert and urban sprawl. Rick has stopped at the top of Smuggler's Gap at the top of Transmountain Rd. He does a bit of a ramble along the Ron Coleman Trail and discusses some of the flora and fauna. He then vividly shows the affects of sprawl on the plant and animal life. Finally, on his way home, he stops at the entrance to the Tom Mays Unit again to inform us about some of the native Chihuahuan Desert plants. 

His video gives us a graphic reminder why we should sign the online save our mountains petition.

You can still sign that petition to save our mountains. Just go to https://www.change.org/p/the-people-of-el-paso-texas-preserve-our-franklin-mountains-from-further-development. Be sure to tell your friends and family members.

If you receive elpasonaturally by email, the video will not display. Go to elpasonaturally.com to see it.]


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Environment Texas Targets Fracking Practices on University of Texas Land


If the University of Texas won't stop fracking on its land, Environment Texas at least wants them to adopt best practices according to Director Luke Metzger. Environment Texas' efforts include the Diablo Plateau next to El Paso where Torchlight Energy Resources is currently drilling its first test well just 10 miles east of El Paso County. 

Metzger earlier this year spoke with UT Chancellor Bill McRaven who signaled agreement. Best practices include capturning the methane gas and recycling the water. 

Metzger is meeting with the UT Student Body President today. 

On June 19th the Hudspeth County Herald reported that Torchlight Energy Resources dodged a possible bankruptcy and is excited about the findings from their first test drill. A second test well must be drilled by December 31, 2015 according to the terms of their lease from University of Texas System lands. At this time though they may begin producing from their first drill before doing any more drilling. 

Earlier this year the El Paso County Commissioners Court passed an anti-fracking resolution.


WHEREAS, it is the desire of the El Paso County Commissioners’ Court to protect the environment and the natural resources of our region; and

WHEREAS, hydraulic fracturing of underground geologic formations is often accomplished by injecting a complex mix of fluids and chemicals, including large volumes of water, on average 4.5 million gallons per well, under very high pressure to create fractures in gas bearing geologic formations; and

WHEREAS, many of the chemical constituents injected during hydraulic fracturing have documented adverse health and environmental impacts to also include threatening the long term economic well being in communities as businesses and consumers depend on clean drinking water; and

WHEREAS, hydraulic fracturing exposes land and surface waters, like rivers often used as a supply for drinking water, to the risk of contamination through open pit storage, truck transport on roadways, and activities during well development; and

WHEREAS, the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act (“FRAC Act”), currently pending in Congress, would require disclosure of chemicals used in fracking which is currently exempt; and

WHEREAS, the Bringing Reductions to Energy's Airborne Toxic Health Effects Act (“BREATHE Act”), currently pending in Congress, would hold oil and gas operators accountable for the toxic substances they release which is currently exempt; and 

WHEREAS, El Paso must protect its precious water supply against contamination of above ground water sources and underground aquifers and destruction of ecosystems with toxic compounds by opposing harmful activity like hydraulic fracturing.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that on the 27th day of April 2015, the El Paso County Commissioners Court supports the FRAC Act and BREATHE Act. 


SIGNED, this 27th day of April 2015


You can still sign our anti-fracking petition and ask others to do so as well.


Monday, June 22, 2015

Monday Links: Armed and Dangerous


Keep an eye out for Violet Palmer. (Mug shot above courtesy of the Denton Police.) She is armed with a rocking chair and considered dangerous by the State of Texas and the Denton police. She's charged with criminal tresspass and obstructing a highway passageway. She's also guilty of protesting against Texas' almighty oil and gas fracking industry.

Texas is ruled by Republicans who do not like local control (although once upon a time Republicans did.) They like State and Corporate control. So much so that they overturned a vote by Denton citizens to ban fracking. Denton citizens, Violet Palmer and her son Theron were protesting fracking. Theron chained himself to a gate leading to a fracking operation. Dear Violet sat by her son in her ominous rocking chair.

Read the story HERE and HERE


The story reminds me of one of the greatest moments in El Paso's conservation/environmental movement: the 2008 arrest of Judy Ackerman who was blocking construction of the border wall at the Rio Bosque. (Photo above.)

Breaking an unjust law has consequences. But is it unethical? Theron Palmer held up a sign while protesting fracking that quoted Martin Luther King, Jr.: "One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws." His words echo St. Augustine of Hippo who said: "An unjust law is no law at all.”. And one more:


Friday, June 19, 2015

The Pope's Encyclical, the Petition and Friday's Videos

[The following videos will help to summarize the Pope's environmental Encyclical, Laudato Si. If you get elpasonaturally via email, the videos will not be embedded. Go to elpasonaturally.com to view them.]








Read the Encyclical.

The Pope's practical tips for helping the environment

A chapter by chapter overview of the Encyclical

Pope Francis Drops the Hammer on Climate Change
In which Pope Francis calls out the world.

Pope’s climate views press Catholic candidates

To stay in touch with news about the Encyclical go to cruxnow.com or romereports.com

To say the least the Encyclical, Laudato Si, by Pope Francis should have a huge impact on the world and its future. Combined with other movements that place more emphasis on ecological living and cooperation rather than growth, greed and consumption, the Pope's message has the real ability to change the hearts and minds of Catholics and non-Catholics alike, Christians and non-Christians alike. Let us hope so. 

57.73% of the people in El Paso, TX are religious, meaning they affiliate with a religion. 43.29% are Catholic. Groups such as Pax Christi and the Columban Mission Center are already leading the way not only for peace and border justice, but also for environmental care.

Yesterday's post discussed how the "We the People" petition that calls for preserving land on both sides of the Franklin Mountains is consistent with the city's strategic goals. That petition is also in harmony with the Encyclical of Pope Francis.

El Paso has vacant lots and vacant houses and buildings that sit abandoned. Yet developers sprawl farther and farther east, northeast and northwest. The argument is that people want a house with a backyard for their kids. What builders don't tell you is that people who end up buying these properties pay more to get to their jobs, go to the store and take children to their schools. Also, because most of these sprawl homes are cheaply built, the occupants will pay more to cool and heat those homes. We all pay more for services and maintenance caused by sprawl. Growth has not led to the prosperity of El Pasoans but to the pocketbooks of a few builders and developers, bankers and mortgage brokers. Communites such as Vinton and some colonias struggle for clean, affordable and available water.

The petition's call for checking sprawl is not just good economics, it's a good relationship with our natural environment. 

Please take time to study the Pope's Encyclical. We all can change our behavior so that we are in a right relationship with our world and all the species (animal and plant) with whom we share this world. We can all take political action and call politicians to accountability. Ethics is not just something we practice to be "good" persons; it's something we practice together in order to have more just and loving relationships, organizations, political entitites and communities. We cannot follow the advice of Jeb Bush who said, "I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm.” Better people want a better political realm and a better enviornment.

Laudato Si!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Petition Bolsters El Paso's Strategic Plan

Click on image to enlarge.

The recent petition to preserve land on both sides of the Franklin Mountains buttresses two of the City of El Paso's strategic goals. That petition garnered 6,638 signatures. 3,830 of those were hard copies; 2,830 were online. Here's what the petition says:

"WE THE PEOPLE want preserved, in its natural state and in perpetuity, all of the undeveloped land owned by the City of El Paso on the western side of the Franklin Mountains that is north of Transmountain Road, east of the EPNG Pipeline Road and south of the New Mexico/El Paso boundary and on the eastern side of the Franklin Mountains that is north of Transmountain, west of Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. and south of the New Mexico/El Paso boundary."

The very first strategic goal is: "Create an Environment Conducive to Strong Sustainable Economic Development". Under it are "1.1 Stabilize and expand El Paso’s tax base" and "1.2 Enhance visitor revenue opportunities."

Preserving more land on both sides of the Franklins will increase opportunities for hiking, biking, camping and educational outings. All of these will promote ecotourism which will "enhance visitor revenue opportunities" and help to "expand El Paso's tax base". On the other hand, using all of this land for city sprawl will only increase the burden on taxpayers because of additional services (such as police and fire), infrastructure, maintenance and schools will come with an ongoing price tag that continues to increase with inflation.

On the other hand, ecotourism means a huge boom for the local economy. "Nationally, ecotourism encompasses a wide range of outdoor recreation activities with far reaching economic benefits. Outdoor recreation contributes $730 billion annually to the nation’s economy and supports nearly 6.5 million jobs across the United States." This according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. (See The Economic Benefit of Ecotourism.)

Strategic goal 4 is: "Enhance El Paso’s Quality of Life through Recreational, Cultural and Educational Environments". 4.2 of that goal states: "Create innovative recreational, educational and cultural programs."

As already mentioned preserving the land guarantees more recreational and educational opportunities and environments. Along with recreational opportunities, our city's students and visitors will have a rich "laboratory" for learning about plant and animal life, ecology and the environment, and ecosystem services.

Studies show that ecotourism provides more jobs and enhances businesses but it also encourages cultural exchanges that benefit host and visitor alike.

Implementing the petition would be a gigantic step in meeting our city's strategic plan.

New Franklin Mountains State Park Center To Be Built

[This will be a very special occasion so I hope all elpasonaturally readers can go. Just as an FYI, the new headquarters and visitors center is pretty much the single-handed work of Dr. Richard Teschner. Way to go, Richard!]

Click on image to enlarge
HERE is a map to the ceremony.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Expanded Fossil Bone Exhibit development threatens wilderness experience at Big Bend National Park



Hello!

I've started the petition "Save the wilderness - cancel plans for the Fossil Bone Exhibit in Big Bend National Park" and need your help to get it off the ground.

Will you take 30 seconds to sign it right now? Here's the link:

http://www.change.org/p/save-the-wilderness-cancel-plans-for-the-fossil-bone-exhibit-in-big-bend-national-park

Here's why it's important:

Expanded Fossil Bone Exhibit development threatens wilderness experience at Big Bend National Park

By Rick LoBello

First look at the actual plan for the fossil bone exhibit. Then watch the video above if you haven't already.

(June 6, 2015) On May 23, 2014, National Park Service Intermountain Regional Director Sue E. Masica approved a Big Bend National Park finding on how building a new Fossil Discovery Exhibit in the Tornillo Flat area of the park would have no significant impact. Not so fast say wilderness and national park advocates who spoke out against the project on a change.org petition. Many comments on the proposal came in from El Paso, the largest city near the park, and other Texas cities and areas of the country including California, New Mexico, Wisconsin and Oklahoma. Marshall Carter-Tripp, past Director of UTEP's Centennial Museum in El Paso said “A smart-phone trail could be constructed for very little, and would have only a tiny portion of the impact that this huge display will have. No one is impressed by fake fossils anymore! We go to Big Bend to get away from our over-built world. Please leave Big Bend as it is.”

Diane Devine, wife of former Park Ranger Bob Devine and a former teacher at San Vicente School at Panther Junction Park Headquarters, stated that “BBNP already has visitor centers capable of housing displays; current staffing patterns will be stressed to cover additional exhibits, but lack of staffing could create safety issues. Have use statistics justified a need for a new exhibit?”

Mark Kirtley who worked as a volunteer at Persimmon Gap Visitor Center for many years summed up much of the opposition to the exhibit when he said “I've listened to thousands of visitors talk about why they love Big Bend. They often speak of a peace engendered by the wide-open spaces, a quality that the Park Service normally fiercely protects and a quality that buildings impact. Driving the gravel Old Ore Road or even the paved park road from Persimmon Gap to Panther Junction can feel like paradise, but a large exhibit at Fossil Bone, even a lovely one, would somewhat spoil the experience. Doesn't the Organic Act mandate that we preserve the scenery? And cannot education at a national park occur without compromising its beauty? Visitors do like wayside exhibits, but my impression is that they prefer the intimate and personal feel of the small ones, like the one at Anna Hanford’s grave.”

Many people who have fought against development project proposals in the park in the past believe that the park's staff was only able to gain support for the project by focusing solely on financial support from the friends group. Unlike environmental groups that are willing to be critical of park management actions, historically most National Park Friends Groups and Cooperating Associations support nearly everything that parks want them to. I saw this first hand when I worked for two of them over a 14 year period. During this time I also networked with others in similar positions across the country and served for a brief period as a member of the Friends of Big Bend National Park board of directors.

You would think that park staff would demonstrate a greater passion for conserving the park by focusing more on protecting park resources and working on plans to reintroduce extirpated species like the gray wolf and desert bighorn. I understand that there are also problems with exotic species like European wild boars and exotic plants species. Recently I learned that Mexico is moving forward with a plan to build a new road south of the park near the three newly protected areas that are adjacent to the park. How will these roads impact the wilderness quality that has been protected by the park since 1944? Why not re-direct funds planned for Fossil Bone to higher priority issues that directly impact the park’s ecosystem?

During my last year working in Big Bend National Park the Houston Chronicle on January 19, 1992 published an article entitled “Big Bend: At the Brink.” I am saddened to say that the park is still at the brink and echo the words of former Big Bend National Park Superintendent Robert Arnberger who was quoted in the article stating that the park's “remoteness does not entirely shield it from society's ills.”

Over the past 40 years I have supported and teamed up with members of the Sierra Club, Rotary International and other groups across the country in supporting conservation efforts at the park. One person who I have great respect for is Roland Wauer, Chief Naturalist at the park for many years, former Chief Scientist of the NPS and a hero of the current NPS Director, Jonathan Jarvis. Most people know Wauer as a prolific writer who has helped people better understand and connect with the natural resources the NPS is mandated to protect. But Wauer has also been known to be a passionate advocate for conservation and has spoken out publically on what he sees as threats to the parks. The 1992 Houston Chronicle summed up the problems in the park by saying “even a spot as big, rugged and remote as Big Bend National Park is subject to the ecological stresses and strains of modern development.” Wauer was quoted as saying “damned with the resource” Park Service managers must cater “to the whims of concessioners and public officials and are thinking more about visitation than natural and cultural resources.”

Big Bend's current Wildlife Biologist Raymond Skiles was also quoted by the Houston Chronicle when he stated that the “future of the park is far from secure." How secure is the park today when we see park managers devote resources towards projects like at Fossil Bone? Does the NPS at Big Bend really have the resources to waste on projects that do little to help protect the resource? Does the park's education program measure its success by how many exhibits it can build out in the middle of wild open spaces?

There was very little effort by the park to alert the public to the proposal and to seek input from wilderness advocate groups like the Sierra Cub. Big Bend Sierra Club member Roger Siglin, a former Big Bend National Park ranger who retired from an illustrious career with the NPS which included assignments as Chief Ranger at Yellowstone National Park and Superintendent of Gates of the Arctic, lives nearby in Alpine, Texas. In response to the proposal Siglin said that the “building design and size is totally inappropriate for the current location and would be out of place anywhere else in Big Bend NP. My experiences in Big Bend go back to 1966 when I was a ranger there. The existing exhibit is a disgrace and should be removed. I was therefore pleased when I heard the park was planning a new one. But the proposed structure to house exhibits is ugly beyond anything I might have imagined. I have frequently hiked in the hills across Tornillo Creek and this structure will impact the wilderness experience because it will be highly visible for hiking off of the Old Ore Road.”

When I visited the park in October, 2014 I decided to make a YouTube video of the area where the exhibit will be located to help people better understand the project and what the NPS has planned. Unfortunately the park did a very poor job in spreading the word about the new exhibit when an Environmental Assessment process was announced. What was shown and described in the EA documents did little to help the general public truly understand the big picture of the project. This approach to getting public input on project proposals is not an uncommon practice and it is not surprising to see how a project like the one planned for this wild area of the park could make it this far.

I contacted the park's geologist Don Corrick asking for more information on the status of the project. After hearing back from him I remain convinced that if Big Bend National Park moves forward in building a new Fossil Bone exhibit it will result in a negative impact on the park. According the Corrick the project will have a potential footprint of 4000 square feet. An area that large is big enough fit 21 cash register lines and several departments in a super discount store or build a colossus sized state of the art fast food restaurant. If built as planned the project will prove one thing, the depth of the National Park Service's commitment to its mission is both alarming and disturbing.

Corrick stated that “the project will be fully funded by donations gathered by the Friends of Big Bend National Park, and that the project will not proceed until the fundraising is complete, so a timeline is not available.” What this means is pretty simple - if fundraising is completed, destruction of the area will soon follow, UNLESS we the people can stop it.

You can sign my petition by clicking HERE.

Thanks! 
Rick LoBello

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Sprawl is Bad for Business and the Environment

[The following is a post by Rick LoBello also posted at ricklobello.wordpress.com. Rick has written several posts for elpasonaturally. Bookmark his site. It's an encyclopedia of conservation information.]

A new wave of development along Loop 375 in El Paso is destroying lower elevation habitats adjacent to Franklin Mountains State Park and much of the wilderness scenery El Pasoans have cherished for years.  Where once there was a feeling of remoteness and an overall wilderness experience, there is now a 4 lane highway, new bridges connecting the road to Interstate 10 plus a multitude of new residential and business developments.

The current wave of development in cities around the world threatens both businesses and quality of life.  Here in El Paso when two men spotted a bulldozer blading a road across a pristine part of the Franklin Mountains in 1978, they inspired citizens across the community to take action to help stop the ravenous rampage of suburbia.   Today, a new conservation effort is underway as new bridges are built, roads are widened and more developments break ground.  Many El Pasoans are saddened by what they see and feel hopeless in doing anything about it.  Not so fast says the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition.   A new citizen’s petition with over 6000 signatures calls upon the city to preserve undeveloped public lands on both sides of the mountains.

Earlier this year National Geographic magazine characterized similar business and environmental challenges asking this question – “why do many reasonable people doubt science?  We live in an age when all manner of scientific knowledge—from climate change to vaccinations—faces furious opposition. Some even have doubts about the moon landing.”

It is shocking to learn that most of the people responsible for mapping out our future have no clue as to the scientific value of protecting natural landscapes to local businesses and people.

Ecological services are free and include purification of the air we breathe and the water we drink, protecting wildlife biodiversity, soil and vegetation regeneration, seed dispersal, and pollination of crops and natural vegetation.  These services also help to sustain aesthetically pleasing landscapes important to enhancing our sense of wellbeing and fighting off nature deficit disorder.

When ecological services are lost, taxpayers, businesses and governments incur significant costs to replace these services. Some services can be only be partially replaced, and some can never be replaced by any amount of dollar investment.  

Here in El Paso one of the drivers of rising health care costs is the quality of the air we breathe.   Desert plants help to maintain our air quality by capturing dust particles during dust storms. When bulldozers destroy what nature has spent thousands of years creating, businesses have to incur rising health care costs when people get sick and can’t make it into work.  People suffering from respiratory problems also experience a lower quality of life.

Another example is how the Franklin Mountains landscape is a significant driver for ecotourism and in encouraging people to live here and move here.  The value of that driver may be very comparable if not higher than the ecotourism potential of the newly established Organ Mountains - Desert Peaks National Monument a few miles north in New Mexico.  The protected mountain range is now estimated to contribute more than $7.4 million in additional annual economic activity in Las Cruces.   Every day that development in El Paso continues at its current rate, the potential of ecotourism as an economic driver decreases. 

Perhaps the current movement to protect natural resources in El Paso will trigger a new way of thinking about our future.   Let’s hope that local businesses and the community will demand change.  For more information on how you help visit franklinmountains.org

Friday, June 12, 2015

Brackish water but what about potable reuse

The Hueco Bolson
If you haven't already, read the El Paso Times story, El Paso water plant to make brackish water good enough to drink. In a nutshell, working with EPWU, "Enviro Water Mineral Co. is designing a plant that will extract useful minerals from the leftover water, treat it and sell it back to the utility. The process is expected to increase the rate of freshwater recovery at the plant from 80 percent to about 93 percent . . ." That's good news but I had two questions for an EPWU official.

I wanted to know if this new project means that there won't be potable reuse. The answer was not only "no" but that the technology would benefit the potable reuse project. 

My next question was whether potable reuse would mean farmers would drill more wells and deplete the aquifer more quickly since waste water now is treated enough to be used for irrigation thus limiting the use of well water. The answer was possibly but not probably. It's one thing to drill a hundred foot well and another to drill a thousand foot well.

What could happen is that farmers will need to implement more conservation efforts - using better techniques for irrigation and for water delivery as well as selecting crops that are not so water intensive. A large amount of water is exported each year from the El Paso area in the form of cotton and pecans. On the other hand, a pomegranate tree uses one-fifth the water of a pecan tree and just look at the increasing market for pomegranates!

Reclaiming brackish water, potable reuse and better farming water conservation practices means a sustainable future for water for El Paso.

By the way, I read this definition of sustainability the other day: "Sustainability is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations."

The Friday Video: Double Feature about Animal Highway Crossings

[If you receive elpasonaturally by email, the videos won't display. Go to www.elpasonaturally.com to view them. You can sign up to get elpasonaturally by email in the box in the column next to this post. Also, please help us become the "Newspaper Tree" of El Paso. Your contribution will help us turn the El Paso Southwest "green".]

First of all, hat tip to Tami Gandt who sent this Seattle Times story about an ambitious animal crossing program in the State of Washington. Washington is a state that values its natural beauty and wildlife. The natural El Paso southwest is a beautiful part of the Chihuahuan Desert and it teems with wildlife. Is it too much to ask TxDOT and Bob Bielek to keep their promise for an animal passageway at the Tom Mays Unit? This passageway could also be used by hikers and bicyclists and will serve to connect the north and south sides of the park. Simple question, Bob: When will you do as you promised?

First a video from the Commonwealth of Virginia:




Here's one from Utah:



Thursday, June 11, 2015

PSB Gets Petition Report

[Today I spoke to the Public Service Board and gave them basically the same message that I gave City Council in May. Here is what I said:]

From March first until May first, Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition, elpasonaturally and others circulated the following petition in person and online:

“WE THE PEOPLE want preserved, in its natural state and in perpetuity, all of the undeveloped land owned by the City of El Paso on the western side of the Franklin Mountains that is north of Transmountain Road, east of the EPNG Pipeline Road and south of the New Mexico/El Paso boundary and on the eastern side of the Franklin Mountains that is north of Transmountain, west of Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. and south of the New Mexico/El Paso boundary.” 

For just two months of collection, we had a total of 6,638 signatures. 3,830 of those were hard copies; 2,830 were online. Signers came from all council districts of El Paso and most zip codes.  Many even took time to clip out an advertisement in the Times, El Diario and the Inc., address an envelope, put a stamp on it and send it to me.

One woman wrote: “I don’t want to see our beautiful mountains cluttered with houses.”

Another wrote: “The Franklin Mountains are what make El Paso different from any other city in Texas.”

Another wrote: “This is my heritage to my kids.”

The petition was not written in the form of an initiative. Thus, City Council is not compelled to do anything more.

But I hope that they along with the PSB do want to take action. I hope that we can find ways to preserve our mountain scenery, secure millions more each year in eco-tourism, control sprawl which will control our onerous property taxes, and help us manage our scarcest most precious resource – water.

We have accumulated the data from the petitions. We can begin again and in short order have an initiative petition for an ordinance. We’d rather work together.

So I urge you - please be proactive and not reactive. 

[I've heard from EPWU officials that City Council is expecting the PSB to bring the subject up again with them. The ball is rolling.]


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Remember that FMSP Hike-Bike-Wildlife Corridor and Entrance at Tom Mays?



In March TxDOT presented a report to City Council that included the hiking/biking/animal corridor into the Tom Mays unit of the Franklin Mountains State Park. The corridor is the key connection between the north and south sides of the State Park west of the mountains. It sounded like good news. But where are we now?

On April 7th of this year in an email, TxDOT District Engineer, Bob Bielek, said that he would like to accelerate the project and start sometime in the first quarter of the next fiscal year. (It begins in September 2015.) Acceleration is necessary because of all of the work beginning on I-10 from downtown to Executive. More demand will be put on Loop 375 (the Transmountain Highway.) 

In an email on the same day, Bielek stated that TxDOT workers pick up about 4 dead deer in a year and about 4 dead smaller animals a month. He didn't think that the death toll was too high. His opinion, of course; and the opinions of wildlife experts don't register with him or TxDOT.

Now let's review the record of broken promises and shifting predictions. Judy Ackerman passed some detailed notes about the corridor/connectivity project to me. Her notes begin in January 2013.

January 24, 2013 - the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission considers a proposed transfer of 8 acres of park land to TxDOT for the purpose of a new entrance into the Tom Mays Unit.

November 19, 2013 - at the Border Highway East Public meeting, Bielek stated in a conversation that Dr. Rick Bonart's idea for an animal crossing was a good one , that the project might cost $2 Million, and that TxDOT might start working on it in the Fall of 2014.

December 11, 2013 - plan unveiled to public and is warmly received.

April 10, 2013 - TxDOT holds a public meeting about the corridor/connection/new park entrance. Plans get a positive response.

April 15, 2013 - at a special meeting of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), Transportation Policy Board (TPB), Bob Bielek announces that he is committed to the project in 2014.

February 20, 2014 - at an El Paso League of Women Voters meeting, Bielek gives a Fall 2014 date for the beginning of a corridor between the north and south portions of the park that have lost direct access. He gives a date of Fall 2014 for the beginning of such a project.

April 11, 2014 - at a breakfast meeting sponsored by NE El Paso City Council Representative, Carl Robinson, Bielek says that the project will begin in Fall 2014, take 3 months and cost $1 Million.

October 3, 2014 - Bielek says that the project is still in design.

March 17, 2015 - in a presentation to City Council it is announced that the project will cost $3 Million and that the estimated let date is 2016.

May 15, 2015 - again at a Carl Robinson breakfast, Bielek announces that the project will let in 2 to 3 months and that funding will be from Proposition 1 Funds. (Previously it had been from his discretionary account and then "Denial of Access" funds.)

As you can see, dates keep moving up, estimated costs keep changing as well as funding sources. It's June 2015, when will this corridor, which should have begun in Fall of 2014, really begin - if at all?

Monday, June 8, 2015

City Realignment Benefits Trees

If the Tree Care Manual and Tree Ordinance are now followed by the City of El Paso, practices that damage or destroy trees such as the one depicted here will stop.
Thanks to the dual efforts of West Texas Urban Forestry Council (WTUFC) and elpasonaturally, the City has moved the Arborist position from the Department of Transportation to Planning and Engineering. Aborist, Brent Pearson, will either this week or next begin answering to Fred Lopez and Jim Fisk. 

In an email Brent reported the positive outcomes of this realignment including the resurrection of the Tree Board with a seat for the WTUFC, planting smaller trees thus saving the City money and having a greater variety of trees from which to select, enforcement of the Tree Protection Ordinance and more grants for trees. Pearson pointed out that the office and barn used at the City Tree Farm were donated by the WTUFC. The City now wants to expand that farm and have it available to supply the Capital Improvement Projects.

No doubt elpasonaturally shining a light on the poor tree practices by the engineering department and an almost certain doom of El Paso's beloved holiday tree in the San Jacinto Plaza helped move the city toward this new policy. 

What also was a huge help was a meeting spearheaded by Vern Autry, a board member of WTUFC, with city officials. That recent meeting lasted several hours. During that time WTUFC board members were able to point out the existence of a tree ordinance, the need for a tree board, the use of the city's tree manual and better tree care practices. 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Stop It, Folks. Just Stop It.

Bottled Water Shelf at Albertsons (Click image to enlarge.)
Just this past Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal ran this story: NestlĂ© Taps Into Bottled Water On-Demand ("The Swiss company is getting a big lift from customized Web orders for its Poland Springs, Perrier and Pure Life brands in the U.S.") Read the story. Note the charts. This is insane!

For a refresher course, watch this video:

The El Paso Water Utilities conservation page: http://www.lessismoreep.org/

Must Attend Water Workshop

Click on image to enlarge.

For more information and to RSVP: http://texasinterfaithcenter.org/Events/El-Paso-2015/RSVP  (RSVP is necessary for both days. You can attend one or both days but please RSVP.)

More about Water Captains: http://texasinterfaithcenter.org/article/texas-water-captains-program (Be sure to watch the Dr. Andrew Samson video.)

Information about, maps and directions to the Chamizal National Memorial: http://www.nps.gov/cham/index.htm

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Weisenberger versus Svarzbein

In deference to my friend, Rick Bonart, I published his letter endorsing Mr. Svarzbein. As you know, Rick was my pick for City Council Representative for District 1. Rick would be my choice as a candidate for anything. However, two others made the run-off: Al Weisenberger and Peter Svarzbein. Let me tell you what I know.

Peter has some negatives. The biggest of these has to do with the way he has financed his campaign. He bypassed the campaign finance laws of Texas with his “Friends of Peter Svarzbein” Special Purpose Committee. In short, he began financing a campaign without declaring a Treasurer. PAC money means hidden donors. We all want more transparent government (except perhaps the people in charge of the City of El Paso who only give lip-service to open government.) Peter's hiding something and that isn't good.

The fact is that Svarzbein is backed by all the major developers (but not Hunt or Foster). On the portion that he reports as campaign contributions, 14% of that money comes from the likes of Jerry Rubin and Adam Frank - people who would love to demolish all of downtown's architectural treasures and put up parking lots.

This brings me to another negative - Svarzbein is against the historical preservation of downtown. When people protested the demolition of the block at San Antonio and Mesa, he screamed at the protest organizer over a phone call. In fact, Peter apparently is quite a screamer. He reportedly was seen berating his father in public. Just great. Another Theresa Caballero. A prima don to Niland's prima donna.

Peter hasn't had a real job in his entire adult life. He has had the benefit of his father's money. A District 1 observer put it this way: "Peter has no earthly idea what things cost and why. So, if elected, he would be looking at a multi-million dollar city budget and be like a kid in a candy store picking out his favorite flavors." He says that his budget solution is to find private money. Good luck with that.

Svarzbein has claimed that he will be a full-time representative unlike Mr. Weisenberger who says that he will be a one-term representative and that the first few months in office he must complete some tasks he now has as an attorney. (Weisenberger is honest and ethical, responsible to his contractual duties, and intends to get things done in the four years that voters give him rather than taking eight years to finally accomplish anything. Did anyone complain when Beto O'Rourke didn't run for a second term and look how much he got done.)

This list of negatives is getting tedious; but add one more to the list. Sorry fellow environmentalists, Peter ain't green. Follow the money.

So let's discuss Weisenberger. Al has some positives. He ran a business with 65 employees. He knows how to create wealth and make a payroll. He has been involved with a number of civic organizations - Rotary Club, the Bar Association, etc. He's a gentleman. He's grown up. He's long past the terrible tantrum twos. Al endorsed historic preservation of our downtown. It's great to be a creative idea person. It's even better to have the wisdom that comes with experience to know what is a good idea and what is a bad idea without wasting everyone's time. 

So there you have it. Negatives and positives. You make the call.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Bad News on Dark Sky

Only two City Council members voted against the change in the Dark Sky ordinance: Ann Lilly and Lily Limon. With Mayor Leeser leading the charge, Council voted to grant Clear Channel Communications the privilege of not having to comply with dark sky. So, folks, you get to stare at brightly lit-up billboards as you drive and a starless sky. 

elpasonaturally also learned that Council members dismissed "form letter" emails. So, folks, your opinions don't count with this bunch. But the whims and wishes of a $17.2 Billion company make all the difference with this band of politicians.

The agenda item to amend the dark sky ordinance was labeled under the goal (something else not drafted by or agreed upon by the citizens of El Paso) "Promote the Visual Image of El Paso". So folks, you now know the aesthetical philosophy of this City government: UGLY.

The effort to prevent dark sky from being amended was led by Marci Turner. She wishes to thank all those who supported keeping the dark sky ordinance as it is (was). She is grateful for all the work each person did to save our skies.

Update on Mary Gonzalez and HB 3405

This is a follow-up to last Thursday's post, Rep. Mary Gonzalez and the Right of Capture. "Bloody" Mary Gonzalez killed a Hays County bill (HB 3405) which would have extended that conservation district and prevented Electro Purification from taking water from Hays County in order to sell it elsewhere. In that post I speculated that some larger interests might have been behind Bloody Mary's actions. I mentioned the El Paso Water Utilities. CEO John Balliew sent me this message: 

"To the best of my knowledge, no one from EPWU spoke to Mary Gonzalez or anyone else about the Hays County Bill. It was not even on the list of bills that we were monitoring. We do own land inside and outside other GWCDs and we work within the rules of those districts. In general, the purpose of those districts is to let local considerations prevail. I don't see anything with or without the Hays County bill that would be affecting anything in Hudspeth or El Paso Counties. The aquifer conditions are vastly different.


"As to the other issue in your post about us opposing the creation of a water conservation district - I am not sure what kind of district was being discussed, but if the reference was to a GWCD [Groundwater Conservation District], the simple reason we would not be in favor of one is that there is no need. Those Districts are for situations where you have different types of users and uses of water and you need to have a mechanism to solve disputes and operate the system for the common good. In the case of the Hueco Bolson in Texas, it is just us and Fort Bliss and we have worked very well together to reduce pumping to a sustainable level. I am not sure anything could be gained and there is a potential for some loss of sanity. There is at least one GWCD in the state whose desired future condition for the aquifer is to completely deplete it."

Mr. Balliew answers our questions.

Now, read a comment posted on last Thursday's blog entry:

"As a Hays Countian who has followed this issue closely, I went into Rep. Gonzalez's office to discuss her concerns regarding HB 3405. She avoided my questions and pawned me off on her Legislative Director who she said was very familiar with the issue.

"Rep Gonzalez's legislative director did NOT know what a Groundwater Conservation District is. She also didn't know if the district they serve (El Paso) has a groundwater conservation district or is in one.

"As far as the concerns she's stated in interviews -- they make NO sense.


"Also, someone should ask her HOW this local bill would set a precedence and hurt the rural farmers in her area -- this statement alone shows she DOES NOT understand what this bill does."

So I'm guessing that, if Bloody Mary has no idea what a GWCD is, it means that indeed someone is pulling her strings OR that her submarining HB 3405 was an act of vindictiveness. (That legislator did something to her so she did something to him. I don't know if the record indicates this.)

She's either stupid or lying. A pawn or a vindictive person. Either way she has done great damage to the people of Hays County and her own District. And, if she is acting on the behest of some other entity whether she knows what a GWCD is or not, she is not acting for the people who elected her or the people of Hays County who have already endured so much with the recent catastrophic floods. 

I agree with this letter writer to the El Paso Times as published this morning:

"Rep. Mary Gonzalez of El Paso is using her authority to support a corporation that is trying to steal the water from longtime Hays County residents.

"House Bill 3405 is a local Hays County bill that would close the loophole that Electro-Puro Corporation is trying to use to usurp the water rights of people in Hays County.

"Rep. Gonzalez, whose district is no where near Hays County, personally blocked our bill.

"Giving Electro-Puro our water gives them the right to move it 30 miles away to build subdivisions that are only on paper.

"Why is this woman who claims a degree in social justice choosing to support a corporation that found a loophole in Texas water law? What about the people?"

Rose Penzerro
Driftwood, Texas

Monday, June 1, 2015

Dark Sky Vote Tomorrow

[Item 14.1 on tomorrow's City Council agenda would allow billboards to continue using upward directed lighting as long as they switch to LEDs. LEDs are good indeed; but that's not the point. Item 12.3 allows for relocating some billboards. Again, that's not a solution. There are good reasons for a dark sky ordinance passed 10 years ago giving all homes and businesses 10 years to comply. Light pollution robs us of our greatest common space: space. When I was a boy in El Paso, I could see the Milky Way from our garage roof. No longer. Research has shown that dark skies are important to animal migration and protection. Dark skies are more conducive to a good night's sleep. Dark sky makes a city more attractive to newcomers and new businesses. It's a huge economic plus. Unfortunately, in El Paso a large corporation, Clear Channel wants a special privilege. 

What is Clear Channel? According to Wikinvest: "Clear Channel Communications Inc. (NYSE: CCU) is a diversified mediacompany with two primary business segments: radio broadcasting and outdoor advertising. Clear Channel is the largest radio broadcasting company in the United States, with 17% of the US radio market and over 1,100 AM and FM radio stations. It also owns a 90% share in the world's largest outdoor advertising division, with over 900,000 billboards in more than 60 countries. In addition, Clear Channel owns or programs 51 television stations and owns a media representation firm. Clear Channel has a market capitalization of $17.2 billion."

$17.2 Billion and they can't comply with a City of El Paso Dark Sky ordinance after 10 years! Of course a $17.2 Billion corporation too often gets to do what it pleases because it owns too many politicians. No wonder why more than 90% of El Paso voters don't vote.

Marci Turner has been leading the charge to preserve our dark sky ordinance and to make Clear Channel comply. Here is her call to action:]


This is a CALL TO ACTION!!!

Friends and Neighbors:

The Outdoor Lighting Industry (Clear Channel) is requesting City Council to change El Paso’s Dark Sky Ordinance which was passed in 2005.  The request is to exempt them (billboards) from complying with our current ordinance which requires all outdoor lighting to be directed downward, not up.  This request defeats the purpose of the ordinance which has, over the past 10 years, provided us with a safer, healthier, and economically enhanced city.  Also, the industry is requesting assistance from the City with billboards which are coming down due to City/State road projects.  The State currently pays the industry for these billboards.  To relocate them is contrary to the original ordinance which focuses on reducing the number of billboards in our city.

Businesses all over El Paso, large and small, have complied with this ordinance during the past 10 years – why should one big, wealthy company be granted an exemption!?!

In order to show our community is aware of these proposed changes and opposes them, it is imperative that you send an email to Council, City Manager, and City Planning.

This is easily done with one email.  Simply type all the addresses in the “to” box, they will be automatically separated by a semicolon.  The same email will go to all recipients.

The email addresses are as follows:  (no need to include names!)

District 1 Ann Morgan Lilly lillyam@elpasotexas.gov
District 2 Larry Romero romerol@elpasotexas.gov
District 3 Emma Acosta acostaea@elpasotexas.gov
District 4 Carl Robinson robinsoncl@elpasotexas.gov
District 5 Michiel Noe noem@elpasotexas.gov
District 6 Claudia Ordaz ordazc@elpasotexas.gov
District 7 Lily Limon limonl@elpasotexas.gov
District 8 Cortney Niland nilandcc@elpasotexas.gov
City Manager Tommy Gonzalez TGonzalez@elpasotexas.gov      
Matthew McElroy, City Planning mcelroymx@elpasotexas.gov 


Sample letter – use this or create your own!

Dear City Representatives, City Manager, and City Planner,

There are two items of concern to me on the agenda for the council meeting of Tuesday, June 2.  These are:

Item 12.3 (to amend Sign Regulations found in Title 20, Chapter 20.18 of the Municipal Code), and
Item 14.1 (to amend the Outdoor Lighting Code (Title 18, Chapter 18.18).

I am opposed to both of these proposed amendments and exceptions to our city’s code because I do not believe either of them to be in the best interest of El Paso.  I urge you to vote AGAINST both of them. 

Sincerely,
Your Name