Monday, August 31, 2015

EPEC Fast Tracks Power Poles in Historic District

"Romero Poles"
Romero Poles. That's what the neighborhood has begun to call the electrical poles now marring the historical Manhattan Heights district as well as the Newman Park neighborhood immediately to the north. They are named in "honor" of Rep. Larry Romero who wouldn't even take time to stand with the people that he represents and demand a reasonable solution from the electrical utility. Instead, the champion of payday predatory lenders stands with the El Paso Electric Company and not his constituents.

Of course, a compromise is almost a moot point. EPEC's contractors began working at top speed today to plant the poles. Certainly EPEC doesn't want to have to compromise with residents nor face the Historic Landmark Commission (HLC) of El Paso again.

Seeing the frantic pace of the contractors, one neighbor put it well: "Despite EPEC's agreement to work at a compromise with Manhattan Heights Neighborhood Association, EPEC has decided no longer to apply for permitting with HLC on this or any future projects. EPEC has thumbed its nose at HLC and its customers; EPE has restarted construction and is installing poles along Elm Street as we speak."

Another neighbor points out: "El Paso Electric paid millions of dollars for the right to use the city right of way. It is my understanding that all utilities must conform to the established norms and the rule of law including the fact that the HLC regulates all changes in the area. It has the right to issue cease and desist orders and refer the matter to a hearing. The fact that El Paso Electric chose to remove it's application from the HLC does not create a condition where this organization is exempted from seeking HLC approval for changes in Manhattan Heights. Just how many times does code enforcement issue citations for non-conforming/unpermitted construction in historic areas? I know they have the right to bring the El Paso Electric to court and have them stop activity until a hearing is provided to determine appropriateness."

Will City Council act? Not this one.

So much for the property value of this beautiful home.
When living in the State of Washington for 18 years, residents, officials, utility personnel - all knew what another resident stated that "public safety limits [of high power lines] for electromagnetic and radiofrequency fields remain thousands of time higher given all the studies regarding the association to serious health issues." In El Paso, nobody seems to know that and EPEC claims ignorance.

EPEC wants a rate hike? Since they act imperiously without respect to the health, safety and welfare of neighborhoods not to mention the rules involving historical districts, they shouldn't get it. In fact, the City of El Paso should take over electrical services and tell EPEC to take a hike. By the way such a move can lead to encouraging solar energy rather than discouraging it as EPEC does with their proposed ridiculous hikes for solar power users. They argue that users of solar power don't pay their fair share of infrastructure needs. However those needs would be lessened if more people used solar. Simply put, EPEC wants you to buy more of their electricity. If you don't read the comments after these posts, then you missed a great one the other day: 

"I make tacos.
You buy my tacos for $5 each.
You no like my tacos?
Then you pay me $8.

Someone has to pay for my tacos."

I couldn't have said it better.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Friday Video: The Bridge at Q’eswachaka

Speaking about engineering:

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EPWU Premiers New Water Purification Pilot Facility

CEO John Balliew welcomes visitors and gives an introduction to the plant and the need for it.
The El Paso Water Utilities (EPWU) unveiled their new water purification pilot facility at the Bustamante Wastewater Treatment Plant this morning. More than 60 visitors consisting of the general public, EPWU employees, some PSB members and other officials learned more about the process, took a tour and viewed a video. Their reaction: Wow!

EPWU wastewater plants clean water for use in irrigation and industrrial porcesses and aquifer recharge. Because of drought and low river water allocations, our water utility is pumping more water from the aquifer which cannot be replenished quickly. So EPWU is considering a number of options to ensure water supply to its service district - us. "Advanced Water Purification is a drought-proof sustainable option."

The Advanaced Water Purification Pilot Plant is critical for a sustainable water supply for El Paso's future. 

There are several steps in the process. First, nitrates and nitrites are removed from the reclaimed water. Then solids, bacteria, portozoa and some viruses are removed by a filtration system. Two systems are currently being tested: microfiltration and ultrafiltration. The third step of nanofiltration and reverse osmosis removes dissolved salts, metals and dissolved organic molecules "and other materials many of which are more than 50,000 times smaller than the smallest bacteria or virus." 

The penultimate step removes all remaining contaminants through a dual process of the additon of hydrogen peroxide and the use of ultraviolet light. Finally, water goes through granular activated carbon to remove the last of the remaining peroxide. The result - pure, drinkable water from reclaimed water.

Because the process is still being tested and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality won't yet give the greenlight for the system to be used in the public's drinking water, we couldn't get a refreshing drink of this water today. The day will come when all of us can enjoy this sustainable source of water.

Two thoughts: First, I have a love for industrial plants and for all engineering projects. They are beautiful forms of humanity's ability to solve problems scientifically. Unfortunately, some of our processes have wreaked havoc on the planet. Still I have faith in science and technology not only to make all human lives better but to do so in a way which preserves and protects Mother Earth and all of its inhabitants. This marvelous work of water treatment technology is doing just that.

Finally, and quite sadly, it was obvious that not one single member of City Council was there today in spite of the fact that they were invited two weeks ago. The most critical issue facing El Paso is the scarcity of water. It is good to know that El Paso Water Utilities is leading the way to a sustainable future. I'm afraid that the current City Council is tugging in the opposite direction.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

What's Wrong with Fracking: A Review

Would you let your children or grandchildren play here?
". . . fracking wells release compounds into the air, such as benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene and n-hexane; long-term exposure to these has been linked to birth defects, neurological problems, blood disorders and cancer." From
Check out What goes in and out of Hydraulic Fracking. Just keep scrolling down.

Do read livescience's Facts about Fracking and Grist's Ask Umbra: What's so bad about fracking?

Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is "the procedure of creating fractures in rocks and rock formations by injecting fluid into cracks to force them further open. The larger fissures allow more oil and gas to flow out of the formation and into the wellbore, from where it can be extracted." At the end of the process is injecting wastewater into wells (injection wells). The information above concentrates on what is wrong with fracking in terms of air and water pollution. But what about surface damage?

The damage to ecosystems by road building, trucks, drilling pads, spilled toxic fluids is irreparable. Flora and fauna are killed. The ecosystem benefits of soil and flora are eliminated. 

Of course, fracking has led to greater oil and gas independence for the United States. It has given us lower and still falling prices at the pumps. But ask yourself this: realizing that we can also become energy independent with renewables and have a cleaner environment, why frack? The picture above is repeated all across the country. The Diablo Plateau of Hudspeth County next to El Paso will soon resemble it. What do you want? Further destruction of our planet or a green, clean earth?

We  have become so confined in the walls of our offices and homes by electronics, television, interstate highways that we think that all is well as long as our little patch of grass gets watered, fertilized and mowed. Scenes such as the one above are unfathomable. It's happening over there but not in my backyard. Trouble is: it is someone's backyard and outdoors. And yours could be next.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Celebration of Our Mountains Kicks Off this Weekend

"Hike our mountains. Explore our desert. Discover our wetlands."
The Annual Celebration of Our Mountains begins this weekend with four exciting hikes. 

"For 21 years, we’ve been hiking, biking, birding, climbing, photographing, geocaching, studying and celebrating the natural wonders of the Borderland." This year's line-up of Fall events will continue that tradition of numerous and diverse events.

For a list of events go to either or, simply, Celebration volunteer events along with Wyler Aerial Tramway State Park events are listed under "Events". But that isn't all! Check out the pages of events in the Franklin Mountains State Park and the Guadalupe Mountains National Park as well as "Back by Noon" events sponsored by the Southwest Environmental Center.  

Want to begin mountain biking, see nocturnal slitherers or bats, take some spectacular hikes, stroll with the kids and the family dog, learn about wolves, climb the highest peak in Texas, enter an old copper prospecting mine, go inside a flourite mine, see petroglyphs and 280 million-year-old footrpints, take a tour of El  Paso geology, look at a real dark sky full of stars - all these and more are part of the line-up of this year's events. 

Four events headline this first weekend:

Friday, August 28, 2015, 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM
Sunset Hike Loop

Saturday, August 29, 2015, 7:00 AM - 8:30 AM
Palisades Loop

Sunday, August 30, 2015, 6:30 AM to 8:45 AM
Early Birds Loop

Sundays, August 30, September 27, October 25, November 26, 2015, 7:00 AM
Last Sunday Hike

Again, for more information about these events, visit Follow Celebration on Twitter. Visit and like the Facebook page. Spread the word. Tell family and friends.

Fall weather in El Paso is great. So, go hike your mountains, explore your desert, and discover your wetlands.

Click on image to enlarge.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Park Ponds Again Cut into Open Space Funds to Preserve the Mountainside

Read it and weep. Or, as one El Paso conservationist put it, "something to make your blood boil."

Open space in El Paso is funded by 10% of your stormwater fee. Precious mountainside land could be preserved with that money as long as it has a stormwater function. That's not hard to imagine as water rushing down the mountainside is stormwater. Increasingly, that money is being depleted by park ponds with "grass-covered athletic fields, a landscaped perimeter, picnic tables, park benches and a tree-lined walking path."

Nothing wrong with those amenities. But the money should come from Parks and Recreation and not open space!

Is this a good time to approach this City Council (or T-Rex) and ask that P&R pay for the amenities and not open space funds. Hell no. The ponds with their greenery are pork to them to offer the folks in their districts.

Is this the way it is done in other cities? Hell no. However, it should make us the envy of Van Horn, the standard Cortney Niland has set for us.

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Monday, August 24, 2015

Living Green in the Southwest: Water and Solar Energy

The oil industry oligarchy and their supporters will tell you that natural gas and even coal use less water to produce electricity than solar power. They are half-right.

You have to distinguish between two types of solar energy: photovoltaics (the panels you put on your roof for example) and concentrating solar thermal - big mirrors that gather heat from sunlight to heat water to be used in a thermoelectric plant. As you might guess, concentrating solar thermal requires tons of water for steam for generating and for cooling - more so than natural gas or coal unless dry cooling is used which cuts water usage by 90% but also cuts efficiency and costs more.

On the other hand, photovoltaics require little water, the least of all in renewable energy except for wind powered generators. How much water? Enough to clean the dust (or smoke in some places) off the panels. My brother, Paul Tolbert, who lives in Upland, California installed solar panels on his home this past winter. Here is what he said about cleaning the panels:

"My installer estimated cleaning every 6 months. But it depends on where you live. EP may have less soot/smog than I have. My panels have been up 6 months (since mid Feb) and don’t need cleaning so far. I recently checked and my electricity generation has not dropped. (However, a couple of recent smoky days may change this). Google says to clean the surface of a solar panel much like you would clean your car -- with warm water and dishwashing soap to remove any accumulation of dirt and grime. I plan to use a long handled squeegee."

6 months and he is going on 7 now without a drop in generation! A bucket of soapy water, a squeegee (a jug of wine, a loaf of bread . . .) We aren't talking about much water. 

[Just a word about wind powered generation. Those spinning blades do kill birds but far less than my cat, Aristotle, and his feline friends from coast to coast do, and far less also than power lines, window panes, pesticides, automobiles and lighted communication towers. Tens of thousands by turbines versus millions by the other causes. Newer turbine technology is reducing the number even more. Sorry, oil industry cronies.]

The process for making the solar panels like all industrial processes requires some water. Still, panels use less water from production to installation to service than thermoelectric plants driven by gas, coal, concentrating solar thermal technology, nuclear, etc.

There are some nasty molecules involved in photovoltaics (as there are in the computer chips that make your smart phones and televisions, well, smart.) The industry (at least in the United States) is very careful about the proper disposal of these chemicals. (I won't get into rare earth metals here. We want quantum electronics for our convenience but we need rare earth metals to accomplish that. I don't know about you, but I don't like to be dependent on China so the trade-off is rare earth mining. More on that later.)

The technology that uses the least amount of water after wind turbines is photovoltaics. The best place to employ that technology is on your own home or business if you want to be part of a community that conserves water. Of course, at the present time, you don't use all of the electricity generated from your solar panels. Without batteries you have to sell that power back to the grid. The "grid" at least the El Paso Electric Company wants to increase substanially how much a solar user pays for a kWhr while buying back at $.03/kWhr. An Australian system uses the excess to heat water. If you own an electric car, you can recharge its batteries with your excess. Bottom line: getting off the grid (and thus the community's consumption of more scarce water) is the way to go.

More on passive solar next. - Jim Tolbert

For more information and references for above:

Water Use by Solar Projects Intensifies
Environmental Impacts of Solar Panels
How It Works: Water for Power Plant Cooling
Fact Check: How Much Water Does Solar Power Really Use?
Get more out of your solar power system by using water as a battery
Do wind turbines kill birds?

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Friday, August 21, 2015

The Friday Video: El Paso Outside: A Promise For Future Generations

Landscaping with native plants is the way to go. Just take the next step and create a back or frontyard habitat that will attract birds and butterflies and other wildlife. It doesn't have to be done all at once and it's easy to do. You can even register your front or backyard with the Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition (CDEC). Their program makes it fun to landscape for beauty and for habitat with native plants. Also check out the City of El Paso's Get Outside program, a joint effort between the Office of Resilience and Sustainability and the Zoo. Visit and like CDEC on Facebook. BTW, CDEC's 11th Annual Chihuahuan Desert Fiesta, a Celebration of Our Mountains event, is coming up on September 19th from 9 AM to 3 PM at the Tom Mays Unit of the Franklin Mountains State Park.

Now watch an outstanding video:

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Rio Bosque Wetlands Threatened - Again

Click image to enlarge.
Our Rio Bosque Wetlands Park is threatened once again. This in spite of new sources of water for almost the entire year. If done in its preferred route by TxDOT, the planned Border East Highway means bad news for the Bosque.

The El Paso Times reported recently: Officials: Border Highway East project to cost $711.6M. Item 7 on tomorrow's 9AM Transportation Policy Board for the El Paso Metropolitan Planning Organization (EPMPO) reads: "Discussion and action to allow the Transportation Policy Board Chairperson to execute a Resolution in support of the Border Highway East (BHE) Planning and Environmental Linkages (PEL) Study." Do see the full proposal and presentation HERE.

TxDOT's preferred route for the Border East Highway would go from the Zaragoza International Port of Entry to the future Tornillo-Guadalupe International Port of Entry following the Rio Grande. There would also be an extension from Tornillo to Interstate 10. 

The Rio Bosque hugs the Rio Grande on its western border. The Riverside Canal sets the eastern boundary of the park. The El Paso County Water Improvement District plans to cement the Riverside Canal. That by itself will negatively impact the wildlife at the Rio Bosque. A border highway hugging the concreted canal will certainly be harmful to the wildlife of the park according to John Sproul the park's manager.

In addition to threatening the Rio Bosque, the planned border highway will upset the primarily rural towns from Socorro through Clint and San Elizario to Tornillo. San Elizario and Clint already face having a dangerous pipeline running near homes and schools. For more, go HERE and HERE.

Now is a very good time to become a Friend of the Rio Bosque. Also visit and like The Friends of the Rio Bosque Facebook page.

The EPMPO meets tomorrow at 9AM at 211 N. Florence, Suite 103. MAP

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Where Was Larry Romero?

Photo by Rose Aguilar, El Paso Inc. See other photos and Inc. story HERE.
Yesterday I blogged about the recent meeting between residents of Newman Park and also the historic district of Manhattan Heights with representatives of the El Paso Electric Company regarding a project to place new forty-five foot poles from Wheeling to Frankfort Avenue along Elm Street. (Full disclosure: this is my hood.) EPEC's route along Elm creates the huge risk of tumbling poles during major floods. Elm Street becomes a "river" during downpours. Flooding plus the deterioration of a 1920's sewer line but six inches from the polls threatens to undermine the sub-surface and cause a pole or poles to fall especially since EPEC is planting the poles at 5 feet and not the standard 6.5 feet.

Residents are up against a powerful utility. Often the only hope is to arouse enough public opposition to either cancel or modify a project. Unfortunately, the City Council representative for District 2 is Larry Romero. He declined even to attend the public meeting on August 11, 2015. As heard from a good source, it seems that Larry believes that the matter is a lost cause and doesn't merit his time. Afterall, this part-time representative has a business to run. His predecessor, Susie Byrd, would have been there to support her constituents. Larry doesn't care about the health, safety and welfare of those he serves on city council. 

In another matter, King Larry, without asking for public opinion or consent, had a roundabout removed simply because he doesn't like them. The result - a serious accident at Tumbleweed and Mathias. Read the story HERE. (Thank you, David Crowder of the El Paso Inc.) This is just one more neighborhood in District 2 that is poorly served by this dud of a city representative.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

El Paso Electric Doesn't Care about Historic Districts or the Safety of People

Flood on Elm Street. Arrow points to the new location of a power pole. Insane - right?

El Paso Electric Company doesn't care about historic districts or the safety of people. Here's the story:

The El Paso Electric Company without prior approval from the El Paso Historic Landmark Commission has proceeded to erect new electrical poles from Wheeling Avenue to Frankfort Avenue. These forty-five foot poles are higher than traditional poles, higher also than neighborhood trees. Approval was based on reaching a compromise with the neighborhood associations, particularly the Manhattan Heights Neighborhood Association, an historic district. There was no compromise reached at an August 11, 2015 meeting at the Memorial Park Garden Center.

Members of the historic district as well as Newman Park Neighborhood Association to the north have real concerns about the contruction of the new poles. It's not just that they are ugly and that this diminishment of aesthetics reduces home values and the quality of life of the neighborhood. It is also a matter of safety.

Presentation by Engineer, Saul Arriola, showing the dangers
of the project.

The poles are being planted a mere six inches or less from a very old and decaying 1920's vintage sewer line not twelve inches which is the industry standard. Moreover, poles are buried just 5 feet into the ground rather than the standard 6.5 feet. A recent rupture in the sewer line was repaired with a cement patch demonstrating the precarious condition of the pipe line. In addition, Elm Street has traditionally been a stormwater path. If there is a significant rain (as we have this time of the year), Elm Street becomes a river rushing powerfully downhill. The possibility of erosion or a sinkhole caused by flooding or a sewer leak is high and, therefore, the probability of a pole falling down increases. Imagine the danger that has to residents, motorists and first responders. 

View the slide show above.

EPEC seems to be motivated by the cost-factor. They want to do the job as cheaply as possible. They are ignoring what is called "Failure Mode Evaluation and Analysis". What is the severity of the failure? (Electrocution, damage to structures, death) What's the probability of failure? (an old sewer line rupturing and worse a flood) What's the likelihood that failure will go undetected? (the concrete sidewalks mask the impending failure of the sub-surface)

The reason for putting new power lines through any part of the neighborhood is the increased demand caused by more people using central air. (I do cherish my evaporative cooler.) EPEC says that they will evaluate alternative paths in terms of cost. Neighbors will only have their word on it. 

What usually happens? The utility will finish the job that they have begun because afterwards there is little recourse. 

Do read the public comment and view the pictures about this project as well as view the pictures in this document.

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El Paso Electric Hates It When You Generate Your Own Electricity

The El Paso Electric Company hates it when you generate your own electricity. Their current rate hike requests penalize users of solar energy. Read Robert Gray's El Paso Inc. story, Solar customers worry about rate case: Electric utility proposes big jump for power generatorsSee the rate hike chart above.

EPEC argues that people who use solar power are subsidizing those users who do not. EPEC has to build and maintain power stations, electric poles, etc. and that costs money especially as more homes and commercial buildings get built, more sprawl is created and more homes and other buildings use central air. Obviously if you aren't using solar, you are paying more for the power grid than someone who is paying less. The same argument can be made about people who turn off lights when not needed, turn up the thermostat in the summer, turn-off computers and so forth. EPEC isn't really encouraging conservation.

Imagine a scenario where everyone generates electricity during the day with their solar panels. At night that electricity goes back to the grid - in effect, thousands of electric generators. There would be little need to build more power stations and there would probably be a shut down of some stations or else less use of those stations. Less water for steam and cooling. Less use of fossil fuels. What's the matter with that?

Simple. Less electricity produced by EPEC means less that they sell to you and me and, therefore, less money that they will make. Sure they want you to conserve up to a point. They don't want to spend too much on power peaks. However, they don't want you to conserve too much nor produce your own electricity. In case of the latter, they want to punish you rather than incentivize the renewable energy that you make.

What should happen is that the city of El Paso (or any city) should take over the electric utility. Encourage renewables by charging people with solar panels less. Discourage over use. Cut back on infrastructure such as power stations. The city doesn't have to make money on the commodity of electricity. They can encourage home production of power with renewable sources.

EPEC's power grab (pun intended) is going on with utilities around the country. Led by folks such as the Koch Brothers, the industry is fighting what they call "freeloaders" - people who use solar and sell back to the grid. Of course, freeloader has the additional meaning of someone who mooches and steals - how the utilities want you to think about people with solar energy. If there are more people using solar without paying a higher rate and getting less back for the electricity that goes back to the grid, there is less power to sell and less fossil fuels to be purchased from folks like the Koch boys.

What EPEC and the electric industry knows and fears is this: they are going the way of the telephone or the television cable companies. They are going the way of the horse and buggy. They are going the way of the dinosaur. Cell phone technology replaced the need for a grid of millions of miles of wires. More people are streaming rather than buying dozens of television channels that they never watch. More people will either get off the grid or go to micro-grids. (Watch out when battery technology improves and gets cheaper.)

Finally, as far as laws that prevent people from getting off the grid are concerned, the day will come when enough people will not care a rat's ass. It is or once was a free country not ruled by an oligarchy of powerful fossil fuel companies and their corps of crony capitalists.

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Monday, August 17, 2015

Living Green in the Southwest: How to Stay Cool without Central Air Conditioning

I returned last week to the Columban Mission Center to find out how they keep their building cool (an old home on Magoffin built in 1920) without central air conditioning.

I found inside to be comfortable - perhaps not as cold as it could be with central air, but pleasant and certainly more than meerly tolerable.

There are two large whole house fans in the attic above the second floor. At 4 AM, Father Bob Mosher opens all of the windows on the first floor and turns the fans on (this could be automated) and all of the hot air in the house is sucked out the attic vents and the cool air is sucked in. At daybreak he closes the windows on the east side of the house and at 8 AM he shuts all the other windows. He turns off the whole house fans. Ceiling fans are on throughout the day circulating the cool air. The lights throughout the building are left off except when needed. All the fixtures have fluorescent lighting.

The attic is well insulated and, in addition, two inches of styrofoam insulation was recently added to the outside walls of the building and stuccoed over. That too has helped to keep the indoors cooler during the hot summer. 

From Proposed electric rate hikes.

Solar panels on the roof provide electricity during the day - something El Paso Electric Company wants to penalize all solar customers for having.

Click image to enlarge.

An eGauge app provides the Center with instant data about their energy usage including the electricity generated by the panels. The app provides real time data as well as data over a period of time.

Read a technology fact sheet to learn more about whole house fans including the difference in costs of running this fan versus central air. Try one penny per hour instead of twenty cents based on 8.5¢/kWh!

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

City Manager Raise Was Premature

It seems as if every El Paso blogger has had something to say about the City Manager's pay raise. I wanted to think through that issue before weighing in. Here goes:

I agree with David Karlsruher that the city manager's performance review and compensation does not belong in the public arena. Mr. Tommy Gonzalez is an employee and has a right to have such matters discussed in private by our elected Representatives. I further agree with David that, if we don't like Council members' decision, we can recall them or just not re-elect them. (Recalling a city council representative is just about numerically impossible unless, of course, you have a mega-church with an entranced audience.)

There's a "but" here as you might suspect. BUT what should be a matter of public discussion is what the Council finally decided to do. Because Mr. Gonzalez is unarguably the most important city employee, his salary increase by Council becomes a matter for public discussion and debate. I had already decided to vote against raising council salaries before they pulled the proposal from the city charter election. Higher salaries aren't what entice good people to run - big money in El Paso guarantees who gets elected. Just look at Niland, Noe and Romero. With Council's premature decision about Tommy's salary, they spent their salary increases. 

Why do I say that the salary increase is premature? I speak as an environmental activist as well as a taxpaying citizen.

First, Mr. Gonzalez's goals for the City (and they are his goals de facto and not those of Council and certainly not those of El Pasoans) have nothing to say about the environment, open space, conservation, ecosystems, etc. "Attractiveness" is not the same thing as controlling sprawl, being cognizant of the scarce resource of water, protecting the beauty of our mountains, desert and wetlands, and providing trailheads, parks, connectivity and open space for recreation.

Mr. Gonzalez's staff met with members of the West Texas Urban Forestry Council Board. Most of them were the authors of our city's Tree Care Manual, our approved tree list, and (when it was a reality) our Tree Board - a now defunct and forgotten "sub-committee" of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. In spite of the seeming enthusiasm of the City Manager's staff, nothing has been done other than shuffling the organizational chart and re-assigning the City Arborist, a good step for sure. The promised consultations, the resurrection of the Tree Board and following the Tree Manual have not come to fruition.

I understand that Mr. Gonzalez inherited some problems. On the other hand, he has had one year to make a difference on some projects. The destruction/reconstruction of the San Jacinto Plaza Park is a good example. While on this topic, let us recall that Tommy Gonzalez readily ordered taking down El Pasoan's treasured holiday Christmas tree until this blog started a public outcry. Niland didn't like the shape. She said "jump" to Tommy and he asked "how high". 

This jumping is another matter that concerns me because we've seen it in other cases. Gonzalez seems to be impulsive and this characteristic may be the biggest concern.

It has been argued that we would lose our City Manager if we didn't offer him a salary commensurate to other larger cities in Texas. Yes, but, those salaries go to full-time employees. Full time. When Council raised his salary, they also gave him more vacation time. He will not use that "vacation" time to take the kids to Hawaii; he will use that "vacation" time to do more paid consulting work. In other words, we have a part-time city manager who is also a part-time paid consultant. The City Manager should give up his consulting work and become the full-time City Manager of El Paso, Texas. Then let's talk about a commensurate salary.

Finally, I don't believe the financial numbers. I don't believe that the city is doing as well as Gonzalez claims. If so, instead of raising our onerous property taxes, why doesn't Council cut them? Hmmm?

Gonzalez may eventually deserve a higher salary. End the consulting, be less impulsive, be more transparent, listen to tree experts and don't just dictate planting larger trees in smaller spaces, and care about environmentalism - then and only then should he be up for the raise.

Council should be held accountable in the arena of public debate. I wouldn't not support a council person for election on the basis of one issue. However, when it comes to next budget time when they do seek public input, they each better listen carefully. I hope that they hear now that the raise was premature.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

State Park Animal Corridor to Let in September?

Although it's pretty certain that the City of El Paso's priorities and not TxDOT nor regional engineer, Bob Bielek, are to blame, the process for actually building the wildlife corridor with a hike and bike trail at the Tom Mays Unit of the FMSP has been a lengthy one.

In a July 30, 2015 email to Rep. Joe Pickett, Bob Bielek wrote: "I discussed how we are going to fund this project with staff today and we came to the conclusion that it makes the most sense to fund the project out of Category 11, which is essentially District discretionary funds.  We will likely have enough to fund this project with FY 16 funds and should be able to let in September or October. The reason for this is that we would not need to get the project into the TIP, STIP or have to go through all of the paperwork associated with conformity, etc. Depending on final estimates this could change, but as of right now we believe this is the fastest and cleanest approach."

Let in September or October? Let's hope it's finally true.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Living Green in the Southwest: Paint Your Roofs White

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In a previous post I said that painting your roof white is debatable. It reflects heat in the summer but how does it do with keeping the house warm in the winter? The people I know who have done it are happy in the summer and the winter. 

A Mother Jones article Cool It on the AC Already: How air conditioning is making us hotter supports using white reflective paint on your rooftop. Their point: "We spend $11 billion on cooling each year and release roughly 100 million tons of carbon dioxide in the process—the same as 19 million cars." The article gives the usual recommendations: turning up the thermostat, using fans . . . painting your roof white.

This first video should have been edited to cut to the chase: the difference between the temperature of an unpainted roof and a painted one. The difference is dramatic!

This next video is a how to and the how to is pretty simple. The example is that of a flat top roof but painting a pitched roof is the same. (BTW, it takes a lot of water to wash a roof so this may also be a good time to put in some gutters and use rain barrels to water your yard or garden.) 

Right now this strikes me as an early morning project or one that can best be done in the cooler late Fall. 

And btw, the Mother Jones article says that evaporative coolers are best in drier climates. Most of us in El Paso know that if we own an evaporative cooler. The concern is the amount of water that is lost when cooling this way. I use a bleeder hose that I can move and water different parts of my yard and garden. Just saying.

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Friday Video: Christina Gurrola Sings "Deseo"

From l. to r., Joyce Ford, Armando Villaverde, Christina Gurrola, Jim Tolbert, Judy Ackerman, Rosario Rivera, Rick Bonart
Christina Gurrola is getting some well deserved praise and recognition now. Kristopher Rivera writes about her in today's El Paso Times Tiempo: El Paso singer-songwriter perseveres, launches debut EP. She was a finalist on "Tengo Talento, Mucho Talento", Mexico's "American Idol". A very beautiful and a lovely woman, she has the voice of an angel. I've known Chrissy since 2010 when she helped collect petition signatures which ultimately led to the new Northwest Master Plan which preserved 800 acres of natural open space and saved arroyos from development. Christina was one of the top petition gatherers. She also invited me to a couple of her gigs so I could speak to the audience about preserving our mountains.

It's only fitting that today's Friday video be one of her recordings. You can subscribe to her channel on You Tube and follow her on Facebook

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Frontera Land Alliance Announces New Initiative

[Janae' Reneaud Field, the Executive Director of Frontera Land Alliance introduced a new conservation initiative yesterday at the Open Space Advisory Board. The initiative leverages funds and partnerships. Below is the initiative. Do become familiar with Frontera. Support it with your tax-free donations.]

Introduction of Frontera Land Alliance and why it started this initiative

The Frontera Land Alliance (Frontera), a local 501(c) (3) non-profit focuses on the conservation of water, land and open space. We work in Hudspth, Culberson El Paso, and may work in southern NM counties.

We focus our efforts on:  

1) Enhance the protection of the Franklin Mountains with additional buffer lands; 
2) Protect water resources—rivers, streams and wetlands, watershed, aquifers; 
3) Protect species diversity, rare species habitat and other significant habitat, and enhance the protection of these ecosystems; 
4) protect working farms and ranches; 
5) Preserve scenic views, critical open space and historic character of the built and unbuilt environment;  
6) Link protected lands and promote existing greenways, trails and provide opportunity for new trail development, or other recreational opportunities and; 

One way to achieve the above goals is with an initiative Frontera is investigating, which is a collaborative project that will leverage funds and partnerships.  

Examples of the types of grants available
1) Types of support that possibly could be provided by foundations and government agencies include the purchase of conservation easements or acquire fee simple lands. 
a. Lands of conservation interest could include  natural arroyos, recreational lands, connector trails for wildlife and people 
b. Conservation easements allow funds to go further & landowner stays on tax roll and they are the managers of their lands. 
2) Address flooding in low income neighborhoods by conserving lands around them to allow a place for the water to flow naturally away from low income neighborhoods
3) Conservation of large animals and their habitat such as the mountain lion
4) Address the mental and physical health of people by getting people outside and allowing them the places to become active or just be in nature

Frontera has relationships with several foundations that have interest in conservation, but we need matching funds before we can approach them for additional grant funds. 

Example of how this process might work:

To be able to approach the foundations we need to know who is participating, what the parties and individuals can bring to the table (land or matching funds). Need to know details such as the number of acers to be conserved and what method (fee simple, conservation, donations of land or conservation easements), and the amount of matching funds we have and what amount of grant funds we are asking from them, and finally a map of the lands. We will summarize this information and present it to the identified foundations asking for permission to submit a full proposal. 

Click on image to enlarge.

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

An Open Letter to All Those Who Attended OSAB Yesterday

"We the People" begin to gather for yesterday's Open Space Advisory Board meeting.
To all of you great people who attended the Open Space Board meeting yesterday and spoke out during the call to the public:

I've said it before and I'll say it again: "Leadership for real change must begin with We the People. We cannot afford to be complacent and disorganized any longer." I wrote that in a blog post apologizing to the Knapps and saying that they have every right to develop their land and have no choice but to do so since they have found no accommodation with the city after six years of trying. The land has value and it is taxable.

On the other hand, I hope that they don't develop. They like you and me value our mountainsides. It's not them. It's the city and the politics of the city. Money for open space is drained for pork barrel projects, the park ponds. Money evaporates because of bureaucratic failures. Money protects the monied interests and not the interests of the public. Who pays for it? You and me. Just look at your ridiculous property taxes. If you are a business person, just look at all the waste caused by onerous city rules and regulations. If our city politicians had the will to do what is right and not what is in the interest of their big contributors, we could do more with improving our infrastructure, preserving our natural treasures of mountains, desert and wetlands, and restoring our historic buildings. 

People spoke out.

Each of you yesterday took a giant leap for that leadership for real change. "We the People" came to OSAB yesterday.

As a member of that board and as someone who wants to see real change in this city, I was elated by your presence. You were not there in vain. Although the issue of the Sierra del Puente development was not on the agenda, it has been an item of discussion before. You came to discuss your real concerns during the call to the public which was perfectly appropriate. Since Sierra del Puente and the Stoney Hill property are open spaces with clear stormwater functions, you came to the right place. Also, just the fact that you came - nearly a 100 of you - has already sent a message to city government. You spoke truth loudly to power.

Mayor Cook and Chris Cummings were right. The next step is to call your representatives. Rep. Carl Robinson was there and said that he was already working with the Mayor on the issue. State Rep. Joe Moody urged board members to discuss the issue with the representatives who appointed them. I sure plan to speak with Claudia Ordaz, a great public servant.

Your points were good ones: the concern about flooding, overcrowding of already overcrowded schools, protection of the viewshed and access to the State Park, protection of wildlife including endangered or protected wildlife and protecting your homes from damage caused by preparing that rough landscape for development.

You made your points. You were in the right place. You will take the next steps. Work with the Knapps. Work with your Neighborhood Associations. Work with Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition. Work with the City. After yesterday, you have their ears. Be ceaseless and enthusiastic. 

elpasonaturally is with you. Make this your podium too.

For those of you who draw inspiration from books of scripture, here's the beginning of the 121st Psalm:

"I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, 
the Maker of heaven and earth."

Lift up your eyes to the mountains. There is inspiration and motivation right there.

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

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Hyder on Herpetofauna at SWEC

Gila Monster

[The following is a press release from the Southwest Environmental Center. Dr. Paul Hyder is actively involved in Celebration of Our Mountains, Master Naturalists, and frequently speaks to a number of El Paso's outdoors and natural history groups. Hyder's presentation is well-worth the trip to Las Cruces.] 

Herpetofauna of the Northern Chihuahuan desert

Did you know that the Chihuahuan Desert is home to over 170 herpetofauna (reptiles and amphibians within a specific region) species? Though conditions in the desert can be harsh, that doesn’t stop a diverse array of species from flourishing.

Join us for a special presentation at the Southwest Environmental Center (MAP) on August 11th at 7:00 pm as Dr. Paul Hyder explores the various aspects relating to the ecology and biology of these animals within Dona Aña and Otero Counties in New Mexico and Hudspeth County in Texas.

The presentation is part of SWEC’s monthly Tuesday Talks series, and is free and open to the public. For more information, call (575) 522-5552.

Established in 1992, the Southwest Environmental Center works to protect and restore native wildlife and their habitats in the southwestern borderlands. Visit to learn more. Contact Tricia Snyder, 575-522-5552;

Monday, August 3, 2015

What El Paso Missed and What It May Be Getting

What fracking has done to the land around Carlsbad, New Mexico.
Please read Robert Gray's excellent story posted online on July 27th by El Paso Inc.: New tax credit sparks activity across state: El Paso’s historic survey debate gets attention. It's about the benefits of having historic districts have been in Georgetown and Waxahahie, Texas. It's also about El Paso's City Council saying "no thanks" to do an historic survey which leads to having an historic district which is both a plus for building owners when they remodel and a huge plus for the city's economy with ecotourism and a revitalized downtown. 

Gray gives a balanced view and gives a building owner's point about low rents in El Paso. (That can change.) I've said it before and I'll keep saying it: City Council's rejection of this gift of an historic survey is not because they don't see that an historic district can help revitalize downtown and draw more revenue to the city; their main concern is having an arena downtown that will fill 12 square city blocks.

Also read Gray's equally excellent story posted online today: Shale Oil in Hudspeth County? Results show possible ‘oil field discovery’. Be sure that you check out the images for the story. (I'm betting an elpasonaturally post led Gray to get more information.)

One of the more telling lines in the story I am hoping came from Torchlight Energy Resources COO, Willard McAndrew and not from Gray: "The Orogrande Prospect stretches from the Hueco Mountains to the Cornudas Mountains, and on the surface, it looks like empty desert grassland."

Empty desert grassland? Tell that to the pronghorn sheep, the unique species of yucca, and all the other plants and wildlife. Soon our view as we drive from El Paso to the Guadalupe Mountains will be like the picture at the top of this post. 

Would City Council pass a resolution opposing fracking next to El Paso - the kind of operation that may compromise our drinking water once EPWU begins importing more water from Hudspeth County? Our County Commissioners passed such a resolution. Our City Council rejected it.

An arena and fracking. El Paso - it's all good.

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