Monday, July 31, 2017

Something to Brag About

From this . . .
To This

All of us get the El Paso Electric Newsletter with our monthly bill. This month EPE is touting their new community solar facility. I was impressed by these two sentences:

"After the first year of operation, generation from this 3,000 kW facility will prevent more than 11 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions from entering our atmosphere. This is equal to saving almost five million gallons of water and planting more than one hundred twenty-eight thousand trees."

Without getting into the debate about rooftop versus community or the current rate case and the contention that EPE is hobbling their rooftop competition, the above facts are something to brag about.

I repeat what CEO Mary Kipp said in the newsletter:

"We're very excited to bring this new facility online and begin generating credits for our customers who wanted to invest in solar energy without any equipment or embedded subsidies . . . We have several utility scale solar facilities that are part of our generation mix, and this latest project allows us to keep supporting innovation in renewable energy, and make it more accessible to our customers through our Community Solar Program."

Monday, July 17, 2017

They Aren't Asking for a Big Sacrifice

This is Lineman Appreciation Month
Linewomen Too?

Last week KFOX14 ran this story: Residents frustrated after El Paso Electric asks them to cut back after recent outages. Reporter, Kaylee Heck, quoted resident, Elizabeth Lopez. "'The bills keep going up higher each month because of the heat, but now we don't have the service we're paying for,'" Lopez said. 

They don't have the service they are paying for? No. They paid for the service that they got. EPEC doesn't charge for the future delivery of electrons. It charges for the electrons that you demanded and got. 

They gave the residents of this eastside El Paso community a list of ways to conserve electricity while they replace a transformer. I know how frustrating and aggravating it is to be without power or water or gas. I did it for a week while I was living in Washington State. The cats and I survived. In this case, no one is going without power as the work is done. Asking for energy conservation buys the insurance that no one will go without power. 

Here's my main point. The list of conservation tips that they gave the neighborhood is exactly the same list of conservation tips that they recommend for everyone else:

  • Set your thermostat at 78°F or higher - every degree of extra cooling will increase energy usage six to eight percent.
  • Use ceiling fans and portable fans to circulate the cool air.
  • Install patio covers, awnings, and solar window screens to shade your home from the sun. Shade south and west windows with plants or trees to block the heat during the summer.
  • Close interior blinds, drapes, or shades to block the sun and heat during warm weather.
  • Consider using a clothesline instead of a clothes dryer.
  • Outside air conditioning units, or condensers, should be shaded.
  • On warm days raise your thermostat to 80°F or higher if leaving for more than four hours.
  • Setting your thermostat to a lower temperature than normal will not cool your home faster.
  • Try to save heat and humidity-generating activities (cooking, laundering, and dishwashing) for early morning or evening hours.

I use ceiling and portable fans. I have shade trees. I close the interior shades. I use a clothesline (except in inclement weather). I do not run applicances like the dishwasher or clothes washer while running my AC. Etc.

I'm not bragging but concurring. I know that EPEC is especially unpopular now because they are asking for a rate hike. Nevertheless, they encourage energy conservation and, Ms. Lopez, they bill you for the amount of electricity that you use. The tips are good for cutting down that amount and making sure that everyone has uninterrupted service.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Get the inside scoop on what's happening at Hueco Tanks State Park

Attention all nature park lovers - get the inside scoop on what's happening at Hueco Tanks State Park when Superintendent Ruben Ocampo gives his "State of the Park" report at a Greater Big Bend Coalition Meeting on Saturday morning, July 15 at 11am at the Northeast Regional Command Center in El Paso on Dyer. Ruben will cover the park's interpretive program, erosion and d-stretch. The d-stretch method is used to find new pigments in the park. This image enhancement technique helps brings out very faint rock art. Learn more about the meeting at…/state-of-the-park-h…/

Thursday, July 13, 2017

God of the Mountain

Sunrise Hikers before a trek to Schaeffer Shuffle. Karl Putnam is the second person from the left.

If memory serves me correctly, it was Michelle Tan who deemed Karl Putnam "God of the Mountain". It was on one of our early Sunrise Hikers outings. She also decided that, if Karl was the GOM, I was his Moses. Moshe became my hiker moniker. I probably got the name because I would tell the Sunrise Hikers that our destination was just around the corner and then we would wander farther in the desert mountains.

Karl died yesterday as a result of a thirty foot plunge off a cliff. He had taken yet another group up to the site of the 1944 B-24 crash in Red Rock Canyon. At the site is a cross, which Karl erected since the original had rotted. Also there is a plaque which Karl restored. It bears the names of the airmen who perished in that crash. The cross sits above a cliff. During a group picture by the cross, Karl apparently passed out and tumbled over the precipice.

[Go to to view video if you don't see it here.]

GOM had favorite hikes - the B-24 crash sites, the B-36 crash site, Kenyon Joyce Canyon and the Knife Edge on the ridge of Mt. Franklin - the most dangerous part of the ridge to cross. Karl was an intrepid climber who even made it to the top of the Mammoth's tusk using belts and, only later, more sophisticated gear.

Here's the main thing I want to say about Karl. He was a friend. When I began to have heart problems, I couldn't walk and climb as fast as I once did. Others in the group would let me fall behind. Karl didn't. He stayed with me. When the group scaled up the rocks of the Thunderbird, I realized that I wouldn't make it. Karl grabbed my arm and pulled me up. 

The Sunrise Hikers played an important role in getting more and more people interested in group hikes. However, thanks to Michael Romero, who founded the El Paso Hiking Group, the number of hikers ever since has grown geometrically. Karl was one of the principal organizers.

He loved sharing his hikes with others and always wanted people to enjoy the outings. He always asked me how someone from the early days of the Sunrise Hikers was doing. He cared for each of them individually, along with everyone else he led on subsequent hikes. He was just that kind of guy.

Something tells me that he will live on in the Franklins. From now on when I look up at the mountains, I will think about Karl Putnam, God of the Mountain.

This Fall's Celebration of Our Mountains will be dedicated to him.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Clouds and Mosquitoes

Image from National Geographic Kids

Even if one is neutral on the subject of global warming, "all tropical diseases which are mosquito borne, are moving further and further from the equator," Robert Resendes, Director of El Paso's Health Department, tells us. More than any other animal, mosquitoes are responsible for more human deaths - 725,000 according to NASA's Earth Observer. Adam Voiland's June 28th story for the Earth Observer, Time to Hunt Some Blood-Sucking Bugs, describes the problem. Voiland tells us that NASA and the GLOBE (Global Learning and Observation to Benefit the Environment) Program have come up with a way for you and me to help take some of the bite out of the mosquito scourge. It's especially an effective way for kids who love science to get involved. (Pay attention science teachers.) It's an app: Mosquito Habitat Mapper.

Voiland explains that the Mapper is . . .

". . .an app that makes it possible for citizen scientists to collect data on mosquito range and habitat and then feed that information to public health and science institutions trying to combat mosquito-borne illnesses. The app also provides tips on fighting the spread of disease by disrupting mosquito habitats. Specifically, it will help you find potential breeding sites, identify and count larvae, take photos, and clean away  pools of standing water where mosquitoes reproduce."

[Sorry for the inconvenience; if you receive elpasonaturally by email, the video won't show. We are changing that. For now just go directly to]

To be sure, mosquito mapping and mashing isn't the only thing that NASA and GLOBE will do together. Their current app is just for you to observe clouds, take pictures and help scientists better understand atmospheric conditions. Soon the Mosquito Habitat Mapper will be added. Then you can watch clouds and help fight mosquito-borne diseases that kill so many people every year.

To get the app for cloud observation and to be first in line for the Mosquito Habitat Mapper go HERE. It will be much more worthwhile than snap-chatting, but then again, I'm a science nerd.

Click on image to enlarge or see bottom of Voiland's article.

One last comment about fighting mosquitoes. Did you know that our city's Health Department doesn't deal with mosquitoes although, as Resendes explains, the Health Department does work "closely with UTEP entomologists and Environmental Services Vector Control staff." Perhaps a little policy tweaking might be a good idea, if such tweaking is possible in a top-down/chain of command style of leadership currently entrenched in El Paso City government. Of course, I wouldn't know about such things.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Canary in the Coal Mine

Sierra Club image

When prophet, seer, revelator and polygamist, Brigham Young, beheld the Great Salt Lake Valley, he proclaimed to his fellow Mormons (Latter Day Saints): "This is the place." The Mormons had treked nearly 1,300 miles from Nauvoo, Illinois to the Salt Lake to escape the persecution they had suffered at the hands of - well - some Christians. Of course, they would discover that the lake was not a fresh water lake but a salt water lake. Nevertheless, obedient to their prophet, they made do with the territory, thrived as a community, and extended their empire throughout the west and their religion throughout the world.

Today, the Great Salt Lake is drying up and it is not alone. Other saline lakes and the Colorado River Basin are doing so as well. (That Basin by the way is responsible for 15% of our food and $1.4 trillion of economic productivity.) It's not only the case of the mismanagement of water in the west, it's the result of the total contribution of principally industrial societies to global warming. 

Western yellow-billed cuckoo
Image from the Audubon Society

The drying up of these lakes is taking its toll on bird habitats. It's long but worth reading - the Audubon Society's Executive Summary—Water and Birds in the Arid West: Habitats in Decline. The online summary has great pictures, maps and charts.  The declining ecosystem and bird populations should be a warning to humans. It is, as Marshall Carter-Tripp informs us, a matter of the canary in the cage in the coal mine. An op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times, Saline lakes are drying up across the West — and putting birds at serious risk, is not just an aviary problem. It forebodes human problems. The Times piece puts it this way when looking at the decline of one species in particular, the western yellow-billed cuckoo:

"Why should we care about the western yellow-billed cuckoo? Well, for one thing, the effects of water loss on birds tell us a lot about how falling water levels will affect humans. Birds are highly sensitive to ecological changes, which makes them excellent indicators of environmental health. When colonial seabirds start abandoning nesting sites en masse because of dramatic drops in water levels, as occurred in the Salton Sea in 2013, or are forced to relocate because of toxic dust kicked up by winds blowing across dry lake beds, we know that humans soon will feel the effects of those changes."

John Fleck, a journalist who lives in New Mexico, says this in his blog post for today, birds and water in a changing West:

"This is a critical point in thinking about contemporary water/environmental politics. It's not enough to simply say "But the birds!" Environmentalists' greatest chance for success requires helping ensure reliable supplies for the people, because without that the environment will always take the hit."

John Sproul teaching students

It is encouraging to see the work of the Audubon Society and other "prophets and seers" to reclaim critical water features. Here in El Paso, we have the extraordinary work of John Sproul (the John Muir of El Paso) to revive the Rio Bosque Wetlands. He is assisted by the Friends of the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park

[Remember the birding trip hosted by our local Audubon Society this Saturday. More info in yesterday's blog post.]

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Go Birding This Saturday

Brown-crested Flycatcher

Our El Paso/Trans-Pecos Audubon Society has scheduled another birding outing for this coming Saturday, July 8, 2017. Join them for a field trip to the Animas Creek Area west of Caballo Lake. This area contains the only Arizona Sycamores east of the Continental Divide. The Brown-crested Flycatcher nests here. You may also see Summer Tanagers, Yellow-breasted Chats and Cassin's Kingbird. 

Bring a lunch and plenty of water.  They will depart at 6:00AM from the southwest corner of the parking lot at the El Paso Outlet Mall at I10 and Transmountain (Talbot Rd. entrance to the Mall).  Contact Mark Perkins at 915-637-03521 for more information.

Arizona Sycamore

Elpasonaturally will continue promoting the El Paso Auduboners and their outings. There are many benefits to birding besides just getting outdoors and observing animal behavior rather than electronic behavior. It also means interacting with other people. Oh my! I Googled Benefits of Birdwatching and got this long list of entries.

From HealthFitnessRevolution there are 10 listed:

  1. Appreciation for Nature
  2. Patience
  3. Contemplation and Introspection
  4. Quick Reflexes
  5. Mental Alertness
  6. Cardiovascular Health
  7. Sense of Community
  8. Acceptance
  9. Travel
  10. Increases Upper Arm Strength

The El Paso/Trans-Pecos Audubon Society goes birding around El Paso and on field trips such as the one this Saturday.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Declare Independence from Plastic Straws and Swizzle Sticks

Elpasonaturally published a post about the Be Straw Free program about three years ago. Since then ten-year-old Milo Cress, the founder, has become a teenager. A little over a week ago the Washington Post did a story about Cress and the drive to go strawless: A campaign to eliminate plastic straws is sucking in thousands of converts by staff reporter Darryl Fears. 

Please take a few minutes to read the article.

As Fears points out, one of the big reasons why more people think straws suck is a video that went viral of a straw stuck in a sea turtle's nose. You can watch the long version or the short version. It will gross you out and will make you think twice about using plastic straws in restaurants, bars - well - everywhere. 

"OK" you might say. "El Paso not only has no sea turtles, it doesn't have a sea." But we do have wind and straws get picked up and dumped in the river or even fly faraway to the ocean. The main point is that they are wasteful. It's just plastic that we can really do without.

It's not just straws. It's also swizzle sticks. Jiggle your drink. The tinkling of ice is pleasant to hear. Use your finger. If your finger is so dirty, what are you doing in a public place anyway? Besides, the alcohol will kill whatever germs may be hiding in your pores. If you really are fastidious to a fault, use flatware.

I do request no straws or swizzle sticks. More often than not, force of habit takes over and the wait staff brings them sprouting from a drink anyway. I yank them out, wave them, and say: "These are wasteful. Just more plastic polluting our earth."

Landfills are growing and growing. Don't believe it, take time to visit the euphemistically named, Camino Real Environmental Center in Sunland Park. Many Atlantic seaboard states don't have room for landfills. They are shipping billions of tons to landfills in Kentucky and the Midwest. It's big revenue for those states. It's also a great way to increase the carbon footprint. Why worry though; there is no such thing as global warming you know. 

Click through these pictures and find out where the largest trash dump in the world is located.

Take action. Don't use straws and talk to the management of your favorite restaurants about it. If your business or organization uses them, ask them to stop. Recruit others.

Let's declare independence from plastic straws and swizzle sticks.