Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Hurricane Harvey: Helping Victims and Learning a Lesson

President and First Lady in Corpus Christi today with members of the disaster team.
Doug Mills/New York Times photo

We have all viewed scenes of the terrible human suffering and destructiveness of Hurricane Harvey. It is already the worst rain storm in U.S. history. The storm is moving slowly and there is now the prediction that it is spinning around and will make landfall again.

Many of us are looking for ways to help. Here are a few:

Episcopal Relief and Development: I'm recommending this organization not only because I am an Episcopalian, but because of its low administrative costs. For every $100 given to Red Cross, it costs $30 to raise it. In contrast for every $100 raised by ERD, only $12 goes to raise it. More of your money is going to assist people. Donate HERE.

If you have space in your home where evacuees may stay for awhile, Airbnb helps you to offer that assistance. Click HERE.

Also check out

Harvey also offers a lesson: much of the flooding has been caused by sprawl - impermeable asphalt and concrete have helped to exacerbate greatly the tragedy. Porous asphalt offers a solution. The National Asphalt Pavement Association states: 

"Special features such as the underlying stone bed are more expensive than conventional construction, but these costs are more than offset by the elimination of many elements of standard storm-water management systems. On those jobs where unit costs have been compared, a porous asphalt pavement is generally the less-expensive option. The cost advantage is even more dramatic when the value of land that might have been used for a detention basin or other storm-water management features is considered."

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Albertsons Just Lost My Business

Sprouts . . . 

Whole Foods. . . 

but not Albertsons

Albertson's is no longer giving a credit when you bring your reusable bags to put your groceries and other items in. Just the other day they gave a customer a five cent credit per bag but no longer. I don't need a credit to recycle. However, I'd rather patronize a place that shows that it values recycling by giving the credit. I called Sprouts and they give a five cent credit. Whole Foods gives a ten cent credit. Want to know where I will be shopping from now on? Not Albertson's.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017


This is really more about the built environment. However, since we have been discussing drainage, here goes:

Apparently some of the apartments at the Roderick Artspace Lofts have two bathroom drains - one in the shower and one on the bathroom floor. Reportedly there has been overflow on the bathroom floor drains. Supposedly, this is because those drains were never hooked up to the sewer. The overflow is hurting Fab Lab.

Artspace Lofts is the home of local artists.

Not in the plans? Oversight during construction? 

Where were the City of El Paso engineers and inspectors?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Scenic Drive Closures

Click image to enlarge.

Scenic Sunday will continue this week and for the weeks to come in spite of construction that will shut down the Richmond and Louisville entrances from Alabama. Here's what the press release from El Paso Water says:

"Starting Monday, August 14, El Paso Water will close Scenic Drive from Wheeling Avenue to Alabama to all traffic for several weeks to complete the next phase of the Kentucky Dam stormwater improvement project.

"Additionally, small portions of neighboring streets will be restricted to local traffic during construction:

  • Streets between Scenic Drive and Alabama
  • Streets between Wheeling Avenue and Altura Avenue

"Drivers will still be able to enter and exit Scenic Drive by detouring around the closure on Alabama Street and turning west onto Wheeling Avenue."

Spread the word.

"The $3.9 million project will help reduce flooding in Central El Paso. The project will increase the capacity of nearby ponds and add piping that keeps water off the streets by directing stormwater into the dam. Additionally, the project will improve service in the area by replacing water and wastewater lines."

Monday, August 14, 2017

Economies of Scale

Kauai Solar Farm. Photo from Tesla.

What would be cheaper in El Paso: to go off the electric grid or to have some solar and also depend upon the grid or to be a part of a community solar grid? I still haven't seen any hard and fast figures for each of these options. 

Check out this case study: Welcome to Paradise: Batteries Now Included. It begins by telling the story of Luke Evslin of Kauai, Hawaii, who, because of his desire to be as carbon-free as possible, went off the grid. What did he discover:

"Relying on personal power. . .is no way to power a community, let alone an island.

This became obvious to Evslin midway through his yurt experiment: Inefficiency is the ultimate downfall of any individual effort to address climate change."

“'Either you’re wasting electricity in a closed system, because it’s sunny and your batteries are full, or you don’t have enough power and you gotta run your generator,'” Evslin says. “'That’s not a bug in my system. That’s a feature of any off-grid system.'”

Kauai is quite a story. Mayor Bernard Cervalho led the charge for clean energy in keeping with the Paris Accords. The success on Kauai is notable and Evslin is a benefactor.

Bottom line:

"The economies of scale are such that Kauai’s utility cooperative can install a solar-and-storage unit for about half what it would cost a family to install the same amount on a house. Even when it comes to the island’s fossil fuel–generated power, the utility can produce more from a gallon of gasoline than someone with a $100 generator in their basement."

Read Welcome to Paradise

Friday, August 11, 2017

What a Disaster!

For a number of years now, many of us have been oohing and ahhing about Montecillo, El Paso's stellar example of smart growth. Although it may have some restaurants and stores integrated into its layout, it is turning out to be one huge environmental disaster. In this case "new urbanism", if it can be called that, has sadly neglected green infrastructure/low impact development. It is just the same sad old destruction of the desert by plowing up hills and dumping dirt into arroyos. It. along with the Top Golf development threatens surrounding eco-systems. For example, someone got a close-up look of Cement Lake the other day. From the description, it should probably be renamed "silt lake". 

EPT is responsible for both the Montecillo development and the Top Golf development. The City is responsible for permitting them to do what they are doing and these permits go back a number of years now.

Behind the Draft House

Return to the Alamo Draft House. Note how the drainage plans are not working. Keep this in mind. There is another huge problem with the development of the land that now contains the movie theater and soon will see other businesses. Was the destruction of a hillside and arroyo the result of a need to do flood control for Montecillo all along? Rather than having "smart" growth, we have a cancer that is eating up the environment.

Detention Pond behind Alamo Draft House
Arroyo adjacent to Fire Station #31. Note infrastruture debris

Once again, look at the "drainage" control at the Draft House. The gunnite and other strategies have not held back the erosion and the spilling of silt onto the parking lot. This same strategy using gunnite was apparently used at an arroyo adjacent to Fire Station #31 on Mesa Park Drive. With just a bit of rainfall recently (not a horrendous storm such as the one in 2006) the entire infrastructure was washed out. 


Now take a look at the stepped development of Montecillo. Note the same use of fabric and gunnite and note the silt already seeping through the "barrier". 

Click image to enlarge.

More especially, look how the hills are plowed up and see the arroyos being filled in. Forget having any really natural features. This smart growth is concrete and asphalt and apartment-looking buildings.

What happens when you cover-up arroyos? Does the water in a storm obey the new path of tiny culverts? No, the water follows the historic flood plain. Like Superman it does leaps and bounds and hydraulic jumps over the insufficient culverts, taking out backyards, washing boulders, rocks and debris down hill.

Is there a drainage or development plan that the City of El Paso doesn't approve?

Ever heard of swales?

What a disaster!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Study: Production of Enough Plastic to Cover Aregentina Causes Havoc

[If you can't see the video, 
please go to]

Thank you Marshall Carter-Tripp for a Voice of America story, Study: Production of Enough Plastic to Cover Aregentina Causes Havoc. It says:

July 19, 2017
TORONTO — More than nine billion tons of plastic has been produced since 1950 with most of it discarded in landfills or the environment, hurting ecosystems and human health, according to the first major global analysis of mass-produced plastics.

Nearly 80 percent of this plastic ended up in landfills or the environment and production in increasing quickly, researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara, said in the study published on Wednesday.

Less than 10 percent was recycled and about 12 percent was incinerated.

"If you spread all of this plastic equally, ankle-deep, it would cover an area the size of Argentina," Roland Geyer, a professor of industrial ecology and the study's lead author, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "It is an enormous amount of material that does not biodegrade ... I am very worried."

Burning plastics contributes to climate change and adversely impacts human health, while build-ups of the material can hurt the broader environment, Geyer said.

Packaging is the largest market for plastic and the petroleum-based product accelerated a global shift from reusable to single-use containers, researchers said.

As a result, the share of plastics in city dumps in high and middle income countries rose to more than 10 percent by 2005 from less than 1 percent in 1960.

Unlike other materials, plastic can stay in the environment for thousands of years, Geyer said.

There are more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic floating in the world's oceans, according to a 2014 study published in a Public Library of Science journal.
This build-up harms marine life and ecosystems on sea and land, Geyer said.

If current trends continue more than 13 billion tons of plastic waste will end up in the environment or landfills by 2050, researchers said.

Some resources:

10 Tips for Living with Less Plastic

100 Steps to a Plastic-Free Life

Two Years of Living Plastic Free: How I Did It and What I've Learned

Monday, August 7, 2017

Monday Odds and Ends

Big thanks to El Paso Inc. reporter, Dave Crowder, for doing a story after reading an Elpasonaturally post. His Inc. story is: Is Topgolf construction threatening an I-10 embankment?

On Facebook find and join: Share El Paso - Plants and Animals. Great posts by William Hoover and images by Liz DeMoultrie and others. This tells us what we are trying to save here in the El Paso Southwest.

Download this free booklet online: CASTNER RANGE BOOKLET: SUMMARY AND UP TO DATE STATUS ON EFFORTS. Janaé Reneaud Field, Frontera Land Alliance Director, says:

"[It] tells you the story of El Paso’s Castner Range, the 7,081-acre closed firing range that still belongs to Fort Bliss. All of you have played a part on Castner Range in recent years, so you know the campaign we have waged to keep it conserved for all time. The booklet tells the history of the Range from pre-historic days through its years as an active artillery site (1926-1966), then into the early 1970s when parts of the Range were transferred to the City of El Paso for development, and onward to our recent, vigorous and increasingly-successful campaign on behalf of Castner’s conservation. The booklet makes it clear that El Pasoans stand united in their desire to conserve Castner Range, whether as a separate National Monument or as a part of the Franklin Mountains State Park."

Mahatma Gandhi said: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” We can do all that we can to oppose Trump's environmental policies. What we immediately and most certainly have control over is our lifestyles. Read two stories posted in GristJust trading beef for beans could get the United States near its CO2 goal and Now you can plant a tree to offset Trump’s climate policies. Be sure to check out Grow the Forest.

Definitely of interest: How Green Energy Will Help Slow Nuclear Proliferation.
It's from Defense One.

Have a great week. 

Friday, August 4, 2017

"A Water War Is Developing"

"A water war is developing," that's how rancher and conservationist, Bill Addington, puts it in a recent Facebook post. Bill was recently interviewed for a story that appeared in the Houston Chronicle two days ago: As the oil patch demands more water, West Texas fights over a scarce resource. (Of course this story didn't run in the El Paso Times - it isn't midwest or east coast enough. They also missed this story which is even closer to home: El Paso case could set the path for rooftop solar. They also missed telling us that one of our EPISD Trustees, Susie Byrd, completely shucked her duties and missed a vote on a $500 Million budget so she could be with Veronica Escobar in Washington DC to start currying favor with the PACs Escobar will need for her run for Congress. Of course, Bob Moore would never betray his puppetmasters.)

Sorry - I digress. Read the Chronicle story about demands for water. Some key points:

  • "West Texas land baron and oilman is on the verge of pumping 5.4 million gallons of water a day" to the Permian Basin for fracking.
  • Hughes is not the only person wanting to pump precious water to the Permian Basin for fracking oil. There are other water pirates.
  • That water is precious to ranchers and farmers. Some springs have already dried up.
  • Energy companies use water by the billions of gallons for fracking (See chart above).
  • "West Texas' network of aquifers are interconnected; water pumped from one can reduce flow in another."
  • The Permian Basin contains the nation's most bountiful oil fields and is the most profitable.

Addison has published a list of Rep. Will Hurd's next Town Hall meetings and is urging people to attend and speak out against pumping water needed by ranchers, farmers, resorts and, well, just plain folk. 

Sunday, August 6, 2017
EL PASO- 1:00pm-2:30pm Dairy Queen, 800 N Zaragoza Rd, El Paso, TX 79907
SOCORRO- 3:00pm-4:30pm Peter Piper Pizza, 10870 North Loop Road, Socorro, TX 79927
Monday, August 7, 2017
PRESIDIO- 10:00am-11:00am The Enlightened Bean Café, 201 W O’Reilly St, Presidio, TX 79845
ALPINE- 1:30pm-3:00pm Sul Ross State University, Lobo Village Community Room, East Highway 90, Alpine, TX 79832
FORT STOCKTON- 5:30pm-7:00pm Dairy Queen, 408 W Dickinson Blvd, Fort Stockton, TX 79735
Tuesday, August 8, 2017

PECOS- 10:00am-11:30am Dairy Queen, 1226 S Eddy St, Pecos, TX 79772

Says Addington: "It is critical we attend Rep Will Hurd's Town Hall meeings. I will be attending the Pecos Town Hall at the Dairy Queen this Tuesday, August 8th. We must find an elected Reprentative to start championing our critical issue of water and the future of our region. Several Water Pirate companies and the oil & gas industry have targeted our homelands for extreme extraction and export via huge long pipelines to supply the Permisn Basin trillions of gallons of our aquifer ancient waters for extraction and export."

Addington posted on Monday:

"A water war is developing. Our side wants our precious ancient and finate aquifer water to continue to be sustainably used for drinking water for our communities, our cattle and other domestic animials on our farms and ranches, and for our wildlife and river. The Water Pirates want to put that all of our futures at risk by water mining, unsustainably taking vast amounts of water out of the underground bolsons by pumping and transfering our shared waters far away to the oilfields in the Permian and Delaware basins for thousands of gas and oil hydraulic fracturing aka frack wells. Each well fracked can use 2 - 8 million gallons of water, sometimes much more. Multipy this number by 2,000 wells. We cannot allow this to happen. Many more water pirate companies will want to drill, pump and send our aquifer water away to the vast oilfield in the Permain Basin if caring residents do not stand up and defend their home and their familie's future."

There are some things that should be held in common and never be private property: air and water are the two biggies.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Makes You Wonder

Alamo Drafthouse Parking Lot. Erosion is coming from the Arroyo side.

Yesterday I mentioned TxDOT Regional Engineer Robert Bielek's concern about the development at the Top Golf site. It seems that the developer has underestimated how much run-off the development will cause and, thus, in Bielek's words, "compromise the stability of the embankment upon which I-10 sits." Although alerted to the problem, the City continues to "permit" EPT to develop the land. Bielek has told the City that TxDOT "will consider the City equally responsible for any damage to to the I-10 embankment or our [TxDOT's] drainage structure because of this oversight." 

Surely our city leaders care more about the safety of people and the integrity of our freeways and less about whether they could win a legal battle with TxDOT. Surely our city leaders want to do the right thing by satisfying TxDOT with an acceptable plan. I sent a link to yesterday's blog post to Mayor Margo, City Manager Tommy Gonzalez and Khalil Zaied. I asked for responses. As expected, there have been no responses. (One possible good note: Mr. Bielek just now told me that "[the TxDOT] staff has been meeting with the developer but no final resolution as yet." Sounds as if yesterday's post has had impact.)

I am aware that EPT also did the Alamo Drafthouse project. Many of us watched in horror as an arroyo was destroyed and an entire hillside dug out. The destruction of this open space was justified by the fact that is would be a "new urban" project. 

I went by the Alamo Drafthouse today and noticed an inordinate amount of sand/dirt in the parking lot. I asked the manager about it and was told that they get the erosion every time that it rains. I'm not an engineer, nor do I play one on televsion and I don't really know about the drainage solutions that I saw. However, what I saw does concern me. Over time, judging from the dirt in the lot, there will be a considerable amount of erosion. 

This picture and the one below are from the retaining wall between the entrance to the theater parking lot and the hillside topped by the apartments. Note the stain and rocks from erosion.

Apparently EPT's solution to the instability of the hill next to the theater, was to put some kind of fabric on top of the slope and drill horizontal pipes into the hillside. As the pictures show, the erosion doesn't come down the slope, it feeds through the pipes.

I do wonder whether similar drainage solutions are being used by EPT at the Top Golf site and, if so, I better understand what Bob Bielek is saying.

I certainly would not live in the apartments above Alamo Drafthouse. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Will the City of El Paso Destroy Cement Lake?

Cement Lake

The City of El Paso's apparent failure to address a critical drainage issue at the Top Golf construction site might very well destroy one of El Paso's rare gems, Cement Lake. Moreover, according to TxDOT Regional Engineer, Bob Bielek, the failure of the City to address the matter with the developer of Top Golf, EPT Land Communities, might also "overload the structure and compromise the stability of the embankment upon which I-10 sits.  This could have additional effects on the lake such as excess siltation."

Bielek also says that "it does appear that the developer is underestimating the contribution of the development to the overall runoff, and there appears to be insufficient retention on the developer’s site to adequately meter the flows in a way that will protect the embankment and the drainage structure."

The City of El Paso has apparently provided the developer with a permit to construct Top Golf but has failed to consult with TxDOT regarding drainage requirements including not just the embankment of the freeway but Cement Lake. The developer has furnished no credible plan to TxDOT.

Bielek told City Council about this problem last March. Elpasonaturally has asked him three times since then whether they have recived a credible plan. Mr. Bielek's last reply came nine days ago on July 24th in an email: "Still waiting on an acceptable design."

Bielek did contact the City Manager, Tommy Gonzalez, months ago and yet there is still no "acceptable plan". It would seem that the City has permitted the developer to undermine the integrity of I-10 and destroy Cement Lake. Bielek says, "that we [TxDOT] will consider the City equally responsible for any damage to the I-10 embankment or our drainage structure because of this oversight."

El Paso Water, city environmental and open space activists have sought for many years to preserve El Paso's natural Cement Lake.