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ECO-BEAT

BLM seeks public comment on Tent Rocks management plan

The federal Bureau of Land Management is inviting public comment on its management plan for Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.

Written comments on the plan’s environmental-impact statement are due by February 3 and can be filed electronically, by mail, or in person at informal public open houses.

The public-information meetings are scheduled from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday, December 13, at the BLM Rio Puerco Field Office, 435 Montaño Road, Albuquerque; Wednesday, December 14, at the Peña Blanca Community Center; and Thursday, December 15, in Santa Fe, at the Marriott Courtyard, 3347 Cerrillos Road. BLM staff will be available to discuss the monument and the environmental review.

The 4,148-acre area of tent-like spires is located west of Cochiti Pueblo. It became a national monument by presidential proclamation in 2001.

The draft document, details of how to comment, and other public-land information can be found at the BLM New Mexico Web site, www.nm.blm.gov. Management documents also are available for review in Albuquerque at the BLM Rio Puerco Field Office. Correspondence should be addressed to BLM Rio Puerco Field Office, 435 Montaño Road NE, Albuquerque, NM 87107-4935.


Legislative change looming despite broad-based support for NEPA

—WILDERNESS SOCIETY
After field hearings in several states, the National Environmental Policy Act Task Force has come back to Washington, D.C., for one final round of testimony. As the task force traveled from town to town, they met strong support for the landmark environmental law and were told by witnesses, as well as by ten former chairs of the Council on Environmental Quality, that NEPA did not need legislative change. Unfortunately the task force has largely ignored this viewpoint, as well as largely ignoring the people most acquainted with NEPA’s implementation: the men and women who work in federal agencies responsible for complying with the act.

Despite the support NEPA enjoys and even though the task force has not officially wrapped up, or their findings been formally presented, legislation to change NEPA is expected soon. Nowhere is the expectation greater than within the oil-and-gas industry, which prior to the final hearing is hosting an event with task-force chairwoman Cathy McMorris (R-WA) titled Updating NEPA: the Legislative Work Begins.

The truth remains that NEPA is a process that works to make sure ordinary citizens, not just corporate special interests, have a chance to participate in decisions and to ensure that mistakes are caught before they are made. Despite the critics’ charges regarding litigation, the fact is that only a tiny fraction of federal actions reviewed under the law—0.2 percent—result in litigation.

For more information, please contact Nicole Anzia, The Wilderness Society, (202) 429-2692; or Annie Strickler, Sierra Club, (202) 675-2384.


Shortage of volunteers at Placitas Recycling Center

As the community of Placitas has grown in recent years, so has the Placitas Recycling Center. Thanks to PNM and a grant from Intel, the center has gotten almost 25 percent larger, and there are plans to add another 750 square feet in the northwest corner to further expand the its capacity to accommodate the growth. This year, the operating days and times have been extended from two Saturdays a month to every Saturday. And the materials accepted have expanded to include No. 1 and No. 2 plastic, office and mixed paper, printer cartridges, and rechargeable batteries, in addition to newspapers, cardboard, aluminum, and polystyrene peanuts. Community participation, which has always been robust, has continued to increase.

But the key to the Placitas Recycling Center's success has always hinged on the generosity of the volunteers who work there on Saturdays, and as the operating times, materials accepted, and volume have increased, more volunteers are also needed. The Placitas Recycling Association is currently facing a shortage of volunteers, and its future ability to continue serving the community depends on having a reliable volunteer force.

Recycling makes a significant contribution to protecting the New Mexico environment by reducing the volume of refuse that ends up in landfills, thereby conserving land and reducing risks to the water table. In the first nine months of 2005, the Placitas Recycling Center collected approximately seventy-six tons of material. That is seventy-six tons that is being put to productive use instead of filling up the landfill. The sixteen tons of mixed paper recycled in the first nine months of this year is already twice what is was in all of 2004, and collection of plastic has doubled since 2003.

Through the generosity of PNM and Intel and the assistance of Sandoval County, the center has been able to keep up physically with the increased demands of Placitas' growing population, but the human-resource pool is under strain.

“Our ability to find markets for the recycled materials depends on keeping them separated and free of contamination, and that means we need more volunteers every week,” commented Placitas Recycling Association president Len Stephens. “We need to be able to count on volunteers to show up when they're scheduled, or we won't be able to keep operating. Frankly, that's become a problem in recent months. So we're sending out a plea to the community to help us keep this important community service going.”

“I know about a hundred of my Placitas neighbors who are on our volunteer list,” added Carmen Ketchum, the association's volunteer coordinator. “I would love to get to know more. Just giving us a couple Saturday mornings a year will help tremendously. We also need help from people who are able to give a few hours during the week to assist with bailing plastic or transporting the materials to the centers where we deliver the plastic, aluminum, and paper. There are a lot of ways people can help us keep the center going.”

Recyclers can also help reduce the workload by separating the materials before bringing them to the center. Fliers that explain in detail what materials are accepted and how they need to be separated can be picked up at the center during operating hours every Saturday from 8:00 to 11:00 a.m. Some key points include making sure that Kraft paper inserts are taken out of newspapers (advertisement slicks do not need to be removed), bringing in only No. 1 and 2 plastic containers (they should be clearly marked), and separating white and office paper from other paper. It is also important to make sure there is no residual food on the cardboard, plastic, and aluminum, to avoid problems with vermin. Additional information is available at the Placitas Recycling Association Web site, www.placitasrecycling.com.

To volunteer with the Placitas Recycling Center, call Carmen Ketchum, at 771-1311. We look forward to hearing from all you lovely neighbors out there!


Middle Rio Grande Water Assembly examines over-allocation

Since its inception in 1997, the Middle Rio Grande Water Assembly has constituted a public forum for valuable discussions about water. Through 2004, attention was on creating a regional water plan with extensive grassroots input. Once that monumental task was completed, the Assembly vowed to continue educating the MRG public about relevant water issues, and to support local governments as they begin to translate plan recommendations into action.

During the planning process, mid-basin residents learned that the basic problem facing the three-county region is over-appropriation of water resources. The 2002 Annual Report of the State Legislature’s Water and Natural Resources Committee makes the problem very clear: “New Mexico is over-appropriated. There is less water available than there are legal claims to the water, and the state appears to be in the midst of a drought cycle, according to tree ring studies of past climate conditions. If this drought worsens, legal, economic and political water problems will become more severe.”

Given the seriousness of such assessments, the Assembly selected ‘over-allocation’ as the topic of its annual gathering in June of 2005.

OVER COMMITTED: HOW BAD AND SINCE WHEN?
According to former State Engineer Tom Turney, the Rio Grande has been ‘fully allocated’ since the 1930s, when a compact was signed to apportion the river’s flow between Colorado, New Mexico and Texas. Concerned with meeting the predominantly agricultural needs of the day, the compact’s authors did not take into account the unspecified amount of water promised to tribes by federal mandate, other than to stipulate that the agreement would in no way interfere with that pledge. Neither did they set aside water for ecological purposes, since they had no idea ‘the environment’ would become a critical factor in the river’s future. Finally, the compact failed to anticipate the enormous municipal growth that would blossom in the Rio Grande corridor during the next sixty years.

Those omissions alone assured indebtedness on the Rio Grande, and the situation was soon compounded by ill-advised policy. Turney noted that stream adjudications are generally based on “historically irrigated acreage,” which in low water years can result in an inability to service all lands that have rights. Also he acknowledged that early on, the crucial link between groundwater and surface flow was not well understood. “For every gallon of water pumped from a well,” he explained, “there will be one less gallon flowing in the river somewhere.” This process often involves a time lag, so that the effects of groundwater pumping on a stream may not be apparent for years. Other factors leading to the over-appropriation of water in the Middle Rio Grande include unknown numbers of per-basin wells; the continued issuance of permits for new domestic and supplemental wells; the total amount of water earmarked for urban and suburban development via dedications, which postpone the acquisition of wet water for offset purposes; and the leniency with which the state has administered municipal groundwater pumping permits.

As first revealed by the Middle Rio Grande Water Budget, the cumulative results of all these oversights is a regional deficit of some 70,000 acre-feet per year.

Reprinted from Middle Rio Grande Water Assembly, November 2005.

 

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