Water planning continues work in progress
In an effort to assure an adequate water supply in relation to projected demand in specific regions of the state, as well as to plan for drought conditions that are predicted to continue in future years across the state, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission announced on January 21 the acceptance of the completed San Juan River Basin, Northwest New Mexico, and Socorro-Sierra Regional water plans.
Although Governor Bill Richardson’s office directed the ISC to have a comprehensive statewide water plan in place by the end of 2003, the ISC has worked for many years with all regions of the state to prepare their own regional water plans. Once regional plans are completed, they must be reviewed by the ISC staff prior to acceptance. They will then be incorporated into the second phase of the State Water Plan, which State Engineer John Di Antonio has called “a work in progress.”
“It is important that completion of regional water plans continues to involve the public in water management, water development, and water conservation strategies around our state,” said ISC director Estevan Lopez. “New Mexico has been in a drought for the past four years, and conditions may continue for several years to come. We must work together as a state to prepare for that. It is important to balance the needs of all water users in the state. It is equally important that communities, businesses, and interested citizens have input into their regional plans.”
The Office of the State Engineer is charged with administering the state’s water resources. The OSE has power over the supervision, measurement, appropriation, and distribution of all surface and groundwater in New Mexico, including streams and rivers that cross state boundaries. The state engineer is also secretary of the ISC and oversees its staff.
The nine-member ISC is charged with separate duties, including protecting New Mexico’s right to water under eight interstate-stream compacts, ensuring the state complies with each of those compacts, and water planning.
Legislature to consider water bills
Water planning will have little effect without legislation to fund the $2 billion worth of proposed water projects and water-rights acquisitions. During the thirty-day session that usually struggles to deal with routine fiscal matters, some members of the Legislature introduced legislation aimed at directly conserving water resources.
Domestic wells are specifically targeted as a place to save water. One bill would give the state engineer authority to limit new domestic wells in areas where groundwater has been depleted. Currently, state residents who pay a $5 application are free to drill a private well and are entitled to use three acre-feet per year. However, since metering is not required, well owners are free to use as much water as the well will produce. A bill introduced in last year’s session to reduce the three-acre-foot limit went nowhere.
Domestic wells are just one example of how regional and special interests make it extremely difficult to restrict water use or increase revenues from any one segment of the population.
New Mexico is a rural state where domestic wells are routinely used for irrigation and livestock. The constituencies of many legislators consider unrestricted use of private wells a basic right.
In a recent bulk mailing, hydrologist Peter Balleau encouraged domestic-well owners to ask their representatives and other state officials not to restrict their well rights. He claims that less than half of 1 percent of New Mexico water use can be attributed to domestic wells, and that there are no documented examples of water-rights impairment by domestic wells. He wrote Representative Joe Stell, “The burden on New Mexico families who give up self-supply or who accept the cost of transfer of water rights and metering should be weighed against the miniscule or nil saving of draw down and stream depletion with the House Bill 307 restrictions.”
Bills intended to raise revenue for water projects, while generally accepted as necessary, will probably be unpopular with the many New Mexicans who will have to pay more for water. The cost to the average Albuquerque household would be less than $1 per year. There are proposals calling for an annual $2-per-acre-foot fee for agricultural water users, a $25 fee for domestic wells, and greatly increased fees for domestic-well permits. There is also a proposal initiated by Think New Mexico that seeks funding for a strategic-river reserve
Global warming threatens our economy
—Dr. Richard D. Moore
If you believe global warming is not happening, I challenge you to come to the talk on Saturday morning, February 7, from 10:30 to 11:30 at the Placitas Community Center. If you do think global warming is real, the talk will give you more insight into how global warming is changing our weather, the economic and human consequences, and what we can do about it.
We will discuss four themes:
- The evidence that global warming is real and that humans are causing it
- The consequences of global warming
- Why so many Americans still choose to believe it isn’t happening
- The fact that addressing this problem will actually help the economy
One still hears, although not as often, that “scientists are not agreed that global warming is real and that humans are causing it.” That statement is disingenuous and stems mostly from propaganda sponsored by fossil-fuel industries. The fact is that within the scientific community there is almost unprecedented unanimity on this issue. Besides propaganda, another reason global warming hasn’t come across to the lay person is that the media doesn’t discuss it but just presents sound bites and scattered facts about air temperatures. We will explain the mechanisms of global warming so you can understand it and point out the importance of the ocean in this story.
If the only consequence of global warming was a three-to seven-or eight-degree change in air temperature, I’d ignore it also. But the main threat of global warming is the wild and unusual weather it will cause. And we are already seeing the weather changes that science predicts, including droughts in some areas, flooding in many areas, more storms including tornadoes, melting glaciers, and an extreme melting of the polar ice caps. Last winter, there were actually hurricanes during December, and South Dakota, which usually has about thirty tornadoes in a year, had sixty in one twenty-four-hour period.
We are involved in a significant drought here in the Southwest—the worst in some fifty years. Unfortunately, the likelihood is that global warming is going to give us recurring droughts as far as the eye can see. Speaking of seeing, one can already see the consequences of this drought as during this past summer large numbers of drought-weakened trees succumbed to beetle attacks. Driving north on I-25, one can see that for the first ten miles or so, about 90 percent of the trees are already dead. Of course, among other consequences, that makes large forest fires almost inevitable. The cost of these weather changes will be extreme.
We will also explore why so many Americans choose to believe that global warming either isn’t happening or is just a natural cycle of nature. The media is part of this, as they never put together all of the unusual weather events we are experiencing. Floods, tornadoes, and other destructive weather events are mentioned one at a time—and often not at all. I have yet to see a media presentation about the changing patterns of weather.
Our cultural conditioning provides an impediment to taking global warming seriously. This was well expressed by Rush Limbaugh when he stated that the idea that human beings could change the weather of the whole planet was just too much to believe. I used to feel that way also. Our culture conditioned us to believe that such actions as driving a vehicle could not possibly cause any consequence other than the obvious—if you don’t hit anything, you don’t change anything in the natural world other than use up some fuel. It’s hard to accept the fact that local actions have global effects. But they do.
Finally, we are not powerless to stop and eventually reverse global warming. Most of the technology already exists, but we just aren’t using it. I will discuss these technological advances and what each of us can do to implement them. The February 7 talk will begin at 10:30 a.m. and end by 11:30 a.m. although I will be available for further discussion until noon. Informational hand-outs will be available.
Public forum for Otero Mesa
On January 31 from 2:00 to 6:00 p.m., Otero Mesa Public Forum will be held at the Kimo Theater in downtown Albuquerque. The forum will focus on the increasing threat of oil and gas development on some of the most pristine land in New Mexico: Valle Vidal in the north and Otero Mesa in the south.
Special guest speakers will include Jack Loeffler, a friend of Ed Abbey; Jimmy Santiago Baca; New Mexico writer William deBuys; New Mexico Acequia Association’s Antonio Madina; Dave Cargo; Activist rancher Tweeti Blancett; and Petuuche Gilbert of the Acoma Pueblo. There will be musical performances by Dueto Los Trinos and Holy Water and Whiskey.
The forum is an opportunity to show your strong opposition to this development and support the protection of Otero Mesa. This event is free of charge. For further information, contact Nathan at (505) 843-8696 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wood chips fly as Herman Baca of contractor Swisco gathers more nonnative vegetation for removal from the Rio Rancho bosque. The jungle in the background still must be thinned to reveal the cottonwoods and open bosque as in the foreground.
Bosque project enters phase two
Just as the sound of chain saws and wood chippers fades from one section of the Rio Rancho bosque, new work to suppress fire and conserve water is starting nearby.
The first project, which began in August, cleared nonnative vegetation from twenty-two acres between the River’s Edge neighborhoods and the Rio Grande. There the five-man crew from Swisco of Belen turned a jungle of salt cedar, tamarisk, and Russian olive into a savanna of stately cottonwood trees and isolated native shrubs.
“This bosque gets a lot of use,” Swisco co-owner Raul Padilla told the Signpost. “When people see what we were up against and see what we’ve done, they’re really satisfied.”
Particularly satisfied is Bea Herrick, president of Friends of the Rio Rancho Open Space. “This is just wonderful,” she said during a walk along the river. “This is a great asset to our community, and it’s wonderful to know we’ve reduced the fire hazard.”
By late January, Swisco was completing its work under a $66,000 contract administered by the New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts. Funding comes from a $5 million state appropriation for water-conservation projects on the Rio Grande and Pecos River.
Swisco turns smaller branches into wood chips spread on the bosque floor where they will decompose. Some branches are left in “habitat piles” to provide homes and hideouts for wildlife vulnerable to hawks and eagles, and a sampling of cottonwoods felled by beavers also is being left in place.
The beavers brought down so many trees over the last fifteen or twenty years that untangling the mess slowed progress on the clearing work, Padilla said. During removal, larger trees are cut for firewood, then given away to Rio Rancho residents, he added.
The local work is a combined effort of Friends of the Rio Rancho Open Space, the City of Rio Rancho Parks and Recreation Department, and the Ciudad Soil and Water Conservation District. The bosque is considered a preserve rather than a park, so few improvements beyond trails are planned, city officials have said.
The nonprofit Friends group is funding the second five-acre project with a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, according to Friends treasurer Dave Bagley. The state forestry division has contracted to do the job through an established program that includes minimum-security inmates trained in forestry management and wildland firefighting.
Bagley said the seemingly high per-acre cost of the project results from the purchase of a $22,000 wood chipper to be used as bosque restoration continues toward Bernalillo and Corrales, he said. Those plans include trails connected to the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County bosque.
“This has turned into something we’re really proud of,” Bagley said. The next target is an eighty-five-acre area as additional funding becomes available, he added.
Organic farm and garden expo at UNM
The New Mexico Organic Farming and Gardening Expo 2004 will be held February 13 and 14 at at the newly-remodeled Student Union Building on the University of New Mexico campus in Albuquerque.
Among the speakers will be Michael Abelman, author of On Good Land: The Autobiography of an Urban Farm, Joel Salatin, author of Salad Bar Beef, and Laura Jackson, editor of The Farm as Natural Habitat: Reconnecting Food Systems with Ecosystems. There will be cutting-edge organic production and marketing workshops, a large exhibitor hall, and delicious organic food. For more information, please call (505) 841-9067, e-mail email@example.com, or see www.lamontanita.com/docs/newsletterarticles/2004/01-2004/newmexicoorganicfarm ing.htm.
Defenders of public lands needed now
Gifford Pinchot, pioneer in American forestry and conservation, learned the hard way about political power and influence. In his autobiography, Breaking New Ground, he recorded going West late in the nineteenth century to study Western forests. Instead, he discovered that commercial interests controlled and exploited land and people.
Pinchot wrote: "Principalities like the Homestake Mine in the Black Hills, the Anaconda Mine in the Rockies, Marcus Daly's feudal overlordship of the Bitterroot Valley, and Miller and Lux's vast holdings of flocks and herds and control of grazing lands on the Pacific slope—these and others showed their hands or their teeth."
In one sense, I fear little has changed. In reviewing the past year, I find corporate influence in public policy has grown more dominant and more blatant. Under George W. Bush, industry people are in key positions throughout the government, serving the corporate cause and dismantling environmental programs and agencies.
My primary concern is for public lands. The administration has moved to disassemble and privatize national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges, and the areas under the Bureau of Land Management.
We should not allow it, for public lands are the heart and body and soul of the West. Take away the public lands from the environs of Albuquerque, Boise, Denver, Salt Lake City, and Seattle, and they would be ordinary places. Take away the public lands and there wouldn't be much to the economy, either. Public lands are the last open spaces, last wilderness, last wildlife haven. Without public lands the West would be impoverished. And much the same can be said for public lands in the rest of the country.
Professional leaders of the agencies, however, have been reduced to messengers for the administration. When snowmobile manufacturers sued the government over the Clinton-era ban on the use of their mechanical monsters in Yellowstone National Park, the Bush administration eliminated the ban and gave the industry what it wanted. But in December a federal court judge upheld the ban, reaffirming that "the National Park Service is bound by a conservation mandate, and that mandate trumps all other considerations." The judge recognized that noise and air pollution do not belong in one of the greatest natural sanctuaries on the continent
But it alarms me to read of administration plans to "privatize" public lands and "outsource" jobs to private contractors. Up to 70 percent of all full-time jobs, including rangers, archaeologists, biologists, geologists, hydrologists, firefighters, and historians could be privatized, starting next year, maybe even in 2004. Piece by piece, the parks, then the forests, and the other public lands will be on the block contracted out to the lowest bidders.
Putting the National Park Service out to bid makes about as much sense as privatizing the Marine Corps.
Meanwhile, officials claim fees for public recreation are necessary to raise funds to protect natural resources. They are placing the burden on local administrators to serve as fee collectors and marketers of recreation as a commodity. It's a terrible idea. National parks are being reduced to popcorn playgrounds, theme parks in the Disney mode. This is only the beginning. Without a sharp reversal in direction, all of our public lands, the landed heritage of the people, will be up for grabs by moneyed America.
The government's role in recreation should be to support conservation, physical fitness, and healthy outdoor leisure away from a mechanized super-civilized world. Public parks and forests at all levels enable Americans to absorb the "feel" of nature—of plants, animals, natural features, and weather. I hope that we may safeguard these special places for the benefit of the children of our generation and generations to come.
Enos Mills, father of Rocky Mountain National Park, wrote early in the last century that "Without outdoor life, all that is best in civilization will be smothered." I will add that we need these sanctuaries as an antidote to the pessimism of our time. The natural world, after all, has been a factor in the search for happiness since humankind began.
"Aggressive fighting for the right is the noblest sport the world affords," Theodore Roosevelt once said. To which I will add that strong support of public lands is a thoroughly patriotic response. I hope that 2004 will mark the age of awakening, reversing course to reclaim the public interest.
Michael Frome is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He is a retired professor of environmental education at Western Washington University in Bellingham. His latest book is Greenspeak : Fifty Years of Environmental Muckraking and Advocacy.