Placitas Recycling Association volunteer Pat Oshel dumps newspapers into the back of a truck during the last of the twice-monthly recycling sessions. Beginning November 6, the recycling center will be open every Saturday except holidays from 8:00 to 11:00 a.m. In addition to accepting recyclable paper, plastic, aluminum, and cardboard, the center offers boxes and plastic peanuts for holiday shipping. The center is located on the north side of NM 165 about a quarter mile east of I-25.
County waste-recycling gets underway
Sandoval County spokesman
Sandoval County is starting construction of a waste-recycling plant that will turn green waste such as grass clippings and construction materials, and eventually sewage sludge and other waste products, into useful compost and soil-enhancement products.
The environmentally secure, neighborhood-friendly plant will use the NaturTech in-vessel system that contains odors and uses heat generated by the composting process to destroy bacteria before the material is ready for use.
Digesters and biofilters, combined with vacuum dryers and a mist process, also control odors and dust. The entire process is enclosed and takes about twenty-two days before the compost is ready for use.
The process is being used currently in other states, but will be the first of its kind in New Mexico when it goes into operation in early November. Construction was to have begun October 19 on a two-acre site at the Southern Sandoval County Landfill, west of NM 528 off Idalia Road in Rio Rancho.
“This is a great project for the environment and for the economy of Sandoval County and its residents,” said Commissioner Jack Thomas. Thomas was serving as chairman of the county commission when the governing board initiated the project in 2003.
“This is a way we can adequately handle our solid wastes in the future and, as technology continues to improve, may get us to the point where we never have to open another landfill again,” Thomas said.
Mike Foster, the county's assistant public works director for solid waste, said the composting plant's first phase would provide economic and efficient disposal of dead trees infected with bark beetles, as well as household green waste and construction materials.
In the second phase, the county plans to process sewer sludge and biosolids that currently are buried in landfills at considerable expense.
“Not only is this process very sound for the environment, it will allow us to begin recycling waste that normally is buried in our landfill into products that can be used by the county, municipalities, the state, and the Bureau of Land Management,” Thomas said.
“We estimate the first phase will reduce the volume in the county landfill by up to 10 percent, providing a savings to Sandoval County taxpayers,” Thomas said. “Once we receive needed permits and implement the second phase and begin composting sewer sludge and other wastes, the savings we will achieve in landfill space are tremendous.”
The project is being funded with $390,000 allocated by the 2004 Legislature and $250,000 from the BLM. The remainder of the $700,000 project is being paid for by county Landfill Revenue Bonds.
The NaturTech Composting System was developed by Renewal Carbon Management, of Saint Cloud, Minnesota. RRT Design and Construction, of Melville, New York, is general contractor for the project.
Volunteers work to modify Las Huertas Creek for riparian health and erosion control
LPA workshop takes on Las Huertas Creek restoration
On October 9 a group of volunteers participated in a Hands-On Riparian Restoration project sponsored by Las Placitas Association. The workshop, part of the Las Placitas Las Huertas Watershed Project, focused on the construction of additional channel-modification structures along a stretch of Las Huertas Creek bounded by privately owned land.
The Las Placitas group assisted the landowner in an ongoing restoration program funded by a state grant obtained by the landowner. This program includes implementation of stream-bank and channel structural reinforcements and modifications designed by riparian restoration expert Bill Zeedyk, a retired U.S. Forest Service hydrologist.
The structural river-channel enhancements aim to modify sections of the stream bank that have become excessively “downcut” and straightened. These stream-channel features are a product of historical land-use practices that have resulted in increased erosion in the watershed, which in turn results in increased peak runoff flows into the creek, increased flow velocities and associated downcutting, and increased sediment load. The channel-modification structures serve to introduce a more natural meandering course to the stream channel and allow peak flows to spread into a wider riparian zone surrounding the channel.
The end result is slower average-flow velocities, enhancement of channel-stabilizing riparian vegetation, enhanced groundwater recharge, and reduced erosion damage to downstream reaches of the creek.
For more information on the Las Huertas Watershed Project, contact Reid Bandeen, Las Placitas Watershed coordinator, at 867-5477.
Tax credit reinstated for producing wind energy
The wind-energy production tax credit (PTC), a critical factor in financing new wind-power installations, has been reinstated through 2005 as part of the All-American Tax Relief Act.
The PTC provides a 1.5 cent-per-kilowatt-hour tax credit (adjusted annually for inflation) for electricity generated with wind turbines. The PTC, which had expired on December 31, 2003, will be extended retroactively from that date to December 31, 2005. The law also extends a tax credit for the production of electricity from poultry waste and "closed-loop" biomass generated from plants grown specifically to produce electricity.
"One thing we'll never run out of in New Mexico is wind, and this tax incentive provides the impetus necessary for wind-energy projects, now and in the future," Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) commented. "I am very disappointed that Congress allowed this tax credit to lapse in the first place. It's not right that wind energy was held captive."
The delay in extending the PTC came following a banner year for the U.S. wind industry, in which it installed a near-record 1,687 megawatts of generating capacity—enough to serve nearly half a million average American homes. This year, a sharp drop in new installations is expected, due to the absence of the incentive for nine months.
New Mexico has wind resources consistent with utility-scale production. The largest contiguous area of good-to-excellent resources is in central New Mexico, between Albuquerque and Clovis. Other notable areas of good-to-excellent resource are located near the Guadalupe Mountains in southern New Mexico, near Tucumcari, and in the northeastern part of the state near the Colorado and Oklahoma borders.
SOAR Program Director and Research Scientist Duncan Axisa (foreground) and pilot Gary L. Walker exhibit their Piper Cheyenne II, which has been modified to conduct atmospheric research. Equipped to measure atmospheric conditions aloft, researchers have attached various sampling devices and pods to this aircraft in an effort to better understand cloud makeup and what is needed to produce precipitation.I
Inside the aircraft: scientific atmospheric instrumentation capable of measuring microphysical properties of clouds and their thermodynamic environment, and documenting and diagnosing the physical processes within them.
New frontiers in weather modification
New research has revealed the existence of particulate matter in the makeup of clouds, i.e., pollutants, that attracts water molecules and robs rainfall production. During a recent interview in Santa Fe, Duncan Axisa, Southern Ogallala Aquifer Rainfall project director and flight scientist, disclosed new aspects of his studies. “Right now we're still learning about precipitation and the scientific processes; you never know the complete picture. In the past, most research has focused on the cold-rain process, how ice influences rainfall.
“Now, the attention and our most recent research has shown that particles that exist in the air and are everywhere around us are being ingested by clouds. And water forms on these particles. We're learning that the water that forms on these very minute particles is so small that they never grow to precipitation size. So the rainfall efficiency is being reduced significantly by these particles (pollutants) that are being released into the atmosphere. Now we're studying what is the right particulate matter to introduce into the cloud to fix the problem,” Axisa explained.
Similar to the way carbon monoxide displaces oxygen from the red blood cell, certain pollutants have a greater affinity to water, reducing droplet size and robbing clouds of their ability to produce greater amounts of rainfall. One solution Axisa and other researchers are experimenting with is the introduction of a large particle into the cloud with a greater affinity to water—usually a salt. Silver iodide is still used in the upper, cold part of the cloud to produce rainfall. Salt particles of a “manufactured” size, determined by computer-modeling simulations, are being injected at the base of the cloud, where it is warmer, to attract moisture, thereby producing greater droplet size. The larger salt particle has a greater chance of colliding with water molecules to produce the desired rainfall production. “So there are two rain processes: one warm, one cold, and we're trying to enhance both,” Axisa added.
“The newer science in weather modification is investigating what are the effects of pollutants on clouds and how can we repair that effect. We've just flown a mission over Houston with this aircraft and found a large amount of pollution. One thing they know in the Houston area is they have an enhanced amount of lightning. Could something in the microphysics of the cloud be causing lightning to become more numerous?”
There is a lot of infrastructure that goes into the weather-modification process, no matter where it is being carried out. New Mexico is already benefiting from cloud-seeding operations in conjunction with operations being carried out on the border with Texas. Plans are to move westerly into the plains in the southern part of the state, and in the north the New Mexico Weather Modification Association has started feasibility studies for the Jemez and Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Expanding programs to encompass more areas of the state requires funding. “Without funding we cannot proceed,” Axisa concluded.
The West has to count on itself
If you care about the environment, and you survived the presidential debates without running out into the backyard to scream at the heavens, you’re a bigger person than I. For those of you who missed them, the three debates included just one question on that "fringe issue" of what’s in the air we breathe and whether we like trees in our national forests or just stumps. It came during the second debate, when a member of the audience asked George Bush how he would rate himself as an environmentalist.
Bush did a little verbal two-step about off-road diesel engines, building a hydrogen-generated automobile, and his Healthy Forests Initiative: "What happens in those forests, because of lousy federal policy, is they grow to be—they are no—they’re not harvested."
If Bush was being coached through a hidden earpiece, as some Internet chat rooms claim, he must have been having reception problems.
But anyone who saw an easy opportunity for a comeback from John Kerry was disappointed. Though Kerry has earned a 92-percent lifetime rating from the League of Conservation Voters, you wouldn’t have guessed it from his muddled response. He mocked the smiley-face names the Bush administration has given its environmental rollbacks, but then came up with a Bushism of his own: "They pulled out of the global warming, declared it dead."
So much for making any sense of environmental issues for the folks who watch television.
In that second debate, Kerry hinted at the environmental damage Bush has done. You might ask, “How much could happen in four short years?” You'd be surprised.
During his first term, the president appointed a timber-industry lobbyist to oversee the Forest Service, an energy-company lobbyist as a top dog in the Department of the Interior, among others, and they went quickly—and quietly—to work. They reneged on Clinton’s Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which would have protected fifty-eight million acres of national forest. They signed a deal with the state of Utah, stripping protection from 4.4 million acres of proposed wilderness. They pulled the guts out of the Northwest Forest Plan, which had put more than three-quarters of the region’s woods off-limits to logging in order to protect salmon and spotted owls. And they bailed out on a plan to ban snowmobiles from Yellowstone National Park.
All this has helped earn Bush an F from the League of Conservation Voters—the first time ever for a president—but the president’s spin-meisters are a savvy bunch. Bush’s plan to allow more air pollution is dubbed Clear Skies, his plan to allow more old-growth logging, Healthy Forests. Interior Secretary Gale Norton touts her Four C’s credo—"communication, consultation and cooperation, all in the service of conservation"—but goes out of her way to stoke the rancor and mistrust surrounding public-lands management.
The problem with Bush’s strategy is that the say-one-thing-and-do-another routine only works if no one is paying attention. Out here on the ground, it’s obvious that Bush is earning points with his industry supporters but doing little to help the rural West.
John Squires, a Packwood, Washington, firewood cutter, sees the neglect clearly: "The left says (to its campaign contributors), ‘We need to save the trees; give us money,’ and the right says, ‘They’re going to destroy jobs; give us money.’ Every party has said they’re going to help our communities, and no party has."
In this election, Squires isn’t counting on either presidential candidate to save the day. Instead, he’s joined with local environmentalists, union members, and Native Americans to promote a plan to thin second-growth forest plantations while steering clear of the last old growth—even though the Bush administration has tried mightily to open that old growth to logging.
"Let’s not let the people in Washington, D.C, or the courts, decide," he adds. "I hope we can decide what it is that we’re going to do, and then go as a united front to our politicians and ask them to help out."
That, it seems, is the challenge facing Westerners today: to take our collective vision for the region to Washington, a vision that includes landscape-scale conservation and an economy based on restoration. We need to get our politicians following us, for a change. That will be hard to do if the White House continues to be run by the logging and mining and oil industries, rather than by someone who has the good of the West’s publicly owned lands and communities at heart.
Greg Hanscom is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He is the editor of the paper in Paonia, Colorado.