Pages

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Rep. Mary Gonzalez and the Right of Capture

A reader alerted me to a story in the El Paso Times yesterday. There was a follow-up story today. In a nutshell, the people of Hays County, Texas (which has been in the news the past few days for devastating floods and loss of life) want to extend Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District to the unregulated part of Hays County. They are concerned about Houston-based Electro Purification sinking commercial wells to serve several large customers. Hays County folks want to protect their water and so HB 3405 has sailed through the Texas legislature until Gonzalez stopped it on proceedural grounds. 

Be sure to read the Texas Tribune's story: Wimberley Groundwater Protection Faces Challenge from El Paso Democrat.


Texas District 75
So why is Rep. Gonzalez so adamant about sinking HB 3405? She contends that it will set a bad precedent for rural Texans afterall her 75th District composes the eastern part of El Paso County including the farm-rich lower valley. But that just doesn't make sense. HB 3405 passed the Texas House by 126-15. You can be sure that there were a number of Representatives who voted "aye" who come from rural districts. So, again, why is Mary on a mission?

It may have something to do with farmers in the El Paso lower valley but only partially. They control the powerful and unaccountable El Paso County Water District #1. The Water District's office is in Clint, part of the 75th District. John Fleck, the best water blogger in the West, reported just today that water from Elephant Butte is again running south but that this is the third year in a row that water has not been released until May and it is almost June.

However, "Bloody" Mary Gonzalez may want to kill the bill for the sake of other interests as well. In his blog post yesterday, Max Powers points the finger at Woody Hunt who, Powers believes, has an interest in Electro Purification. The Hunts deny that. 

I'm only guessing but I think that what is behind Rep. Gonzalez's objection to HB 3405 has everything to do with the Rule/Right of Capture in the State of Texas. Think of it this way. We all live on top of a big lake. You own a little piece on one side of the lake and I own a piece on the other side. I stick a straw in the lake and begin drawing water. Right of Capture allows me to suck-up every last drop in the lake even that which is right beneath your rubber ducky. 

Certainly lower valley farmers who are drawing less and less water from the Rio Grande have to depend on wells. But so do others.

The El Paso Water Utilities also must depend more on underground water. Although their first attempt was unsuccessful, they continue to drill near Fort Hancock, Texas which is in Hudspeth County. Hudspeth County has a water conservation district. If people in Hays County can protect their water from Electro Purification, can people in Hudspeth protect their water from the EPWU?

At a recent meeting a representative of the EPWU became visibly upset when someone wanted to discuss having a water conservation district in El Paso County. The representative could give no reason opposing such a district and only said that he and the other person would have to agree to disagree. What's the fear? 

But the EPWU is not the only entity drilling in Hudspeth. Sure Hunt has water rights around Dell City; but Esperanza Water Service Co. Inc., a Jobe privately-owned company that supplies water in East El Paso County as well as in Hudspeth drills in Hudspeth County as well. Billie Jobe is the President. 


The Hueco Bolson
The real threat seems to be the precedent that a county's water conservation district can regulate how much water others can draw from its underground "lake" or even if they can draw water at all. I'm speculating that Rep. Gonzalez has heard not just from valley farmers (who may be the smallest players in this game) but from the EPWU and from Jobe and possibly Hunt. It's that big underground lake known as the Hueco Bolson that lies below most of El Paso County, about half of Hudspeth County not to mention New Mexico and Mexico. Those who have straws in the lake are thirsty.

One last question - a legal one: does Right of Capture begin when someone buys a piece of land above the "lake" - a vested right - or does it only begin when someone drills a well on their land? That's a current argument in the State of Texas. But what it means is this. EPWU, Esperanza, etc. are not so much concerned about existing wells but future wells as well.

Cuellar To Replace Andron at EPWU

Here's some good news - great news really: Real Estate Manager and Counsel for the El Paso Water Utilities, Lupe Cuellar, will replace General Counsel, Robert "Bob" Andron. Mr. Andron officially retires tomorrow, May 29, 2015. Ms. Cuellar takes over as General Counsel on Monday, June 1, 2015. 

Cuellar has been a strong advocate for open space and conservation while remaining fair to other stakeholders. elpasonaturally was happy when she was put in charge of open space acquistions. She proved to be hugely successful with her negotiations for open space purchases. Following the direction of CEO, John Balliew, Ms. Cuellar put together a team and crafted a new and environmentally-sensitive wildlife and vegetation policy for the utility. She has also kept in mind the interests of petitioners and the compromise known as the Northwest Master Plan and elpasonaturally believes that she and Balliew were instrumental in saving that master plan from a potential threat to submarine it.

On the other hand, elpasonaturally has been critical of Mr. Andron particularly regarding an attempt to enforce a gag rule on PSB members following an objection by then PSB member, Rick Bonart, over a donation to the College of Engineering at UTEP. Dr. Richard Schoephoerster is the Dean of that college and the Chairman of the PSB.

Lupe Cuellar has a Master of Arts from Texas Tech University and a JD from the University of Texas at Austin. She was the Assistant City Attorney for the City of El Paso from 1996 until 2012 (over 16 years of service). She then became the Real Estate Manager and Counsel for the EPWU.

Andron is out. Cuellar is in. "God's in his heaven; all's right with the world." Well, at least this corner of that world.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Go fund elpasonaturally

[elpasonaturally has begun a gofundme.com campaign. Why? It's simple. We've been preaching to the choir long enough. The earth friendly message must reach all El Pasoans to begin to make a difference through education and activism. Just go to gofundme.com/v4v2xr5n to join the campaign to turn El Paso Green. Please pass this link to others.]

Help elpasonaturally turn the El Paso Southwest “green” and create a model for change in communities everywhere

Since 2008 I have written a blog, elpasonaturally.com. Its slogan is “Helping to create a greener, more sustainable and resilient City of El Paso.” “elpasonaturally” has become a source of information about environmental and conservation causes in the El Paso area. Along with the efforts of other conservation groups it has had some but limited impact on making El Paso “greener”. We have preserved 800 acres of land in its natural state and in perpetuity. We have procured a regular source of water for a key wetlands along the Rio Grande. We have made the city more accountable with its care of trees. We have prevented a trash collection site being built next to a wildlife habitat and archaeological site. However, our defeats way outnumber our victories. It’s one step forward and two back. Too often it seems that we are just preaching to the choir and not expanding our base, influence and information network. 

It’s not just a battle against large corporations and companies, the powerful Builders Association that dominates City Council and the City Plan Commission, or 90% of the development community that prefers endless sprawl over infill or smarter planning. It’s a battle to change the anti-environmental culture of the city. It’s a struggle about values. Do we love our beautiful Chihuahuan Desert with its rich biodiversity or do we want to keep gouging our mountains so that builders and city and state transportation authorities can overuse rock in our medians and contractors can overuse cement in our landscaping rather than practice xeriscaping. We must win hearts and minds as well as organize resistance, change city codes and ordinances and spawn a green culture. Having an outreach to inform, educate and empower is going to take time, labor and additional resources. It needs to be fulltime dedication. With your assistance elpasonaturally will:

Be a 24/7 environmental advocate.

Build an elpasonaturally website for investigative news, commentary, blogs, information about environmental issues and green living in the El Paso southwest. 

Prepare online educational resources.

Organize a network of activists to work for a greener El Paso Southwest.

Field and actively support candidates who support environmental causes.

Keep other local media informed about environmental issues.

Grow an effective social media presence.

Create a model of environmental advocacy that can be used in communities everywhere.


Whether you live in the El Paso Southwest or somewhere else, please help elpasonaturally accomplish its objectives which will ultimately provide a model of community environmental activism and advocacy that can successfully help others everywhere create towns and cities more integrated with and responsible for the natural world that we all share.


Please help elpasonaturally reach its goal.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

No Default? So?

Apparently Basic IDIQ did not default on their contract to finish (before the Second Coming) San Jacinto Park as I posted last week. So?

I read the El Paso Times story. Your best read is Refuse the Juice on this story.

I have no doubt that the word among those on the 2nd floor of City Hall late last week was that a default was coming. Whatever was worked out among lawyers simply staved off what may very well become the reality - a default. Certainly someone will get hurt. A sub-contractor or two or three. And, of course, citizens and taxpayers of El Paso have been hurt big time already. 

The City is being very careful as evidenced by their words and actions after Tuesday's executive session. It tells me that a default is still possible and Council is trying to avoid that.

Good luck. Just today I observed "work" at the park from a window at the El Paso Community Foundation. It wasn't lunch time but there was much sitting and aimless wandering. On my way to the Community Foundation I passed two men. One said: "What a mess by the f-ing city." (That could have been the title for this post. What a mess.)

Who is to blame? City Council. City Council. City Council. They are too scared to dismiss staff's low bid recommendations and either go with a more responsible bidder or rebid.  In the case of the park, they could have delayed award and made all subs complete a prequalification statement outlining project experience and financial capability.  And they could have postponed award and made sure that the architect provided cost estimates in true dollars that showed that the project could be completed for that amount. If the plans and specs left too many unanswered questions for bidders then the other two bidders may have added more to their bid to cover the unknowns or they actually priced correctly and Basic threw a low number at it believing they could convince the city to approve a lesser product or finish.

City Engineering is also to be blamed. Their oversight of the project has been poor to say the least. They should have raised red flags a long time ago. "Engineering and Construction Management" - "Construction Management" is an oxymoron.

Finally, whether or not this project belongs to all El Pasoans and thus to all Council districts, the fact remains that the park is in only one Council member's district: Cortney Niland's. She was on top of this just as she was with the trash collection site next to Keystone Heritage Park. She should have been the watch dog in chief. Here is one place her pechant for control could have come in handy and I'm not just talking about demanding that El Pasoan's beloved Christmas Tree should come down just because it isn't triangular enough for her.

Why should elpasonaturally pay attention to this subject? This is a blog about conservation, the environment and sustainability. But a park is a commons. It is in a sense a dedicated open space where we want to connect with nature even in the midst of the urban built environment. It has trees and this blog has already taken on the city for its lack of care for the Plaza Park trees and trees everywhere. (BTW, somebody please tell me how the trees in the park are currently being watered.) Engineering does whatever it pleases and it does not care what other experts think. elpasonaturally has taken them on and will continue to do so. 

So, no default? But lots of fault and the saga is sadly not over.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

6,638 Signatures!!!

After just over 2 months collecting signatures on the We the People/Save the Franklin Mountains petition, I reported the totals to City Council this morning. 6,638 people signed. 3,808 of those were hard copies; 2,830 were online. (The number now online is 2,837.)

Here is how the petition reads: 

"WE THE PEOPLE want preserved, in its natural state and in perpetuity, all of the undeveloped land owned by the City of El Paso on the western side of the Franklin Mountains that is north of Transmountain Road, east of the EPNG Pipeline Road and south of the New Mexico/El Paso boundary and on the eastern side of the Franklin Mountains that is north of Transmountain, west of Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. and south of the New Mexico/El Paso boundary."

Because the petition was not an initiative petition, City Council is not compelled to do anything. The hope, of course, is that they will respond to this outpouring of popular support for the Franklins and against sprawl. elpasonaturally has learned that at least 2 city council members support the petition.

Should there be a need to gather signatures on an initiative petition, it would be easy as contact info for signers of the We the People petition has been collected. The number needed for an initiative petition would be about one-third of the 6,638 signatures collected so far.

If you haven't signed the petition (hard copy or online), you can still do so HERE.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Amending Dark Sky Postponed Again

Once again City Council has postponed discussion and action regarding an amendment to the dark sky ordinance. The amendment is being pushed by Clear Channel which does not want to comply with the ordinance even though they have had TEN years to become dark sky compliant.

Dark Sky proponent and activist, Marci Turner, emailed this message: "Thank you very much for your emails to the City - - you made a difference!!!"

She urges you (and elpasonaturally urges you) to keep up the pressure on City Council members, the Mayor, the City Manager and Planning's Matthew McElroy. A sample email message and email addresses can be found HERE. It is very important to include Mr. McElroy in your emails. He has responsibility to report public comments on the issue to Council.

If you'd like to sign-up to speak against changes to the Dark Sky ordinance next week, go HERE. However, next week's agenda won't be posted until this Thursday. 

elpasonaturally will keep you informed.

Keep the Dark Sky Ordinance Just the Way It Is


Just a reminder to please contact your City Council representative, the Mayor's office, Matthew McElroy in city planning and City Manager Tommy Gonzalez to tell them that you don't want our dark sky ordinance amended. Everyone in the City of El Paso (including big sign companies, viz., Clear Channel) have had 10 years to comply. There is no excuse for not doing so. 

Here is a sample email: Dear Rep. ___/Mayor's Office/City Manager/ Matthew McElroy, Please deny any requests for exemptions or changes to our current Dark Sky Ordinance. 

Here are the email addresses: 

District 1 Ann Morgan Lilly lillyam@elpasotexas.gov
District 2 Larry Romero romerol@elpasotexas.gov
District 3 Emma Acosta acostaea@elpasotexas.gov
District 4 Carl Robinson robinsoncl@elpasotexas.gov
District 5 Michiel Noe noem@elpasotexas.gov
District 6 Claudia Ordaz ordazc@elpasotexas.gov
District 7 Lily Limon limonl@elpasotexas.gov
District 8 Cortney Niland nilandcc@elpasotexas.gov
The Mayor Oscar Leeser morenotl@elpasotexas.gov
City Manager Tommy Gonzalez TGonzalaz@elpasotexas.gov      
Matthew McElroy, City Planning mcelroymx@elpasotexas.gov    


Additionally, dark sky activist, Marci Turner, sent the following message to all of us:

May 7th, 2015 marks the 10 year anniversary of El Paso’s Dark Sky Ordinance.

Businesses, residents and the City were given 10 years to come into compliance with this ordinance which requires all outdoor lighting to be directed downward, not up toward the sky.  This ordinance not only protects our night skies, but also contributes to the health and safety of our community.

This would be a good time for residents to check their own outdoor lights.

1.  Check your lights to be sure they are directed downward, to the area you want illuminated.

2.  Be sure your outdoor lights do not shine on your neighbor’s property, only on your property.

3.  Your lights also may not shine out toward the street and into the eyes of passing motorists.

Please note that illumination of a flag is allowed.

If you are unsure of your light fixtures, you can check online for Dark Sky Compliant Lights.  Home Depot and Lowe’s sell DSC light fixtures.  They are labeled as Dark Sky Compliant.  The actual light bulb should not be visible from a “side view” of your fixture.  If your neighbor has a light that is trespassing on your property, show them this flyer and ask them to please adjust their lighting.

In 2005, a representative from McDonald’s Observatory in Ft. Davis remarked that the only thing they could see from Ft. Davis to the West Coast was the light pollution created by El Paso.  Since then the amount of light pollution has been significantly reduced thanks to our businesses, city, and residents.

Questions?  Contact Marci Turner   marciaturner@elp.rr.com

Bottom line: We all can make a difference when it comes to light pollution. Clear Channel should also have a sense of civic pride.