A community newspaper for the Jicarita watershed, including the
Rio Mora, Rio Santa Barbara, Rio de las Trampas, Rio Pueblo, & Rio Embudo
New Developments in the San Luis Valley Water Wars By Kay Matthews
Truchas Montaña Youth Team Meets with Forest Service By Max Córdova, Jr. and Nova Romero
Rafting Company Appeals Rio Grande Corridor Plan By Kay Matthews
The Picuris-Peñasco Community Coalition, who organized last year's Health Fair, are planning a celebration to honor our community elders. With financial help from the McCune Charitable Foundation, the coalition has trained 30 students in grades 9-12 from the Peñasco High School to conduct and videotape interviews with elders from all of the communities in the Peñasco-Truchas area. The result is a 45-minute video, which will be premiered at the celebration on April 8 at 3 p.m. at the Peñasco Elementary School Commons. The celebration will also include a community dinner, a chile cookoff, photo displays, and music and dance presentations. Taos High School's Larry Torres will be the master of ceremonies.
Included in the video are interviews with: José Martinez, 88, and Nellie Montoya, 86, of the Vadito/Placita communities; Senaida Visarraga-Ortega, 91, of Peñasco; Alfredo Romero, 92, of the Rodarte/Llano Largo communities; Ben Lujan, 88, of Llano San Juan; Bersabe Duran, 97, of Rio Lucio; Tom Martínez, 91, and Silvianita Duran, 91, of Picuris; Virginia Pacheco, 95, of Chamisal; George Lucero, 86, of El Valle; Silveria Montoya, 95, of Las Trampas; Emma Córdova, 93, of Ojo Sarco; Liberato
Vigil, 99, of Truchas; and Truman Young, 86, of Tres Ritos.
Community members who helped produce the video and organized the celebration include: Peter Stazione, who provided technical assistance and edited the videotape; Juliana Anastasoff; Miguel Santistevan; Ben Aguilar; Fern Sanchez; Jon Fastwolf; Ray Maestas; Sue Gottschau; Carol Miller; and Mary Visarraga. Organizers emphasize that this has been a real grassroots collaborative effort, utilizing donations of equipment, space, and human resources from throughout the community.
The celebration will also include displays of vintage photographs from the communities, and people attending the celebration are invited to bring their own family photographs. Entertainment will be provided by the San Juan Pueblo Senior Citizens Line Dancers, the Picuris Pueblo Senior Dance Group, and the Vadito Head Start. The chile cookoff will pit representatives from many community agencies in a battle of good taste. Community members are welcome to bring potluck entrees, salads, or desserts as well.
Admission is free, but organizers request that those planning to attend call in advance for tickets so that enough food is prepared to feed everyone. For tickets and more information call 1-800-860-7087.
The Camino Real Ranger District proposes to restore 535 acres in the Entrañas area off Forest Road 156 with a thinning and prescribed burn in the Cejita Fuel Reduction/ Ecosystem Project. Trees selected for thinning would mostly be taken from the understory and be less than or equal to 12 inches in diameter. They would be thinned to approximately 100 to 150 trees per acre with some small openings of less than 1 acre scattered throughout the project area. Slash would then be burned. No new roads are needed and old existing roads could be obliterated and revegetated. The area is primarily ponderosa pine with understory stands of piñon/juniper. The thinning will be accomplished with contract stewardship blocks; community members will sign an agreement to harvest 1 to 4 acre plots for firewood, latillas, or posts. If you have any comments or concerns you may contact the district at P. O. Box 68, Peñasco, NM 87553, 587-2255 or 758-6234.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is currently accepting nominations for its Resource Advisory Council (RAC), which advises the agency on a variety of planning and resource management issues. Three of the vacancies to be filled are in a group of representatives of environmental and conservation organizations, recreational activities, archeological and historical interests, and wild horse and burro groups. The other two vacancies are in a group of representatives of elected state, county, or local government; employees of state agencies responsible for management of natural resources; Native American tribes; academicians involved in natural sciences; and the public at large. If you are interested in nominating someone to the RAC you can obtain a nomination form from: RAC, Bureau of Land Management, Office of External Affairs, P. O. Box 27115, Santa Fe, NM 87502-0115. If you have any questions you can call Kitty Mulkey at 438-7514. The 45-day nomination period ends April 20, 2000.
By Kay Matthews
The story of the vast reservoir of water that sits below the San Luis Valley's Baca Ranch in Colorado has provided fascinating fare to the papers that cover environmental and social issues in the west, including La Jicarita News (see December 1998 issue). Back in the 1980s, Baca Ranch owner Canadian oil millionaire Maurice Strong and his American Water Development company hatched the scheme to pump 200,000 acre feet of water per year from beneath the ranch to front range cities. That plan died an ignoble death at the hands of Valley farmers, ranchers, and environmentalists, aided by the county government, who asserted that pumping water in the closed basin would adversely affect existing wells and riparian areas.
But the closed basin water again became an issue after Strong sold the Baca Ranch to Falloran Investment of San Francisco, whose managing partner is Gary Boyce, the colorful San Luis Valley homeboy who made his millions in Los Angeles and then returned to build his Rancho Rosada mansion on Baca land. Boyce, through his Stockman's Water Company, attempted to open the door to the sale of the water rights by getting two constitutional amendments on a Colorado state ballot that would have subverted the power of the local conservation districts that opposed the water transfer. The amendments were defeated, so Boyce decided to pursue the possibility of sale in the other direction, south, to New Mexico. Colorado is already delivering 40,000 acre feet of water to New Mexico via the Closed Basin Project to meet its Rio Grande Compact obligations. To "level the playing field" Boyce filed suit against the Closed Basin Project, claiming mismanagement. If the suit succeeds, it would in all likelihood change the terms of the Compact and allow Boyce to sell his water to meet Compact needs. Boyce also began talking (and contributing financially) to the New Mexico-based environmental group Forest Guardians about selling some more closed basin ranch water to New Mexico to meet federal environmental law requirements. Forest Guardians meanwhile filed a notice of intent to sue state and federal agencies in an attempt to dismantle the Rio Grande Compact, which it claims unfairly favors agricultural water users and prevents the state from enforcing the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.
Now there's a new twist to this water saga. A bipartisan coalition in Congress has proposed to change the status of Sand Dunes National Monument, at the south end of the Baca Ranch, to a national park. While such a change in status might result in any number of cumulative impacts (just ask the residents of Moab, Utah, near Arches National Park, or those in Montrose, Colorado, near the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, how national park status has changed their communities), the issue at the Sand Dunes is water. According to Republican Congressman Scott McInnis, sponsor of the legislation, the primary goal in changing the monument's status would be to protect the closed basin water rights in the Baca from development.
That, of course, could only be implemented with the purchase of the ranch from Falloran and Boyce. But as Ed Quillen, editor of Salida-based Colorado Central, points out in a February article, there is no incentive for Boyce to sell water rights that he paid $15 million for to the federal government for the appraised value of $35 million when he could conceivably get $750 million for development rights.
No one seems to know for sure if the Nature Conservancy - the organization that is leading the negotiations to buy the ranch in anticipation of the Sand Dunes status change - is making any headway in purchase negotiations with Boyce or the other investors of Falloran Investments, which owns 50% of the Baca Ranch. It is also unclear what the Conservancy will eventually do with the 100,000 ranch, if acquired. Ralph Curtis of the Rio Grande Water Conservation Service told La Jicarita that there are three distinct parts of the ranch for which the legislation proposes management. The first is called the sandsheet, which are the dunes that actually provide sand to the monument, that would become part of the national park. The second area includes the pastures and riparian areas that would be managed by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife as a wildlife refuge to recharge the groundwater aquifer. The northeast part of the ranch, called the Mountain Tract, abuts the Sangre de Cristo peaks, and could be managed by the Forest Service as wilderness.
Quillen, however, doesn't see this scenario as the end of the Valley's water wars. According to his calculations, even if Boyce and his partners sell the ranch and it becomes part of the park, there will continue to be pressure to put more water in the Rio Grande to meet federal requirements, especially if Forest Guardians follows through with its lawsuit. He also anticipates that a growing urban population will continue to demand more agricultural water, and be it Albuquerque or Denver, will look to the closed basin water in the Valley as a potential source. His assessment of the federal government keeping its promises in the future is pessimistic: "And if the federal government makes promises about not developing water, remember that there were once people who called themselves the Nuche, and they lived in the San Luis Valley. The Utes would still be there if the federal government had kept promises made in the 19th century about how the land would be theirs for as long as the grass grew."
Quillen thinks there's enough water in the closed basin to supply both Valley irrigators and send the surplus down the Rio Grande to meet anticipated federal needs. The Closed Basin Project was designed to deliver an additional 60,000 acre-feet of water every year to the Rio Grande. But according to Curtis, until a three-year, Colorado-state sponsored comprehensive ground water study of the Valley is completed, "neither Ed Quillen nor I know what we're talking about." Based on the study's findings, the Colorado State Engineer will issue rules and regulations that govern whether there can be new removal of water from the basin.
Curtis says that most Valley residents favor the designation change for the Sand Dunes Monument. Business people favor it because of anticipated new tourist dollars, most environmental groups are cautiously on board, and ranchers and farmers see it as the the only way to prevent the water from being developed. But there are those, like Quillen, who remain pessimistic about the federal government owning and managing the Valley's water rights. Some folks think the legislation needs a clause that states that the water can never be exported, but Curtis feels that the wording, written by three of Colorado's best water attorneys, upholds the tenets of state water law that would require the federal government to to go through state adjudication court if it ever attempted to transfer the rights. At a recent Saguache County Commission meeting, one of the commissioners said, "My constituents do not want to deal with the Federal government on water issues." The Commission remains opposed to the status change, despite the approval by the majority of the other surrounding county commissions.
Those of us who live along the Rio Grande maintain a healthy skepticism with regard to any kind of wheeling and dealing in water: If the Rio Grande Compact is broken, and San Luis Valley water is purchased to meet federal regulations for instream flow in the Rio Grande, it is not only Gary Boyce who will be selling water to Albuquerque and Santa Fe, it will be any developer able to get his or her hands on agricultural water throughout northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. Proponents of the Sand Dunes status change apparently think that the trade-off of development for tourism, if and when the Baca water rights become federal property, is an acceptable deal. Quillen may indeed be right that because the stakes are so high in this particular water war that development is inevitable, but a lot of folks are anxious to squelch Boyce's imperial plan to be the beneficiary.
La Jicarita: Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
Felipe Córdova: I was born in Taos, lived in Vadito as a kid, and went to school in Peñasco and Raton. I only have an eighth-grade education but I've learned how to do carpentry, masonry work, auto mechanics and jewelry making. I worked for the Forest Service for 32 years on and off as a firefighter. In 1998 I organized a pilot project for the Carson National Forest where I put together a fire crew called the Taos Vivoras. They had asked me to update the Type 2 crews, which are crews that are put together from a list of firefighters to respond to fires all over the country. The problem was getting these guys who had not necessarily ever worked together to work efficiently in a high stress situation. I made this team an elite crew, with a uniform like the Berets, black pants and blue shirts, with the qualifications of a Type 1 or hotshot crew. We could run a mile and a half in under 10 or 11 minutes. We were good.
La Jicarita: Why did you organize the first Hispanic Million Man Peace March in Taos?
Felipe Córdova: I first thought of the idea a year ago, because of all the killings, drug abuse and domestic violence in our community, but mostly because of what I saw happening to my son, following in the footsteps of a dysfunctional third generation family. I saw him starting to go through the same kind of thing I had gone through. I grew up struggling, I did the best I could, but sometimes we don't realize what's going on until much later when we reach a point where things become clear. I felt like my life needed a meaning, so I said to myself, I'm going to do it, I'm going to organize an Hispanic Million Man Peace March. I had this burning feeling that this is what I needed to do, that the unity of the Hispanic community can become a reality, we're over 32,000,000 in strength. I wrote an article for the Taos News challenging the Hispanic community. Maybe I would be the only marcher, but at least I would open up the door to start the healing. There were only about 25 to 30 people, but they were real people, with good intentions and a belief. When the newspaper article came out and said there had been 25 people, I thought, wow, that's a long way from a million, what do I do now? So I went to Española with my little article thinking I'd just do it again, but I found out that I needed permits and insurance to cover the marchers. But I didn't get discouraged, I went to Ike DeVargas, who attended the first rally and who works for the county, and asked him for help. He helped get the permits and I did the rest of the organizing, getting groups to participate and spreading the word. Everything started falling into place, and when I needed the money for the insurance, Trudy Healy wrote a check.
But I still needed money so I sold all my jewelry-making equipment. I also organized an art auction in Taos - a lot of Taos' best artists generously donated works - and we made $1,800. On the day of the march we had about 100 people, which I was grateful for because the weather was really bad.
La Jicarita: So what's next?
Felipe Córdova: I took off to Albuquerque two weeks ago to promote a march there. I set the march for May 6 and just started doing what I had to do. I got a room in a cheap motel because I didn't have much money and I had my dog with me. I started looking through the phone book at city government and I saw a listing for the Office of Cultural Affairs and said, that's a good one to call. The woman who answered was named Lauren Griego and I told her that I was in Albuquerque to promote my third march. She told me she'd read about the marches, and that she was from Taos. So she helped me get an appointment before the committee that approves permits for marches.Then I had to figure out where I was going to have the march. So I was driving around town and I spotted this big mural on the Barelas Community Center and I said to myself, this is it, this is where we'll start. I got my permit and I'm living in Albuquerque now, in my nephew's garage, and I'm contacting groups and speakers, like Rebecca Girón, the New Mexico Secretary of State, and Jesse Castaneda, a longtime community activist.
La Jicarita: Why do you think there is so much violence, familial abuse, and drug and alcohol addiction in the northern New Mexico Hispano community?
Felipe Córdova: From my experience it's a vicious cycle. You see your parents using alcohol and fighting. Then you start doing the same thing. And today you have kids who have been brought up watching TV since they were one or two where they see Hispanic people killing each other. And then we have the poverty, people struggling just to have a home and put food on the table. People get depressed, they don't see that they have opportunities for education and jobs, and if you want a job you have to leave the community. So you combine poverty with the availability of drugs and the struggle we've had all our lives and it becomes a cycle. What I would like do is bring an awareness to all the young kids that there can be change. But it's not up to me to bring that change, it's up to every Hispanic male to become aware of the potential that we have. We can change socially and politically. We can have better education available for kids and money for social programs. That's the idea behind the march, to unite the 32,000,000 Hispanic people in this country and bring an awareness that we have the power to come together and make a difference.
The marchers walked from the the west side of the Rio Grande across the Fairview bridge, down the main street of Española, and back across the river to the Plaza. They included Hispanos, blacks, whites, men, women, and children. Annette Valerio was there, holding a picture of her murdered daughter, as was Eric Sanchez's mother. At the Plaza rally District Attorney Henry Valdez said: "I say this to the men in the audience: We have to stop the violence against ourselves, and love ourselves, then we can love our families and stop the violence against them."
I also want to make it clear that even though we've patterned the march after the Black Million Man March, organized by Louis Farrakan, we don't support any racist views, although I respect what he's been up against. This march is for everyone, especially Hispanic women, who have taken a lot of abuse but are the backbone of our families and communities. This can be the healing of the culture, maybe not so much for ourselves but for our kids.
By Max Córdova, Jr. and Nova Romero
The Truchas Montaña Youth Team recently met with Henry Lopez of the Forest Service to discuss what is happening in the contract stewardship lots on FR 156. People from the community also met with Henry to discuss a better prescription for the Cejita Fuel Reduction/ Ecosystem Project, where the Forest Service will be contracting the next stewardship blocks. They wanted to come to a better understanding of how to prevent the poaching in the stewardship blocks and also in the area that the Forest Service had cut. They also wanted to talk about why the Forest Service had favored leaving the ponderosa pine instead of having both pine and piñon.
The community and the Forest Service agreed to work together to try and get the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) work completed on time.They also agreed to separate personal fuel wood areas from contract stewardship blocks to try and cut down on potential poaching. The Youth Team thinks that the Forest Service should continue to set up personal fuel wood areas near individual communities for easy access.
On the Cejita stewardship lots, the Youth Team will meet with Henry to set up photo points to monitor thinning of the Cejita area. The Youth Team agreed to meet on a regular basis to go and monitor the work being done.
The Forest Service also agreed to discuss the prescription in the Cejita area with community members, as to the class and size of trees being left, the density, etc., and to document it in writing.
As reported in the January issue of La Jicarita, a study team from New Mexico State University has been writing a feasibility report for a proposed Biomass/Natural Gas Power Plant that could serve the Angel Fire area. A steering committee made up of various interests - environmentalists, Vermejo Park and other private land timber managers, the New Mexico Environment Department, Carson National Forest, Angel Fire town government and county officials - met for a second time on February 8 to hear a report on the progress of the study and for a community presentation and potluck dinner.
During the steering committee meeting much of the talk focused on a fuel assessment of the area, the criteria for determining acreage available, and if the available biomass would be enough to fuel a power plant. It was determined that the approximate 234,000 BDT (bone dry tons) per year available forest and sawmill waste is about 3 times the 80,000 BDT/fuel requirement for a 10 megawatt plant. All of this fuel would come from private lands in the area. The study is also looking at the availability of natural gas (the proposed fuel mix for the plant is forest thinnings, sawmill residue, urban woodwaste, natural gas, and sewage sludge) to help determine the site of the plant; because of a natural gas line project east of Cimarron, which should be in place by July of 2001, the study is looking at placing the site east of Angel Fire, somewhere in the triangle of Cimarron, Raton and Springer. This would also prevent the potential pollution of a valley site.
The fuel cost figures that the study provided fall within the acceptable range for biomass power plants. But these costs are traditionally higher than natural gas power, and a marketing strategy would have to be developed, such as selling the power as "green power" outside of the area.
The next step in the planning process is to develop a business plan which would include: finalizing a choice of power plant technology and size of the plant; developing a plan to market electricity; obtaining gas fuel contracts; defining permit requirements; deciding on a site; determining cost; and selecting an owner/operator. Dr. Walter Zachritz, who with LuzElena Mimbela is leading the university study team, predicted that it could be 18 months to 3 years before a plant is online. The team is currently trying to raise additional funding to pay for the business plan development. If a private company becomes interested in operating the plant, based on the findings so far, the company could underwrite the rest of the planning costs.
By Kay Matthews
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued the Record of Decision for the Rio Grande Corridor Plan in January of 2000; the decision has been appealed by Pat Blumm of Rio Grande Rapid Transit, one of the two largest rafting companies that operates on the river. According to John Bailey of BLM, the agency was surprised that the decision wasn't also appealed by other rafting companies that had publicly criticized the limits on rafting numbers in certain areas of the river. Blumm, who Bailey said is currently trying to sell his company, claims that the BLM failed to allocate rafting numbers to each outfitter based on the company's historical use. The BLM used rafting figures from the years between 1990 and 1994 to determine the overall percentage of use, or visitor days, in each section of the river.
El Bosque Preservation Action Community did not appeal the Plan but is unhappy that the BLM significantly increased the upper limits of boating use and extended the season along El Bosque section of the river (near the village of Embudo). Bailey emphasized that the BLM is committed to annual meetings with community groups, county and federal agencies, and the interested public to analyze and review the Plan with regard to boating numbers, riparian protection, river designations, etc. If BLM monitoring of a section shows that there are significant increases in use, even on an occasional basis, the agency could consider capping or changing its position. El Bosque, whose position is that the plan should place "primary emphasis on the protection and preservation of the environment and rich cultural and historical legacy of our rural farming communities" (see La Jicarita, March 2000), maintains that the BLM Final Plan is an open-door invitation to increased recreational use on the Rio Grande. The group, along with Amigos Bravos of Taos, claims that the BLM failed to adequately analyze impacts to "living" culture in it's historical analysis of traditional and cultural use.
El Bosque also asserted in last month's La Jicarita that the public should have been given the opportunity to comment on the changes made from the Draft of the Final Plan, which the group claims is a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Bailey responded that the figures in the Final Plan were addressed in the alternatives in the Draft, and that the changes are not "substantive" (if substantive changes are made, then public comment is appropriate). He also said that the changes made to the Final were made in response to public comment.
Some of the management prescriptions in the Final Plan have been lauded by various groups involved in corridor related issues. The Copper Hill area west of Picuris Pueblo, where local citizens fought a proposed copper mine several years ago, and the Lower Gorge, the stretch of river from Pilar to the Velarde Diversion Dam, are now classified Areas of Critical Environmental Concern. This means they are withdrawn from mineral entry, vehicle use is restricted to designated roads and trails, and will be managed to improve riparian and watershed conditions.
[John] Bailey emphasized that the BLM is committed to annual meetings with community groups, county and federal agencies, and the interested public to analyze and review the Plan with regard to boating numbers, riparian protection, river designations, etc. If BLM monitoring of a section shows that there are significant increases in use, even on an occasional basis, the agency could consider capping or changing its position.
Bailey recently met with Rio Arriba County Manager Lorenzo Valdez, County Commissioner Alfredo Montoya, and Planning Department staff Patricio Garcia and Moises Gonzales, to hear the county's concerns about the Plan. The county had previously submitted comments to the BLM concerning the Plan's lack of attention to issues of concern to Rio Arriba County residents. They again expressed to the BLM that the NEPA process allows enough flexibility to take local concerns regarding the protection of culture and tradition more seriously than that of the recreational concerns of commercial rafters. Because these lands were former land grants, they come with certain traditional rights regarding both the land and water.
The county also expressed its opinion that the development of certain landing sites is in conflict with county zoning ordinances that classify the land Rural/Agricultural. Commercial activity on these private lands requires a change of use and rafting companies are required to obtain permits. Any increase in use necessitates a hearing before the Planning and Zoning Department to investigate potential impacts such as increased traffic and resource degradation.
The county also objects to the BLM's proposed acquisition of any additional private lands within the corridor area because of the already high percentage - over 60% - of public lands in Rio Arriba County. At the very least the county asked the BLM to make assurances that if any agricultural lands are acquired they remain agricultural and not be developed for commercial purposes. The county is currently drafting an ordinance that will protect agricultural lands throughout the county from development.
Copyright 1996-2000 La Jicarita Box 6 El Valle Route, Chamisal, New Mexico 87521.