A community advocacy newspaper for northern New Mexico
Box 6 El Valle Route, Chamisal, NM 87521
Marketing the Rain: Water for Sale to the Highest Bidder By Mark Schiller and Kay Matthews
Protecting Our Cultural Landscape: Taking the Next Step By Kay Matthews
Editorial: Analysis Paralysis or Business as Usual? By Kay Matthews
By Mark Schiller and Kay Matthews
The April 8, 2002 edition of The New Yorker contained a very disturbing, but not surprising, article about the corporate world's continuing attempts to commodify water by privatizing ownership of this most essential of all resources. The article provides some enlightening statistics: Less than three per cent of the world's water is fresh and most of it is locked up in polar ice caps and glaciers; more than a billion people have no access to clean drinking water and nearly three billion live without basic sanitation; water demand tripled worldwide between 1950 and 1990; and by 2025 the demand for water worldwide is expected to exceed supply by 56%. The article also points out that "In the United States, the Ogallala Aquifer, which reaches from Texas to South Dakota and is indispensible to farming on the Great Plains, is being drained eight times faster than it can naturally be recharged."
The corporate world stands poised to capitalize on what it sees as one of the last exploitable markets: As water resources become more scare, value increases, and multinational companies like Bechtel and Enron (before its collapse) are buying up water systems throughout the world. Supporters of privatization rationalize that commodifying and increasing the value of water is the only practical way to avoid shortages and environmental disasters. But The New Yorker article reveals the duplicity of this position in its story of Cochabamba, the third largest city in Bolivia. When a Bechtel consortium took over the city's water supply from the government, it ignited una guerra del agua during which "peasants from the nearby countryside manned barricades sealing off all roads to the city" to protest what they perceived as the abrogation of their basic human right to clean water. The citizens of Villa San Miguel, a nearby barrio, who had dug their own well and installed a water system to serve its poor community, also joined in the protest when the water consortium took over its water system. The company installed meters to charge fees which complied with a contract that guaranteed the company a minimum of fifteen percent profit adjusted annually to the consumer price index in the United States.
The World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) are of course major players in this scenario. By encouraging the implementation of free market policies, which in Bolivia includes the sale to foreign investors of the railways, the telephone system, the airlines, the tin mines, and now the water systems, they are responsible for actually increasing the poverty rate over what it was in 1980. This time, however, the people of Cochabamba took to the streets over and over again in mass protest and eventually forced the water company officials to flee. The Bolivian government revoked the company's contract and World Bank representatives hastily distanced themselves from the conflict by claiming that they had nothing to do with the fiasco.
While the people of Bolivia were successful in this round of the battle, the corporate world was only temporarily derailed. Bechtel has subsequently purchased a 30-lease for the port city of Guayaquil in Ecuador and a controlling stake in the water company of Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. City water systems in the U.S. are being leased to national and multinational corporations who assure them that they can manage the resource more cost effectively.
Here in New Mexico the city of Albuquerque, pinning its hopes on a project to inject San Juan/Chama water into its depleted aquifer, continues to increase its water usage to meet unbridled growth. Santa Fe, despite acknowledging a severe water shortage by implementing drastic water use restrictions, refuses to place a moratorium on development or devise an equitable system for distributing water. This lack of vision has created an environment for people like water broker Bill Turner, of Westwater Resources in Albuquerque, to buy and sell water rights to the highest bidder. He and other water brokers prey on vulnerable water rights holders by checking the newspaper for bankruptcies, divorces, and deaths, particularly in rural communities, buying their water rights cheaply and selling them to developmental interests. A true believer in the market economy, he defends his business by claiming "the acequia system is doomed . . but change is good."
Only Rio Arriba County and the city of Española seem to be taking progressive action to develop a long-range strategy for managing water use and distribution: the city implemented a moratorium on development until its water management plan is in place and the county has passed ordinances protecting the agricultural uses of water. As Richard Lucero, the mayor of Española told us, "If we in this country, who are so privileged and so greedy in our water use, can't come up with a better strategy to protect our resource, then we will find ourselves in the same situation as those poor people in the Third World who no longer have access to adequate fresh water."
Dear La Jicarita:
This is in response to your June editorial. I have been told by a very experienced logger that he has seen fires started by chainsaws. If it is dry enough the hot exhaust can ignite grass in its down-blast while cutting the tree. Even more likely to start a fire is when the sawyer sets a hot saw down. It would take 100% awareness of an entire crew to guarantee no fires in times like this. There aren't enough "professionals" to consistently field crews that would be 100% aware 100% of the time. As far as a "pump truck" is concerned, when a fire blows up from 40 acres to 1,000 in a few hours the pump truck is not going to be very useful.
My first point is that to get professionals working in the woods there have to be wages. The collaborative stewardship program is cute, but it gets anybody and everybody out in the woods with hot saws. This situation cannot be safely monitored. Professionals being paid professional wages working their own contracts could be much more easily held accountable for safety.
My second point is, let's look at alternatives! This "catch 22" about not working the woods because of fire danger could be addressed with my solar-electric chainsaw. I use it everyday. There is no heat generated by this set-up. It is very clean and efficient. For a very small investment the Forest Service could field thinning crews right now and start helping this problem that is only going to get worse the longer everyone procrastinates. I do not know how to get my idea considered seriously. It seems the whole system is sluggish in reconsidering age-old techniques. My idea works. It would only take one "forward thinking" district to try it, but I can't get any takers. If anyone is seriously interested I'd be glad to give a demonstration. We need to get creative in solving this current problem. There's no reason to sit back and watch our forest burn when there are already working solutions. Please help get this heard!
Rico Meleski, Edge Habitat
The Carson National Forest is soliciting public comment on Sipapu Recreation Development's 2000 Summer Work Plan and request for issuance of a new special use permit. In July of 2000 the Forest Service, believing that the environmental analysis (EA) had already been completed, illegally approved the Summer Work Plan that included the installation of one surface lift, one aerial lift, clearing of approximately 13 acres of trails, and thinning of approximately 10 acres of gladed trails. During the course of this work, the ski area exceeded its permitted boundaries by 30 acres. Upon discovery that the EA had not been completed, the Forest Service ordered that the expansion work cease until the EA was completed. In August of 2001 the ski area sued the Forest Service in U.S. District Court seeking a preliminary injunction to allow them to proceed with implementation of the work identified in the 2000 Summer Work Plan. The court granted the preliminary injunction in September 2001 and ordered the Forest Service to complete an EA to gauge effects of the work. During this same period, the ownership of the ski area changed hands, necessitating the issuance of a new special use permit, which also requires the completion of an EA. Please contact Tom Dwyer at 758-6272 if you have any questions. Your comments should be directed to Martin D. Chavez, Jr., Carson Forest Supervisor, 208 Cruz Alta Road, Taos, NM 87571.
By Kay Matthews
Both Miguel Santistevan and Chris Wilson, who opened the May 31 symposium on Protecting Land, Water, and Culture in Rio Arriba County, made this emphatic point: There are no environments that aren't the result of human interaction, and the resulting cultural landscape that we have here in el norte provides us with a unique model of diversity and resource. We therefore have both the opportunity and responsibility to ensure the continued health and vitality of that landscape.
Rio Arriba County, over the course of the past few years, has implemented the policies and regulations that need to be in place to protect communities and resources: the establishment of an Office of Planning and Zoning; an Interim Land Use and Zoning Regulation (while a 30-year growth management plan is devised); a billboard ordinance; timber harvest ordinance; sand and gravel ordinance; the Agricultural Protection and Enhancement Ordinance; and most recently, a department that works directly with acequias to build the capacity of their commissions. The county now recognizes the need for some critical thinking and innovative collaborations to move beyond governing by ordinance. One of the symposium's afternoon panels did just that. Called "Developing Land Exchanges on Federal Land in Rio Arriba County for Planned Growth and Resources Protection", ideas were presented that certainly entered uncharted territory and raised all kinds of questions and feelings from the audience.
Lorenzo Sotelo, panel moderator, and Virgil Trujillo, Land Grant panelist
Patricio Garcia, Rio Arriba County Planning Director, and Lee Nellis, a planner with the Sonoran Institute, presented a draft proposal to exchange conservation easements on irrigated lands in the Rio Grande and Rio Chama valleys for the opportunity to develop selected federal lands. As stated in the Draft Rio Arriba County Conservation Easement for Home Sites Exchange, the process would include:
planning new villages on suitable sites on selected federal lands
providing basic infrastructure and design guide-lines for the development of those villages, and
permitting local landowners who place conserva-tion easements on their irrigated lands to build in the new villages, or to sell their right to do so to interested builders.
The planners admit that it's a complex process and the requisite bodies that would have to cooperate - county, state, federal, and the non-profit sector - are numerous. Essentially what this would mean in Rio Arriba County is negotiating with the Bureau of Land Management, which is the agency that owns most of the land surrounding agricultural villages, to accept easements on that agricultural land in exchange for enough acres of federal land to develop planned communities that would allow for new growth. The villages would be planned in conjunction with a community development corporation (CDC) in the non-profit sector, which would raise funds and charge impact and user fees to build and maintain roads, water systems, and other public facilities and services. The CDC would be responsible for these services until the village decided to incorporate and take on the role of governance.
During the presentation, Nellis emphasized that the county and his institute have devised this plan, which, to his knowledge, has never been implemented anywhere else, because traditional growth management approaches and conservation easements won't work in Rio Arriba County. This is because most of the landowners own fairly small portions of land, which doesn't allow for the sale of development rights, and many residents are low income and can't afford to donate their land to conservation easements. But the incentive to exchange a conservation easement on these small parcels of agricultural land for development rights in a nearby village allows families to provide land for their children or sell that development right for financial gain.
The plan, of course, raised many questions and suggestions from the audience. One of the first questioned the need for this complicated a process when perhaps the problem could best be solved by the land grants. Because the General Accounting Office (GAO) is already involved in the identification of land grants, and heirs have been lobbying for the return of the commons lands for years, perhaps they would be in the best position to enact the exchange. This also raised the question as to who would benefit from the acquisition of the commons - only land grant heirs or the people who currently live in land grant villages? Moises Gonzales, Assistant County Planner for Rio Arriba, responded that there needs to be a sociological study to determine who needs housing: land grant heirs, Mexican immigrants, people moving into the community, etc. Several people pointed out the danger of those who might choose to sell their development rights to outsiders and developers whose interests may not be the same as heirs or family members of community people.
The fundamental question of whether federal agencies such as the BLM or Forest Service are at all receptive to this idea was quickly raised as well. The answer is that the plan will have to be mandated by Congress. Patricio Garcia told the audience that while there had already been some discussion between the county and local BLM, he expected that they would have to go up the ladder of the agency and ultimately an act of Congress would be required for the transfer of federal lands. One audience member suggested the county first start negotiating for any state lands that are contiguous to valley communities, but Nellis pointed out that the state is mandated to get the highest rate of return on the sale or lease of its lands.
Hopefully, the federal government will recognize that the undeveloped irrigated lands of the valleys are more valuable than the undeveloped arid uplands where the new villages would be located and see the exchange as in the public interest. The exchange would also help redress the loss of community land grants. As the planners state in the draft plan, the conservation easements would "protect a unique landscape and the natural resources and cultural traditions found there. It would do so while leaving responsibility for stewardship in private hands and local institutions . . . ."
What's the next step? Rio Arriba County has already done a preliminary analysis of where the new villages could be located that will be included in the comprehensive plan, scheduled for adoption in the fall of 2002. Meanwhile, planners must begin building the support of a long list of partners, working towards the development of enabling legislation, and initiating the NEPA process. They must also find the money to incorporate a CDC, which would need about $500,000 in start up funding. Representatives of various foundations were present at the meeting, and it remains to be seen if any of them will step forward to support the plan. But the process has begun and the dialogue continues.
La Jicarita News: Let's talk about the loss of the common lands of the Las Trampas Land Grant, of which you are an heir.
Jerry Rodriguez: From what I understand, according to my grandfather, the common lands were supposed to be grazing lands and areas where we could get the resources we needed to build our houses and get our firewood. And our understanding was it couldn't be sold and it couldn't be given away. The grant petitioned the U.S. government for recognition in 1859 and it was confirmed as a community grant in 1860. A patent was issued to the land grant heirs in 1903 for 28,000 acres. However, in 1876 the Territory of New Mexico passed legislation allowing the sale of jointly owned land when requested by one of the owners. Lawyers from the Santa Fe ring took advantage of the heirs by convincing one of them, who was heavily in debt, to file a partition suit in 1900. Most of the heirs were never notified of the sale and weren't aware that they'd lost their lands until much later. My grandfather told me that the villagers sent a representative to the court hearings, but he was ignored by the lawyers and the judge. The grant was sold for $17,000 to Frank Bond, an Española merchant and sheep rancher, in 1903. The heirs received only an average of $25. In 1907 he sold the grant to the Las Trampas Lumber Company. Then the Las Trampas Lumber Company initiated a quiet title suit to determine how much land they actually owned. During the settlement of the suit the heirs received deeds to the areas where their houses and irrigated fields were located and "use agreements" to graze their animals, use the water from the acequias, and take timber for firewood, fence posts, and other building materials from the common lands. But once again the lumber company tried to cheat the heirs by trying not to record the use agreements.
LJN: How did the Forest Service eventually end up with the land and did it recognize these use agreements?
JR: The Las Trampas Lumber Company went bankrupt and sold out to George Breece Lumber Company in 1926 for $63,000, and at the same time Breece turned around and traded the grant to the U.S. government for timber in the Zuni Mountains. Once the government got the land, a New Mexico congressman, in 1927, asked Congress to pass legislation to protect the use agreements. While the Forest Service never formally recognized the use agreements, they didn't prevent the heirs from continuing to use the lands until much later. My grandfather always told me to hang onto my copy of the use agreement because some day it would be validated. The Forest Service gradually began to restrict our rights and in 1981 things came to a head up here. Two members of the grant, Ben Dominguez and Paz López, were given a citation by the Forest Service for cutting wood without a permit. When they took them to court in Santa Fe they pleaded not guilty and raised the issue of the use agreement rights. But this argument never really got heard because they admitted they were cutting large diameter trees for firewood, which wasn't included in the agreements [the use agreements state that the heirs can take only down timber and nonmechantable timber for firewood and building materials]. But the judge said that if there was a better case presented to him about the validity of the use agreements, he might rule in favor of the heirs.
LJN: Have any other heirs talked about invoking the use agreements?
JR: Most of the heirs who were involved with Ben and Paz have died, but there's another member of the grant who has worked with me to raise this issue. I brought it before our grazing association. I don't think the Forest Service can deny us our grazing rights or reduce our numbers. This year, however, the Forest Service didn't allow us to go into our allotment at all. According to a letter from the district ranger, they didn't want us to go in because they only had water for about three to four weeks and there was no protein in the grass. But we felt we had enough water in Entrañas and Cejita to go in three or four weeks in one and then three or four weeks in the other. Our grazing practices have always been that even if the grass is dry we go in to lessen the fire danger. In times of drought we've always either reduced our numbers or divided our herd between the two pastures. When we ran out of water we removed the herds. We're concerned that they prevented us from going into our allotment but they've allowed other associations to go into theirs. Who's going to compensate us for lost income? We tried to get another meeting with the range staff so we could work together, but according to the president of the association, they never agreed to a meeting. I'm disappointed that the ranger hasn't taken a more active role with us, I've never even met her. I remember about three years ago when Crockett Dumas was the district ranger and Ben Kuykendall was the range manager, during another dry year, at the annual meeting they wanted to delay our entry, but we talked it over and agreed to cut back our numbers by 20%, and they let us go in on schedule. The grass was dry that year, too, but the cows came out fat and healthy like they'd been eating green grass. Because they shut us out this year, I've had to sell my cattle. You know, the permittees have been left out of the whole process. We should have been at the negotiating table when the environmentalists sued the Forest Service over the spotted owl. I brought this up with the previous ranger, and he tried to tell me that we only have the "privilege" of grazing our livestock on forest lands, and I told him it's not a privilege, it's our right. I told him it's spelled out in the 1914 use agreements. But really, I don't think the environmentalists or the Forest Service want us at the table, or want our advice, even though we have hundreds of years of experience farming our lands and grazing our animals and harvesting our wood. I learned all my farming skills from my grandfather. For instance, he always planted with bordos, or terraces, so that when he irrigated the water wouldn't erode the land. Each generation would learn from the previous generation, right on the land. I'm afraid that the way things are going we're going to lose that knowledge because no one is able to make a living anymore off the land. We can't even find enough people to clean the acequias.
LJN: Let's talk more specifically about wood gathering and water rights with regard to the use agreements.
JR: One of the things that really bothers me with the thinning and contract stewardship blocks is that the Forest Service is charging people for permits when we're doing the work that the Forest Service should be doing. Since we have to do all the work, cutting the trees, piling the brush, and removing the wood, they should pay us. I haven't attempted to exercise my use right for this, even though after my grandfather died two years ago I told myself that I would. As far as water goes, I don't believe the state engineer has the authority to adjudicate water rights on community land grants. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo predates the state engineer's authority, which gives the acequias the right to manage the water. I've done a lot of research on this. I have the documented history of the Trampas Land Grant that I got from the state archive, I have a copy of the survey, the article from the Taos News giving notification that the grant was being partitioned, and a trunk full of other documents.
LJN: How do you think the land grant issue should be resolved?
JR: The way I see it, the way people are nowadays, I wouldn't want the land grant returned because a lot of trouble would start. People would start fighting among themselves. If we could make an agreement with the government that would protect our use rights then we could keep the land under Forest Service jurisdiction. But when there are timber sales and other user fees, the money should go to the communities for eduction for our children and a better place for them to grow up. We want to keep these kids interested in their own communities and their own heritage so they don't have to go out of state to look for work. The land grants need to take the lead roll in making sure we have the opportunity to stay on our lands and make a living on those lands, as our forefathers did for hundreds of years.
By Kay Matthews
A recent article in one of the state's dailies, headlined "Forest Service in Disarray", addressed what's being called the "analysis paralysis" that plagues the organization: the time it takes to actually implement on-the-ground-projects because of the cumbersome National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. Planning and assessment makes up 40% of the agency's work and 5,000 environmental challenges are pending against NEPA decisions. According to Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth, the issue isn't whether environmental laws are good or bad but "about whether or not the processes are working well and whether we are able to make decisions in a reasonable period of time." He has called for a streamlinng of the NEPA process since he took office in 2001.
We've addressed this same issue many times in editorials and articles in La Jicarita regarding the Santa Fe Watershed, the Santa Barbara Grazing Allotment Restoration Project, and the National Fire Plan. It's also an issue that comes up during discussion of Collaborative Stewardship: What good does it do to set up work groups and collaborations between local ranger districts and community people to work together on forest projects when these same projects are often delayed or killed because of appeals and lawsuits by environmental and special interest groups?
If we look at the history of Forest Service management, there is a legitimate reason why citizen groups rose up in great numbers in the 1970s and 80s to protest forest policies. While Bosworth claims that these citizen actions are "preventing the Forest Service from achieving its core mission of restoring ecosystems and managing the forests," it was only because of them that policies were implemented to force the Forest Service out of bed with the resource extraction industry and into the business of restoration. The agency knew as far back as the 1920s that its fire suppression policies were creating problems, but it succumbed to pressure from the timber industry, which didn't want fires threatening its timber production. After World War II the Forest Service also came under heavy pressure from Congress to supply our booming economy with lumber, and timber production was the agency's raison d'etre, even after policies like the National Forest Management Act (NFMA), which mandated forest management plans, and NEPA, which provided for more public input in the decision making process, were adopted.
Those of us who were involved in the development of Forest plans in the 1980s, the first time the agency was forced to consult with public citizens and groups in the planning process, found out how frustrating and ultimately meaningless this process was. I attended meetings, along with Native American groups, land grant representatives, environmentalists, and rural communities, with Forest Service officials from the Cibola National Forest and Southwest Regional Office for over a year in the late 1980s. We were trying to hammer out agreements regarding the Cibola Forest Plan, which called for the development of new downhill ski areas and large timber sales that were beyond the capacity of local foresters and logging companies. While much time and energy was given to this process by both sides, in the end very little citizen input was incorporated into the plan. There is no mechanism in NEPA that requires the Forest Service to do more than solicit input from the public. So when interest groups or citizens are unhappy with Forest Service decisions, their only recourse is the administrative appeals process or lawsuits. And there have been many over the last 20 years.
Now, however, many of the same people and groups who were parties to appeals and litigation agree with Bosworth's claim that the agency is unable to implement decisions in a timely fashion and something needs to be done about it. The reason is obvious: The multinational timber industry is no longer a presence in northern New Mexico and the restoration efforts being made to redress years of overcutting and fire suppression can benefit both local economies and local forests. Many environmental groups, however, in promoting initiatives like Zero Cut and Zero Cow, fail to acknowledge that these policies discriminate against forest-dependent communities. Their ongoing appeals and lawsuits not only continue to marginalize communities but ultimately endanger the integrity of our forest lands by opening the door to large-scale recreational development both within the forest and the "inhabited wilderness" surrounding the forest.
But it is not just the environmentalists who are responsible for the "analysis paralysis." It is the Forest Service itself, in its bureaucratic bondage and business as usual mentality, that is largely to blame. When the timber dollars decreased as the mandate of the Forest Service became "ecosystem restoration", district staffs were severely cut back. Here on the Camino Real District, the timber staff was reduced to only several technicians, while the wildlife biologist and archeologist, both critical to getting projects NEPA ready, were moved to a team based in Taos that has to serve the entire forest. There were not enough staff people within the other multiple use divisions to compensate for this drain, nor were the monies allocated by Congress assigned to the most critical areas. A typical excuse for the lack of work accomplished on the districts was, You can't rob Peter to pay Paul, meaning, they couldn't get the monies they needed for watershed restoration from the recreation budget or for marking small-diameter timber from money earmarked for grazing.
Consequently, the agency fell farther and farther behind in getting wildland/urban interface, grazing, or watershed restoration projects NEPA ready. Now that National Fire Plan and community forestry restoration monies have been allocated in reaction to the catastrophic fires of 2000, nothing is happening on the ground because of the lack of clearance and the extreme fire danger that has shut down all the forests.
But above and beyond these concerns, it is the inability of the Forest Service to get beyond the business as usual modus operandi that continues to create frustration for those who try to work with the agency to get things done. As one of my neighbors said quite bluntly, "The Forest Service doesn't really want to collaborate with us. We've been here for hundreds of years and learned a few things during that time, but do you think they ever come and ask us for advice? And I don't mean sending out scoping letters and then doing what they want anyway." His frustration is understandable in light of a management history that has left our forests in deplorable shape. While the Forest Service sees itself as an agency that serves the public, it is in reality a political institution that reflects the corporate domination of national policy. When the timber industry demanded logs, the Forest Service cut them. When the cattle barons demanded grazing allotments, the Forest Service provided them. Now that resource extraction industries have changed their job description to recreational development, the Forest Service is ready to open the door to the Disneyfication of our forests and suburbanization of our rural communities (see La Jicarita, February 2002). How can the needs and concerns of local people and forest dependent communities compete with those agendas? How can the many good people who work at the district level and who are sensitive to local concerns do their jobs and not conduct business as usual?
Maybe Forest Chief Bosworth's proposal to simplify regulations is a step in the right direction, but until local districts and forest adjacent communities have a stronger voice in determining policy, it will likely be the corporate interests who benefit, not the forests.
Copyright 1996-2002 La Jicarita Box 6 El Valle Route, Chamisal, New Mexico 87521.