A community newspaper for the Jicarita watershed, including the
Rio Mora, Rio Santa Barbara, Rio de las Trampas, Rio Pueblo, & Rio Embudo
Meeting to Organize Acequia Association By Mark Schiller
Junta Para Organizar Asociación de Acequias Tradució por Benjamín Gurulé
By Kay Matthews
There has been much speculation lately about what is going on up at the old Champion copper mine site near Peñasco. As a public service, the Rio Pueblo/Rio Embudo Watershed Protection Coalition sponsored a meeting on September 25 to discuss what may be early-stage development of a mine on Copper Hill. In attendance were representatives from the Pilar Action Com-munity, Rio Grande Restoration, the Peñasco Area Communities Association, Taos County, Rio Arriba County, and various coalition members.
For the past two years, Summo Minerals (based in Denver, Colorado with corporate headquarters in Vancouver, Canada) has been involved in exploration drilling near the old Champion Mine, just west of Picuris Pueblo tribal lands off NM 75. According to an article in The Mining Record, "The resource . . . of 18 million tons grading .4% copper . . . is open ended and the potential of finding significant additional tonnage is considered excellent." If Summo decides to develop a mine in the area, it would be a strip mine, utilizing the "heap leach" method of drizzling water and sulfuric acid to separate the copper. Apparently the Champion Mine, which was claimed a hundred years ago, was never fully developed, due to a fire which burned the original smelter and the vicissitudes of the copper market.
Several experts attended the meeting to share their knowledge about mining issues in general and the legal process involved in granting mining permits. Wilfred Rael of Northern New Mexico Legal Services opened the discussion by providing an overview of the issues the people of Questa have had to deal with in regard to Molycorp Mine. According to Rael, when Molycorp first came to the Questa area in the 1960s to mine molybdenum, also by means of strip mining, the company made the usual promises that the community would experience prosperity and security with the jobs provided by the mine. Rael worked for the mine for 13 years, but points out that during that time there were numerous layoffs, as the price of molybdenum fluctuated. People in the community, who had previously made their living in agriculture and cottage industries, became dependent upon the mine, but jobs were anything but secure.
Rael also pointed out that the environmental impacts of the mine have been enormous. According to Rael, ten miles of the Red River are "biologically dead," due to the contamination (acid seepage and heavy metals) from the mine's tailing piles along a two-mile long stretch of the river. While some people sold their water rights to the mine, Rael had this to say about those who kept theirs: "What are the people who continue to use irrigation water on their lands going to be facing 20 year from now?"
The mine has polarized the community of Questa. Rael feels that the people who have become dependent upon the mine are in "denial," along with town, county, and federal officials who support the mine for economic reasons. He warned that it is imperative for a community to stand together, that it can survive as it always has before empty promises of prosperity are made.
The next speaker, Amy Boulanger, works for the Mineral Policy Center, a non-profit organization that advises citizen groups faced with proposed, existing, or abandoned mines, and lobbies to reform the law that governs hard rock minerals (The Mining Law of 1872). Boulanger provided a sketch of what a typical copper mine is. Usually covering a 1,000 acres, it is comprised of open pits several hundred acres in size and several hundred feet deep. A heap leach pad is drizzled with water and sulfuric acid, which bonds to the copper. The inherent dangers of the mine include spills of sulfuric acid during transportation to the site, acid leakage from the bottom of the pits despite plastic liners, and contamination of ground water from the heavy metals which also separate from the soil during the process.
Boulanger explained that the law which sets minimal federal standards for the mining of hard rock minerals, the Mining Act of 1872, is an anachronism, devised at the time as a tool to help colonize the western United States. Other laws also govern the process, however, such as the Clean Water Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) which requires a public comment period on the process. If and when Summo applies for a plan of operation, an Environmental Analysis or Envi-ronmental Impact Statement will allow for public input. Citizens will be able to express their concerns regarding water rights, possible pollution of the watershed that drains into the communities of Apodaca and Dixon, possible impacts on cultural and sacred sites (the mine borders Picuris Pueblo lands), dust pollution, noise, and disturbances of the land.
Doug Wolf of the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, which has handled lawsuits against other mining operations in the state, then explained what kinds of regulations are in place under the New Mexico Mining Law, which is stricter than the federal Mining Law of 1872. Although Summo has already acquired what is called a "minimal impact exploration permit," which required no public hearing (but which can be challenged), the company must follow a lengthy process before it can acquire an actual mining permit. If Summo is required to apply for a "new" mining permit rather than an "abandoned" mining permit, the regulations are stricter. A sampling and analysis plan has to be approved, and baseline data&emdash;regarding water quality and quantity, soils, cultural resources, etc.&emdash;is collected for a year before the application can be issued. The state law also requires that the mine site be reclaimed to fit the surrounding ecosystem.
Wolf also pointed out that if the company wants to do more exploration than is allowed under the minimal impact permit, it must apply for an exploration permit, which requires a public hearing. If and when Summo is ready to develop a mine, it will have to either acquire existing water rights or get approval from the Office of the State Engineer to drill its own well, which can of course be protested. It was also mentioned that because so much water is needed for heap leach pads, the rock could be removed to another site for high grade crushing.
Rael, Boulanger, and Wolf helped devise a strategy to keep coalition members and other interested parties involved in the mining process, which include: getting on the state mining regulator's "radar screen" so we are notified of any activity regrading Summo's activities; researching areas of concern, such as possible cultural sites; supporting proposed legislation that would give communities first right in retaining their water rights; making sure the public is kept aware of the activity; and developing contacts within the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and the state of New Mexico, upon whose lands the mine is situated, as well as regulatory agencies. Picuris Pueblo has already committed to conducting a cultural survey of the area, and a coalition subcommittee was formed to delegate tasks and coordinate activity.
The Rio Pueblo/Rio Embudo Watershed Protection Coalition has scheduled another informational meeting to be held Wednesday, October 23, 9:30 a.m. at Picuris Pueblo. Everyone is invited to attend. If you would like more information, contact Elizabeth Winter at 751-7428.
On Friday, October 11, a group of norteño community activists met with environmentalists to continue a dialogue that had begun several months ago concerning the "bad dynamic" that existed between the two groups. This time, however, the discussion evolved beyond an analysis of what had caused this bad dynamic to what these groups, as a united coalition, can do to ensure the viability of our northern New Mexico communities and the people whose livelihood depends upon the use of public lands. And this time as well, the United States Forest Service was identified as an adversary that has failed to protect both local communities and our public land natural resources.
Many of the participants who attended the previous meetings were at the October 11 Oñate Center meeting: Ike DeVargas, Chellis Glendinning, Sam Serna, Santiago Juarez, Tony Povilitis, Rio Arriba Green Party members, and Sandoval County Greens. This time, however, Max Cordova, President of the Truchas Land Grant, was also present, and much of the conversation centered around the firewood crisis that occurred in the Truchas area last year, and what should be done to prevent a recurrence. Santiago Juarez pointed out that norteños and environmental groups have been able to resolve many of their differences regarding the release of firewood and thinning sales and the impending La Manga timber sale in the Vallecitos Sustained Yield Unit. Max Cordova explained that land grant representatives met 14 times with environmental groups, including Forest Guardians and Forest Conservation Council, to devise a plan to ensure that his community has access to firewood, and that environmentalists have signed off on two thinning areas in the Borrego Mesa area. The problem, he says, is that the Forest Service, particularly the Santa Fe National Forest, wasn't at the negotiating table as well: these thinning areas are going to be offered as commercial sales rather than local firewood sales.
DeVargas explained that La Companía and the environmental groups that filed a lawsuit over La Manga have reached a potential settlement, but that the Forest Service will not release the sale, claiming the logging injunction imposed by the Arizona judge in the Mexican spotted owl lawsuit prevents them from doing so. La Companía plans to file a motion to find the Forest Service in contempt of court. The discussion then centered on what this group could do to support both the Truchas community and the Vallecitos area loggers in their efforts to force the Forest Service to respond to these concerns.
Tony Povilitis, of the Greater San Juan Coalition, suggested inviting the Carson National Forest to cosponsor, along with the group, a workshop to set up partnership projects in northern New Mexico to improve forest conditions and enhance economic benefits. He cited a project in the San Juan National Forest of southern Colorado where the Forest Service and community members are already doing this, and suggested representatives from that project be invited to participate in the workshop as well. Everyone at the meeting agreed that this was a good long-term goal, and Povilitis was instructed to send a letter of invitation to the concerned parties.
Everyone also felt, however, that they needed to show their support of Truchas land grant members and Vallecitos loggers in a more immediate way. Glendin-ning pointed out that the Forest Service, like other bureaucracies, is being subsumed by corporate powers, and on-the-ground decisions continue to be made in Washington. It is becoming more and more imperative that local communities maintain their viability by remaining outside the global economy. It was agreed that the group needed to go public with their demands that the Forest Service respond to both the Truchas management plan, written by the community, and the La Manga settlement, without further litigation. By exerting public pressure, the Forest Service can be made to comply with other agreements as well, such as the Borracho Cabin decision to include La Companía in the planning process of future sales in the Vallecitos Unit. DeVargas stated that norteños don't necessarily want the land grants back if the local Forest Service will agree to comply with it's policy to recognize the Hispanic villages of northern New Mexico as a national resource. Another meeting was scheduled to formulate strategies about specific actions that can be taken to ensure Forest Service accountability.
Max Cordova stressed that local communities have demonstrated their commitment and their desire to create solutions with regard to public land management. If the "extreme" or urban environmentalists come on board, a partnership can be formed to force Forest Service compliance.
On October 16, the Rio Pueblo/Rio Embudo Watershed Protection Coalition was awarded the John J. Kenney Award for the Environment at the Tenth Annual Piñon Awards ceremony in Santa Fe. Other nonprofit groups were also acknowledged for their efforts in the fields of Arts and Humanities, Civic Affairs, Education, and Health and Human Services.
The Piñon awards are presented to nonprofit groups in Santa Fe and northern New Mexico by the Santa Fe Community. The Foundation, which calls the awards the "Oscars" of the nonprofit community, has presented these awards for ten years now, in recognition of outstanding service to the community. The awards of $1,000 each were conferred by Honorary Presenter Carla Aragon at a ceremoney at the Charles and Beth Miller residence in Santa Fe. Coalition members Alfredo Martinez, Clovis Romero, George Grossman, Kay Matthews, and Mark Schiller were present to receive the award. The John J. Kenney Award is named for the man who was instrumental in forming the local Santa Fe Chapter of the Sierra Club, andwho served as a board member of the Santa Fe Community Foundation.
There will be a meeting to discuss forming a central acequia association on Sunday, October 27 at the La Jicarita Enterprise Community office in Peñasco. All mayordomos, commissioners, parciantes and other interested citizens are urged to attend.
On October 23, at 9:30 a.m., the Rio Pueblo/Rio Embudo Watershed Protection Coalition will hold a public meeting at Picuris Pueblo to discuss recent developments at the old Champion Mine site near Peñasco. Various experts, including a Bureau of Land Management geologist, will be present to provide information regarding Summo Mineral's activities in the area and potential mining impacts. Everyone is invited to attend.
By Mark Schiller
Verna and Benjamín Gurulé are beginning to wonder if it's going to take a major crisis to alert area acequia users of the need to organize into an association. If that's the case, they say, that day may not be far off. With several major business ventures that will need large amounts of water, such as the Summo copper mine (see story on page 1) and the proposed Sipapu Ski Area expansion, looming on the horizon, and other cities such as Santa Fe and Rio Rancho looking to buy up agricultural water rights to implement development plans, the threat to area acequia users is already very real. Other problems facing water users that Benjamín and Verna think need to be addressed include water adjudication and illegal diversion of acequia water by non-members.
Above and beyond protecting the rights of acequia users, there are also many other benefits of an acequia association. These include the ability to apply for money from the state legislature and foundations to maintain and improve the acequias and being able to influence legislation that will affect agricultural water users. Despite all these concerns, however, attendance at the meetings to organize an association has been disappointing. In order to organize an association, it is necessary for at least 51% of area acequia users to participate. Benjamín and Verna are still hopeful that parciantes will realize the importance of organizing now, while they can still protect their rights, and have scheduled another meeting for Sunday, October 27, at 7:00 pm at La Jicarita Enterprise Community office in Peñasco. Anyone interested in further information can contact Verna Gurulé at 587-2528.
Tradució por Benjamín Gurulé
Verna y Benjamín Gurulé empiezan a creer que se va tomar un crisis para que los parciantes de las acequias se organizen en una asociación. Sí eso es el caso, dicen ellos, ese día no estara muy legos. Con varios negocios que van a necesitar grandes cantidades de agua, como Summo copper mine y el proponido Sipapu Ski Area expansion, y otras ciudadas como Santa Fe y Rio Rancho queriendo comprar derechos de agua para implementar sus planes de "development", el amenaso a los parciantes ya es muy real. Otras problemas que Benjamín y Verna creen que se les afrentan a los parciantes son "adjudication" de las aguas diversión ilegal de las acequias. Por ejemplo, hay algunas personas que no son parciantes pero de cual-quier modo usan la agua de las acequias.
Además de protegiendo los derechos de los parciantes, hay otros beneficios de una asociación de acequias. Estos incluyen la abilidad de aplicar por dinero de la legislatura estatal y de fundaciones para mantener y mejorar las acequias y también se podra influir legislación que afectará el uso de agua para la agricultura. Habiendo estos asuntos, sin embargo, muy poca gente ha atendido juntas para organizar una asociasción. En orden de poder formar una asociasción, es necesario que tansiquiera 51% de las acequias de la area deben de participar. Benjamín y Verna todavía tienen esperanzas de que los parciantes se den cuenta de la importancia de organizandose ahora siendo que todavía pueden proteger sus derechos. Ellos han planeado otra junta para todos los parciantes el día 27 de Octubre (Domingo) a las 7 de la tarde en la oficina de la Jicarita Enterprise Community en Peñasco. Sí está enteresado y necesita más información se puede poner en contacto con Verna Gurulé al #587-2528.
By Verna Gurule
On Sunday, September 15th, a meeting was held at the La Jicarita Enterprise Community building in Peñasco for the purpose of addressing the possibilities of a regional sewer system/water system. An indication of the interest in pursuing a project that began four year ago was especially necessary to continue with this endeavor. The Mutual Domestic Consumer Water Associations (MDWCA) represented at the meeting were: Rio Lucio, represented by Clyde Gurule and Abe Aguilar; Peñasco by Art Pacheco; Rodarte by Marcel Torres, George Maestas, Eli Romero, and Leroy Gonzales. Picuris Pueblo was represented by Lt. Governor Carl Tsosie. La Jicarita Enterprise was represented by Julio Rodarte and Ben Sanchez. State Representative Nick Salazar and State Senator Carlos Cisneros were also present. I was present as a representative of Americorp. It was expressed and agreed by all present that it was important to pursue a regional sewer system project. Meetings with the various water associations will be taking place shortly to address this issue. A commitment to regionalize the water system was not made at this time.
It was reiterated that organizing for a regional water or sewer system would not necessarily commit the associations at this point. The need to organize is based on the interest of pursuing funding for a feasibility study.
Both Rep. Salazar and Sen. Cisneros agreed that if the state legislature were presented with a regional sewer/water system concept, the likelihood of obtaining monies would be more favorable than if presented with individual community sewer or water projects. The monies granted would also be considerably larger with a regional concept. Both legislators agreed, however, to lobby for individual systems if asked to.
Lt. Gov. Tsosie offered to write a letter of recommendation for the regional sewer/water project. He also commended the two legislators on their abilities in seeking funds through the legislature.
Ben Sanchez of La Jaciarita Enterprise in Mora pointed out that communities in the designated Enterprise Zone have preferential access to loan/grant monies through the federal government. He emphasized the need to organize now. He also mentioned the Mora Enterprise Zone communities that recently received such funding to update their water systems.
The various water associations mentioned problems they face within their associations, such as expensive operating costs, infrastructure problems, duplication of testing, water quality concerns, and lack of certified operators. The concept of regionalizing would most likely alleviate many if not most of these problems. This is a decision the individuals of the various associations must make.
(Editor's note: On September 23, Marcel Torres of the Rodarte Water Association wrote an open letter to citizens of the Peñasco Valley proposing that everyone unite to support a proposal for funding to the New Mexico State Legislature for a new and improved water system and a central sewer system to include Llano Largo, Rodarte, Peñasco, and Rio Lucio. He announced that another meeting would be held on October 13 at the La Jicarita Enterprise office for water association presidents and board members, along with a Picuris Pueblo representative, County Manager Sammy Montoya, and Julio Rodarte, to initiate a task force. A committee will be appointed to organize a proposal for submission. He asked that if anyone has questions or suggestions to contact Julio Rodarte at 587-0074 or their local president and board members.)
Picuris Pueblo was recently awarded a grant from the Environmental Improvement Agency to set up an environmental office. Elizabeth Winter, a member of the Rio Pueblo/Rio Embudo Watershed Protection Agency, and a fish biologist, has been hired parttime as program director. According to Herman Agoyo, Picuris Pueblo Planner and grant administrator: "We hope to be more proactive with surrounding communities in addressing water quality concerns. Because Picuris has adopted a Water Quality Code consistent with the Federal Clean Water Act [in May of 1995] we must begin to insure compliance to these standards."
With this grant, the Pueblo hopes to explore opportunites for establishing a permanent environmental office.
On September 28, Forest Trust of Santa Fe presented Henry Lopez of the Camino Real Ranger District in Peñasco with its first ever Award for Significant Contributions to Community Forestry in Northern New Mexico. The purpose of the award is to recognize and promote outstanding and innovative accomplishments of foresters in government agencies, such as the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and State Forestry Division. According to Jan-Willem Jansens of Forest Trust, "Henry Lopez and the Camino Real Ranger District stand out in northern New Mexico by pioneering innovative ways of involving local people in forest management and offering small forest products to a large number of community members and businesses."
Lopez is the lead Forestry Technician with the Camino Real Ranger District, responsible for offering sales and permits of small diameter timber and other forest products. A native of Los Lunas, New Mexico, Lopez has lived and worked in the Peñasco area for more than 10 years. The award was presented to Lopez at the annual meeting of the National Network of Forest Practitioners (NNFP) at Ghost Ranch, near Abiqui. The NNFP is a national forum for rural development practitioners to share ideas, acquire technical assistance, and develop a unified and resonant voice in national forest policy reform. The network is coordinated by one practitioner organization, the Santa Fe based Forest Trust.
(Editor's note: This letter was originally submitted to The New Mexican, and Berde requested that La Jicarita run it as well. All references to articles refer to The New Mexican.)
Recent articles depicting shutdowns of local small sawmills in northern New Mexico have focused only on economics, and have blamed these shutdowns on the Mexican spotted owl and environmental regulations. But there is much more to these stories, and it involves sustainability, global market economics, and maintaining unfragmented wild lands for future generations.
While most New Mexicans would support small, locally owned businesses that provide jobs to local communities, this should not come at the expense of our old growth forest ecosystems. We have lost nearly 90 percent of our old growth trees here in the Southwest, and this is especially true with the big ponderosa pines. Most of our designated wilderness areas in New Mexico are high elevation spruce-fir forests, or are above tree line. The best wildlife habitat lies below, in the mixed-conifer and ponderosa zones&emdash;areas which are not protected by wilderness and are open to commercial logging.
The mills discussed in recent articles in the media are designed to process large trees, and need to be re-tooled to cut smaller trees. Supporting these dinosaur mills only perpetuates the cutting of the last of our old growth forests here in northern New Mexico. Most people living in this area agree that our forests could use some thinning of small trees for firewood and wood products.
But the mills featured in your articles (Vallecitos and Tres Piedras) depend upon a certain supply of big trees to stay economically viable. I have worked with these mill owners and loggers for years to try and keep local
mills open while protecting the forest at the same time. It just won't work unless these mills are re-tooled to cut smaller trees. Meanwhile, the Forest Service continues to offer timber sales in some of the last remaining intact old growth forests in New Mexico.
What your reporter failed to note was that other factors besides the Arizona Court injunction on logging have affected the small mills in northern New Mexico. Both the mills in Vallecitos and Tres Piedras had bought timber sales on the Carson National Forest more than a year before the Mexican spotted owl ruling that halted most commercial logging on national forests in New Mexico. For various reasons, such as health problems, equipment break downs, other job commitments, and economic reasons, these sales were not logged. Thus it is not only due to environmental reasons that these mills have had problems keeping open and economically viable.
Neither local communities or our remaining intact forests will benefit from continued logging of old growth trees. While it may be politically correct to champion these small, locally owned sawmills, the fact remains that they are set up to cut big trees. We need to work together to support a transition immediately to a small tree economy before it is too late, and we have cut the last of the big trees.
Copyright 1996-2001 La Jicarita Box 6 El Valle Route, Chamisal, New Mexico 87521.