A community newspaper for the Jicarita watershed, including the
Rio Mora, Rio Santa Barbara, Rio de las Trampas, Rio Pueblo, & Rio Embudo
Western Water Policy Report, the Implications for Northern NM By Mark Schiller and Kay Matthews
New Mexico Acequia Association Sponsors Seminar By Mark Schiller
Forest Service Meets with Citizen Group on Watershed Health By Kay Matthews
Constructed Wetlands By Mark Schiller
By Mark Schiller and Kay Matthews
In the last issue of La Jicarita we wrote about a recently released report, Water Management Study: Upper Rio Grande River Basin. This report, commissioned by the Western Water Policy Review Advisory Commission, was mandated by the Western Water Review Act of 1992 to define the federal role in water policy for the 19 western states. Denise Fort, a law professor at the University of New Mexico, is the chair of the commission.
The report, written by a contracted organization, ECONorthwest, located in Oregon, uses only economic criteria to evaluate water resources and fails to address traditional and cultural concerns. Nicasio Romero, president of the New Mexico Acequia Association, told La Jicarita that the report needs to be supplemented by a locally-based group comprised of people who are representative of the diverse cultures and concerns in the Rio Grande basin.
Several members of the Rio Pueblo/Rio Embudo Watershed Protection Coalition analyzed the report and submitted comments to the Commission, which include the following:
1. At the very beginning the report states that agriculture accounts for 80% of water consumption in the Rio Grande basin. Steve Hansen of the Bureau of Reclamation told us that half of this use is actually consumptive use by the riparian corridor, i.e., cottonwoods, willows, and other flora. This misleading statement undermines the credibility of the entire report.
2. The criteria the report uses to make its evaluations are value laden. It says that "high-value" water uses such as urban, industrial, and recreational, rather than "low-value" agricultural uses should dictate how water is allocated. These criteria address only market values, not human values. The report ignores hundreds of years of culture and tradition which have sustained the people of our watershed and upon which no economic value can be placed. From an economic standpoint, the report ignores the fact that the main source of income in northern New Mexico is tourism. Tourism is generated by the rural-agricultural nature of our communities. If parciantes are no longer able to practice their traditional way of life, the area will cease to attract tourists.
3. The report implies that northern New Mexico acequia associations have the same political clout as organizations such as the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District. This is completely untrue. In fact, acequia associations in northern New Mexico are underfinanced and largely disenfranchised. As the state of New Mexico adjudicates our watersheds, acequia associations struggle to organize and raise the necessary funding to provide assistance for parciantes to protect their water rights and acequia systems.
4. The report also implies that parciantes are environmentally insensitive because of their consumptive use of the water. Land-based peoples have an enormous stake in maintaining healthy watersheds, and acequias have traditionally served to protect riparian areas. The coalition, whose mission is protect and preserve the Rio Pueblo/Rio Embudo watershed, is comprised of both acequia associations and environmental groups.
5. The report claims that the basin's water is sub-optimally allocated and that the area Pueblos think that this is "unfair." This statement is misleading. While the Pueblos may feel that the water is unfairly distributed, they value this resource for its spiritual and agricultural significance above and beyond it's market value. Picuris Pueblo is a member of our coalition and has consistently fought for protection of both water quality and quantity in our watershed based upon traditional beliefs.
6. The report suggests that federal agencies not support water banking programs if they do not lead to the "voluntary transfer of water to highest-value uses." Water banking programs in northern New Mexico are an important innovation meant to protect individual water rights and keep irrigation water within local acequia systems The banking of these rights will also serve to conserve water and insure the integrity of local ecosystems. Northern New Mexicans regard any attempt to transfer water rights out of local communities as an assault upon their culture and traditions.
La Jicarita called Denise Fort to ask if she felt that the report's reliance on strictly economic criteria was a fair way of evaluating our water resources. While basically defending the report as "just part of the information the Commission will use in its recommendations," she did say that "looking at water through an economic lens is not acceptable to most people in the West." She added that the Commission is aware that there are other values which need to be taken into account. La Jicarita also called several of the people listed as consultants to the report&emdash;David Benavides of Northern New Mexico Legal Services and Bill DeBuys, writer from Santa Fe&emdash;and found out that they had yet to see the report, even though the public comment period has already expired. "I would have liked to have received a copy to comment on, especially since I was listed as a consultant," Benavides said.
Editor's note: The first part of La Jicarita's interview with Glendinning appeared in the March issue. In this second part we continue the discussion on global corporatization and also discuss how the Western Water Policy Review Advisory Commission's report (see page 1) fits into this process.
La Jicarita: In the last issue we were talking about the implications of what is called the New World Order or global corporatization. Why isn't the media keeping us better informed about what's going on?
Glendinning: Needless to say, the corporate media doesn't want us to know that people are resisting the process of globalization. We heard a little about farmers in France who drove their tractors into Paris before GATT got passed, but the media never explained what that action was all about. The reporters made sure that the event was disconnected from it's real content: protest against GATT. To the average person in the US, it was just another uprising by some disgruntled people in another place in the world. Why is this? It's because the media is owned by transnational corporations.They don't want us to know about the seed movement in India. either. When the people throw a demonstration in Bangalore, half a million people show up&emdash;people who know more about biotechnology, patenting laws, and the World Trade Organization than practically anybody here in the United States. We're the forerunners of the corporate monoculture: it's most successful in the industrial countries. We in northern New Mexico who favor the survival of land-based cultures are part of this wider anti-globalization movement. We stand with the Zapatistas, with the Indian seed movement, with the Mapuche of Argentina. It's important for us to know that.
La Jicarita: Can you give us an example of a specific effect that GATT is having, or will have, in our area.
Glendinning: The important thing to remember about GATT is that it's in place on the books and the World Trade Organization exists in Geneva to deal with conflicts that arise, but GATT is not yet completely enforced. And that's what we're going to be seeing in our lifetime, the attempt to enforce it and bring it down to the local level everywhere in the world. At the moment, if a corporation is upset about something, they can take their conflict to the World Trade Organization and nine times out of ten it will be decided in favor of that corporation. So when we talk about something like the U. S. Forest Service and how it's being impacted by these agreements, we can only begin to see the signs of it. A group of people at the International Forum on Globalization in San Francisco are doing research on the ways GATT is affecting people around the world, but they haven't gotten to the Forest Service yet. So we're on our own in terms of figuring it out. But one thing we do know is that a lot of the money within the Forest Service that used to be given to hands-on maintenance programs and caring for and restoring the forest now goes to IBM to take satellite photographs of the forests and do computer documentation. We can surmise that this is not about the protection of animals and birds: Rather it's a survey of the resources that are or will be available for further exploitation by corporations. Nature is being quantified to the nth degree; it's actually being put on grids to determine what can be sold off to transnational corporations. We know that the Forest Service is filled with people who are idealistic and love nature, so we can't say that every single person in the Forest Service is aware of what is coming down from on high. Eventually, though, all sub-agencies&emdash;federal, state, whatever&emdash;are supposed to come into alignment with the legal structures laid out by GATT. When we went to the last roundtable in Santa Fe, put on by Revisioning New Mexico&emdash;a mediation between environmentalists, the villagers of the north, and the Forest Service&emdash;I'm sure you noticed in the presentation of each group that while the environmentalists and the norteños talked about what they had decided, as a democratic unit, the Forest Service indicated that they were in a top-down situation and must enact whatever the agency administrators tell them.
La Jicarita: Is this Western Water Policy Review Advisory Commission report on the Rio Grande Basin the kind of thing that we're going to be seeing more of? Rather than corporations coming in and specifically contesting laws, is the government going to create review boards that change policy&emdash;seemingly in the public's best interest&emdash;that in reality facilitate the kind of exploitation these corporations are pursuing?
Glendinning; I think you're right. We need to watch how policy and enactment get facilitated. Again it's a top-down process, with GATT on the top, changing policy so that it can be enacted in the most pro-corporation, pro-monoculture, pro-stock-market way. The water report seems to be a step in that direction.
La Jicarita: The report views water from a strictly economic standpoint and contrasts "high-value" uses&emdash;urban, industrial, recreational&emdash;with "low-value" agricultural uses. The rationale is that this will raise the standard of living for the most number of people, who are dependent upon the urban economy.
Glendinning: Let's define this word "urban." The battle here is between sustainable, land-based communities that can survive on their own and dependence upon corporations and the cash economy. We've been led to believe that the big battle has been between capitalism and communism, but in fact the battle is between land-based communities and corporatization. So urban means off the land and onto the corporation. The corporate vision is to lift everyone off the land and have everyone living in a kind of plastic-lunar-mall virtual reality. Now let's define "highest standard of living." The criteria for the study are pathetically value laden. Value is perceived as living with the most number of goods derived from the corporate economy. In other words, you have a TV, a nice house, several cars, you send your kids to a good school, you go on vacation to Club Med. This lifestyle constitutes the "value" behind this study.
I'd also like to put recreational use into a global context. In the report they use the word "diversionary." I know that they mean that the water goes into the acequia and then back to the river&emdash;it gets "diverted"&emdash;but diversionary also means what you do on your vacation. It implies that something is not essential, it's a distraction from the real business at hand, which is making money. There are all these people who live in urban society who don't even know the name of a tree or a bird and are completely dependent upon their jobs in the corporate world. Needless to say, they are unhappy and alienated. There are these places in the world that are advertised to them as places where they might go to become more of a human being for two weeks a year. And northern New Mexico is one of those places. After the military, the top two industries in the world are waste disposal and tourism. Recreation becomes a kind of mitigating factor of the global economy so that people don't riot in the cities. But if the Western Water policy goes through, the very villages in northern New Mexico that attract the tourists in the first place will disappear, all the people in the villages will be in service jobs or waste disposal jobs in the city, and the corporations can come and buy up the land and build virtual villages like Williamsburg, Virginia.
All this is opposed to what we are so blessed to still have in existence here in northern New Mexico, which is communities that know how to live with the land and value the spiritual, psychological, and cultural richness of that life. This is what human beings were meant to be. We were not meant to be space robots walking around in a plastic mall. We evolved to live in direct relationship with the land. Land-based people have much to offer the rest of the world right now because they're protecting the secrets of true humanity, to be truly sane and connected to the earth. One day I was horseback riding in the badlands with my neighbor Snowflake Martinez and I asked him his understanding of the state of the world. He thought for a long time. The wind blew and a few tumbleweeds bounced by and finally, turning around in his saddle to face me, he answered: "The down-to-earth people are finishing."
At a meeting on February 15 parciantes decided to postpone a vote to formalize the Peñasco Area Acequia Federation until they had the opportunity to discuss the organization within their individual associations. Another meeting was scheduled for June, at which time a vote will be taken.
Realizing that there are many potential threats to individual and acequia association water rights in northern New Mexico, parciantes have been meeting for a year to discuss how they can best organize to address these issues. The federation hopes to keep parciantes informed of the best ways to defend their water rights and maintain the health of our communities and riparian area. In joining the federation, individual acequia associations will continue to manage their community water but will have the advantage of the larger organization when addressing issues such as adjudication, water banking, conservation, instream flow, and water transfers.
Many acequia associations are now holding their annual meetings. Verna Gurulé is available to discuss the federation with all interested parciantes. You can call her at 587-2528.
The next meeting of the citizens group that has been working with the Environment Department to help monitor and remediate nonpoint source pollution in the Rio Pueblo watershed will be held on Tuesday, May 13, at 7 p.m. at the old mission school in Dixon. Everyone is invited to attend.
The Peñasco Area Communities Association Solidwaste/Recycling Committee is sponsoring a road clean-up on Saturday, April 19, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Everyone will meet in the Peñasco Foods parking lot next to Bear Paw Pizza. Garbage bags will be distributed and routes decided. Volunteers of all ages are encouraged to attend, as well as drivers with trucks to haul the litter.
By Mark Schiller
The New Mexico Acequia Association (NMAA) is sponsoring a two-day seminar to address issues currently facing New Mexico acequia parciantes. The meeting will be held June 27 and 28 at the Oñate Center in Alcalde. Topics will include adjudication, water banking and leasing, funding for acequia groups, legislation that affects acequias, and historical research. Nicasio Romero, president of NMAA, told La Jicarita that he also hopes NMAA can establish a networking system at this meeting that will link all New Mexico acequia associations to avoid duplication of work (e.g., legal actions, historical research, etc.) and establish a more powerful voice to advocate acequia interests in the state legislature and State Engineer's Office (SEO). A tentative list of speakers includes: Estevan Arellano, director of the Oñate Center; Pat Simpson, a water-law expert formerly in the SEO and now working for the Attorney General; David Benavides, a lawyer with Northern New Mexico Legal Services who specializes in water law; Antonio Medina of the Mora Water and Land Protective Association; Wilfred Rael, a paralegal with Northern New Mexico Legal Services and an officer in the Questa Acequia Association; and Jose Rivera, a professor of public administration at the University of New Mexico who has written a handbook for acequia users.
Romero told La Jicarita that NMAA plans to launch a campaign to challenge SEO policy regarding water protests. They feel that the process the SEO currently uses to determine what constitutes a legitimate protest is both "capricious and arbitrary." The NMAA also feels that the $300 per day fee charged by the SEO puts an unfair burden on acequia parciantes who can't afford it, " . . . while giving those with large resources&emdash;corporations and developers&emdash;an unfair advantage." Romero hopes that the NMAA will be able to play an active role in preserving riparian habitat and other environmental issues threatening northern New Mexico.
La Jicarita will publish a complete schedule of seminar events when it becomes available. For more information regarding the seminar and other NMAA activities, you can contact Nicasio Romero at P. O. Box 248, Ribera, NM, 87560, 505 421-7057.
By Kay Matthews
Crockett Dumas, Camino Real District Ranger, was in the hot seat recently at a meeting with Peñasco and Dixon-Embudo area folks to address concerns about the increase of developed recreation in the Tres Ritos area in the upper Rio Pueblo watershed. The group has been working with Peter Wilkinson of the New Mexico State Environment Department to help set priorities for administering a $250,000 watershed protection grant. Specifically, they wanted to know how the Forest Service plans to provide the infrastructure necessary to handle this increased recreational use.
Dumas first answered their question with some background information on how the forest planning process has changed over the last few years to what is now called "Collaborative Stewardship." The Camino Real District has been divided into nine management areas, and the forest scoping process for each area includes extensive consultation with people who live in or are particularly concerned about that specific area. These concerns are written into planning documents, rather than Environmental Assessments, and describe the current condition of the area as well as the desired condition. He then stated that the Forest Service decision on the rehabilitation of Santa Barbara and Hodges campgrounds is due out imminently, and that decision provides for less capacity than the areas now have. "We heard from the people that they didn't want outsiders coming in to use these traditional areas and we made our decision based on that."
As for the Tres Ritos area, Dumas defended the Forest Service rehabilitation project in Agua Piedra Campground, stating that campsites have been moved away from the creek and the upper meadow has been closed to vehicular use by a large horse corral. He also said that several pull-off areas alongside the river between Sipapu and Agua Piedra have been designated as day use only. Several people in the group pointed out that there is still increased RV (recreational vehicle) use in the area, particularly in the La Junta-Duran canyons area, and there is no transfer station for human waste deposal any closer than Taos or Las Vegas. While Dumas admitted that this was a concern, he said that he personally had never witnessed anyone dumping their waste into the river. The Forest Service has very little money for recreation projects, let alone a transfer station, and he said that if they were to build one, they would be in competition with private industry. One of the group members said that Sipapu Resort Development had been contacted about the possibility of using its new wastewater treatment plant for RVs, but had responded that that kind of waste might interfere with the necessary biological processes of the plant.
Dumas also said that last year the district had put several of its high-use developed recreation sites up for bid to concessionaires&emdash;private individuals who would contract their services for maintenance and clean-up&emdash;but that there were no bidders. This year the district is planning to designate several campgrounds and picnic areas as "fee demonstration areas" where an on-site person will collect fees. Eighty per cent of the fee will be returned to the local district to help maintain the areas. People in the group requested that some of this money be used to supply a transfer station for RV waste.
The increase of ORV (off-road vehicle) use in the Tres Ritos area was also discussed. Someone pointed out that if the Sipapu Resort expansion occurs the area will be further impacted by ORV users who stay at the resort. Dumas stated that "We'd like to see this use limited. . . . This is a real problem." He explained that many of the current trails, particularly
in the Agua Piedra area, are the result of the old Santa Barbara Pole and Tie Company's logging activity and run right up the creek bottoms. They are causing creek sedimentation. When someone asked if some of these trails could be closed to ORV use, Dumas responded that the Forest Service has to be responsive to the demand for that kind of use, but "it's always a possibility" that they could be forced to close certain trails to protect the riparian environment. The group then proposed that perhaps the first step in exploring better management options in the Tres Ritos area would be to put the Forest Service's new policy of "Collaborative Stewardship" to the test by establishing an advisory group or committee for the area. It would have to be comprised of all interested parties&emdash;the Forest Service, ORV users, watershed specialists, Tres Ritos and Peñasco residents, and Sipapu representatives&emdash;to be effective. The group then talked about touring the area with Dumas at a later date.
A tentative date of Saturday, May 3, was also designated for a tour of constructed wetlands at both the Santa Fe Opera and Sol y Sombre, a private residence in Santa Fe. The group will continue to look into the possibility of using some of the grant money to construct one or more wetlands within the watershed study area. The next regular meeting of the group will be on May 13 at 7:00 p.m. at the old mission school in Dixon.
None of the capital outlay projects that would have benefitted our local communities passed this session of the state legislature because they were tied to a controversial state prison bill which died on the last day of the session. These bills include: House Bill 20, which asked for $45,000 and House Bill 257, which asked for $150,000, to provide seed money for linking area domestic water associations and feasibility studies for waste treatment facilities; and Senate Bill 340, a weatherization bill that would have provided funding to assist families in home weatherization projects in local communities. Max Córdova of the Truchas Land Grant expressed his disappointment with both the legislature and the governor for allowing this to happen. He suggested that each bill should have been considered upon introduction to the legislature and acted upon immediately rather than being tied to the fate of the prison bill, which became a controversial battle of wills between the two branches of government.
By Mark Schiller
Scientists and wastewater treatment experts throughout the United States have recently begun promoting constructed wetlands as a low cost, low impact alternative to mechanical treatment plants for small municipalities, rural areas, and some industries. Aquatic plants such as cattails, bulrushes, duckweed, and water iris, which grow in wetlands areas, provide habitat for microbial ecosystems (bacteria) which can biodegrade both animal and industrial wastes, thus purifying the water which passes through them.
Before 1900 New Mexico contained thousands of acres of natural wetlands. Unfortunately, over 93% of these wetlands have now been destroyed. However, New Mexico, along with states in the southeast such as Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi, have been leading the way in perfecting the science of constructed wetlands for waste management. As of 1994 New Mexico contained over a hundred constructed wetlands and boasted the only company in the United States dedicated solely to constructing wetlands for restoration of polluted waters. Projects in New Mexico range from individual households to the Santa Fe Opera and Elephant Butte State Park. Elephant Butte's facility, built for $35,000, has even proven effective in treating formaldehyde and chlorine-laden waste from the many RVs (recreational vehicles) using the area. Los Padillas Elementary School in Albuquerque's South Valley uses a constructed wetland both as a waste treatment facility and a classroom. The project, which incorporates a mini-botanic garden, doubles as an outdoor classroom. Wetland life provides an ideal environment for teaching natural sciences, and the children help in the construction and maintenance of the wetland. Communities such as Benton, Kentucky, have built systems which can treat waste from 5,000 people using only a 26-acre facility.
Estimated to cost less than half as much as mechanical wastewater-treatment systems, constructed wetlands are both more efficient and sustainable. Because both aerobic (oxygen dependent) and anaerobic (oxygen less) bacteria are necessary for the biodegrading process, conventional systems must have segregated tanks for these processes to take place. But in a wetlands, because aquatic plants maintain an ideal environment, both types of bacteria are able to work simultaneously to biodegrade the waste. Wetlands also work better in storm-water situations and of course are not susceptible to mechanical break downs.
Wetlands do, however, have several disadvantages in comparison to mechanical systems. They need more land and become less efficient in cold weather. Scientists have found that subsurface flow gravel marshes have the best potential for maintaining efficiency when temperatures drop.
In addition to filtering waste from the water, constructed wetlands have several other advantages. For instance, scientists have found that duckweed contains the protein equivalent of soybean meal and only requires drying to become good animal food. This small plant, which grows prolifically, averages 15,000 pounds per acre of wetland. As a wastewater agent one acre of duckweed has been shown to filter 2,351 pounds of nitrogen, 588 pounds of phosphorous, 784 pounds of potassium, 784 pounds of calcium, 235 pounds of sulphur, 313 pounds of magnesium, and 392 pounds of chloride per year in the southeastern part of the United States. Another secondary advantage of constructed wetlands is that they can create beautiful biologically diverse landscapes which provide habitat and food for a wide range of animals.
As part of its $250,000 grant to study nonpoint source pollution and do remediation within the Rio Pueblo/Rio Embudo watershed, the New Mexico Environment Department, represented by Peter Wilkinson, and local citizens are considering the possibility of constructing a wetlands within our watershed. The group will be taking a field trip on May 3 to observe the wetlands at the Santa Fe Opera and a private residence in Santa Fe. All those interested in participating in this field trip can meet in the parking lot of the Santa Fe Opera at 10:00 a.m. For further information, contact me at 689-2200. La Jicarita will write an article after the field trip and discuss what we've learned, as well as potential sites for a wetlands project.
Copyright 1996-2001 La Jicarita Box 6 El Valle Route, Chamisal, New Mexico 87521.