A community newspaper for the Jicarita watershed, including the
Rio Mora, Rio Santa Barbara, Rio de las Trampas, Rio Pueblo, & Rio Embudo
Mora Fish Hatchery Water Transfer Protest Goes to Hearing By Mark Schiller
Puntos de Vista Economics, Imperialism, and the Environment: Whose Values Determine the Value of the Environment? By Paula Garcia, Director, New Mexico Acequia Association
Rio Arriba County Planners met a second time with residents of the Dixon/Embudo area to seek input on how the county can best address their concerns regarding growth and development. The meeting was part of an extended schedule of meetings with residents of all the county's rural communities so the relatively new planning department (in place since 1995) can "set priorities," as Planner Gilbert Chavez said, to avoid being "overwhelmed" by issues. Ike DeVargas and Sam Sanchez, who facilitated the first community meeting, came with a list of topics folks wanted more time to discuss: light pollution, mining, traffic, the Rio Grande Corridor Plan, water and water rights, recreation, grazing, logging, and trash. They pointed out that many of these same issues had been raised at the Velarde community meeting the previous week.
Gilbert Chavez reported that the county is looking into drafting an ordinance that will place certain restrictions on residential security lighting that will mitigate impacts on neighboring houses and "protect the night" from light pollution. In the meantime, he said, utility companies could easily provide shields for the lights that would prevent them from shining outside the owner's yard.
The county is also currently working on a gravel-mining ordinance that will help protect community residents from this unregulated activity. Several people in the audience pointed out that Dixon and Embudo suffer more from the impacts of mining on the federal lands which surround their communities. For example, mining trucks from the mica mine on Picuris Peak travel through their villages to Velarde, and there is concern that if the mine is allowed to expand the traffic problem will become even greater. While the county has no jurisdiction over state road traffic, DeVargas told the community that he has been appointed an ID member to the Forest Service planning team and will have more input on future forest decisions. He also said that he is helping organize a coalition of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado counties that are exploring ways of working with federal entities as well as enforcing county regulations on federal land. He invited anyone who was interested to attend a coalition meeting at the Española County Annex on February 19. Community members asked that the county be more assertive in its request to the state highway that speed and weight limits be enforced on SH 75 through the village of Dixon.
DeVargas informed those present that the county had filed a formal protest of the BLM's Rio Grande Corridor Plan for primarily economic reasons. The plan's proposal to acquire additional lands in the riparian area, he said, would impact an already beleaguered county tax base. He proposed that the BLM should compensate for any riparian land acquisition by trading "excess" or "surplus" lands listed in its resource management plan. Sam DesGeorges of the Taos BLM, who attended the meeting, told La Jicarita later that the lands DeVargas referred to are largely BLM inholdings that are usually small in acreage and inaccessible. The BLM would have to follow the NEPA process to dispose of these lands, which he claimed would be time-consuming and "not a good use of taxpayer's money." Everyone agreed, however, that unless these communities hemmed in by federal lands can find room to expand, riparian lands will continue to be threatened.
Kay Weiner of the El Bosque Preservation Committee read a statement at the meeting asking the county to support its position that the BLM neglected to study the impacts of increased recreational activity in the river corridor on Rio Arriba's economy, as well as the plan's failure to address cultural and traditional issues in the Bosque section of the corridor, which lies in Rio Arriba County. DeVargas stated that the county is prepared to appeal the plan on these stated inadequacies.
The danger to the area's riparian lands was also raised during the discussion on water and water rights issues. Acquiring contingent public lands to allow for growth is a two-edged sword, however: who will decide how these lands can best be utilized to insure that neither the existing community nor the land be abused. Chavez explained that current county regulations require a minimum three-quarter acre lot size per dwelling to avoid ground water contamination from septic tanks (a New Mexico Environment Department regulation as well). If the community were to develop a community domestic water system and a community wastewater treatment system, then the county allows a greater population density on the land: 6,000 square-foot minimum lots maintained under single ownership (condos, guest house, extended family, etc.). This raised the issue that the regional wastewater treatment study proposing to extend a system as far as Dixon could open the door to increased density. Chavez pointed out that water systems must enforce their own capacity levels by prohibiting hookups, and that covenants can be placed on land to prevent additional hookups.
The recreation discussion focused on both local concerns regarding community youth activities and a more philosophical discussion of traditional economies being replaced by industrial recreation. While the county receives "payment in lieu of taxes" for activities like logging that occur on public lands, the increase of recreation activities like boating contribute nothing. Several people in the audience pointed out that while they also were concerned about the proposed increases in boating, past logging operations near the villages had caused severe erosion and had failed to restore grasslands. DeVargas responded that the county is trying to support environmentally sound logging practices with their newly established ordinances that regulate logging on private land.
The county will make the discussed ordinances and protest available to those residents who would like to review them. The Planning Department can be reached at 753-7774.
By Mark Schiller
On January 19 through the 21st the State Engineer's Office (SEO) conducted a hearing on the protest of an application to transfer surface water rights from the Acequia del Norte in Mora to four underground wells located in the Mora Vega. The applicant, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, also seeks to change the purpose of use from agricultural to propagation of fish at the Mora Fish Hatchery. For acequia users throughout New Mexico the SEO's ruling could have far reaching implications.
This project has a long and difficult history. During the 1980s the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish began looking into the possibility of a hatchery in Mora to provide sport fish for area rivers. According to Antonio Medina, president of the New Mexico Acequia Association, member of the Mora Land and Water Protective Association (MWLPA) and one of the protestants, the State Game and Fish Department concluded there was not enough water in the area to operate a hatchery and withdrew its proposal in 1991. However, the plan did not die there. Congressman Richardson asked the federal government to fund a feasibility study, noting that Mora was one of the most impoverished counties in the United States and concluding that a hatchery could provide tourist-related dollars (the feasibility study claims 10,000 tourists and school children will visit the hatchery each year). Senator Pete Domenici also supported this proposal and an environmental assessment was done. At this point, March of 1992, the MWLPA began questioning whether this project would really benefit the poor and elderly people of the Mora valley. They claimed that the hatchery would " . . . steal our most precious resource - El Agua - [and] contribute . . . towards the destruction of our traditional way of life by undermining the agricultural base and promoting the recreational industry of the wealthy outsider." MWLPA also claimed an environmental impact statement, which provides the broadest based evaluation of potential impacts, was needed, rather than the more narrowly focused environmental assessment that was done. This request was ignored.
Since 1991, because of Richardson's and Domenici's support, the government has pumped $13.7 million into this project, some of which was used to purchase farmland with water rights, which Fish and Wildlife is now attempting to transfer to the hatchery. The proposal seeks to transfer 968.5 acre feet of acequia water to four underground wells. Fish and Wildlife claims that the consumptive use will amount to approximately 48 acre feet. Protestants assert that such a transfer will impair existing acequia rights, be contrary to sound conservation practice, and contrary to public welfare. It is this last issue that is perhaps the most important to parciantes, because there is very little case law which demonstrates exactly what "public welfare" consists of.
Dr. José Rivera, a professor of public administration at UNM, asserts: "Water transfers in significant amounts (relative to each acequia) can destabilize the traditional and customary arrangements for water delivery, management, and self governance. Proposed transfers to other uses, including those that could result in 'higher economic values', should not override the importance and integrity of traditional uses, subsistence or otherwise."
Former and current Mora County Commissioners Joseph Garcia and Emma Duran Buck testified at the hearing that they support the fish hatchery despite the fact that they had no knowledge of the potential impacts to the acequia involved, the community, or the vega, which is one of the most pristine wetlands left in New Mexico. They also claimed that despite the protest the project has broad community support. Former commissioner Garcia, in response to concerns about depletion of water in the vega, stated that the Mora valley "has too much water" and implied the fish hatchery was doing the community a service by relieving it of this burden.
Members of the MWLPA have told Senator Domenici that the millions of dollars allocated for this project " . . . could be much better spent in our county by doing real community economic development from the bottom up, to address the real needs of the poor and elderly, not from the top down . . . ."
A decision on the protest is expected in March. La Jicarita will continue to follow this story and assess the impacts of the decision.
The Camino Real Ranger District has approved Franklin Industrial Minerals Special Use Permit, which allows the company to stockpile wastes on Forest Service land. The company originally filed for a Special Use Permit in the fall of 1998 and was granted approval by the Forest Service. Then, on November 16, 1998, in order to conduct additional scoping and based on public comments, the Forest Service withdrew its approval. Franklin Minerals appealed that decision, citing regulations in the 1872 Mining Law. While these regulations are open to interpretation, Crockett Dumas, district ranger, made the decision to allow the company to maintain the stockpile site. According to Dumas, there is no evidence of sediment moving off the stockpile. Just as La Jicarita went to press it was announced that New Mexico Mining and Minerals Division approved Franklin Industrial Minerals' closeout/reclamation plan. The paper will write an article in the next issue to assess the implications of these decisions.
The Camino Real Ranger District is proposing to treat a piñon/juniper stand in the West Entrañas Management area. Treatment would include thinning to allow the piñon to produce more nuts; to increase density, distribution, and vigor of native grasses; reduce chance of catastrophic fire in an urban interface area; and increase percentage of large piñon/juniper trees. The proposed project is called the Canada Maria Piñon/Juniper Restoration Project and is located near Forest Road 207. If you have concerns or comments please contact Henry Lopez or Ben Kuykendall at the Camino Real Ranger Station, 505 587-2255.
A pre-hearing administrative conference has been scheduled for March 4 in the water transfer protest of Wrangler Properties and Santa Fe County's application to transfer 600 acre feet of water rights from Top of the World Properties. The application seeks to change underground water rights on the ranch, located near the New Mexico-Colorado line, to surface Rio Grande water rights and transfer these rights downstream to Santa Fe County. The water would be diverted via an infiltration gallery located on San Ildefonso Pueblo above the Otowi Gauge and used by the county below the gauge (the city of Santa Fe proposes to access its San Juan/Rio Chama water via the infiltration gallery as well). There are 17 protestants to the application, including acequias, individual parciantes, and Amigos Bravos.
By Kay Matthews
The Record of Decision on the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) Rio Grande Corridor Plan is due to be released at the end of February. As part of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process several groups and individuals filed letters of protest to the BLM in the fall of 1998. One of the most thorough analyses of the plan's failure to adequately address community concerns was submitted by El Bosque Preservation Action Committee, a group of area residents representing Embudo and Rinconada who participated with the BLM in Consensus Meetings during the drafting of the plan.
One of their fundamental objections to the plan is the BLM's proposed recommendation that the Bosque section of the Rio Grande be classified "recreational" , which they believe indicates a bias towards development of the river corridor for recreation. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act classifies rivers into three categories: Wild, Scenic, and Recreational. The committee recommends that the"scenic" classification would more effectively protect this river section with its unique cottonwood bosque. The committee states it "will not accept any other option and will actively solicit our congressional delegation to promote our recommendation."
Many of their other protest points address the plan's proposed increase in the numbers of commercial and privates boaters, which supports the bias towards development of the "recreational" classification. The group protests the proposed increase of private boaters - no limits placed on private boating for two years before evaluation - and the plan's inconsistencies in how the BLM will register or keep track of private boat numbers. The group also protests the increase in numbers of commercial boaters allowed in the Bosque section - a 15,000 per cent increase. They object to the extended trips from the Orilla Verde launches that would continue through the Bosque section when it "appears [that there is] little or no public demand for outfitted boating in the Bosque at all." They propose alternative launch and take-out sites that "would give commercial outfitters a fairly uniform trip length in high water and would prevent either Pilar or Rinconada/Embudo from bearing all the increased traffic."
The group points out the potential impacts of these increased boating proposals in a number of areas. They object to the fact that the plan does not require day-use boaters to carry out human waste just as the overnight boaters. Hundreds of times more day-users than overnight boaters will use the river corridor.
Another impact the group claims the plan does not adequately address is noise pollution within the Bosque section of the river. They say the plan lacks specifics for enforcing the Bosque Segment Quiet Zone, and residents (there are at least 20 homes within 200 feet of the river) fear a repeat scenario of having to identify and document violations themselves. The group recommends that the BLM institute a daily patrol by boat to enforce quiet zone regulations.
Another concern is the displacement of traditional and historical use of the Lover's Lane area with proposed boating development. The group points out that in all of its position papers and consultation with the BLM it has stressed the importance of keeping this site for picnicking, fishing, and swimming. Lover's Lane will become another Quartzite (formerly the Fishing Hole) and County Line (formerly The Park), where these activities have already been displaced. The group also protests the displacement of fishing, a traditional local use, throughout the Bosque section.
The proposed development of Embudo South as a takeout will impact traffic safety. The group recommends that extensive highway safety measures must be taken (curves and dips in the highway screen the site from oncoming vehicles until they are very close) before Embudo South is considered as a takeout.
The group also addresses the lack of cultural sensitivity and proper analysis of economic impacts upon Rio Arriba County. The county filed its own letter of protest addressing these same areas of concern. The plan should have included Rio Arriba County as well as Taos County in its cultural study of traditional uses. If such a study had been conducted the BLM might not have included its desire to acquire 1,087 acres of former land grant land surrounding Rinconada and Embudo for private recreational use. The group asks that all reference to land acquisition be stricken from the plan. The group also points out that while Rio Arriba will receive little economic benefit from increased recreation - most of the outfitters and support businesses are in Taos and Santa Fe - the county will "bear the burden of a large part of the increase in recreation" with impacts from traffic, pollution, etc.
Finally, the group recommends that before any changes in management or recreational use of the Bosque segment be considered the BLM needs to conduct a scientific study of wildlife and riparian habitat to obtain baseline data.
Sam DesGeorges of the Taos BLM told La Jicarita that his office is currently writing responses to the protests (four formal protests were filed). DesGeorges said that his office plans to explore possible areas of compromise, but the BLM anticipates that the plan will probably be appealed by community groups and rafting companies who are unhappy with any restrictions on their river activities. In the meantime, members of the El Bosque group met briefly with the new acting head of the Taos BLM. But they are are not hopeful that any meaningful compromise will be found: word coming down from the state level is that the local BLM should not do anything to interfere with the economy of Taos County. Unfortunately, as recreational interests in the river corridor continue to demand unfettered access to conduct their business, there is no dialogue about what constitutes appropriate economic development or any kind of analysis of the impacts of industrial recreation.
Economics, Imperialism, and the Environment: Whose Values Determine the Value of the Environment?
By Paula Garcia, Director, New Mexico Acequia Association
Over 150 years ago our ancestors became part of the United States through a war of conquest. Under the rationale of manifest destiny, the U. S. had become the most pervasive imperial power in the Americas. What has happened in New Mexico since then parallels the situation facing indigenous peoples around the world whose livelihood and land base have steadily eroded with the expansion of capitalism. With the entrance of "entrepreneurs" (a.k.a. opportunists) after the conquest, the Chicano people of New Mexico were dispossessed of mercedes (land grant commons). Nuevo Mexicanos became economically and socially subordinate while the dominant society reaped the profits from exploitation of our resources through mineral extraction, overgrazing, and intensive logging of our forests. Even through this adversity, traditional communities have sustained a land-based culture and economy.
Certain elements of the dominant society are now lamenting the excesses of such exploitation of natural resources and unbridled economic growth and have reacted by attempting to protect "wilderness," "recreation areas," and "instream flow." Organizations typified by this "elite environmentalism" include Forest Guardians and Rio Grande Restoration, who pursue the single issue of preservation even to the detriment of traditional communities in New Mexico. The Forest Guardians are aware that their initiatives to preserve the forest for endangered species and recreation interests will adversely affect the cultural practices and economic stability of traditional communities, yet they persist in litigation to impose their agenda on northern New Mexico. Likewise, Rio Grande Restoration knows that acequias have long been concerned that creation of an instream flow right would add to the demands of developers and cities on acequia water rights and could threaten the viability of acequias.
The problem with the approach of Forest Guardians and Rio Grande Restoration is that they are using the framework of the dominant society to define their issues. The notion of wilderness as uninhabited land is a social construct which was once used as a rationale to occupy and "civilize" land and now is a rationale to remove human presence from it. The preservation of instream flow is being pursued even to the detriment of acequias since water rights for instream flow are likely to be purchased from acequias. The protection of recreation interests over traditional uses of land is intended to preserve a "playground for the rich" while land-based peoples are displaced and dispossessed from traditional livelihoods.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of preservation efforts is the concept of "value of the environment." The latest strategy in the protection of natural resources is to assign some economic value to the resource so that it can be compared to other economic variables in decision making. For example, the Forest Guardians are proposing that the best economic use of the forest is recreation, since more revenue could be generated from people who use the forest for recreation than people who use the forest for timber or firewood. Proponents of instream flow argue that an instream flow right that can be bought and sold in the market is the solution to protecting stream flows.
There are several problems with this approach:
(1) The economic value of a natural resource is biased by value judgements that are shaped by their historic and cultural context; and (2) Economic value in this framework is defined by those with economic power. By attempting to place an economic value on natural resources they are promoting the values of the free market system. The market is not some "dollar democracy" in which we could equitably promote our interests by voting with our money. Clearly, those with more dollars tend to dominate in such a system. That is exactly what elite environmentalists are counting on. I doubt they would promote economic valuation if they were not the ones with the economic power to define the values they promote. The attempt to place economic value on the environment is dangerously akin to republican and libertarian ideologies that claim protection of the environment can be achieved by transferring public lands into the private domain. This supposes that the values of land and water will be balanced between industry/cities and environmental interests who seek to protect the environment through the mechanisms of the free market.
Economic valuation may not be a bad technique when used to demonstrate that saving a resource has a value that is comparable to or outweighs the profits gained from exploitation and degradation of a resource. Traditional communities are not destroying their own land base but are seeking ways to continue a way of life as part of nature in a way that is economically viable.
At the end of the twentieth century, New Mexico's traditional communities could be a model for cultural, environmental, and economic sustainability. As such, they should be respected for their contribution to cultural biodiversity. This is something that is not easily measured economically because it is rooted in a world view that predates capitalism and the notion of economic value. Our own cultural traditions in terms of the querencia we have for the land and water are embedded in a way of life and world view with a value that is beyond economic definition.
My grandfather has been harvesting timber from the forest around Mora for over 50 years and, in my lifetime, I have never known him to clearcut or damage a watershed through over-logging. Our elders are the most appropriate teachers of how to live with the mountains and streams, not the Forest Guardians or any other non-community based environmental organization. Any attempts to assert an elite environmentalist agenda in New Mexico by using the mechanism of the market, economic valuation of land and water resources, and litigation is just a continuation of the colonial legacy of New Mexico. So-called environmentalists would better serve their cause by working with traditional people and respecting their world view rather than working in opposition to them.
Use of the forests and the water in northern New Mexico should be determined by the people who make a living from the land because they have the greatest stake in sustaining that land for future generations. What makes the traditional communities of northern New Mexico so unique is that they are not easily aligned with either a "wise-use" or "environmental" agenda. Ours is a generational struggle for self-determination to defend our way of life and our right to survive as a people. In the words of my grandfather, Juan Pablo Garcia, "Somos gente de la tierra."
In a January 21 press release Amigos Bravos of Taos announced that it "will stand by acequias to oppose instream flow initiatives during the 1999 State Legislature." According to Projects Director Ernie Atencio, "Our longstanding policy is that we will support instream flow initiatives only if and when they address the concerns of acequias . . . . We definitely support stream flows for endangered species, but that water should be coming from the federal government, city governments, water-hoarding industries like Intel, or industrial agriculture, not from village acequias." The group also expressed its support for watershed-based water banking initiatives that keep water and decision-making about water within local communities, as opposed to a statewide water banking bureaucracy.
This is certainly welcome news to the acequia community, which is concerned that any attempts to implement instream flow would further commodify water and increase demand for acequia water rights. The New Mexico Acequia Association has drafted resolutions opposing the establishment of an instream flow right as well as centralized water banking and will present them to the legislature. Unfortunately, the governor's blue ribbon task force on water, which has no acequia representation, has recommended that instream flow be considered a beneficial use by the legislature, and the environmental/rafting group Rio Grande Restoration apparently made a presentation to the task force advocating that instream flow legislation be drafted this session.
Copyright 1996-2000 La Jicarita Box 6 El Valle Route, Chamisal, New Mexico 87521.