Monday, August 10, 2015

Cry Over the Water

The story goes that in the wild west killing wasn't a killing offense, but recreation. Only two things a man could be hung for was stealing a man's horse or his water. Both were cruel methods of killing someone. You have to live here to understand that. And you know you will never move when you totally understand it.

Horses are not as important any more. We have roads and cars and conveniences closer to us than when the Camino Real was the only road and all else were horse paths. But water is still very precious and very necessary. People still get killed over stealing water but the bodies are better hidden. Poisoning water may be even worse than stealing it. You cannot steal it back. Poisoning it has made it useless for everyone including the livestock and the land and the wild creatures.

So the recent news of the toxic spill from the Silverton Gold Mine into the Animas River is to us westerners worse than a madman in Aurora killing people in a movie theater. And yet the national news seems to be unimpressed. Or are they being paid to down play it? By Mississippi standards the Animas River is small but it is part of a major watershed which includes the San Juan and Colorado Rivers, and the states of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona. The water in that watershed are used for irrigation, livestock, drinking water, fishing, and recreation.

The Animas River mentioned constantly in the news begins in Colorado (about the middle of that square) crosses into New Mexico where it enters the San Juan River. The San Juan goes through the four corners area and enters Utah before joining with the Colorado River at Lake Powell. They claim the toxic chemicals in the spill will be diluted as it moves down stream. But for now nobody should drink the water, irrigate with the water, water livestock (like they are in pens where they can be kept from the water?). No swimming, boating or fishing.

New Mexico has a system of acequias or ditches used to irrigate the fields. It is the hottest part of the growing season and yet they will not be used while the water is still orange. It is unclear if the spill has even been stopped. Just today the estimate of toxic liquid dumped into the San Juan River Watershed has been tripled. It was announce that Navajo Lake, upstream from where the Animas enters the San Juan, is releasing water to help dilute the spill.

If no people die, no livestock thirst to death, no crops are infused with toxic chemicals there is still the fish die off. And say fishery experts the killing of all insects and micro organisms in the water producing a sterile river which cannot support restocked fish.

Mining was rampant in the west in the 1800 and 1900's. Regulations on mining were nil. In fact to support the settling of the west and the needs of the east you could file a mine claim for $50. Records on all these mines are few. And mine owners had no rules about filing plots of their shafts and adits. And clean up of the mine when "closed" was never required. Open shafts collect rain water and perk away under ground leeching out toxic chemicals. More of a problem since California began sending us acid rain. There are likely thousands of these little toxic time bombs to be accidentally released especially if you add fracking into the equation.

The good news for Colorado River Compact states is once it gets into Lake Powell only Nevada, California Phoenix, and Mexico get to use the water. I think the old wild west was right. It isn't nice to mess with water.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Chronicle Closes

Last Issue

An award winning local paper closed its doors after its blindsided staff issued their final paper. Second homeowners and residents of the Village of Angel Fire were in absolute shock. And very angry.

The closing if the Chronicle and the Raton Comet left Colfax County, New Mexico without a newspaper of record. The parent company which owns the Santa Fe New Mexican and the Taos News claims local residents did not support the lessor papers and offered subscribers to convert their subscription to the Taos News.

The banner of the Santa Fe New Mexican founded in 1849 declares proudly that it is locally owned and independent. And yet it feels that is not necessary for the survival of its acquisitions. Most subscribers to the Chronicle say the New Mexican made a lot of mistakes since it bought the paper. First it tried to merge the Raton Comet into to the Chronicle. They were too far away in airy fairy Santa Fe to know we hate each other. There has been an underground movement for almost two decades to divide Colfax county in half. And we do not like the Taos News (or Taos really). We resent that we shop there but no one from Taos ever comes here. And all the Taos Galleries have a Taos artist only policy. But most importantly Raton is ranch country and we are the mountains. Taos is the other side of the mountain.

And under the less than independent standing the Chronicle brought in editors and reporters from far and distant cities. People who did not know anyone here and who seemed to resent being here. A small, local paper needs above all loyalty of its readers. And it needs to be local. Locally Owned and Independent to borrow a phrase from the Santa Fe, New Mexican. Its staff needs to understand and belong to the community. Northern New Mexicans, it is said, do not even talk to newcomers until they have been here two years. Why should we read what they wrote?

Everyone has an opinion as to why the Chronicle failed even after giving Raton its own paper. You hear the digital age bantered about but there are still a lot of people not connected, who want their news in a concrete form like paper. They want to sit in the coffee shop to work the puzzles, point out the picture of their granddaughter graduating from middle school to their friends, and discuss the editorial with the editor who they have known for years and lives next door when they come in for their double cap to go. And the local businesses in this tourist town, the ones that advertise, want a paper which says Angel Fire and not Taos on its banner.

It helps if you know it is not Angle Fire or Eagles Nest. And that Sangre de Cristo does not have an H.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Just Say NO, NO, NO

It is time the American people took back their power and their rights. Big money and illegal politics have stolen our lives, liberties and happiness. There is not a minute of time when some politician is not running for office. And this jams up our email in boxes, and our quiet time at night with pleas of money to support their campaigns.

Why should we. With the Citizens United verdict from the Supreme Court of the United States, our money does not count because the Koch brothers and their rich friends can always give more. They have already picked their winners and we are just for window dressing. Don't hang their curtains. It just encourages them.

And why should it take two years to run for any office in these United States? With mass media and the Internet 90 days should be enough. Australia does it. And we have already proven we can make bigger mistakes with two years to consider our candidates.

We are supposedly electing these citizens (seekers of higher paid lobby jobs) to govern. An elected president of the United States has two years to learn his job and then he is once again running for office. A congressman of the United States only holds his office for two years, so the minute he is sworn in his campaign for the next term is in full swing. When does he govern?

We have been asking for campaign reform since I was old enough to vote. But those that succeed at this game know the rules and how to play them so they are not going to vote to change them. But we can decide not to play. I propose a political boycott. I do not mean not vote. I mean do not encourage them. Do not back or encouraging or fund a candidate or his party until six months before the election.

Do not open political email. They have programs that let them know how opens and reads them. Just relegate them to spam. Unsubscribe doesn't work.

Do not answer political calls. Yes, you can block those annoying telemarketers but not politicians or political polls. Even if it is a robo call they know you picked up.

Do not back a candidate on social media.  All your friends are for Hillary and you seriously think you are voting for her but do not share her posts. I used to share Bernie Sanders posts but he has not come out as a presidential candidate. No more shares or likes.

No bumper stickers or buttons. They used to give these away and now they are tied to a minimum donation of $5. Just don't.

If they want to continue to campaign fine. But do not encourage them. We live in a vacuum while they play their political games in Washington or our state capitals. None of the bills we want get passed. So they want us to support them? DO NOT.

We should not encourage or support a system we do not believe in. We may believe in democracy (question as to whether we have one) but we never signed up for constant campaigning. Let them know the only way they get our attention is by doing their jobs.


That gives them six months to campaign. I think that is generous for just empty sound bytes produced by an advertising company. And we can use our free time for meaningful activities: Write our congressmen and women on issues; back policies we want to be passed as laws and sign petitions to repeal laws we do not like; Campaign for an amendment to overturn the SCOTUS decision on Citizens United. And we can work to make our corrupted elections fair again. We can try to ensure correct counts of votes. And we can organize in our neighborhoods to get every citizen registered to vote, and help them secure all the documentation they need to not be turned away at the polling place in November 8, 2016.

Let's make this next election real to win back the confidence of voters.


Thursday, April 2, 2015

About Time

In 2006 my sister and I booked a house boat on Lake Powell for eight days. We did this because at the time the lake created by the much protested Glen Canyon Dam was 130 below optimal level. And it had been that low for long enough that the "bathtub ring" has largely washed off. It was as close to a photographer's dream as it would get since the dam was built. Unless of course the dam was removed.

Water levels had plummeted in 2005 and the Bureau of Reclamation reported the reservoir could not sustain itself if current levels of out pour were continued. The word drought was not even whispered in those days, but a decline in the rainfall from the 1960's when the dam was designed and built had substantially declined. The Glen Canyon Dam was a farce within four decades of its construction.

When the dam was built it was supposedly to supply water and power to California. With somewhat vague promises of ending the spring flooding and providing water and power to the Ute and Navajo reservations. Its construction spawned the Sierra Club and was the inspiration for the book Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey. I first became aware of the dam and its effect on the west in the 1970's when I rafted the Colorado River for the first time and the guides talked of Sunday water or Monday water as a determinate of the level of water in the river and the difficulty of rapids. Release of water from Lake Powell was determined by the need for electricity in Los Angeles.

The Utes and the Navajos never received the promised benefits of the great white wall of concrete. No water and no electricity. And as almost all the spring flooding are in tributaries below the dam it didn't do a lot for that either. The great gods of government wanted three more dams between Glen Canyon and Hoover. And all for electricity in the growing cities of California. Nor was the low my sister and I took advantage of reversed in the following years. In May 2014 Lake Powell was 42% of capacity and whole side canyons once navigable were cut off and dry. Earth Observatory by NASA has an alarming set of satellite photographs of the ever declining Lake Powell and a great write up.

Dams are not about water. They are about power. They are not about conservation. They are about abuse. Los Angeles has never reduced its need for power generated by Glen Canyon Dam even while the four western states which supply its water have cried about the worsening drought. California keeps on its lights and Phoenix still mists its sidewalks with water coming from the Colorado river after passing through Glen Canyon Dam and Hoover Dam. For decades the water taken out to green the deserts of California and Arizona and keep golf courses green, and light all the night up with lights prevented the Colorado reaching the sea. Canals were built to take its water hundreds of miles from its natural river bed.

Now at last Mexico is enforcing the treaty which says they should get some of this precious water that has been wasted. And California is talking conservation of water. REALLY? Now, when there almost no water left all because you wanted to light up office towers all night long? Only of the wasteful practices of Sodom of the west where fields are turning saline from water pumped from diminishing aquifers once filled by the Colorado River system when it was allowed to run free in its own basin instead of being routed in concrete canals.

 The Monkey Wrench Gang was right. Too bad we could not blow it up before it was finished. But the outcry from the building of the Glen Canyon dam did stop the other three planned dams. Though I hear undercurrents of talk that they are back on the drawing board to end the water crisis.

Note to world: You cannot save in dams what does not fall from the sky. And you cannot release water for your lights if there isn't any there.