Author Archives: propuntia

Sierra Club Stories: Julia Jorgensen

Julia Jorgensen writes clearly about climate concepts non-scientists, like me, are fuzzy on.

Valley Green Space

We congratulate Julia Jorgensen and Mark Pena as the new co-chairs of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club.  By way of introduction, we’ll be running their stories about how they found their way into the Sierra Club.

Dwelling in a House of One Room

By Julia Jorgensen

How did I become an environmentalist?  This kind of thing is never a simple story.

I spent much of my childhood in a big yard and garden on the outskirts of a small town in Texas, but I proceeded to live in seven other states before returning to Texas.  I got graduate degrees in Cognitive Science and Anthropology, and I’ve taught for nearly thirty years.

One important thing I learned from Anthropology is that our early ancestors did not view their own lives as existing separately from the lives of the forests, grasslands, deserts, streams, and oceans that surrounded them.  As John…

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Oil & Gas and Water

Safe Climate Caucus Forum, 10 am, September 17, 2013:  

Hugh Fitzsimons, Carrizo Springs, TX

My name is Hugh Fitzsimons. I ranch in Dimmit County, Texas, a hundred and fifty miles southwest of San Antonio and nine miles east of the Rio Grande River. We are dead on the 100th meridian, the historic dividing line between wet and dry. The Spanish maps from the early 18th century labeled this country the “despoblado” …. “no man’s land.” No one wanted it, save for the native Coahuiltecans, who fit with a land forever on the edge of drought. It’s long been a land of environmental extremes – feast or famine – but a reckoning now seems at hand.
My grandfather bought the ranch in 1932 for two things a cattleman needs:
abundant native grasses and good, clean, underground water. He came to it after roping wild steers on the prairies and river bottoms of Gonzales County, Texas. But he had an itch to get rich, so in 1901 he hung up his rope to head for Texas’ thriving oil field: Spindletop. That oil field ushered in the internal combustion engine.
By the 1930’s, tired of the oil business, grandfather started life anew. For twenty five years, he raised registered Hereford and Angus cattle and summered steers in the flint hills of Kansas, selling them grass fat to the U.S. Army.
But in 1951, we began what has been called the “drought of record” — a seven year stretch without moisture. One day, on the front porch of the bunkhouse, my grandfather declared: “I am leaving this ranch, and I am not coming back till it rains.” He never came back, and we had no significant rain for another three years. My father recognized the signs. For the next thirty years, he ran a Hereford and Red Brahma cow calf operation – and leased land for hunting and for exploration of oil and gas.
After a career teaching Texas history, I moved back to the ranch fifteen years ago, in 1998, to work with nature, not against her. I settled on two avenues of production.
For the first, I chose the American Buffalo or bison, an indigenous animal with the means to survive. Here was a low-maintenance, self-sustaining herbivore, whose 10,000-year evolution prepared it for what climate change was sending my way.
For the second, I chose honey. I contracted with beekeepers to harvest the nectar of our native guajillo bush. All that was required was water, bees, and the guajillo blooms. In a normal year, we will make fifty to one hundred pounds per colony of bees.
Thirteen years ago, in 2000, things changed: less rainfall, milder winters and blazing hot summers. The wake-up call came in 2011 –the single worst drought year in Texas history. We had plummeting water wells,the desiccation of our rivers and surface water, and a punishing summer of over 100 degrees for three solid months. The bison were getting worried; the bees were starving to death.
By April of last year, when we should have seen seventy to one hundred baby bison calves nursing their mothers, but we had a grand total of: seven. It was so dry, the female bison wouldn’t go into estrus. I had to cull over two thirds of the herd. We burned pear for the remainder, and the remaining bison ate mesquite beans from July to September.
And while a normal honey crop for me is around seventy-five barrels, by this spring, I made a grand total of: two. The fall without rain last year dried up the moisture the guajillo needed to set a bloom– something no regional beekeeper had ever seen. There is always at least some bloom. Not any more.
At the same time, one of the largest oil and gas plays in the world has landed in Dimmit County. Fracking in the Eagle Ford shale has wrought more change in two years than the past two hundred. Our tax revenue, population, and public school enrollment are surging like a runaway eighteen-wheeler. Oil and gas production are up 134% over a year ago. Most of the oil workers are imports from East Texas. The price of a rental house is now out of reach for most citizens of Dimmit County.
But the hard facts are these: 1/3 of our available groundwater in Dimmit County per year is being lost to fracking. Because the water used to inject the chemicals is absorbed by the formation, this process is 100% consumptive, unless the 20% that returns as flowback water is recycled, all that water is lost. Unlike agricultural irrigation, fracking wastewater is lost completely. In short, we have a new, man-made water crisis etched atop the man-made crisis of climate change that produced the drought.
For years our normal rainfall was around 21 inches a year. A hydrologist tells me that unless we get between 15 to 17 inches of rain a year,there is no recharge. So we are now using up 1/3 of our groundwater a year, when we’ve had virtually no recharge for three years. We’re running on empty. The forecast under climate change, is for 12 to 15 inches of rain a year. In short, our water is being drained to produce the oil and gas that have produced a worldwide climate crisis.

There are moments in life that turn you. Mine came in spring a year ago, when I flipped on the switch for my irrigation pump and got half the water I’d been producing before.
From my irrigation pump, I could see no fewer than four drilling rigs, each of them sucking 3-5 million gallons of fresh water per frack. My fresh water was being drained, and there seemed nothing I could do about it.
My anger made me run for office as a director of the Wintergarden Water Conservation District. Somehow, I prevailed and started to learn water law, rule of capture, and how to start the energy companies conserving water. The problem is, in our district, oil and gas are exempt from the permitting process. In other words, we, the designated water authorities, are nearly powerless to conserve and protect the water on which all of life depends.
Dimmitt County, as you may have gathered, has never been well off. Now, we face two new threats. First, is the vacuuming up of our water for fracking, and removing it from the hydrologic cycle. The second threat is just as serious. Because the riches of oil and gas production are falling like manna from heaven, no one wants to talk about our water – least of all, state regulators — even if our water’s disappearing.
To explain: in order to dispose of toxic wastewater from fracking, wells are injected deep into the earth. If the wells are correctly constructed and in the right geologic formation, they’re reasonably safe. The problem is: there are from 10,000 to 100,000 abandoned oil and gas wells in the state, and Texas regulators have no idea where and how many there are. But if an injection well for fracking wastewater is drilled near an abandoned old well, and its well casing or cement job gives way, toxic waste from the disposal can migrate to the old well, flow up the pipe, and contaminate the groundwater.
Our water district has made protesting these injection wells a top priority. But when I last appeared this summer before state regulators, they didn’t want to hear about it, The examiner and judge labeled our hydrologist’s questions “hearsay,” and my invoking those questions was stricken from the record. In other words, denial is not just a river in Egypt. It was one thing to have the disposal well company ignore our questions. When the judge declared the disposal well company didn’t have to answer our questions because the law didn’t require it, it became clear that the denial in our state is as deep as the injection wells.
One subject I feel fairly comfortable with is Texas history. From that history, it’s clear the oil business is here to stay. For the time being, so am I.
What we need is hydrocarbon extraction, under responsible rules and regulation that protect our vanishing groundwater. Without it, over-extraction will become the epitaph of the American West. As the poet Gary Snyder once said: “Just remember, nature bats last.”

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Sierrans Draw the Line of Projected Sea Level Rise

Sierrans Draw the Line of Projected Sea Level Rise

People will take to the street in front of the Port Isabel Lighthouse on Saturday, September 21, 2013 at 11:00 am in order to draw attention to the projected impacts of climate change on the south Texas coastline.  Members of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club, the Environmental Awareness Club at University of Texas Pan American, and other concerned citizens want to show coastal residents and beach-goers exactly what the projected three-foot sea level rise means for Port Isabel and South Padre Island and how extracting and burning more fossil fuels will only lead to a greater catastrophe.

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Immigration Reform Hard On People and Other Living Things

Immigration Reform Hard On People and Other Living Things

 Stefanie Herweck details the negative impacts of the Immigration Reform Bill on life and property along the Rio Grande River in Texas.

Don’t build ‘speed bumps’ that damage environment

The Southern border is not a wasteland.

If you listen to the rhetoric surrounding immigration reform without visiting border communities from Brownsville to San Diego — or the national parks, wilderness areas and wildlife refuges in between — my home sounds as if it were in a war zone.

It’s not.

The Senate immigration bill treats these places, and their residents, as bargaining chips. It includes $1.5 billion for new border walls and the waiving of laws for any “physical infrastructure” that U.S. Customs and Border Protection can dream up along the border. Homes, farms and ecosystems will be ripped apart.

A similar formula was used in 2006. The House and Senate could not reconcile competing immigration bills, so they dropped the pathway to citizenship and passed only the provision mandating border walls as the Secure Fence Act.

Since then, 651 miles of border wall have gone up, tearing through sensitive habitat from California to Texas. Hundreds of landowners had their property condemned, and billions of dollars were spent on walls the Border Patrol calls “a speed bump in the desert.”

Mountains were dynamited and canyons filled to erect those speed bumps. Border walls have dammed washes and worsened flooding at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and in the Mexican city of Nogales, causing two drownings there. Endangered species from ocelots to Sonoran pronghorn have seen their habitat sliced in half, pushing them closer to extinction.

Congress put the Department of Homeland Security above the law. Laws ranging from the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act to the Farmland Policy Protection Act and Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, along with 33 others, were waived so that border walls could be built.

As walls went up in urban areas such as San Diego and El Paso, crossers have been “funneled” into the Arizona desert. Hundreds die there each year.

With immigration reform back on its agenda, Congress needs to learn from its past mistake, not repeat it.

In April, the Sierra Club endorsed a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The club also reiterated its long-standing opposition to the erection of environmentally destructive border walls and the waiving of laws to build them.

It is time for our nation to bring millions of people out of the shadows and allow them to fully participate in society. That does not mean tearing apart more communities, bulldozing more wildlife refuges or brushing aside more of our nation’s laws to build more border walls.

My home is 10 miles north of the Rio Grande and a section of border wall. Border residents are tired of being told that our communities, our farmlands, our environment and the laws that protect us must be sacrificed to build speed bumps.

We’ve had enough. Congress should create a pathway to citizenship, not more border walls.

Scott Nicol, For the Express-News http://www.mysanantonio.com/opinion/commentary/article/Don-t-build-speed-bumps-that-damage-environment-4599094.php

Scott Nicol chairs the Sierra Club’s Borderlands Team and lives in McAllen. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org/borderlands  

Aside

Sierra Club on Border Militarization Amendment (Washington, D.C.) – Senator John Cornyn (TX) has outlined the details of his proposed amendment to the Senate immigration reform bill over the last two days.  Details of the amendment include provisions that would sideline … Continue reading

From the Keystone XL Pipeline Blockade:

I hope this finds you enjoying the beginning of summer. Today we have a request for help and two very informative links from the Piney Woods Sierrans in East Texas.

The Keystone XL Pipeline blockaders have some summer-related needs. If you can help out with any of these, drop them by the blockade camp or respond to this email: pineywoodssierra@gmail.com  and we’ll arrange a pick up. Here are the things that they are in need of:
Refrigerator, Fans, Eggs, Bread, Fruit and Vegetables
The food, of course, will be an ongoing need.

Check out the new website created for neighborhoods along the Pegasus pipeline: http://safecommunityalliance.org/pipeline.html#hpe (go to “pipeline” tab, jump to “Harbor Point Estates” for photos of this Pegasus neighborhood)

And here is a link to a blog with shocking video documentation of some of the 70 anomalies along the portion of the Keystone pipeline in NE Texas between the Sabine and Sulphur Rivers: http://nacstop.org/EastTexasObserver.html