The Landscape Architecture Magazine has published an article about the work being done to plan improvements to US 67 which runs through the heart of the Big Bend region. BBCA has been involved in the extensive planning process to envision what the corridor should look like in the future and provide input on community and conservation needs. Read the article here. Additional information on the project can be found on the TXDOT website here.
The San Solomon Springs system is an oasis in the middle of an otherwise dry, desert landscape. The system includes six major springs that contribute significant flows to water sources for the region’s unique wildlife and endangered species. Each year thousands of visitors swim in these waters with the fish and turtles in the world’s largest spring-fed pool located at Balmorhea State Park.
The six major springs in the area are: San Solomon, Phantom Lake, Giffin, Saragosa, West Sandia, and East Sandia. Earlier studies identified two major sources of the San Solomon Springs system: baseflow from the Apache Mountains and Wildhorse Flat in the west and from the Davis Mountains in the south; however, there has been a lack of data to identify the specific source areas of the individual springs. As demand for water in the area continues to increase at unprecedented rates, there is an urgent need for a better understanding of these source areas in order to protect water by minimizing impacts of pumping.
In a new report in collaboration with the Big Bend Conservation Alliance, Dr. Ron Green of the Southwest Research Institute has made a significant contribution to the previous understanding of the springs system’s interconnectedness. Dr. Green asserted that one key to understanding the system would be to definitively clarify whether there is a separation between the six springs in the area.
According to the study recently released by Southwest Research Institute, “Individual springs have the potential to originate from individual source areas…[while clusters] of springs, such as the San Solomon Springs system, can have different source areas that are controlled” by different underground features. It is also possible that the same source area may feed multiple springs. This would explain why certain springs in West Texas, such as Comanche Springs in Fort Stockton, have dried up due to over-pumping, while others continue to flow under similar pumping conditions.
In order to better understand the differences among source areas and determine whether there is a separation between the different springs, Dr. Green and his co-worker, Rebecca Nunu, conducted chemical analyses on water samples from all six spring systems to identify any differences in their “chemical signatures.” It was assumed that any minute differences in chemistry would help determine whether the springs are sourced from different areas, potentially revealing a separation that had long been assumed by earlier researchers.
Dr. Green’s preliminary results suggest that the source areas for Phantom Lake, San Solomon (which feeds the pool at Balmorhea), and Giffin springs are distinct from the source areas for West Sandia, and East Sandia springs and possibly Saragosa Spring. These individual groupings validate earlier assertions that Phantom Lake, San Solomon, and Giffin springs are artesian springs (where water flows to the surface under natural pressure underground), while Saragosa, West Sandia, and East Sandia, are water-table gravity springs (where water flows underground until the water table intersects with the ground surface and issues out as a spring). Though limited in scope, this study goes a long way in verifying assumptions and solidifying the foundation for ongoing and future science in the region.
The San Solomon Springs system is located in the Delaware Basin, a southern extension of the Permian Basin. In response to growing concerns about fracking and water depletion, the Big Bend Conservation Alliance is building on recent research findings to continue working with the Southwest Research Institute in creating a hydrologic conceptualization and model of the region to better integrate the available data. The goal of this project is to eventually provide tools for area decision-makers and industrial operators to predict the impacts of pumping on groundwater and spring discharge.
Click here for more information and details of the preliminary findings.
Over 150 people attended the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo Water Symposium hosted by Big Bend Conservation Alliance, Pronatura Noreste, Rio Grande Joint Venture, and Audubon Texas on July 18, 2019 at the USO Building in Marfa, Texas. Water and policy experts from the United States and Mexico discussed issues impacting the health of the Rio Grande in a number of different areas from environmental flows to policy initiatives on both sides of the border. On July 19, a group of conservation professionals from a number of organizations convened to craft a new vision of the Rio Grande and discuss solutions for how the public and private sectors can come together to find new approaches for protecting the Rio Grande. See full coverage from the Big Bend Sentinel on the symposium: https://bigbendsentinel.com/2019/07/24/binational-summit-on-health-of-the-rio-grande/.
Oil production is booming in West Texas, but can we protect what is best about the Big Bend region? BBCA Executive Director J.D. Newsom chats with reporter David Schechter and Verify TV to discuss the impacts of the oil production in West Texas.
The Crowley Theater was filled to capacity last Saturday evening for the Eminent Domain Town Hall hosted by the Big Bend Conservation Alliance (BBCA) and Trans Pecos Documentary team. The evening’s program opened with an excerpt of the upcoming Trans Pecos documentary that featured Joel Nelson, one of the 41 landowners whose land was condemned to construct the Trans Pecos pipeline.
The panel, moderated by Jim Bradbury, general counsel for Texans for Property Rights, then entered into a discussion of how the current situation disadvantages landowners. David Yeates, CEO of the Texas Wildlife Association, spoke about the imbalance of power between the urban centers, where the population (and legislative power) is concentrated, and the rural areas, where “about 80 percent of our working lands, our open space” are managed. It is those open lands that provide us with aquifer recharge, clean air, and wildlife habitat, but the stewards of those lands are an “outgunned minority” in the Legislature, according to Yeates. “We all collectively are benefiting off their backs and their hard work. So we have to stand up for them. And that’s why all this matters.” Rex White, Jr., former counsel for the Texas Railroad Commission, stated that even though the Legislature may not be paying attention to the protection of private property rights, “the Supreme Court of Texas has repeatedly, recently, and unanimously recognized that strong judicial protections for individual property rights is essential to freedom itself…Individual property rights are a foundational liberty, not a contingent privilege. They are…fundamental, natural, inherent, inalienable.”
The panel also discussed the secretive way that pipeline deals are made. According to Yeates, “There’s too much secrecy, too much opaqueness in the issue right now. I think stripping some of that away and creating some more transparency will solve quite a bit of that.” But legislators are unlikely to truly understand the issue unless they hear firsthand from those affected. Marissa Patton, representing the Texas Farm Bureau, said that “It’s definitely going to take a lot of involvement, but particularly from those who have been impacted and from those who have a story to tell.”
The solution to eminent domain abuse seems to be greater transparency, a sentiment echoed by Renea Hicks, an attorney who has represented landowners in state and federal court. He spoke about the need for public hearings, similar to those held for power lines and road projects, to establish whether a pipeline is even eligible for eminent domain. “Then, and only then, should the pipeline companies be allowed to approach private landowners about condemning their land…and not one moment before.”
In response, to a question during the question and answer session concerning whether there is any gas flowing in the Trans Pecos pipeline at this time, Coyne Gibson, former oil and gas systems engineer and volunteer with the Big Bend Conservation Alliance, stated “There is no gas flow trans-border in the Trans Pecos pipeline…the system has yet to flow a single cubic foot of natural gas in export to Mexico.”
The Eminent Domain Town Hall, which was broadcast on a live feed via Facebook with over 1300 viewers, marked a further milestone in the formation of a broad coalition focused on common-sense reform of the laws related to the taking of private land by corporate interests. This coalition is gathering steam ahead of the 2019 session of the Texas Legislature. To learn more, visit the Big Bend Conservation Alliance Facebook page or www.bigbendconservationalliance.org.
Big Bend Conservation Alliance is a non-profit, volunteer-driven organization that works to conserve the living heritage and unique natural and cultural resources of the greater Big Bend region of Texas.
Trans Pecos | The Story of Stolen Land and the Loss of America’s Last Frontier is a documentary and timely intervention, weaving together the issues of land and water rights, while painting an honest portrait of what is to come if private interests are allowed to continue to supersede the public good. It is a cautionary tale meant to inspire people from every walk of life to take action and work toward change that can happen if informed citizens and those in power hold pipeline companies accountable. Please visit www.transpecosdoc.com.
Contact: Nicol Ragland | Director | Trans Pecos Documentary
firstname.lastname@example.org | 323.791.2536
BBCA receives $30,000 grant from Rockefeller Family Fund
The Big Bend Conservation Alliance (BBCA) is pleased to announce the receipt of a Changing Horizons grant from the Rockefeller Family Fund.
The $30,000 grant will enhance BBCA’s current efforts to obtain regional hydrology data as part of its Water Program and to fund an upcoming Eminent Domain Panel discussion and screening to be produced by the ‘Trans Pecos’ Documentary team. The event will bring together legal experts and landowners to discuss challenges and approaches related to the taking of private land by corporate interests.
The Big Bend Conservation Alliance (BBCA) is a non-profit, volunteer-driven organization that works to conserve the living heritage and unique natural and cultural resources of the greater Big Bend region of Texas.
The Changing Horizons grant supports organizations in line with the Rockefeller Family Fund’s initiatives to promote “public education on the risks of global warming and implementation of sound [environmental] solutions.”
Contact: Trey Gerfers | Big Bend Conservation Alliance
email@example.com | 432.295.0891
BBCA Board President Trey Gerfers has been appointed to the Board of Directors of the Presidio County Underground Water Conservation District.
The Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) responded today to the Big Bend Conservation Alliance’s Texas Public Information Act, Open Records request (TPIA/OR), the third such request related to evidence of Trans-Pecos Pipeline’s applications, and any associated permits for discharge of hydrostatic testing water.
In 2015, the BBCA’s research team estimated that as much as 54,000,000 gallons of water would be required for hydrostatic testing purposes. Trans-Pecos Pipeline made no specific disclosures about the testing methodology or process to be used, but did indicate that water would be re-used when, and where possible.
Following is the summary of the permit applications – no discharge permits have been issued by RCT as of January 23, 2017, although hydrostatic testing began in Brewster County, on or about January 10:
Total discharge: 44,853,646 gallons
25 Permit Applications
3 discharge locations in Pecos County, five in Brewster County, 17 in Presidio County
8,889,418 gallons discharged in Pecos County
12,045,319 gallons discharged in Brewster County
23,918,909 gallons discharged in Presidio County
The applications, and associated permits, when issued, require the discharge to occur in a specific location on the pipeline route, in this case 25 locations spanning Pecos, Brewster, and Presidio counties. The permit applications disclose that the hydrostatic testing water will not be chemically treated prior to testing, and will be discharged through hay-bale filters at each location.
The BBCA will follow this activity at a later date with a detailed release to the media.
The State of Texas, via the regulating authority, the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT), makes it difficult, deliberately, to determine how much natural gas is being flared.
Technically, flaring of natural gas is allowed on a well intermittently, during drilling, and for only 10-days after a well is completed, for flow testing. Unfortunately, a variety of loopholes and exceptions in the laws allow flaring to occur indefinitely.
The following graph, produced by RCT, to deliberately obfuscate and diminish the flaring activity shows that in recent years, about 1% of all of the produced gas (which includes casing-head gas, and well gas). On a monthly based, in recent years, the wells state-wide produced about 650-billion (650,000,000,000) cubic feet of natural gas. Flaring 1% of that gas amounts to 6.5-billion (6,500,000,000) feet – flared, burned off, which creates carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and various volatile organic compounds, all of which pollute the air, contaminate the ground, and surface water, and increase the atmospheric CO2 load.
Converted to electrical power, that 6.5-billion cubic feet of natural gas, wasted through flaring, would generate 1905 gigawatt hours (Gwh) of electricity monthly. For comparative purposes, factoring in peak and trough demand, 1Gwh is enough energy to supply approximately 300,000 average U.S. homes. Just in Texas, every month, more than 19-times this amount of energy is wasted through flaring.
You can see for yourself what the RCT’s flaring policies are here:
As of mid-September, 2016, many Big Bend area residents are aware of the on-the-ground construction activities associated with the Trans-Pecos Pipeline, a project of Energy Transfer Partners, Mas-Tech, Inc., and Carso Energy.
Construction is now active from the northern origin of the pipeline system near Coyanosa, Texas, to the southern United States terminus of the project, and the so-called “jurisdictional facilities”, along the International border, the Rio Grande, 12milesnorth-northwest of Presidio, Texas.
Right-of-way clearing has occurred on approximately one-half of the total 143-mile route, pipe segments have been strung along the construction easement, welding is in progress on some spreads, horizontal directional drilling (HDD) bore operations are in progress at some road, and highway crossings. Residents of Brewster and Presidio counties, especially in the Alpine, Marfa, and Presidio environs will likely see most clearly the direct impact of these activities.
On the legal front, after FERC’s grant of the permit package, and completion of the United States Army Corps of Engineers Nation-Wide Permit 12 blanket authorization, construction activity began in earnest. Some 39 land owners in Brewster, Pecos, and Presidio counties underwent administrative phase eminent domain condemnation hearings, in which Special Commissioners awarded damages, in some cases in excess of 30X the offers made to the landowners by Trans-Pecos Pipeline LLC. The company is appealing in the second, judicial phase of these proceedings these awards, which will tie landowners up for as long as two years.
In one case, in Presidio County, a ranch owner filed for emergency relief in Federal court, challenging the company’s right to condemn –that injunctive relief was denied in the courts, and the rancher’s counsel have appealed in Federal appellate courts in the Fifth Circuit.
In all likelihood, despite actions in the courts and pending litigation, construction activity will continue unabated and the pipeline will be operational during the first quarter of 2017.
Citizens of the region, supported by concerned individuals and organizations across Texas and the nation, exercised all avenues of due-process afforded them under the law. They raised awareness in the national and international media. These dedicated and concerned individuals spoke out, acted, and provided an unprecedented response in opposing the Trans-Pecos Pipeline. Concerns regarding environmental, cultural, socioeconomic impacts, public safety, and a host of other issues were researched, and these concerns were placed on the record at the state, and federal level. Despite this, powerful, monied interests, an un-level legal, and regulatory playing field, the deaf ears of regulatory agencies, and our government representatives, save for a very few, we were ignored.
The Big Bend Conservation Alliance (BBCA), partner organizations including Defend Big Bend, local, and state chapters of the Sierra Club, and citizens near, far, and wide participated in the opposition. Along the way, based on experience, research, and nationwide outreach, we learned of additional, and in some cases larger, more significant threats to the region:
– follow-on pipeline projects, including expansion of the Trans-Pecos Pipeline system, related to cross-border energy exports, attempting to exploit the market
– expansion of transportation and utility corridor infrastructure, including rail, highway, and electrical transmission grid, in the continued regional threat represented by the La Entrada al Pacifico project
– expansion of low-level, radioactive waste storage and disposal facilities, in West Texas, and addition of high-level radioactive waste storage facilities in the region
– the threat of increased industrialization, related to oil and gas extraction activity in the southern Delaware basin, potentially impacting the whole of the Big Bend with thousands of oil & gas wells, unconstrained use of, and potential contamination of scarce water resources, oilfield traffic, crime, environmental impact, and cultural/socioeconomic impact
– threats of water mining on scarce resources, from El Paso to the west, and the Midland-Odessa region to the north, exports of water outside the region for oil and gas use, etc.
– fracking wells drilled and mineral rights controlled at Balmorhea putting the water security of a town and the habitat for endangered species at risk
The numerous threats–complex, impactful, seemingly endless–loom to change the Big Bend region, transforming it permanently. Those who threaten the region remain largely unchecked, unconstrained in their revenue and profit-driven activities. Some of these threats refuse to die, for example La Entrada al Pacifico, defeated at least once, but rearing its ugly head once again, under the cover of political darkness at the state level.
Profiteers see the region as a “wasteland,” they see its people as sparse, poor, powerless, uneducated, and thus ripe to exploit.
The BBCA, other local and regional organizations, and the individuals of the Big Bend–as well as those who may reside elsewhere, but love this place–must face the reality now before us, the reality of these broader threats. These looming issues have now transcended a single pipeline, our opposing one project, focusing on just one consortium of profiteers –we now face the challenge of regional threats on many fronts, led by multiple billionaires, and multi-billion dollar corporations.
If these projects are allowed to continue unopposed, they will transform the Big Bend into a true wasteland, undifferentiated from the all-too-common industrialized areas we have seen elsewhere–devoid of the wild, natural beauty of what we know now as the last true frontier.
The BBCA intends to stay in the game for the long haul, working to preserve the last frontier. In preparing for this next chapter, we have identified four program areas that will be of utmost importance in strengthening the region against future threats. They are:
2) Dark Skies
3) Land Use and Conservation
4) Cultural Resources
We have already begun education, outreach and preservation in each of these categories by:
- raising awareness of eminent domain abuse,
- providing workshops on light pollution and water,
- partnering with area water conservation districts and engaging with local activists in the town of Balmorhea to education the public about the risks associated with fracking,
- partnering with the Presidio County Historical Commission and the Center for Big Bend Studies (CBBS) at Sul Ross State University, among others, to revive the Ruidosa Church restoration project and
- assisting with on-site monitoring and raising awareness around/cataloging archaeological sites threatened by the Trans-Pecos Pipeline,
- and there is more to come.
Each of us can make a difference. Our individual contribution of time, our connections to other people, our ability to support organizations who stand to help the region, our ability to vote on the basis of important issues, to effect regulatory, legislative, and political reform are key –these are the tools we have at our disposal. Our time, intellect, emotion, and financial support are the things we have at hand to defend ourselves, our homes, and the region we love: the Big Bend.