Provincial Matters, 4-29-2014

Provincial Matters, 4-29-2014

Stonewalling Another Killing

For a police department under intense scrutiny and charged by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) with the systematic and unconstitutional use of lethal force (now 24 times in five years, three times in five weeks), the killing of yet another person last week, 19-year old Mary Hawkes, the first woman killed by police in a decade, tells us a great deal more about the APD than some folks could bring themselves to contemplate over the years.

I’ll dispense with the talk about the good cops, of which there are a great many, and focus on the APD leadership and the Mayor and his operatives who apparently think so disparagingly of public opinion and have so little regard for their image and their city’s image that they have done nothing on their own to curb the use of lethal violence even when the town is swarming with Justice Department officials, the FBI, and when all eyes are upon them.

Nothing at all, not even adjustments in policy or even political sensitivity, has changed in the wake of the DOJ report, the most serious and devastating analysis imaginable of the unconstitutional and often sadistic behavior that’s become institutionalized in the APD.

They’ve blown it off. The DOJ report is as nothing to them. You’d think, at the very least, that the APD and the mayor would protect themselves, send out department-wide directives to do everything possible to avoid shooting anyone else. But they are apparently so cynical and so self-righteous they don’t care what the city thinks.

The APD is so arrogant and uncontrollable that simple communiqués stating alternative policies and strategies for dealing with resistance by suspects have not been circulated, even in an electronic age when the slightest detail of behavior can be spread to thousands in seconds.

The mayor and the leadership have not ordered police to stop shooting people.  They seem to have gotten so used to killing civilians, and getting away with it, that it’s become commonplace. What’s one more?  They seem to be thumbing their nose at the rest of us. Go to hell, they’re telling us. We don’t care about the Constitution, about human life, about the good reputation of our city. We’re a law unto ourselves, they’re actions say.

From what we know so far, and I’m writing this five days after the killing of Mary Hawkes last Monday morning at 6:00, police did not have to shoot her.  They were in no danger. With the APD refusing to give the full details, with no videos released or available, with no proof the gun Hawkes allegedly had was loaded or even owned by her, citizens are left completely in the dark about what actually happened. Is there a cover up? Are we seeing evidence tampering? Did the cops kill her for no reason?

We can surmise this much. If the shooter element in the APD, and its supportive superiors, cared about human life and due process under law, they would have used restraint. The allegation of auto theft is merely an allegation, not a death sentence.

If you’re chasing somebody and even if they fire at you and miss, there’s no reason to shoot back in a neighborhood full of people sleeping in the wee hours of the morning. Life is not a TV series about cops and crooks. End the chase, call for back up, calm down the confrontation and do your level best not to kill anyone. Chances are she might have come compliantly. But perhaps Mary Hawkes was so frightened of the police that she thought giving in would result in her death. Perhaps she’d seen or read about James Boyd or Alfred Redwine and what happened to them. Perhaps she thought to herself that she should be negotiating with officers and decided to give up and then got shot for her trust.

We have to think, however, that Mary Hawkes, a 19 year old girl, was no match for the APD and that no police officer was seriously threatened.  Officers can be in grave peril when they are caught off guard and by surprise. But if that’s not the case then they have so much fire power no single person could threaten them.

But with the APD the presumption is that anyone who isn’t utterly cooperative and compliant is a danger and becomes good target practice. Tase them, kick them, shoot them, kill them. Who cares?

People around the country are calling up friends here and asking what the devil’s going on in Albuquerque. Has it become a completely lawless place? Is it a little Chicago? Are the police out of control? Should we cancel our vacation plans?

Are bullets and tear gas flying around all the time? Is it safe?  Do you feel safe living there?

And there’s Mary Hawkes’ corpse lying on the sidewalk covered over with yellow plastic. From a fine piece of copyrighted reporting by the Journal’s Nicole Perez we know Hawkes was an adopted child who had minor run-ins with the law. We know that people cared about her and, despite her past acting out, thought she was a good kid with the possibility of a productive future ahead of her. She had a strong work ethic and a desire to make something of herself. We know she was probably homeless off and on and frequently slept in unlocked cars. And now we know she is dead and ready for an autopsy. No hope or future left and for no good reason.

Police said she had a gun. They’ve said that a lot of times when they’ve killed someone, and it hasn’t always been true.  Are they really credible anymore? Can they be believed? What have they been doing for the last five days of virtual blackout of news? What have they been doing?


Water Follies

It’s seeming more and more like a game of fools when it comes to water in New Mexico. Per capita usage is still way too high. Pollution controls are still way too lax or non-existent as evidenced by the recent changes in the so-called Copper Rule. And even really good thinkers like those at New Mexico First seem to be stuck trying to fix an old broken system, rather than make radical changes to meet radical new drought conditions caused by climate change.

While agriculture is said to use more than 75% of the available water in New Mexico as a whole, in counties like Bernalillo it’s not farms, but cities, that use close to 70% of the water supply. The same is probably true for Santa Fe County as well, although comparative water use statistics across the state are hard to find and interpret. That difficulty might be a symptom of New Mexico’s awkward and flaccid approach to water planning.

The City of Albuquerque has worked hard to convince its residents to conserve water. And it’s done an adequate if not a startlingly good job. We were hoping to get down to 135 gallons per capita a day. Santa Fe, this year, is already at 58 gallons per capita a day. Santa Fe’s residents are almost three times as water efficient as Albuquerque’s are.  Las Vegas, New Mexico has been under tight water restrictions for years owing to the dry conditions in the Gallinas watershed. Its goal for normal usage is 75 gallons per capita. Las Cruces hopes to hit 121 gallons per capita by 2045.

This tells me that most places in the state really haven’t come to terms with the nearly universal predictions of increasing long range drought in New Mexico due to global climate change. Only Santa Fe, with its environmental electorate, gets the long term implications of this change of climate because they can see effects of it already in their dwindling water sources.

New Mexico’s water follies have left us so unmindful about water, and so vulnerable, that we still pay as little attention as possible to the pollution of our aquifers and the economic and health disasters awaiting us when surface water is in even shorter supply than it is right now after four consecutive years of severely subpar precipitation.

Water pollution should always have been a cardinal sin in New Mexico. But so few paid any attention at all that it’s now become an epidemic.

Under and around almost every mine in the state, thousands of them, ground water quality has been compromised with some form of contamination. The same holds true for under and around virtually every oil and gas jack pump in the state, and oil and gas exploration and fracking sites.  The same can be said for all military installations, including air force bases like Kirtland with its infamous flooding of groundwater with jet fuel.  It’s equally true for the Los Alamos National Laboratories and Sandia National Labs and the superfund sites in Albuquerque’s South Valley. True, too, for underground waters around the sites of New Mexico’s dairy industry in the southeastern part of the state.

I bet if one were to do an honest assessment of all the ground water pollution we have allowed in the state we would be appalled at how much water we have destroyed, usually for the sake of profit or claims of national security. Of course, understanding the nature of groundwater pollution would mean we had spent the millions of dollars it would take to accurately characterize all thirty five some aquifers in the state, including the actual deep brackish content about which we know, right now, shockingly little.

And now the Martinez Administration has given us all more reasons to worry about water pollution with what’s come to be known as the “Copper Rule,” an industry supported change in clean water regulations that environmentalists fear might be used by other industries  and government entities to increase the pollution of the aquifers around their operations.

Let’s be clear. Once water is contaminated there is the devil to pay to clean it up again. It is said to be possible, but to make polluted water drinkable again takes inordinate sums of money and largely untested technologies. And the outcome is always dicey and far, far down the road. To clean up even modest plumes of industrial solvents at the old GE plant in the South Valley could take, all told, 30 to 40 years and even then it will not be drinkable because the technology to make it so has not been used. It’s simply too expensive.

It’s a no-brainer and shouldn’t have to be said, but it’s far, far better never to pollute water at all. Why even think of damaging an irreplaceable resource that we may never be able to repair?

Just what is the by now infamous Copper Rule? Ryan Flynn, the Martinez administration’s new director of the Environment Department, says it comprises the most stringent anti-pollution regulations in our region. He gives no evidence for this, of course, and mining regulations are notoriously permissive of ground water pollution. So being the most stringent among states that bend over to give mining companies anything they want is not a great accomplishment. And, in fact, New Mexico’s Copper Rule was basically written by the copper mining industry in southwest New Mexico.

What it says is that mining companies, and if them then why not everyone, can bypass requests for variances to the state’s safe water standards, and pollute away under and around the mine while promising to clean it up when they’re finished.  Environmentalists, myself included, would like to see mining companies, dairies, the military, and anyone else who pollutes be required to spend the money up front to not pollute at all, baring accidents of nature. That would mean paying up front to line leach pits, waste pits, manure piles, nuclear and industrial solvent storage areas. And I’d like to see them all contribute sizable amounts to a state sponsored research fund to find increasingly safer ways to store and remove waste. No pollution must be the goal, not allowing pollution and using dubious methods to try to clean it up after there’s no more profit to be reaped from the mine.

Stopping pollution before it happens is part of the radical change in water management New Mexico needs while facing the drought challenges ahead.

New Mexico First’s Town Hall on Water Planning has announced some of its findings from a meeting in Mid April. A full report is forthcoming. The group has a range of excellent suggestions from focusing on watershed restoration projects, improving statewide water planning with consistent data and up-to-date science, and developing emergency water sharing plans to funding ways to better store reclaimed waste water and storm runoff underground, being increasingly clear about the processes to reclaim brackish and contaminated water for future drinking purposes, and to speed up the process of adjudicating water rights.

I would like to a see a more radical agenda including incentives to help local alfalfa farmers convert their machinery to  grow locally consumed fruits and vegetables; heavily taxing out-of-state dairy corporations for water use and pollution when they export their products and our water to other states; giving more growth incentives to local dairies; having zero tolerance for ground water pollution making fines so burdensome that carelessness and indifference when it comes to toxic waste would not be good for business; and focusing more intensely on urban water conservation and strategies to keep urban forests alive in an age of aridity.

The essence of a radical agenda is zero tolerance for pollution, financial incentives for local farmers and ranchers to better manage their water use, bioregional planning that transcends governmental boundaries to embrace on the ground ecological realities, and spending research time and money to invent urban strategies for better water use while maintaining shade trees in a desert environment.


Little Nuke Reactors, Desalinization, and Cleaning Up Dirty Water

As the drought strands more and more communities in our state and leaves big cities without the water capital they need to grow their economies, New Mexicans will face a daunting period in which the democratization of technological knowledge, when it comes to cleaning up contaminated groundwater and making brackish water drinkable, will become a key factor in the political life of informed voters.

With all the contaminated ground water in New Mexico – the amount might never be exactly calculated – purifying it will become one of the major economic issues of this century. If climate change has caused surface water to run critically low, if snowpack and precipitation are nowhere near normal, then we must rely on the on water in our aquifers to do more for us than it ever has before, and we must be able to trust that those waters, especially around mines, military bases, and industrial agricultural operations, are drinkable.

While I’ve always opposed the idea of desalinating brackish ground water in a landlocked state like ours, because of the salt waste it produces and the false security it brings us, it’s an idea that many in power are beginning to think about.  And those with a big stake in making brackish water potable will come up with all kinds of screwy ideas to do it. We should keep in mind that we have the biggest stake of all.

For most of us the ways to make bad water drinkable are as mysterious as alchemy. But one thing is terribly clear. The general rule is that desalinating brackish water with current big production technology is terribly expensive. And cleaning up contaminated water not only costs a fortune, but also takes a long, long time. That’s why polluting ground water is such a terrible thing to do and why trying to clean up and drink salty water deep below our fresh water aquifers is not something a state can rely on in the long run.

One of the screwiest ideas of how to power desalination plants is using small, mobile, “Lego” like nuclear reactors, the ones that the U.S. Nuclear Energy Agency is so strongly promoting. Around much of the world desalination is often powered by natural gas, but it could be energized by solar power or basically by any energy source. The best source, of course, would be the one with the least polluting side effects. We will hear lots of ideas and proposals about how to clean up water so all of us have to start doing some thinking and some research on the best way to do it. This is something we just can’t leave up to the “experts.” We can’t permit ourselves to be railroaded into doing stupid things that would leave us worse off because we are desperate for water.

If you start looking around, however, you will find that cleaning up dirty water and salty water is not impossible and in fact new technologies are emerging that make it seem, at least for the moment, like something that might actually happen, despite it still being wildly expensive.

When discussing the future of water the European Commission figures the world water demand will grow 55% by 2050 and ours could too.  They speculate that “nano-filtration technology….an ultrathin self-assembled nanopartical membrane which is inexpensive to manufacture” and doesn’t require massive amounts of energy will soon be on the market as a competitive desalination method. Detoxifying polluted water can also be achieved by using “water-purifying ‘nano-scavengers.” This sounds like science fiction but the Europeans apparently don’t think so.

“To thrive in the future, our water usage must change,” the European Commission observes, “coupled with achieving significant innovation to improve clean water in places where water stress is high.” That would be New Mexico.

The commission cites numerous other water purifying innovations such as one developed at the University of Colorado Denver College of Engineering and Applied Science which is a “low energy water desalination treatment” that uses “microbial fuel cells, a new technology that can treat wastewater and produced electricity simultaneously.”  MIT, the commission says, “has developed a solar-powered, portable desalination system” that uses photovoltaic panels to “high-pressure pumps that push seawater through a filtering membrane,” and works even in cloudy conditions. If it can be used on sea water, it can be used on brackish water too.

The EPA says that over 70,000 chemicals “are used regularly around the world,” and if improperly disposed of “can have harmful effects on humans, plants, and animals.” While most groundwater contamination can be restored to “beneficial use,” not all “contamination events” can be purified to the point of producing drinkable water. For most of us, myself included, the world of clean water technology is as arcane as it gets. But what’s important to know is that that knowledge is available in some depth on the internet, and that there are, to mangle Hamlet, more tricks in heaven and earth, Horacio, than are dreamt of in our philosophies.

When trying to think about such monster problems as a 24 million gallon jet fuel spill in our aquifer near Kirtland Air Force Base, we don’t need to be bamboozled into going along with just any idea the government dreams up for us. We can ask intelligent questions. And with information we can assess for ourselves what the real situation is. Will the polluted aquifer under KAFB ever be drinkable again? How long will it really take to make it so? A century or more? What are the range of possible technologies? How much will we really have to pay and who will do the paying?

Once we realize the fiendish trouble and infernal expense it will be not to have a reliable aquifer from which to drink, and once we see how much it costs to desalinate brackish water and properly dispose of its waste, we might start taking better care of the irreplaceably precious resource that fresh, clean water really is. And this includes keeping the vast amounts of pure water under Otero Mesa south of Alamagordo safe from potential contamination from oil and gas drilling and fracking. There’s said to be enough fresh water there to sustain a million people for a hundred years.  Nothing should be allowed to compromise its purity.

We must come to terms with the immense costs and sacrifices we suffer from allowing our water to be spoiled. Only then will we establish the laws, regulations and penalties for breaking them that might stop polluters from doing their dirty work for their own profits at our expense.

This piece was written by:

V.B. Price's photo

V.B. Price

V.B. Price is editor and co-founder of New Mexico Mercury. He is the former editor of Century Magazine and New Mexico Magazine, former city editor of the New Mexico Independent, and long-time columnist for the late Albuquerque Tribune. His latest book is The Orphaned Land: New Mexico’s Environment Since the Manhattan Project. He retired as the editor of the Mary Burritt Christiansen Poetry Series at UNM Press in 2010. He has taught in the UNM Honors Program since l986.

Contact V.B. Price

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