Updated November 13, 2016
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has, at last, finalized responses to protest letters regarding your concerns about the dangers of oil and gas fracking leases in the Santa Fe National Forest within the Rio Chama Watershed.
The BLM responses are dated October 23, 2015 and have been mailed to the 114 individuals who filed an official protest letter. Seventy of these letters came from local residents within the Chama Watershed. The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) also filed an astute protest letter, which RACC signed as an interested community organization.
Each individual citizen’s protest letter, WELC’s protest letter and the BLM protest responses can be read online. Once you are in the BLM website, October 22, 2014 Lease Sale page, click on the subheadings in the “Protests” section.
Unfortunately, no parcels in the Santa Fe National Forest within the Rio Chama Watershed were withdrawn as a result of our protests. This is despite concerns we all raised about fracking and the potential for cultural resource impacts, water contamination, water resource use, community and wildlife health impacts, road impacts, light pollution, and increased earthquake potential.
Despite this disappointing BLM action, we recognize that “energy follows intention.” Each expression of protest contributes to building a community that can and will generate durable power to protect our watershed from exploitation.
The BLM based their “Finding of No Significant Impact” (FONSI) in the area that comprises the upper Rio Chama watershed is entirely reliant on an outdated Forest Service study that does not address shallow and high-pressure fracking and concludes that oil-gas development may affect the quality of both surface and groundwater. Does the BLM Finding of No Significant Impact address this critical issue that could affect the health and livelihood of thousands of people downriver? No, it emphatically does not.
Now that the lease sale is finalized pending a possible appeal or legal action, the BLM is obligated by law to issue permits to to drill to oil and gas companies who have submitted applications. Whether drilling will occur in the Santa Fe National Forest is still an unanswered question especially since previous wells in this area east of the Continental Divide have not been productive.
The short-circuiting of National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) laws was a key issue identified by WELC. The BLM was repeatedly dismissive of this issue. WELC continues to challenge the BLM in the courts on its circumvention of mandatory, complete and accurate environmental analysis at the leasing stage.
The Western Environmental Law Center has launched an “appeal of protest response” against the BLM in the courts. WELC lawyer Kyle Tisdale says that the legal action has been filed to prevent the BLM from issuing permits until their National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) analysis is adequate and meets legal standards and case law pecedent.
Rio Arriba Concerned Citizens has consulted briefly with WELC about this important litigation and we give them our full and whole-hearted support. The case has been denied by New Mexico District Court and has been appealed to the 20th District Federal Circuit Court. WELC is prepared to take further legal action if needed.
Although there is a window of 30 days to appeal a BLM decision of “No Significant Impact”, WELC tells us that such appeals rarely succeed, often take years to proceed, and would impede the progress of the lawsuit.
Our energy and intentions are focused on fully supporting WELC in this important legal initiative to challenge the New Mexico/ Farmington BLM and it’s “interpretation” and potential circumvention of the National Environmental Protection Act.
Many Thanks to RACC Board Member Peggy Baker for her ongoing and astute tracking and interpretation of BLM language and policies.
What You Can Do
Bookmark this page and stay up-to-date on developments in the Western Environmental Law Center legal action in opposition of the Bureau of Land Management’s steamrolling of objections to fracking in the Santa Fe National Forest / Rio Chama Watershed.
Help promote and raise awarness of the Rio Chama Watershed by participating in the RACC Watershed Story Project.
More opportunities to take part in activities to protect our water will be posted here.
The next meeting of the RACC Board will be on Monday, December 7, 2015 at 11 am at the Rio Arriba Rural Events Center. Please join us.
Announcing RACC’s Watershed Story Project
RACC was originally formed in response to fracking threats in our beloved Rio Chama Watershed. An important part of our mission is to gather information about the geology, water and land of the watershed and share that knowledge with you so we can all work toward protecting this place we call home.
We would like to further that mission by collecting and archiving stories from you about your experiences interacting with the water, air and land of the watershed. Whether it’s hiking, hunting and fishing, farming, running livestock, doing research, managing the acequias, or observing local birds and animals, we want to hear your unique story. Maybe you’ll be able to tell us a story that we couldn’t dream would take place in the watershed. Remember the bear that was treed in the cottonwoods by the El Rito Library last year and all the drama that unfolded?
Some of us grew up here and will have rich stories about being a child in this unique landscape and culture. Some of us are newcomers and have stories to tell about discovering the beauty and usefulness of this watershed for the first time.
If you are interested in being involved in our new Watershed Story Project by offering a story of your own you can email Cinda Graham, a longtime RACC board member, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are also developing some interview questions that may help stimulate your memories if you would rather be interviewed about your experiences. One of the interview questions is about your desires for the future of the watershed, what might change for the better and what should never change. If you decide you’d like to be interviewed we can arrange for a RACC board member to meet with you.
We will update you on the progress of the Watershed Story Project and post your stories here in our bi-monthly newsletter. We look forward to hearing your unique story!
Erosion Control Field Guide
Have you ever heard of the Watershed Artisans? We discovered an exceptionally well illustrated guide to watershed restoration called the Erosion Control Field Guide on their website and wanted to share it with you. The recommendations in this guide are extremely practical and any watershed resident with an erosion problem on their land would find it useful. It was developed by Dryland Solutions and the Quivira Coalition and was written by Craig Sponholtz and Avery C. Anderson.
The guiding principles of this simple 10–page illustrated field guide are protection and expansion of moisture-storing areas of the landscape, stabilizing erosion, restoring water flow and infiltration, and cultivating plant communities that have the ability to build soil. This guide recommends site-specific solutions using natural forms and processes so it is highly practical for a lot of different erosion issues. With all the rain our watershed received this last year we have seen first hand how quickly land surface can erode, deepening arroyos and creating new channels where none existed before. One Rock Dams, Rock Mulching, and “Zuni Bowl” techniques are well illustrated and convey to the reader an immediate sense that they can enact these projects themselves.