A Surge in the Darkness

by Barbara Turner

At night, through the thick walls of my house here by the El Rito Creek, I can hear the spring runoff beginning. The sound of the water surging over the rocky creek bottom inserts itself into my dreams and is both soothing and disturbing. I know the potential of this particular creek and worry some years that my dog will be swept away from the banks and into the flow of the river, never to be seen again.

The runoff I am hearing is in a riparian bosque of the Rio Chama Watershed and this spring- the spring of the pandemic- life feels very different. I find I am in awe of the flow of nature, how generous she is to bring spring around just like always with the blooming apricots, the first leaves of the currents, the yellow finches loud and looking to nest. The fact that the seasons persist is profoundly reassuring this time around. Nature keeps her rhythm so unfailingly and this year the rhythm feels like forgiveness.

Do we need forgiveness? The radical pause that the pandemic has put on our lives is a real chance to slow down and drop into considering our way of being in the world and simply question how we are going about being human on this planet. Is it working for us? Is it working for the flow of nature?

The origin of this virus is thought to be a bat from a tropical forest. Some have argued that our careless and cruel treatment of animals, wild and industrialized, put us on the road to helping this virus and others gain footing. David Quammen, author of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, says the following about the why behind pandemics: “A tropical forest, with its vast diversity of visible creatures and microbes, is like a beautiful old barn: knock it over with a bulldozer and viruses will rise out of the air like dust.” And for good measure, “Leave bats, in particular, the hell alone.”

Gardens give us agency when we feel life is out of control. Locally, seed sales are surging as people rediscover the land they live on and find simple, elemental comfort in homegrown food. Whether from their own garden or from one of our local farmers, it is food that tastes of the land they are standing on. Truly blue skies above those gardens are appearing after decades of pollution rendered them dull. Will we want to go back to how the sky was before the pandemic? Will we have a choice?

John Wesley Powell, a man of the dirt and open skies himself, and one of the premier explorers and thinkers of our bioregion, advocated for the American West’s desert dwellers to organize themselves close to home, within their own watersheds. He believed connectivity to known waters and local cultures would be our saving grace, the kind of grace we now need if we’re going to go about living on our blue planet in a truly sustainable way. He would have been no fan of damming rivers to store water from distant watersheds, let alone fracking anywhere near our local water resources.

Nature ebbs and flows, whether through the slow motion of evolution, the rushing of rivers, seasons or viruses. What form will our own necessary insurgency take as we try to catch up to nature’s way of being and find our own essential way to be a fitting part of the beautiful flow?

My recommended reading:

  • Garden Time (poetry) by W.S. Merwin
  • The Green Marble: Earth Systems Science and Global Sustainability by David P. Turner
  • Beyond the Hundredth Meridian by Wallace Stegner
  • Heading Into the Wind A Memoir by Jack Loefffler

Ponzi Scheme

New Mexico Oil and Gas Ponzi Scheme Explained

“What a tradeoff – a pandemic for a cleaner environment. A crazy world we live in.”

This was a comment from a Rio Chama Watershed friend after I emailed him a Truthout article by Dahr Jamail entitled, Could COVID-19 Spell the End of the Fracking Industry as We Know It? The article brilliantly explains, in comprehensible financial detail, the fact that the oil and gas industry survives mainly because they are debt financed. Apparently many fracking operations are heavily funded by easy, cheap money from Wall Street banks.

As noted in the article, the fracking industry is “…like a Ponzi scheme, it only works as long as you continue to get new suckers to sustain growth. You are paying back the old suckers with the money you got from the new suckers, with a return.” (CPA Greg Rogers, author of, Financial Reporting of Environmental Liabilities and Risks)

What is the ultimate effect of all this on New Mexico? More than 40% of the state’s general operating budget comes from oil and gas revenues. As oil and gas companies file for bankruptcy, what happens to their obligation to clean up and close down their wells? New Mexico could be on the hook for billions of dollars in asset retirement obligations that the state will never realize. And all this while we are trying to take the turn toward renewables.

With oil revenues down, the industry may well be venting more methane into the atmosphere as it sidelines the fixing of leaks. University of Rochester researchers recently concluded that methane emitted by humans via the fossil fuel industry has been vastly underestimated. However, Columbia University sited 10% less CO2 and 5% less carbon monoxide as a result of COVID-19. You can link to an article from Scientific American about this here.

And what about the effect on the Rio Chama Watershed? The science has not changed. The Petroleum Management Team from the BLM concluded in their Geologic Review in 2014 that our watershed has “low potential” for oil and gas development. It seems unlikely that the industry would waste dwindling financial resources on oil and gas development in our watershed. This is good news.

The silver lining, if it can be viewed as that, is the fact that the Climate Crisis was already sending the financial side of the oil and gas industry on a downward slide as demand dropped, even ever so slightly. A one to two percent drop in demand sends oil prices south, leaving little in the way of available revenue for the oil and gas companies to use for growth. The COVID crisis only speeds this all up as demand for energy is, for a good long while, down the crapper.

The article is well written and truly worth a read. Check it out. You can link to it here.

Farmington parcels in the May Oil and Gas Lease sale are no longer being offered by the BLM. This cancellation is due to the Chaco Coalition’s ongoing challenge to oil and gas development within the 10 mile proposed boundary. Since these parcels are within range of potential development, the Rio Chama Watershed benefits by this cancellation.

R.A.C.C. Sign-Ons

R.A.C.C often signs onto letters generated from other New Mexico environmental organizations like the Western Environmental Law Center, Wild Earth Guardians and the Sierra Club. Our board of directors here at RACC is small and unpaid, unlike the groups I just mentioned. So we feel fortunate to add your voice and RACC’s name to important detailed protest letters from organizations who have the paid staff to research and produce them. The subject of these letters always relates in some important way to our mission statement and the Rio Chama Watershed.

Our recent sign-ons include 1) Groups to New Mexico BLM: Put people over Polluters During COVID-19 which you can read here, 2) a letter from Wild Earth Guardians to Senator Udall regarding support for national Academies of Sciences Study of the upper Rio Grande basin dams and reservoirs which you can link to here.

Artists of the Chama Watershed cards

Artists of the Chama Watershed cards are here!

Rio Chama Watershed artists have banded together once again to offer you a way to support RACC and get some inspired art in the bargain. We have two different blank greeting card packs for sale, each pack has 6 different cards. In the image above, the 6 cards on the left are package #1 and the 6 images on the right are package #2. The printing is high quality and we have already sold over 45 packs!

Our beautiful website (www.rioarribaconcernedcitizens.com) requires maintenance and improvements in the information we offer you. Your purchase of these cards will help RACC fulfill its mission to keep you informed about the Rio Chama Watershed. All proceeds, thanks to the generous donation of art by these local artists, will go to RACC projects.

Each package of 6 cards costs $30.00. If you would like to place an order, please send a check for $30.00 made out to RACC and on the memo line please note if you would like card package #1 or #2. Or maybe you want one of each for a total of $60.00. Please include your address and we will mail you the cards. Send checks to:

PO BOX 835
Abiquiu, New Mexico 87510

Thank you for all you continue to do to protect the beautiful Rio Chama Watershed!