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Winners announced in San Elizario ISD’s Innovator Competition

On Monday, San Elizario ISD officials announced the winners in their 4th annual STEM Tank Innovator Competition.

Students were asked to submit an “invention,” which they create using components that already exist, or an “innovation,” which they create from scratch.

While the projects were based on global issues, students were encouraged to think about what they perceive as needed, based on their own passions. The teams consisted of 2 to 4 students, practicing what SEISD officials call the ’21st Century Skill of collaboration.’

Third through 6th grade students from Alarcon, Borrego, and Sambrano Elementary competed for the top innovator award by presenting their prototypes with an elevator pitch.

“This hands-on, collaborative learning makes academic vocabulary come to life, as well as real world issues,” District officials shared. “the experience helped students to further develop and refine their presentation skills in addition to building confidence in a supportive, fun environment. ”

In the 3rd and 4th grade category, the top innovators were:

* 1st Place – Borrego Elementary:  Michal Hernandez, Gabrielle Hernandez, Anissa Herrera, and Vienna Azua
* 2nd Place – Alarcon Elementary:  Jose Montoya, Ismael, and Saul Marquez
* 3rd Place – Alarcon Elementary:  Yazbeth Otero

In the 5th and 6th grade category, the top innovators were:

* 1st Place – Alarcon Elementary:  Evelyn Woods & Sofia Alvarez
* 2nd Place – Borrego Elementary:  Jessica Arzaga, Gina Acevedo, Bryanna Moreno, and Sofia Jimenez
*3rd Place – Alarcon Elementary:  Andrea Gonzalez, Mariana Morales, and Elizabeth Martinez

The competition took place on May 30, 2019

San Elizario Moves to Protect Biodiversity, Increase Knowledge of Bees, Environment

Tuesday night, the San Elizario City Council unanimously passed an ordinance protecting three species of plants that are also of economic significance.

In addition to the vote, the community is set to host a week-long event, Bee Real to introduce community to unique scientific characteristics and opportunities for economic development.

Via a news release, officials with the city shared,”San Elizario sits in the Amazon of Bees, the city lies in the Chihuahuan Desert, which is hypothesized to harbor one of North America’s largest diversity of bees. And for the past year, the city government of San Elizario has been working with a team from Auburn University to protect this unique biodiversity, while sparking economic development.”

With the passing of a nuisance ordinance, which excludes three species of plants that are typically considered weeds but actually hold high scientific value, the city of San Eli took another step in preserving this region’s biodiversity.

Bashira Chowdhury, pollination ecologist with the Bee Biodiversity Initiative in Auburn University’s College of Agriculture said, “San Elizario essentially recognized what many in our field have known, that these plants are of critical economic importance, and that it can harness its biodiversity for economic progress. This is significant as it is one of the first protections of its kind in the country.”

Their move essentially protects Baileya multiradiata, a plant that may help reduce the need for some insecticides, Portulaca oleracea (verdolagas/purslane), which is a valuable food crop and the Sphaeralcea genus (globemallow) that serves to feed a variety of native bees and past melittologists have identified as an excellent pollinator plant for landscapes in the West.

In conjunction with the vote, the city’s first annual Bee Real, a week-long celebration with different events each day that serve to expose the community to the science lab in which they live and will provide a primer on careers that benefit from this characteristic.

“Though our target audience for this event is the citizens of San Elizario, we feel it is important the region is made aware of the steps we’re taking to provide a better quality of life in our community,” stated Mayor Antonio Araujo.

All events, including food, drinks and entertainment are free to the public.

Schedule of events include:

Monday, 9/3 – Bee Real Community Dinner

Tuesday, 9/4 – Tea Tuesday

Wednesday, 9/5 – The Science of Bee Real

Thursday, 9/6 – Social Entrepreneurship

Friday, 9/7 – Bee Real in the Historic District

Saturday, 9/8 – Wild San Eli at Bee Real

For more information on Bee Real, visit the city’s website.

Voices from the Valley: San Lorenzo, Manguera Water and Flowers for the Virgin Mary

I passed San Lorenzo on my way home yesterday. I grew up right behind the adobe church in Clint. Passing the church, I was reminded of the May flower offerings to the Virgin Mary when I was growing up. This we did every May and every May I offered flowers, but I wasn’t always happy about it.

See, I was a tomboy as a kid. I was outside all day long every day playing in the irrigation ditches of Clint, climbing in and out of the cars in my grandfather’s junkyard, scaling houses, sheds, and rock walls, riding my bicycle, recruiting bugs for my bug armies, and challenging the neighborhood kids to roller skating races.

I was also busy breaking bones as a kid. I thought I was Evil Knievel for a time and ended up breaking my collarbone. Playing in the junkyard also proved dangerous as well as I ended up breaking the fingers in my left hand. That didn’t matter though, I loved playing outside. I rarely came inside for anything, not even to drink water or eat.

There was no Xbox, no Playstation, no IPad. Heck, there wasn’t even Atari yet. My entertainment was outside.

If I was hungry, I’d run to my grandmother’s fig tree and swipe a fig. When I was thirsty I’d do what all the other kids did; I’d grab the manguera (Spanish for garden hose) to quench my thirst. It didn’t matter whose manguera we used.

Now, before I go any further, I need to explain how the  manguera is used.

There is a certain way to drink water from a  manguera and I feel I should point this out because it’s important. First, we’d never let the manguera touch our lips because we didn’t know where it had been. We’d turn the water on just enough so it wouldn’t run straight down.

We’d spread our legs slightly, and with our heads leaning forward we’d then drink. Now, we’d have to make sure trusted friends manned the spigot otherwise they’d turn the water on full force and we’d splash our faces.

There were no water bottles, no Dasani, no Evian, no Sam’s Choice. Nope, we got our water from the manguera.

However, my outdoor good times were cut short in May.

In May my mom would call me in early because as a young girl of a certain age belonging to the San Lorenzo parish, I had to make my daily offerings of flowers to the Virgin Mary along with the other little girls from the community. For me it was an ordeal though.

See, I hated wearing dresses. I couldn’t play outside in a dress. I couldn’t get on the roof of a shed in a dress. There was no way to explore the acequia in a dress. Certainly riding my bike in a dress would prove difficult. I mean Evil Knievel didn’t wear dresses! Dresses were inconvenient! Any self-respecting tomboy knew this and opposed them. I certainly did.

But, as a dutiful little Catholic girl that duty trumped everything and I acquiesced to my mother’s demands and donned the ruffles and lace so I could answer the call of the church bells summoning me and all the other little angels to make offerings to the Virgin Mary. It was our duty.

Plus, we did it out of fear. See, I grew up in the era of fearing the chancla (Spanish for sandal). For many of us if you didn’t do what your mother told you to do she’d throw a chancla at your head. In my house I also grew up with the fear of “making Baby Jesus cry.”

Yep, Abbie Franco never hesitated to pour on the Catholic guilt to get us to do things or to make us feel remorseful and rather miserable after we did something bad. She wasn’t opposed to reminding us that if we didn’t behave we were going to “make Baby Jesus cry.” I certainly didn’t want to do that so I obeyed.

Who am I kidding? I wasn’t always obedient. You’d think the fear of a chancla or making Baby Jesus cry would have kept me in line but if you ask my sister, I was quite the obstinate child, always doing exactly the opposite of what I was told.

If my mom said “don’t touch that,” I would look right at her and touch it, probably with a grin on my face. I guess I should apologize to the Baby Jesus for making him cry so much, should I ever make his acquaintance.

I wonder if apologizing to the Plaster of Paris infant Baby Jesus in a Nativity scene would suffice and absolve me of my childhood sins.

Anyway, back to the May flower offerings, I would run inside the house, and my mom would throw a dress on me. I’d be all sweaty and she’d barely wipe me down and get the frilly frock on me with just enough time for me to join my fellow innocent virgins at San Lorenzo.

Don Regino would still be ringing the church bells as we’d find our places in line and Ninfa would hand us our flowers. Ninfa was the San Lorenzo church lady. She was in charge of everything that had to do with the church. She taught catechism classes, supervised the choir, organized the offerings during mass, and to my recollection was more powerful than the priest and may have told off a bishop or two.

Looking back, I think she could have run the Vatican given the chance. Nobody ever messed with Ninfa. If we missed catechism, she’d drive around in her brown van, hunt us down, pick us up, and return us to catechism. Nope, we didn’t mess with her.

Oh my goodness, though, did this lady know how to make some mean gorditas.

But I digress. Now the flowers we offered weren’t real flowers. Nope, in typical, or stereotypical Mexican fashion, Ninfa would hand us plastic flowers to offer the Virgin Mary. We’d walk up to the altar single file and put our flowers in the vase at the feet of the Virgin de Guadalupe statue.

Little old Catholic ladies with lace doilies on their heads and rosary beads hanging from their hands would sing traditional hymns honoring the Virgin.

I just remember hoping this daily offering would end soon so I could dash outside.

Maybe if time allowed I’d make a quick stop at Don Poli’s store for some stale, old candy that I had to dust off before eating. I’d then run home and get out of my lace imprisonment in the hopes of catching more daylight and good times in the ditches, on the streets, or in my grandfather’s junkyard in my beloved dusty border town.





Author: Christina Franco



Voices from the Valley is a continuing series of stories, videos and live events from our Mission Valley, stretching from Ysleta to Tornillo.

Sounds of The Desert: Cuyo Garibay

Last weekend I was in the San Elizario Historic District at Placita Madrid, working on a Valentine’s related story, when I was swept away by the captivating strings of the guitar and I was immediately lost in a melodic trance.

I thought it had to be a CD or someone’s iPhone playlist, as I walked closer to the sound, I found it was not a playlist but in fact it as an actual artist, professional musician Cuyo Garibay.

I listened for a good, long while before I approached him for a brief interview. He played that fanciful whimsy sound in the style of Gypsy Kings, then other songs were more in the soft classical style of strings, but by far my favorite was when he played songs in the style similar to the intense guitar riffs of Carlos Santana and such.

Guitarist have always amazed my with their skill and how connected they are to their instrument, it is like an extension of their own arm.

After about 40 minutes, Cuyo took a coffee break and we sat down to chat. It turns out he is no stranger to the Sun City. Cuyo used to be part of the duo Taber & Garibay, they even shot one of their first videos here in El Paso, titled “Fisherman’s Daughter ” (featuring Karla Martinez of Despierta America who also started her career here in El Paso).

Garibay has now been a solo artist for the last 10 years and has toured and played in every high end hotel across the United States, he has performed for heads of state like George W. Bush, and has even opened for icons, such as the legendary David Bowie.

It could be said Arturo ‘Cuyo’ Garibay was born into this business. His father Cuyo Garibay was a musician and composer, who wrote two hits “A Manos Llenas” and “La Inflación” for Los Tigres Del Norte (one of the greatest Norteño groups of ALL TIME – in my opinion.)

Arturo caught the artist bug, grabbed his first guitar at age 12 and has never let go. After his father passed Cuyo decided to take on his father’s name and change his name professionally in his honor and thus, continuing his legacy.

His latest album Gifts of Angles was inspired by loss in his life. His brother, George Garibay also a musician, bassist, passed away but contributed to this album. A friend and fellow musician, violinist Alan McChesney who also passed, also served as inspiration.

Art gallery owner, artist Hal Marcus, was once part of a band with Adam Schydlower and Alan McChesney, Jitano & The Desert Prophets ; Cuyo recalled how they used to have jam sessions out on the UTEP campus when they were all up and coming.

It was during this time of solace and loss that Garibay says, the songs seemed to come to him, as if they were “gifts” from the Angels in his life.

Now knowing the back story on this album you can see the imprint of El Paso everywhere within it, there is even a song named after Kern Place.

Garibay has made the Sun City his home for almost 20 years now – along with his wife, family, kids, and grandkids – but is still active stays on the music circuit.

If you love music and want to enjoy live performance of a true guitar genius, then head over to Tabla on Durango Street, you will find the brilliant Cuyo Garibay there every Saturday starting at 7pm.

Colonias on the Border Struggle with Decades-old Water Issues

Twenty-three years ago, Olivia Figueroa left her neighborhood in Chihuahua, Mexico, where she didn’t have basic services, and immigrated to the U.S. She paid $40 to cross the Rio Grande, only to arrive to another community that also lacked services — often referred to as a colonia — in San Elizario, Texas. As in Mexico, the colonia had no electricity, no paved roads, no sewage and no drinking water.

“And that’s when I said, ‘Where’s the American dream?’ ” Figueroa said in Spanish. “I didn’t think that here, in the United States, in the most powerful country in the world, there would be lack of services.”

All along the U.S.-Mexico border, about 840,000 mostly low-income, immigrant Latinos have settled in colonias – cheap plots of land outside city limits without basic infrastructure such as water and sewage systems, electricity and paved roads.

A News21 analysis of census data indicates that across the United States, the average income in predominantly Latino unincorporated areas is 40 percent lower than the average income in predominantly white unincorporated areas, making it harder for these communities to deal with water quality issues. Colonias exemplify some of these problems.

As of 2015, an estimated 30 percent of colonia residents didn’t have access to safe, clean drinking water, according to the Rural Community Assistance Partnership, a national nonprofit group.

News21 visited colonias along the border – in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas – and examined how residents deal with water contamination and why it’s so difficult to improve their condition.

Colonias often face complicated government bureaucracy and limited budgets that make it hard to secure funds to fix problems. Residents are often poor, with little education, and some are undocumented. And since many residents say they are not civically engaged, they feel invisible to their elected officials.

Colonia residents also have to face the public perception that they chose to settle in their communities knowing they lacked services.

“There are attitudes out there that these people moved into these subdivisions on their own, consciously, and they should not be expecting the state to bail them out,” said Texas state Sen. José Rodríguez, a Democrat from El Paso. “The fact that (colonias) exist in other parts of the border along the U.S. reflects some similar attitudes.”

Historic settlement

The word colonia means “neighborhood” in Spanish. The federal and state governments use the term to describe settlements along the border that lack infrastructure. Colonias can be traced to the 1950s, but some argue they’ve been there longer.

Thousands of mostly immigrants – both legal and undocumented –who couldn’t afford to live in the city settled in colonias. County and state regulations did not require developers to provide basic services if the land didn’t exceed a certain number of lots.

“If you look at the history of these communities, they were unscrupulous land sales,” said Gina Nuñez, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Land developers would tell colonia residents: “ ‘Don’t worry. Those services are coming. The county is growing, and they’re going to provide those services,’ ” El Paso County Commissioner Vince Perez said. “We still haven’t been able to deliver (water and wastewater) service to residents who have been waiting three decades.”

About 90 percent of the colonias –  roughly 2,000 of them – are in Texas, according to data from Texas and the Rural Community Assistance Partnership. It was the first border state to legally recognize colonias and allocate funds for them.

In the early 1990s, after a population boom, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Agriculture officially recognized colonias as neighborhoods within 150 miles of the border that lack some basic utilities. The National Affordable Housing Act of 1990 required that all the border states set aside a percentage of Community Development Block Grants for colonias.

“We created ways for these communities to better compete for resources,” said Ed Cabrera, a HUD spokesman. “Despite these efforts, there’s obviously still a lot of need in these areas.”

Some colonias have their own water systems or receive water from nearby cities if they’re close enough. Their treatment facilities, pipes, wells and septic tanks are too often old, or they can’t afford the technology to properly clean the water.

Complicated bureaucracy

Araceli Silva moved to her colonia near Yuma, Arizona, 27 years ago because of the cheap price. She settled there after immigrating from Michoacan, Mexico when she was 17 to do farm work in the fields.

The 53-year-old mother of nine has struggled with her wells, which have run dry more than once. She doesn’t have the money to hire a professional because she stopped working after suffering severe back pain – a result of harvesting broccoli for so long.

Silva and her neighbors rely on individual wells because they can’t hook up to the city system.

Yuma County officials said they’re concerned when residents build wells without required permits. They know there’s often not enough separation between the wells and septic tanks, which can increase risk of contamination. And they fear some of the wells do not go deep enough. However, they said the residents must meet certain conditions before they can apply for funds to connect to city water. The first problem: The county won’t allow more than one house on each parcel. But since the residents already have multiple homes on each parcel, they won’t budge.

Residents who want access to water also would have to sign off on a petition and agree to pay for a preliminary assessment without first knowing the cost. The county would need to hire engineers to figure out if the project is viable and determine the expense. Residents would have to pay for these reports even if the project doesn’t happen.

“Some of them would call them a ‘blank check’ because they’re signing a petition without knowing how much it’s gonna cost them at the end,” said Nancy Ngai, Yuma County community planning coordinator. She said that, depending on the size of the project, those reports can cost  nearly $100,000. Without the residents signing that petition, the county can’t help, she said.

After years of going back and forth with residents, the county gave up. “For the past 10 years, I really have not worked with them at all simply because there were too many roadblocks that I was just not able to find an answer to,” Ngai said.

For Silva, that means remaining in the shadows. “No one comes to this place to help,” Silva said in Spanish.

Lack of funding

The residents of Tornillo, a small unincorporated community in El Paso County in Texas, get their water from their own water treatment plant. But their system has tested positive for high arsenic levels for a decade, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Local officials tried to address the arsenic, which is naturally occurring in the region, but they couldn’t secure enough money to pay the $3.25 million needed for a new water treatment plant.

The El Paso County Tornillo Water Improvement District relies on property taxes and the revenue from water bills, which isn’t enough to pay for the upkeep of the new plant. The lack of funds is a common problem for these small water districts when they need to make major improvements. It means they must obtain a loan or seek help from the county, state or federal government.

Franciela Vega, business affairs manager for the Tornillo water district, said securing a loan wasn’t a viable option.“We knew that if we obtained a full loan, it wouldn’t be affordable for the customers,” Vega said.

Vega said they never even thought of asking the county for money since it struggles financially as well. And when the district tried the state, it couldn’t secure a grant through the Texas Water Development Board’s Economically Distressed Areas Program, which provides water and wastewater funding for poor communities. That funding is quickly evaporating: Now there’s only $50 million left from its latest $250 million bond authorization in 2007.

“The bottom line is that a lot of these legislators feel they’ve spent a lot of money (on colonias),” said Rodriguez, the Texas state senator. “It’s really unconscionable that people didn’t give priority to these programs, for people that are essentially living in Third World conditions.”

Jessica Zuba, an administrator with the water development board, said these funds have serviced 300,000 colonia residents in Texas since the program’s inception in 1989.

The Tornillo district eventually got a federal grant through the Environmental Protection Agency’s border program, and it installed a plant in March.

But water-quality experts said federal funds face an uncertain future as well. President Donald Trump’s budget proposal eliminates all federal money allocated for water and wastewater projects through HUD’s block grant program, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s water and wastewater program, and the EPA’s border program.

Even when water districts in colonias do find the money for major projects, they can struggle with maintaining their systems. Small water systems often have to charge their customers more because they can’t spread out the costs among a larger population base.

For example, the Tornillo district installed the treatment plant in March; however, the water district still had an arsenic violation in July, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The cost of any repairs will mean higher rates for residents.

Residents rely on bottled water

As colonias residents struggle with the long wait for clean water, they often turn to bottled water. Latinos rely more on bottled water than other minorities and whites, according to the 2015 American Housing Survey, and they spend nearly $2.17 more on commercial bottled water a month than non-Latinos, according to a study conducted by Vanderbilt University economist William Viscusi.

All along the border, dozens of small water bottles and gallon jugs pile up in homes because residents don’t think it’s safe to drink from the tap.

Residents from Glen Acres, New Mexico, rely on bottled water because they don’t trust the quality and don’t like the taste of the tap water from their own water system. It has had more water quality violations than any other system in the state, according to a News21 analysis of EPA data.

The system, which delivers water to 72 homes, has had uranium and fluoride levels above the legal limit intermittently since 2002, but it could not afford the technology to remove the uranium.In July, it began buying water from the city of Lordsburg, which is less than 3 miles away.

Glen Acres resident Jacinta Marquez, 60, has lived in the colonia for more than 30 years. She relies on a disability check – on average $1,200 a month, according to the state – and spends about $20 on bottled water and nearly $75 on her water bill during the hot months, she said.

“We’re on a limited income here,” Marquez’s daughter Anna Marquez said.

Residents are also concerned about the quality of Lordsburg’s water, which also struggles to keep its fluoride levels low. They said they will continue to buy bottled water even though they get their water from the city.

Lack of communication

Colonia residents say their water companies often don’t communicate with them, or they do so in English – despite the fact that about 30 percent of the Latino population in the U.S. border states speak limited English, according to a News21 analysis of Census data.

Some residents from La Union, New Mexico, said they didn’t even know their water, which comes from their own water system, was contaminated because they never received a notice.

Barbara Muñoz and her 87-year-old mother, who has dementia, diabetes and congestive heart failure, said she didn’t realize the water they’d been drinking for the past seven years had arsenic. Neither did nine of the neighbors contacted by News21.

“It sucks,” Muñoz said. “I’m disappointed.”

Since 2009, La Union Mutual Domestic Sewer and Water Association had 28 violations for exceeding arsenic levels, according to the New Mexico Environment Department. Their arsenic levels returned to normal in November last year.

Officials from the water company, which serves more than 900 people, said they have been informing residents when they mail bills. However, the state gave them nine violations from 2009 to 2016 for failing to notify their users of previous high arsenic levels.

Regulators issue violations when water systems fail to follow EPA standards or notify residents that their water is unsafe to drink. The EPA requires water systems to notify its users about potentially dangerous violations with “another method” – such as the telephone – in addition to mail to make sure all customers receive the information.

Rosa Maria Jasso, who has lived in La Union for 30 years, said she never drinks the water and only uses it to cook. She doesn’t trust the water, especially after her pet fish died when she used tap water to fill its tank. She didn’t know it had arsenic.

Leadership struggles

Colonias that have secured funds to improve water conditions have one thing in common: Community organizing. But mobilizing a community isn’t easy. Leaders sometimes have to overcome opposition from their neighbors.

“They tell us, ‘What do you gain from doing this?’ Sometimes (they say), ‘Why do you care?’” said Arturo Padilla, a community leader from Horizon View Estates, a colonia in El Paso County.

The residents of Horizon View Estates must rely on septic tanks for waste disposal, but they often overflow and residents can’t afford new ones.

Padilla tried to persuade the city water utility, Horizon Regional Municipal Utility District, to build a sewage system in Horizon View Estates. He called a state senator, the county commissioner and a state representative and invited them to Horizon View to listen to residents. He handed out more than 200 flyers inviting residents to a meeting so officials could talk about funding options for the $10 million sewage project.

Hundreds of residents from Horizon View Estates attended. But after the meeting ended, some residents said they were disappointed and didn’t think it would make a difference.

Padilla is afraid that people will lose interest and won’t care, he said. Or even if they do, they won’t do anything about it.

In border communities, undocumented immigrants often don’t want to interact with officials or call attention to themselves because they’re afraid of deportation.

Lorena Hernandez, a Tornillo resident, said undocumented immigrants in Tornillo won’t accept free water filters from a nonprofit. They won’t go to the water district meetings either. They told her if they go to the meetings, officials will tell them: “What are you complaining for if you’re not from here?” she said in Spanish.

Perez, the El Paso commissioner, said race, ethnicity and legal status place an additional barrier when trying to solve water issues in these communities. Many residents won’t even report crime, he said. And if they’re afraid to call the police, they’re probably afraid to report problems with their water.

He said the problem has worsened under the Trump administration.

“Being on the border, unfortunately, we have a front-row seat to just all this unfolding,” Perez said. “(There’s) this atmosphere of fear that I’ve never seen before, and it’s really unfortunate … I don’t think that this is what America used to represent.”

Taking action

In California’s eastern Coachella Valley, not too far from exclusive golf resorts and luxury hotels, hundreds of decades-old mobile home parks that lack access to clean water are scattered near grape, citrus and date fields.

Sergio Carranza, executive director of the nonprofit Pueblo Unido Community Development Corp., has used his engineering background to design cost-effective filtration systems in those colonias – or polancos, as they call them in California – that are too far away to consolidate with the city.

Back in his home country of El Salvador, Carranza did volunteer social work in his community during his country’s civil war. So when he came to Southern California and noticed that Latinos were living in similar conditions as they did in El Salvador, he became a community organizer.

Carranza managed to bring a less expensive arsenic filtration system to St. Anthony Mobile Home Park, which has a contaminated well that serves as the main water source for the community.

In Horizon View Estates near El Paso, Cristina Morales joined Arturo Padilla’s efforts to install a sewage system.

She collected brown water from her tap in a bottle and carries it in her purse to show officials. She worked on a petition. She also started taking photos of the damage: sewage pooling in a backyard, a bathtub full of sewage water, sewage coming from a kitchen sink.

When she went to a utility meeting with Padilla, she said officials told them they could not speak to the board if they didn’t do so in English. “I told Mr. Arturo, ‘No, we don’t walk out. We’re not leaving,’” Morales said. Her daughter translated.

Morales is one of many women in colonias who have taken on the role of organizing and advocating for sewage and clean water.

“I refer to women as ‘chispas’ – sparks – because they have to ignite the energy and enthusiasm in their neighbors to want to gather and organize and advocate for themselves,” said Nuñez, the anthropology professor.

That was the case in San Elizario, Texas, where a group of women who lived in colonias — including Olivia Figueroa — formed the nonprofit Adults and Youth United Development Association Inc.

“We didn’t have a title,” said Figueroa, the organization’s executive director. “We were just housewives who didn’t know English. But we had, and we still have, the necessity.”

Years ago, Figueroa and other women from the colonia began to meet regularly at one another’s houses and discuss what they could do to get basic services. Sometimes they met at abandoned houses.

Eventually, they bought an old house, demolished it and built a new one to house their own organization. Figueroa said most of the colonias in San Elizario now have tap water, sewage, paved roads and electricity, a feat she thinks would have been slower if left up to government officials.

“If you see the authorities not doing anything, then we have to do it ourselves,” Figueroa said.

This report is part of the “Troubled Water” project produced by the Carnegie-Knight News21 initiative, a national investigative reporting project by top college journalism students and recent graduates from across the country and headquartered at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at El Paso has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here. 

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Take a look back at The Texas Tribune’s five-part Undrinkable series, which revealed how border communities lack reliable, clean water despite a multibillion-dollar effort that has spanned decades. [Full story]


San Elizario’s Last Stand: Protesting the Pipeline

It’s 7 a.m., and the sun is just peaking over the horizon. The streets and the highway are quiet on this particular Saturday morning in San Elizario.

A mist surrounds the town, dropping visibility to 2 miles.

Photo courtesy Andrew Torres
Photo courtesy Andrew Torres

On Oct. 1, a group of about 20 people made the trek through the heavy mist to gather at a portion of the Comanche Trail Pipeline construction site in the town – the site selected for this morning was at the end of Petunia Road – just steps away from the Mexican Border.

This is not the only pipeline project currently underway in San Elizario. ONEOK Partners LLC, a natural gas company based in Tulsa, Okla., is constructing a 200-mile pipeline near Coyanosa, Texas and through San Elizario Texas as well, according to the company website.

The project, known as the Roadrunner gas transmission pipeline, is expected to be completed by 2019, but construction in the San Elizario area is scheduled for completion next year.

The group chants and prays around a small alter of flowers and in the hopes that their energy and their prayers will be heard – so that their cause can be heard.

With the beat of a drum they sing, “The rivers that are flowing, flowing, and flowing. The rivers that are flowing down to the sea. Mother carry me – a child I will always be.”

Their concern revolved around any possible natural gas leaks that could potentially contaminate the Rio Grande River and the other 16 canals the Comanche Trail Pipeline will go under.

“We know we can survive without food for many many days,” said Gloria Gonzalez during her prayer. “But all of you know without water we will perish. It’s an element we use everyday.”

Another member of the prayer group, Margie Ameyaltinz Gaucin, said during her prayer that she had trouble getting to the site.

“I ended up in the area where there is construction going on and one of the gentlemen stopped me and asked if I was lost,” Gaucin said. “I

Photo by Author
Photo by Author

said, ‘Yes, I’m trying to get to our prayer site where we are praying to stop this pipeline. I then asked him, ‘Don’t you know what you are doing is going to affect you too?’ And he said, ‘Necesito el dinero (I need the money). So we need to pray for them also.”

As the morning wore on and the mist began to slowly lift, the group approached a large 42-inch diameter pipe that had been placed on the land. They continued to chant and pray over the pipeline and place large signs on it that read, “Water is Life! No Comanche Trail!”

Ruben Rodriguez Jr., takes several hoops and begins to stomp on the soft mud below his feet. One by one he takes the hoops and places them over and around his head, and extending them out to his arms as he dances the Native Butterfly Hoop Dance.

Ismael Gonzalez squats and gently smooths out the dirt below him with the palm of his hand. Completely focused, Gonzalez takes his index finger and thoughtfully traces a cross on the ground and encloses it with a circle and four smaller cross-like designs on the outer edges of the circle.

The sun rises higher in the sky and the sunrise water prayer ceremony comes to a close.

Safety Concerns

The Comanche Trail Pipeline, developed by Energy Transfer Partners, is a 195-mile pipeline that begins outside of Fort Stockton and ends at San Elizario. It’s purpose – to supply natural gas to Mexico.

San Elizario Mayor Maya Sanchez said she did not become aware of the pipeline until the project had already begun in June of 2015.

“I found out about the pipeline projects on June 12, 2015, and that was just two days before ETP had a pipeline explode just outside of Cuero, Texas,” Sanchez said. “So that didn’t give me much faith in the company and these types of projects.”

According to the Texas Railroad Commission of Texas inspection report, the Cuero explosion was a result of, “due to a material failure of the pipe,” when the pipeline experienced, “a bending overload that placed the bottom of the pipeline in tension.”

Concerned that such an explosion could potentially happen in San Elziario, and In search for more information, Sanchez reached out to Energy Transfer Partners and ONEOK only to receive little to no information from the company.

Photo courtesy Andrew Torres
Photo courtesy Andrew Torres

Sanchez requested a map from the companies, who she said could not supply her with an accurate one until they had acquired all the land they needed for their temporary and permanent easements.


As construction on the pipelines continue, Sanchez still feels uneasy about the pipeline project and referenced the recent collapse of one of 16 canals that collapsed during ETP’s construction of the Comanche Trail Pipeline.

“So I mean, clearly it was one of 16 – and they already messed up,” Sanchez said. She later added that individuals who have the pipeline built underneath their land won’t be able to harvest or cultivate that portion of the land anymore.

“They say they can raise crops, but mind you this is a 42-inch pipeline that is 4 feet underground,” Sanchez said. “Now tell me – how comfortable are you driving a huge tractor and tracing over a 42-inch pipeline that is 4 feet underground?”

When asked about safety concerns, Energy Transfer Partners responded to the El Paso Herald Post via email. Lisa Dillinger, spokesperson for Energy Transfer Partners said safety is their top priority.

“The safety of our employees who build and operate them, the safety of those who live in the communities through which our pipelines pass, and the safety of the environment which surrounds them. For that reason, the design, construction, and operation of the Comanche Trail Pipeline will meet or exceed where possible all state and federal safety standards. Our pipelines are monitored 24 hours a day, 365 days a year by industry- leading control centers with the capability to remotely shut in lines within minutes. Pipelines are the safest form of transportation for natural gas. One example of this is the minimum depth to which the pipeline will be buried. The Texas Railroad Commission requires a minimum depth of 3-feet, however, our pipeline will be buried a minimum of 4 feet deep.”

DIllinger also said that the company compensated landowners both permanent and temporary easements, but would not disclose the specifics of the agreements.

“The landowner still owns the land and can use it as before, aside from building permanent structures or planting deep-rooted trees,” Dillinger said.

When asked about how the company would respond to any leaks or attempt to prevent them when burying the pipeline under canals and the Rio Grande, Dilinger responded:

“We take many precautions when crossing near or under sensitive areas, including wall thickness, special coating, pipe depth, and additional emergency valve placement. When crossing under canals, the Comanche Trail Pipeline will buried a minimum of 10 feet and in some cases, 30 – 55 feet below the canal or drain. The pipes also have a thicker wall and thicker coating.”

Dillinger added that the town and its residents were well received at town hall meetings held in September of 2015.

“The open house was successful in enabling us to respond to questions and concerns from landowners, local officials and other interested parties in a one-on-one format. We were able to address a number of questions including surveys, routing and safety. We also provided fact sheets and informational displays. At this open house and as usual, we find that people respond well to our projects once well informed. As always, we respect that there are a wide variety of opinions regarding our country’s energy infrastructure.”

Sanchez tells a different story.

Courtesy ONEOK
Courtesy ONEOK

“I  was very upset that we were being told next to nothing,” she said. “At the end of the day the city passed a resolution completely opposing the project and I did get a hold of the companies and they were both willing to meet with our city staff and counsel members.”

Sanchez said once she was finally able to get in touch with the companies, they were able to convince ONEOK and Energy Transfer Partners to meet with residents in a town hall setting, which both companies had opposed.

“They really held their ground that they wanted to do an open house format, as opposed to a town hall.”

In a town hall format, presenters provide information to all and then take questions from the audience. An open house format allows the presenters to set up in a booth-like setting, allowing any interested parties to see the information and ask questions.

The Open House sessions turned into town hall meetings, in part to the seating arrangements and the residents pushing the companies to

present to all of them at once, with room for questions at the end.

Sanchez said since learning of the pipelines in June 2015, San Elizario has passed resolution opposing the pipeline and Sanchez has sought advice on whether to fight this through the courts.

“I’ve been told that it’s basically a snowball’s chance in hell, and if we do get that snowball’s chance, we will be buried under legal fees. But we have got to do something,”

Sanchez said frustrated. “So we are doing our best to ask them (lawmakers) – beg them – to at least start a dialogue somewhere. And I know how things are at the state level – you are basically shouting at the wind. But that’s all we have right now. The way policies and laws are – we don’t have anything else that can help us.”

The Wind Shouts Back

State Rep. Mary Gonzalez – D, Clint, will be hosting a town hall meeting at 6 p.m., Thursday at El Paso Community College’s Mission Del Paso Campus to discuss community projects in the area and updates on the pipeline.

Sanchez had reached out to Gonalzez who had help organize one of San Elizario town hall meetings with ETP. Gonzalez was a part of a handful of county and state representatives that Sanchez had reached out to.

In addition officials from the El Paso County Water Improvement District sought intervention from the United States in a motion to stay. According to the lawsuit, the El Paso County Water District maintained that the United States had a vested interest because the “United States has property interests in the lands subject to condemnation.”

The land referenced in the lawsuit was the United States Border Fence and the United States Border.

According to the lawsuit, ETP had failed to inform the Department of Homeland security of their project and how it would affect the Border fence:

“Upon information and belief, some agencies of the federal government conducted a limited review of the pipeline’s proposed project prior to issuance of the Permit; however, the agency or section within the Department of Homeland Security that is responsible for the maintenance of the border fence was not among them. As a result, the Government has not had an opportunity to assess the pipeline’s impact to the structural integrity of the border fence.

Accordingly, the undersigned is seeking from Comanche information regarding the land at issue for the pipeline’s placement as well as its impact, if any, to the structural integrity of the border fence. Once that review has been completed, the United States will be in a position to determine its property interests and to determine what, if any, remedy it seeks.”

Originally, Energy Transfer Companies had filed a lawsuit against the El Paso County Water Improvement District in January to obtain 14-tracts of land, in which 16 canals are located.

The 16 canals named in the lawsuit were:

* S 379 Lateral

* Salitral Lateral

* Mesa Drain

* Cuadrilla Lateral (Lee Lateral)

* Middle Drain

* 40′ Webb Lateral

* Franklin Canal

* Franklin Intercepting Drain

* I.F. 57 Lateral

* Island Feeder Canal and Intercepting Drain

* River Spur Drian

* River Drain

* San Elizario Lateral

* Riverside Canal and Riverside Intercepting Drain.

In this original lawsuit the United States Department of Homeland Security was never named. This motion to stay as filed on Oct. 13. The case has been assigned to U.S. Federal Judge Frank Montalvo.

A court date has not been set.

To read Alex Hinojosa’s previous story, click HERE.

Rep. Hurd set to Visit San Eli, Van Horn Next Week

Congressman Will Hurd is set to have meetings in San Elizario and Van Horn next week as part of his Tech2Town Summer Road Trip.

Rep. Hurd shares, “To have a qualified workforce, we must ensure access to technology education and development for all ages and abilities—and not just in the big cities like San Antonio and El Paso—but in all of our hard-working communities. Prioritizing education initiatives like Tech2Town will help create a diverse 21st century workforce, drive technological advancement and innovation across every industry, and allow Texans to be more competitive in the global arena.”

The Tech2Town Summer Road Trip will be held in San Elizario and Van Horn on Wednesday, August 3; Alpine, Fort Stockton and Sonora onThursday, August 4; and Del Rio on August 5, where he and his staff will bring computer professionals to provide free computer and internet training as part of a larger initiative to inspire STEM education, careers, and entrepreneurship.

Rep Hurd adds, “The best part of my job is meeting with families across the district. Each town, from San Antonio to El Paso, and every place in between, has their own flavor and charm, not to mention, some of the hardest working people I’ve ever met…this is why I look forward to August recess all year, so that I can hit the road with my team and meet with folks all month long.

These workshops will be open to the public.

Get the full details on these workshops by visiting or calling 210-921-3130.

San Elizario #Tech2Town

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