So, this is why we do what we can…calling legislative committees, hounding politicians, planting trees, tending flowers, supporting pollinators, growing food and roses, teaching children about their earth mama.
Listen to the amazing poem by Amanda Gormanbelow, then call your New Mexico Senate Rules committee members and ask for them to immediately set up a hearing for the New Mexico Green Amendment SJR3. This will give nature rights and move us towards a future of ensuring pure water, clean air, stable climate and healthy soil for all living beings.
Hi Friends, I wanted to update those of you who are willing to support a few bills that will protect pollinators, along with their habitat—our soil, air and water. A good rule of thumb…what’s good for the bees is good for the humans!
SB 103 Restricting Use of Neonicotinoid Pesticides with Senator Mimi Stewart
This is coming to the Senate Conservation Committee, Tuesday, February 2, 2021. Time TBA.
We are particularly concerned about the votes of Sen. Schmedes, Sen. Soules and Sen. Cervantes on the Senate Conservation Committee.
Call and ask them to vote YES, whether or not you are a constituent.
***Relating to the environment; restricting the use of neonicotinoid class pesticides; providing exceptions; requiring an education and training program; amending and enacting sections of the pesticide control act.”
****Neonicotinoids are highly toxic to bees, and even low levels can have subtle yet severe impacts such as making them more susceptible to disease, delaying development, impairing their ability to collect food and limiting reproduction. Bee kills in the European Union have led them to ban this class of pesticides.
****Neonicotinoids put bees in direct risk of exposure as they contaminate the pollen and nectar of bee attractive plants.
Make sure the Senators know how deeply you care about this issue for pollinators, a healthy and non-toxic food system and our own health!!!!
ALSONOTE TODAY, JANUARY 28, 2021 on the SENATE CONSERVATION COMMITTEE. CALL MEMBERS TO SUPPORT! Ensuring a healthy environment, ensures healthy pollinators!
SJR3 Environmental Rights, CA (Green Amendment)–Sens. Sedillo Lopez, Soules, Stewart and Ferrary
This Resolution will ask voters to create a NM State constitutional amendment giving all New Mexicans a constitutional right to clean air, water, and land. These rights would become inherent, inalienable, and indefeasible, and among those rights reserved to all the people and on par with other protected inalienable rights. Currently the legislative body is to protect these elements.
If you care about the devastating contamination of our fresh water in a drought ridden state, due to fracking, please note this bill as well. This affects all creatures habitat and certainly native or honeybees, foraging anywhere near the fracking fields.
This bill would protect water in oil and gas industry. Would require more use of fracked water, prohibit millions of gallons of freshwater for fracking.
*For every barrel of oil produced, the oil and gas industry consumes an average of 3 barrels of freshwater, and produces 4-7 times as much toxic fracking waste known as “produced water.” *Currently, produced water is poisoning our land, water, and air with little regulation or oversight. Despite being hazardous, toxic, and radioactive, produced water is not managed as the hazardous waste it is, and the 2019 Produced Water Act fails to provide New Mexicans necessary protections from this wastestream.
*Negligent spills occur daily and continue to increase. Thousands of massive ponds and corroded steel tanks store the toxic fracking waste. Corrosion, human error, overflow, and equipment failure are the most common reasons for spills. The Produced Water Act must be amended to fulfill the legislature’s intent of protecting public health, the environment, and freshwater.
Amend the Produced Water Act to Protect New Mexicans
Proposed amendments to the 2019 Produced Water Act ensure the safe handling and disposal of this toxic waste, to protect public health, and to preserve scarce freshwater by:
****Require the Oil Conservation Division to regulate the safe management and disposal of oil and gas waste.
****Require oil and gas operators to use produced water instead of freshwater for fracking.
****Provide penalties for spills, using fines to develop shared public information and data.
****Require the New Mexico Environment Department to regulate pollution from produced water
FINALLY, Recently Think Like A Bee was featured in a podcast with Sophia Rose, a Meals VISTA volunteer through AmeriCorps. She works with the New Mexico Out-of-School Time Network and does amazing podcasts about food, hunger, pollinators and our earth habitat. It includes themes of:
**Bees as essential workers
**Honeybee’s sophisticated social system and what they can teach us as humans
**Bees throughout history in our cosmologies and theologies
**Bees as critical in our food system and how we re-think our farms and rural place.
In other words, how to think like a bee!
Here’s the Link and Deep Gratitude for your support of pollinators!
Think like a bee is involved with a legislative bill in the New Mexico senate this month which would regulate neonicotinoids. In case you don’t know, the European Union, due to beekeeper pressure, has already banned neonics, given their surging bee kills from this class of chemicals.
Here’s the facts:
Bees and other pollinators are vitally important and at risk
• Bees and other pollinators contribute $18-27 billion to the U.S. food economy every year and are responsible for an estimated one out of every three bites of food.• New Mexico is home to more than 1000 species of native bees• Bees and other pollinators are critical for crops including alfalfa, potatoes, tomatoes and tomatillos. They are also necessary for the survival of many native plants.• Six of New Mexico’s 19 species of bumble bees are threatened with extinction. • Honeybees are also suffering high losses. During the winter of 2019/2020, New Mexico beekeepers reported 47% colony loss.
Neonicotinoids threaten bees and other pollinators also.
• Neonicotinoids are highly toxic to bees, and even low levels can have subtle yet severe impacts such as making them more susceptible to disease, delaying development, impairing their ability to collect food and limiting reproduction.
• Neonicotinoids put bees in direct risk of exposure as they contaminate the pollen and nectar of beehives
Neonicotinoids persist in the environment for months. Harmful levels of neonicotinoids can remain in bee attractive flowers the year after an application.
• Neonicotinoids are the most widely used class of insecticides worldwide. They are registered for use throughout our communities in home gardens, lawns and even in flowerbeds designed to attract pollinators. They are also registered for use on a number of bee-attractive crops.
This New Mexico Senate Bill would:
Ban sale and use of neonicotinoids for residential use
Create labeling requirements for flowering plants or products that have been treated with neonicotinoids
Require licensure for application of neonicotinoids in commercial agriculture
Require continuing education for licensed applicators every two years
Require development of educational and outreach materials about impacts to bees and other pollinators, best practices to avoid adverse impacts and
New Mexico Senate Bill would not:
Apply to neonicotinoid products intended for indoor use
Apply to neonicotinoidproducts intended for treating lice or bedbugs
Apply to neonicotinoid products intended for parasite control in pets
Apply to wood products treated with neonicotinoids
•The science is clear. Neonicotinoid use is harming bees and other beneficial insects. Federal pesticide regulation on neonicotinoids has lagged for more than a decade and fails to address New Mexico’s unique water and wildlife concerns. A state specific solution to reduce the risk of neonicotinoids can respond to the needs of our agricultural community while still taking steps to ensure needed protections.
Contact me for more information to contact your legislator next week and request that this be passed! Anita@thinklikeabee.org
2020 has been a long, weird year. Due to COVID, Think Like a Bee needed to rethink all of its usual buzzy, busy hive activity in the community. We went to “Sheltering in Place” mode and worked virtually —from Board meetings to events.
A highlight was a morning with Marnie Rehn at the Bachechi Open Space and a summer collaboration with the City of Albuquerque Open Space to create a virtual Burque Bee City USA experience during June’s pollinator week, which you can view here!
As the year comes to an end, meet our dynamic Board of Directors!
Ann McCartney/Interim President, lawyer, community advocate of legislative policies for sustainable energy, pollinator health and conservation. Lives in Las Lunas.
Suzanne Graham Shave/President elect, native of Albuquerque, retired pharmacist and property owner, an avid gardener, and guardian of the High Desert open spaces, plants and animals.
Connie George/Treasurer, retired Manager of health, life and financial programs, a lover of flowers, critters, composter and world traveler. Lives in Albuquerque.
Marnie Rehn/Education, Long time educator, coordinates environmental education where she lives at the Bachechi Open Space, Albuquerque and also teaches mindfulness meditation with the natural world.
Mary Jo Picha/Community Outreach is a Social worker, mom, master gardener, composter and lives in the North Valley, Albuquerque.
Amy Owens/Secretary, is owner of Desert Hives, a pollinator educator, mom and social worker who lives in the East Mountains.
Anita Amstutz/founder of Think Like a Bee and Burque Bee City, lives in Albuquerque and is a pollinator educator and policy advocate.
We said goodbye to Clara Sims, off to Yale Divinity School, an amazing eco-theologian, farmer and activist with Global Warming Express, Roots Farm and NM-Interfaith Power and Light.
Our wonderful President Hanaa Benhalim stepped down. She guided us through our first Community fundraiser at The Flying Star where we raised over $1000—thanks to you, the community!
Thank you Hanaa for your vision, incredible energy and endless optimism!
We hope this season finds you grateful and making merry despite the hardness of this year. We remember the incredible gifts of all bees. They offer us free pollination services, medicine from the hive, honey, diversity, beauty and wonder even in the midst of their struggles to survive.
As we head into 2021, we celebrate the abundance of the earth and the critical role of pollinators— and in particular bees. They are necessary for a vital, healthy and diverse food system. They are endangered these days.
Here’s our 2021 Goals:
January-March collaboration with Senator Mimi Stewart and environmental organizations to bring a neonicotinoid bill for pollinator protection in the State of New Mexico’s 2021 Legislative session.
April- October implementing fun pollinator education events with families and children at our Albuquerque Open Spaces
June’s annual summer Burque Bee City Festival!
We hope you will join us in protecting pollinators! One hundred percent of all donations goes for advocacy and education programs. We accept any gifting of shares from retirement funds. For information, contact our treasurer: email@example.com
Click here to go to the top of this site and find the yellow DONATEButton. Checks can be mailed to : TLB, 410 Morningside Dr. SE Albuquerque, NM 87108. Donations over $25 will receive a packet of free wildflower seeds!
Thank you and Blessed Holidays!
The Bee Hive (Yes, the hive is all girls!) Ann, Suzanne, Connie, Marnie, Mary Jo, Amy, Anita and Clara
Think Like a Bee is a 501c3 non-profit and all donations are tax deductible.
Bricks of beeswax have been hiding in my cabinets awaiting this day. Today am making candles for the holidays.
These are for sale by the pound, with the caveat that they have their own unique imperfections or textures. 10% of proceeds will be donated to the non-profit, Think Like a Bee. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish to purchase these beautiful, unique gifts for your loved ones or yourself.
Beeswax is produced by honeybees. The nectar from 17 million flowers enables bees to produce 8 1/2 lb. of honey. According to the Beeswax Candle Works website, this is the amount of honey needed to produce only 1 lb. of beeswax.
The glands of worker bees convert the sugar contents of honey into wax, which oozes through the bee’s small pores to produce tiny flakes of wax on their abdomens. Workers chew these pieces of wax until they become soft and moldable, and then add the chewed wax to the honeycomb construction.
Unfortunately, the prior information I found on the Orkin pesticide website. Sadly, they know their targeted subject. I continue to be amazed that we kill non-human beings with intrinsic wisdom which have so much to teach and give us.
Here’s a short list of why humans like beeswax.
Beeswax is rich in vitamin A which aids in cell rejuvenation, reducing wrinkles and age spots. Beeswax has amazing antiviral, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and healing properties. It helps the skin retain moisture. Upon further investigation, I found that beeswax is used for high cholesterol, pain, fungal skin infections, and other conditions. It doesn’t clog the pores and has been highly prized for lotions, potions, beauty creams, lip balms, body butters, deodorants and salves. Who knew?
Because of its incredible qualities of adherence and sealing, beeswax is used for candle and soap making, lubricants, furniture and shoe polish, granite countertop polish, cheese waxes, beard and mustache waxes, crayons, envelope seals and more….tell me if I missed something!
For candles, it is a non-toxic alternative to those fossil fuel based candles on the market, usually laden with synthetic perfumes and dyes. Beeswax candles have a fresh, sweet, natural honey smell that permeates the room. Because beeswax has a higher melting point than other waxes, it emits the brightest, most warm-toned flame. Beeswax candles also last longer than most other candles. Because it is so dense (0.958), it burns slower and drips less. A 3X6 pillar candle is known to burn over 100 hours.
It is the greenest possible candle you can have. My candle wax comes from organic farms, though pesticides are so prevalent in our environment these days, it’s hard to know what the bees have been exposed to.
As I’ve often said, everything from the hive is a generous gift from the girls.
Email email@example.com if you would like your very own holiday candles!
Friends, this is a bee blog and more than a bee blog.
Because humanity is at an intersection, I feel I must speak heart to heart. Please bear with me. More than the words, I hope you will make sure and listen to each video posted here.
One of my heart teachers is wise elder Joanna Macy. She speaks to these times. She speaks from a Buddhist perspective, but it is no different for any religious tradition— including the teachings of Jesus which I embrace. She says now COVID is a our teacher. It is bringing us deep pain and suffering as a human species. It is unveiling, revealing what delusions or illusions we have lived under for too long. Our lifestyle is killing us and the planet. It is also calling us to our deepest humanity.
Macy teaches about the web that reconnects even in the wretchedness. She calls us to deepest humanity. How we care for one another. We are all interconnected, earth and humans. Our future fate is woven together.
Recently I was on a call with the Pachamama Alliance. It is a worldwide movement to return to the Indigenous spirituality and worldview that has sustained a people who have lived through extermination. It is the only sane way forward. To remember that all our relatives are not just human. Our tribe is non-human as well.
We were split into breakout groups. From Ohio to New Mexico to Minnesota to Washington state, though we all had different politics and religious beliefs, what united us was the fact that we saw this Indigenous worldview as the way forward.
It is a powerful time to be alive. If we can tap into a vision that is both ancient and universal perhaps there is a breath of a chance for humanity—a vision that calls us beyond our own small fear of our demise to COVID.
No matter what culture, religion or color you are, we have all been colonized by the Western mindset.
I participated this summer 2020 in a 4 week Dismantling the Doctrine of DIscovery webinar, part of a coalition collaboration that I’ve been involved with for 10 years. We partnered with the people of the Iroquois nation/Haudenosaunee confederacy for content.
The “Doctrine of Discovery,” better described as the “Doctrine of Christian Discovery and World Domination,” established the worldview that not only brought devastation to the natural world, but also impaired the ability for human beings to live in proper relationship with the Earth. 15th century Papal Bulls, issued by the Vatican, justified the assault upon Indigenous Peoples as an artificial justification to take possession of their bodies, lands and resources in order to finance their New World Order. This worldview advanced the Age of Discovery as an extension of the Crusades, and was the conceptual framework behind the Protestant Reformation, the establishment of Nation States around the world, and later secularized to define colonialism, white supremacy and global capitalism.
Essentially, what defines Indigenous Peoples is their relationship with a living landscape that includes the soil, water, air, and all other non-human being co-inhabitants. This orientation to land is distinctly opposed to the European concept of owning land and the process of colonization. Indigenous scholars have discussed these two opposing orientations as being one of habitation and the other, of occupation. Although the violent seizure of Indigenous lands was initiated with “discovery,” corporations today, continue exploiting Indigenous Peoples and their land all over the world. The Doctrine of Discovery is the root of the problem, and the reason that it is discussed at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
This current pandemic and the escalating climate chaos clarify to everyone that there are consequences to the devastation humans have perpetrated upon the environment. As Oren Lyons has pointed out, Natural Law will reestablish balance, and these climate changes will not destroy the Earth, but will most likely destroy the human beings who abuse her. The earth will rebound in its own time. If we are to survive as a species, we must reorient to an Indigenous worldview acknowledging that we are first and foremost, co-inhabitants with this Earth—not in charge of it. These Indigenous values, along with the acceptance of traditional ecological knowledge, will transform future technological innovations possibly resulting in a viable future for our species. Religious concepts of imperial thinking urgently need to be re-imagined; messages from Indigenous Peoples need to be heeded; and environmental justice needs to be restored. Racist ideologies of conquest and domination are directly connected with domination of the Earth and other non-human beings.
This conference will connect the dots between our current pandemic, environmental devastation, the Doctrine of Discovery, and a way forward….
One of my deepest griefs during this pandemic has been the inability to sing with others in a room—working out difficult patterns, rhythms, textures, dynamics and notes with other voices. My choir master, Matt Greer, and the Board of Quintessence quickly made the difficult decision to abort our March concert 2020 and suspend our choral singing for now—based upon ACDA recognition of the science of singing as a super spreader event. Singing alone is nothing like the life-giving sustenance of singing in community.
I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say there is also a silver lining. Time. Much more time for writing, day dreaming, resting. As the rug has been yanked out from under all of us in our day jobs and part or full time passions, we have found new ways of being resilient and adaptive. This is one of the good qualities of human nature. Hobbies are always there for the picking.
One thing I am taking up is gardening. Alongside my beehives, it seems to just make sense. Growing my own food seems to be my own little resistance to the damaging, destructive Big Ag practices of spraying poison on everything that moves in our food system. This is not only causing a bug apocalypse, but it harms our essential migrant workers. Then off it goes to market and into our mouths. We must boycott this senselessly grown food in our stores.
I want to know where my food is grown and how. Thank you to Ian, my trusty Solar Punk farmster, I will still get some veggies from local organic growers and the CSA (community supported agriculture) that honors our farmers, pollinators and healthy soil, air and water.
Because of my new garden project in collaboration with Kenneth and friend Catherine Joy, I have been dancing on air! I’ve already begun my marigold seeds. I visited Bern-Co Broadway branch library recently to get my stash of FREE, yes, FREE organic/non-GMO, heirloom seeds! What a fabulous program this is! Kohlrabi, radish, broccoli, onion, cabbage, lettuce, snap peas, red Russian kale, basil, spinach, arugula, morning glory, calendula…
These days I have been thinking alot about modern life and our economy’s vacuous stranglehold on everything. Some people are willing accomplices, allowing insanity to run amok, electing people who relish this destruction for the god of money, their profit and jobs, jobs, jobs. No one ever tells us that this scarcity driven and destructive narrative is totally wrong. Occupy Wall Street author, economist and activist for “We are the 99%”, the late David Graeber knew we had become enslaved to the plantation— killing the living world and us. As Graeber penned, “The ultimate, hidden truth of the world is that it is something that we make, and could just as easily make differently.”
How do we become a more compassionate, altruistic humane people? If we are to surmount our rapidly increasing violence against the earth and exploding cultural/racial divides, to get off this death train, which our double speaking politicians in power say is the way forward, we must stop honoring all the things of this idolatrous system and dream for our children’s future.
Beginning with the belief that we are one with each other and this magical, wondrous world we inhabit. Our fortunes are inextricably woven. Recently I joined an international zoom event with Nigerian teacher, philosopher, writer Bayo Akomolafe. He was speaking with the Green Sabbath Project, founded by Professor Jonathan Schorsch, who poses the question, ‘Is there nothing you can do about the environment? Nothing may be one of the best things you can do!’
Bayo piqued our imaginations with his poetic use of words and images:
Because modernity centralizes rationality/human experience, and instrumentalizes the nonhuman world as resource for human ends (that is, refusing to see the nonhuman world as powerful on its own terms), power and enchantment are always in short supply relative to deepening demand. One has to make a great effort to leave the homogenizing lull of suburbia for some distant, exotic location in order to feel alive, for instance. As the deadening rationality of modern civilization spreads, and as its circumference expands, the intimate magic of a relational world becomes even more contraband and expensive, reduced to a ‘high’ on a street corner….Isn’t the material world (the one we in our hubris seek to save) infused with agency, power, longing and electrifying possibility – which the Yoruba people of West Africa that are observant of the Ifá nature religion call ‘asé’, a matrixial web of change that enlists human and nonhuman bodies in the co-production of reality? Cannot the world speak for itself?
What if, we just stopped our mindless, endless, distracted human nonsense and went out into nature and listened? What if we sat with an ant? A plant? a stone? A river? What if we began to hear that the world IS speaking for herself. The earth has agency and will prevail, with or without humans. Joining her would be a much more joyful and pleasant ride. Intimacy with bees and tomatoes, coyotes and squash worms, cedar trees and vast skies, soil teeming with bacteria…this world awaits our reflection and relationship. Intimacy after all, is a close familiarity, affection, friendship, closeness. We need one another, earth beings all. Living, respirating beings all. As Eric Whitacre’s stunning 17,500 voice virtual choir (see below)reminds us, We Are One. It is time to join our voices across time, space, continents, cultures, race.
This Friday, I will be speaking at the Green Sabbath Gathering. I want to hold up this vision of the urgency to connect to the web of all life now. More than ever. Sabbath Wisdom from the Soul of the World. Join us!
Due to my work to co-produce a Rio Grande Watershed documentary in 2018 —citing the critical importance of water and habitat for saving our pollinators— I felt this article should be recounted in full.
We have no idea that we live on the brink…our beloved overused river is sick. It’s not going to get any better folks. Climate change. Does the Rio Grande have any tricks left to survive?
In a crinkly government report from the 1920s, two photographs show what the Rio Grande looked like south of Socorro near the town of San Marcial, the remnants and memories of which are submerged today under the sludge and sand of Elephant Butte Reservoir’s northern extent.
Taken from a bluff above the Rio Grande, the photos show a wide, meandering river that has overflowed its channel and engulfed the lands beyond the bosque. The glossy black-and-white photographs are stuck to the report’s pages, and the typeset words read: High Water June 1, 1922. Discharge Old Channel 1,800 S.F., New Channel 7,100 S.F.
The “S.F.” refers to what we today call cubic feet per second and it’s a way to measure how much water is flowing past a certain point.
According to that report: “From time immemorial the Middle Rio Grande Valley has been subject to periodical floods that have at one time or another repeatedly submerged all of the area between its bluffs.”
We’ve changed all that.
Ninety-eight years later, I’m looking at a stretch of that same river—which in Spanish reports from the 1500s is called Nuestra Señora—and watching fish die in the tiny puddles still standing along the river bank as the channel has dried and cracked into an empty, sandy wash. What someone almost 20 years ago told me they called the “Rio Grande highway.”
Almost every year since 2002, when the Rio Grande has dried, I’ve reported on it.
I’ve ticked through all the facts: how many miles are dry, why and how the climate is warming, what biologists are doing to protect rare fish as the waters heat up and evaporate or sink into the sands, and through time, what agencies and irrigators have done to deny, ignore, or nowadays, try to alleviate the drying.
Today, I’m not telling you anything new.
I’m just telling you again.
Our river has dried.
As I type this in mid-July, about 50 miles of the Middle Rio Grande are dry within two stretches south of Albuquerque. Upstream, the Buckman Direct Diversion in Santa Fe warned it might soon turn off its municipal tap from the river due to low flows.
At the end of June, the water utility in Albuquerque had to stop drawing water from the Rio Grande and switch to groundwater pumping. And New Mexico, Colorado and Texas agreed in July to let the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District use water meant for other downstream users to “avoid catastrophic crop losses.” But that water will need to be replaced somehow, which means next year’s conditions will be even more dire.
It rained last night, and even though that cool water felt miraculous on my skin, it wasn’t nearly enough to revive a river and kickstart an ecosystem.
So, again. I’m not telling you anything new.
I’m just telling you again: Our river has dried.
On the first day of June 2020, I peered down into the undulating sands of the Rio Grande from the edge of the Highway 380 bridge in San Antonio, New Mexico. Before heading back to my truck and driving to a different spot where I could traverse the bosque and hike up the riverbed, I heard a wet glug.
The noise came from a spot where 13 months earlier I’d seen the biggest beaver I’ve ever seen. Following the line of small silvery fish shining flat in the sand, it took a few seconds for my eyes to focus on the interweave of light and shadow at the edge of the channel. There, a golden-scaled carp was trying to flip over in the mud; its refuge puddle had evaporated in the morning’s 90-degree heat. I snapped a few pictures and left the bridge.
This is normal.
Normal for New Mexico’s largest river to dry—not every summer, but more summers than not since the mid- to late-1990s.
According to records from across the state, New Mexico’s average annual temperature has increased by about 3 degrees Fahrenheit in the past 50 years. In a recent issue of New Mexico Earth Matters, the University of New Mexico’s David Gutzler lays out the gritty details. Again. (He’s been at this a long time: Studying climate change, writing academic papers, talking to reporters, and teaching generations of students.)
In April, I talked to him about snowpack. At the time, Rio Grande was running about 20% of its historic average through Albuquerque. Those were rotten conditions, even though snowpack in the watershed was close to average last fall and into February, when conditions started to warm and dry.
Globally, April was the warmest April on record. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts that 2020 will be one of the five warmest years on record—and there’s a 75% chance it will be the warmest year since scientists began tracking global temperatures in the late 1880s.
“This year was more along the lines of what I anticipate for the future, to happen more often,” Gutzler told me then.
Warm conditions in the already-warm, already-arid Southwest affect forests, orchards, wildlife, rivers—everything. When it’s warmer, plants need more water. People use more water. And rivers lose more water, even when we’re not in a drought and less snow or rain is falling.
Hydrologist Shaleene Chavarria has been paying attention to declining snowmelt and streamflows in the Rio Grande for a while—and I keep coming back to her research. In a peer-reviewed study she co-authored with Gutzler, she found that between 1958 and 2015, the river’s flows have declined, particularly in March, April and May. Though she called what happened this year “scary,” she wasn’t surprised.
“You get snow in the winter when it’s really cold, but then things get warm and dry—which is the long-term outlook for springtime in the Southwest—and the snow just melts away faster than our historical statistics would suggest,” Gutzler said of this year’s conditions. “This is more like a global warming-style of a low streamflow year, as opposed to a drought year [like 2018] that started off bad and stayed warm, and was just bad for the whole winter.”
In 2018, the Rio Grande dried in early April. Typically, over the past two decades, it has dried at the start of irrigation season, when its waters are diverted into ditches and canals. Two years ago, though, that early spring drying happened right when the river should have been ripping with spring snowmelt.
Then, the winter of 2018/2019 boomed. Spring waters roared down the Rio Grande, filling up side channels excavated to slow waters for rare fish and restoration projects—built to mimic the river we destroyed when we hoisted up dams and filled up reservoirs for farms and cities, straightened and channelized stretches of the river to no longer braid and meander.
The spring of 2019 was marvelous to behold, especially after the previous spring, summer and fall, when the state’s largest reservoir, Elephant Butte, dropped to 3% capacity.
That’s when a friend and I saw that fat, happy beaver grab some willow leaves, flip over, and float off downstream under the San Antonio bridge.
This June, staring down at the dead and dying fish, I wondered where that beaver was. I wondered how and where it found water, what happened to its spring kits.
Initially, when it dries, the Rio Grande can feel like a raucous, busy place.
The dying fish thrash and glug and splash. Birds seem manic with song. Coyote and raccoon prints pace up to each shrinking puddle. There are so many easy meals to snatch that they leave fish with just a few bites out of them in the middle of the bed.
Things quiet down pretty quickly, though.
This year, when I returned to the dry riverbed three days later, it was quiet save for flies. The only birds I see are turkey vultures who soar and descend. The fish I watched struggle in the last of the hot puddles—those that haven’t been eaten—are now heaving masses of bone and maggot.
In 2002, I met some fisheries biologists.We used to drink a lot of beer and whiskey and talk about books. And I’d listen—incredulous—when they talked about their work on the Rio Grande. The river was drying up? I couldn’t believe that could happen. The Rio Grande? Plus, I’d never seen anything about it in the news.
If the state’s largest river were drying, surely that would be newsworthy.
Later that year I started working for High Country News, and could write about it myself, instead of waiting for someone else to notice.
At that time, there were minimum flow requirements during irrigation season—a trickle of water was supposed to be left in the river for the survival of the silvery minnow, a rare fish listed in 1994 for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
But the minimum flow requirements appeared to be an irritation for anyone beyond the biologists who had called for their implementation the previous year. And at the time, as the river’s flows dipped below those minimums, officials at the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Reclamation—this was during the administration of George W. Bush—told me a gauge was out of whack, that the streamflow numbers I was watching on the US Geological Survey’s streamflow website were wrong.
Then 7 miles of the river dried. Agencies leased some water and tried to send it downstream. Biologists seined pools and plucked out rare fish.
Now, decades later, the river dries most years—even in 2019, with its high spring flows, fat beavers, and spawning minnows. That year, the Middle Rio Grande dried in September.
Now, it dries so regularly it’s not newsworthy anymore.
It’s normal. Just like those floods were normal more than a century ago.
Riffling through a 1947 report about plans for development in the Middle Rio Grande, I read about floods of “great magnitude” between 1870 and 1890, “though no official records exist.” Newspaper reports, however, chronicled that the “damaging flows” continued for 90 days and “several competent engineering groups” estimated flows from 45,000 cubic feet per second to 125,000 cubic feet per second.
In 1920, floods lasted 64 days and peaked at 28,800 cfs. In 1941, flood conditions stretched across 61 days and hit 24,000 cfs. The flows in 1922—that I saw in the photographs—don’t even merit a mention.
So far this year, the Rio Grande at the 380 bridge has spiked above 1,000 cfs just once, briefly in April. Even 2019’s beaver-delighting flows weren’t much to brag about in comparison, though they jumped toward 4,000 cfs twice in May and June.
That 1947 report is all about the need for development—to control floods, dampen down a rising water table, control sedimentation and aggregation of the riverbed. To meet demands, revamp old irrigation infrastructure and to save the valley.
“Unless measures are taken to rehabilitate the project and protect the lands and present development against flooding, the existing [Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District,] which includes the metropolitan development of Albuquerque, the irrigated economy of the area, and the non-agricultural economy dependent on it will virtually disappear in an estimated 50 years,” according to that 1947 report.
The urgency of the language strikes me. People were not messing around back then.
Now, the river dries and dries. And we hope next year’s snowpack will be better.
On June 1, when I hopped down intothe sandy riverbed and hiked cautiously toward the deeper cuts in the channel to look for water and fish, I kept thinking about a book I was reading about the transformation of the Bering Strait over the past century.
“The death of one living thing becomes life in another,” writes ecological historian Bathsheba Demuth. “An ecosystem is the aggregate of many species’ habits of transformation, their ways of moving energy from its origin in the sun across space and condensing it over time. To be alive is to take a place in a chain of conversions.”
The drying of the Rio Grande—despite how accustomed most of us have become to ignoring it or dismissing it—represents a vast transformation. And we are caught within that chain of conversions. It’s a transformation that we’re responsible for, on many different levels.
We colonized this river. We stole its floods. Pinned them back behind diversions and dams. Built reservoirs to retain water and attract Anglo farmers and settlements. Sucked away the river’s waters from its channel to foist it upon dry soils where creosote and mesquite scented the desert, replacing them with chile, onion, alfalfa, pecans.
And if you think I’m using the word “colonize” too freely, recall that as recently as the 1970s, the sacred lands and farm fields of the Pueblo of Cochiti were nabbed, then sacrificed to a reservoir to protect Albuquerque from floods.
Congress authorized Cochiti Dam in 1960, and despite outcries from many tribal members, the US Army Corps of Engineers built Cochiti Reservoir between 1965 and 1975. The pueblo “lost” about 30,000 acres. What that really means is they lost farmlands, hunting areas, sacred places, ancestral grounds, connections to their past—and lost their own stretch of the Rio Grande.
We also coughed and spat up so many greenhouse gases that the climate changed, the globe heated. Australia ignites, the Amazon ignites. Temperatures in Siberia soar to 100 degrees. In many places, including within our own state, the future will be uninhabitable—in some instances because of rising seas, in others because they’ll simply be too hot, too dry for humans to survive.
Early in my reporting career, I thoughtthere were good guys and bad guys.
I thought that if I researched hard enough, asked enough questions, talked to enough people, I’d find one agency, one person, one action to blame. (That inclination toward villain-seeking might have something to do with being lied to while reporting on my very first story about the dry riverbed.)
Now, I know it’s the system in its entirety. The system we built to transform the desert, encourage and sustain white settlements, and provide certainty to our cities and ways of life.
I want to point to bad guys, here and now. But the truth is, the people working on these issues are the ones who care the most, who worry about rain and snow, and who’ve likely ceded a great deal of personal happiness to meetings, reports, arguments, litigation and agreements.
Over nearly two decades, I’ve seen how agencies and people have changed, and how hard people work to cooperate. How federal, state, local, and tribal agencies, as well as some conservationists, work together to try to meet everyone’s needs, to jiggle water in the system to try and keep some in the river.
But we can’t keep pretending that everyone’s needs can be met. We can’t keep hoping for a robust winter and hearty snowpack; we can’t keep hoping next year, the reservoirs will fill.
Remember that 2019 was a lustrous year for snow. But still the river dried. And reservoir levels on the Rio Grande remained far below capacity. Elephant Butte, for example, hit a high of about 29 percent capacity last July.
The other day, I received an email update from the Bureau of Reclamation about projected reservoir levels for Elephant Butte and Caballo—two critical reservoirs that supply southern New Mexico and Texas, and are a pinch point for litigation between the two states over distribution of the waters of the Rio Grande.
Right now, Elephant Butte Lake is 11.7% full, holding back about 230,000 acre feet of water. By this time next month, it will plummet to 124,000 acre feet.
“Unfortunately, our worst-case scenario is playing out with very little sustained monsoon activity, and increased temperatures driving demand,” read the email.
By the end of irrigation season, the reservoir will likely be down to where it dipped in 2018—about 3%.
Last spring, upstairs at the Universityof New Mexico Art Museum, six singers spaced themselves out across the floor, each standing in for a spot on the Rio Grande: the headwaters, Albuquerque, Elephant Butte Reservoir, El Paso, Big Bend and the mouth of the river at the Gulf of Mexico. On a screen, the year flashed for the audience, as the singers interpreted the streamflow data in song.
The six began their individual songs in 1974. They roared through the wet period of 1984 through 1993, a time during which many people moved to New Mexico and the state’s population begin inching upwards.
Familiar enough with the data from years of reporting on it, I waited for the ebbs and flows. Likely, I gripped my seat in anticipation of 2018. I didn’t want to hear the river screech to such a halt as it did, didn’t even want to hear Elephant Butte descend to sandy depths and stir the ghosts of its inundated lands.
Once the singers finished embodying the recent data—one of the three composers, Marisa Demarco, explained to me later—they each improvised a possible future for their point.
Listening to them then, I heard the chaos of the near-future. We know temperatures are rising. Scientists like Chavarria keep telling us, repeating again and again, that river flows are decreasing even in wet years thanks to the warming. Scientists like Gutzler keep telling us the warming trend keeps heading upwards, and water pressures will become tighter and tighter.
I listened to the singers’ voices tell the story of rising temperatures, quieted flows, uncertainty and fear. I imagined the chaos as we failed to heed the warnings, failed to make changes and plans, and kept clinging to outdated systems—systems that obliterated ecosystems and species and that had harmed some people to benefit others.
Then, notes emerged in the chaos of their voices that laid bare a different future. A future that left me in tears, but not because our river was gone.
This isn’t a eulogy.
Believe it or not, it’s a love letter.
Every news story I’ve reported on the Rio Grande—for this paper, for radio, for television, for magazines and online outlets—has been a love story. I’ve laid out the facts, asked you to see our river. And I’ve secretly implored each and every one of you to love our river.
Love can coast with the medians and averages. The regulated flows. But there’s banality in trudging through days unrecognizable from one another; there’s a certain dullness to water that’s moved from one reservoir to the next, depending on who needs it, what lawsuit is pending, what capacity there is for volume, and what tolerance we have as a society for dry riverbeds, extinct fish species and dead cottonwood forests.
In bouncy spring flows, however, there is wild, mad love.
And, I’ve learned, there’s love in the bitter quiet of a sandy river channel.
We’ve trapped this river, by our needs and within our laws. We’ve trapped this river by clinging to a colonial past, by failing to heed warnings, by lacking the imagination to change.
But Nuestra Señora, I know she still has tricks up her sleeve. I’ve listened to her voice. And she will outlast us all.
Laura Paskus is an environmental journalist and producer of the New Mexico PBS monthly series, Our Land: New Mexico’s Environmental Past, Present and Future. Paskus was a 2019 Leopold Writing Program Resident and her book At the Precipice: New Mexico’s Changing Climate, is forthcoming from the University of New Mexico Press in September.
This lady blog is about one enchanted night spent with my spouse up on the Sandia Crest, overlooking the twinkly lights of Albuquerque, NM. Before your mind races to Camelot and other places…Think ladybugs.
My partner’s birthday wish was that we sleep on the mountain top. We hiked in under the starless mantle of a very dark night, escaping the stifling, smoky heat of the city. We set up our tent in a ring of pine trees, near an old camp fire circle. After we were settled, we walked to the very edge of the ancient, lichen covered granite before sleep claimed us.
The wind was howling and fierce along the edge, cleansing us of any residual corona virus stress, partisan politics and urban misery. Tucked away on our bed of pine needles the wind sang like a mighty ocean tide. Our weary bodies and treacherously overworked minds and hearts were lulled to sleep.
I awoke early the next morning. It was first light. Trowel in hand, ready to perform my daily business, I stumbled through the forest. Suddenly, I began to notice in the crevices of tree bark, on fallen branches, in nooks and crannies everywhere, piles and rivers of lady bugs. The trees surrounding us were literally wrapped in ladybugs!
It was as though they had flown in as a cloud and fallen on the forest like a quilt. Their hallmark red-ochre color accented with black heads, alerted me to their presence. They were everywhere.
I ran back to our camp to tell Kenneth. We grabbed the camera and marveled, following their tell tale trail. I found myself humming from the musical, Fiddler on the Roof,
Wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles…
We had no idea we had slept with ladybugs, snugged in and enveloped. It was a very special birthday gift from the insect world.
Back in town, I went hunting. I wanted to find out more about ladybugs. What was their beneficial purpose in the garden. What meaning did they have in the mythical/archetypal world. What was the meaning of this particular fractal of magic we’d just experienced?
Animal Speak (Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, MN, 1996) was my first go to. Ted Andrews invites us to experience nature firsthand, notice it, examine it, orient yourself to creaturely habitats. He writes, “nature speaks to us constantly, through it’s shapes, colors, textures, smells and varied expressions of animal life, it communicates to us about the world and our life. The symbolism of nature will vary according to it’s context, so you must know it’s natural context”. (P. 46)
I wondered about the importance of Ladybugs in our ecosystem. I found out that Ladybugs are considered a beneficial insect because they eat insects known to destroy plants in backyard gardens and agricultural crops. The blood of a ladybug is yellow and has a very strong smell that acts as a repellent, to predators.
From the larvae to the adults, all enjoy a diet of insects that are small and soft bodied. During the pupal stage, a ladybug can eat about 400 medium size aphids. Ladybugs live for about a year, but some can live up to three years. Within a year [one ladybug] will usually devour over 5,000 aphids. Larvae consume about 25 aphids a day. Adult ladybugs consume about 50 aphids a day. Their voracious appetite helps them play a vital role in the management of pests that attack agriculture.
I found out that as the temperatures drop, ladybug beetles (the family Coccinellidae) will fly en masse into canyons or assemble in great numbers and go dormant—something called diapause. Perhaps this was the phenomenon we saw.
Historically, the name “ladybird” originated in Britain where the insects became known as “Our Lady’s bird” or the Lady beetle. Mary (Our Lady) was often depicted wearing a red cloak in early paintings, and the seven-spotted ladybird (the most common in Europe) were said to symbolize her seven joys and seven sorrows.
In the human world of myth and culture, beetles have been associated with resurrection and metamorphosis. I perked up. Many spiritual teachers see this time of disruption, pandemic, and institutional failure as the beginning of a new epoch, an initiation for humanity for what must be birthed. The transformation of the cocoon. Animal Speak reminded me that the symbolic message from this most ancient creature, the beetle, might be my metamorphosis, as well as ours. Here’s the insect wisdom of beetle:
Stick together. Rest when you can. Prepare for change. Remember you are in the midst of a metamorphosis. What do you need to shed in order to welcome the new? Change is inevitable and only becomes more difficult when you resist its natural flow.
Ted Andrews (Animal Speak, Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, MN, 1996)
If you wish to learn more about ladybugs and beneficial insects, you can visit this wonderful site by the Xerces Society/Bee City USA in partnership with New Mexico State University. They are bug experts and entymologists who are exploring all things bugs this summer.
As a bug geek, I urge you to allow yourself to be drawn into the wonder and mystery of the insect world. Pick one species and learn about it. Apprentice yourself to its fascinating intricacies and oddities. Invite beneficials into your backyard by providing plant habitat. Insects are basic to our ecosystem’s building blocks. We must avoid a bugapocalypse if we are to survive as human species.
Blessed be the ladybugs, bees, butterflies and all things beneficial!