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Big Bend Regional Sierra Club
Regular Public Meeting
November 18, 2003

President Don Dowdy called the meeting to order at 7:05 p.m. in 309 Lawrence Hall, Sul Ross State University.

Environmental Good News:

Tokyo Zoo is now using "biomass energy" derived from animal waste to power busses on methane and to make fertilizer for food production to close the loop.

The Cirl Bunting is on a comeback from the brink of extinction. The number of breeding pair has increased from 118 to 700 since late 1980s, in part due to nothing more than leaving stubble in winter fields.

Not So Good Environmental News:

Germany, which has committed to close its nuclear power plants and recently closed its second oldest one, reports that it will have twice the amount of nuclear waste it has now by the 2020 target date for complete closure. The Germans say they do not know how they will dispose of the waste.

Predicted climate change over the next 50 years will leave Mexico’s Monarch Butterfly overwintering grounds too wet for the butterflies to inhabit the area. There is no other suitable habitat in the region.




The Rio Nuevo/General Land Office (GLO) water pumping proposal is moving forward.  Two meetings are upcoming. The first is in Van Horn this Thursday at 1:00 p.m. Participants include Far West Texas Planning Board, chaired by Tom Beard; Jerry Patterson of GLO; Senator Madla; Representative Gallego or his representative; and Senator Shapleigh. The second, to be held by GLO, will be on December 2, 4:00 p.m,, at the SRSU Studio Theatre in the Fine Arts Building.

Rad Waste:

Additional donations to the Hal Flanders Fund would be appreciated. Thus far, $360 has been spent to increase awareness in Vermont, the other compact state, of the west Texas dump that has been authorized by the legislature. The Vermont Attorney General has agreed to issue an opinion on whether the west Texas dump meets compact requirements; the hope is that it does not in the attorney general’s eyes. We need to send people to Vermont to drum up additional support for our position; Gary Oliver is interested.

La Entrada.

A lawsuit has been brought by Public Citizen and others requiring an Environmental Impact Study. A study was recently released at http://cec.org concerning the health of children in Juarez, where hundreds are dying and thousands are sick due to respiratory illnesses associated with air pollution, including diesel emissions.

National Park Conservation Association

Report is available at http://www.npca.org/stateof the parks/

Senator Madla

The senator is on a legislative committee to study water issues, and is chairing the subcommittee concerned with Rio Nuevo and GLO. Madla is holding a fundraiser in Fort Davis on December 6, which would be a great time to speak to him about water issues.

American Clay - Bentonite Plant

Austin American Statesman conducted local interviews about American Clay’s proposed bentonite crushing plant; the article will probably be out next week.

Program:   Air Quality Monitoring in the Big Bend Region
Dr. Kevin Urbanczyk,
Department of Earth and Physical Sciences, SRSU


This website provides links used in the presentation (reference #7).

Air particulate matter is a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets, which is divided into "fine fraction" ( <2.5um) and "coarse fraction" (>2.5um).

Primary particles include dust and soot. Secondary particles are formed in atmosphere from gaseous emissions (autos, power plants, etc.) Secondary particles concentrate in the fine fraction.

The fine fraction is of primary concern because those particles are small enough to enter one’s lungs and cause respiratory health problems. Other concerns include environmental effects and visibility impairment. Fine particles can travel long distances. They can also contribute to increased acidity in wet and dry deposition.

NADP (National Atmospheric Deposition Program):

Provides precipitation monitoring sites, nationwide, involving numerous agencies including Big Bend National Park (BBNP), where instruments are located at K-Bar (wet and dry deposition samplers). They provide precipitation chemistry data.

IMPROVE (Interagency Monitoring of Protected Visual Area):

Provide data similar to TCEQ

TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality):

Provide a variety of data types/data sets and Air Quality Index in real time. PM2.5 analysis is done via a contract lab speciation program and is not offered in real time. Data collection sites include Big Bend National Park , Sul Ross State University (SRSU), and McDonald Observatory. SRSU data collection began March 2001 and has been in continuous operation on a 6 day cycle

The list of analytes is extensive and includes total mass, non-volatile nitrate, oxc carbon PM 2.5, organic carbon PM 2.5; total nitrate; sulfate PM2.5, and elemental carbon. Units are ug/m3.

A decline in pH at BBNP, evident at both K-Bar and in Pine Canyon, has been detected, owing to “acid rain.”. Random samples show sulfur, ammonium, carbon, and sulfate. Seasonal peaks are in May through Sep.

Pine Canyon Research Project:

Atmospheric deposition has two components: wet and dry. Dry deposition is difficult to study. PM2.5 air samplers are useful for this.

Natural rainfall has pH of 5.66. Anything less than 5 is “acid rain”, which is polluted rain.

Study sites include three elevations in Pine Canyon

High – oak/pine habitat in upper Pine Canyon

Middle – Sotol Grassland

Low – Glenn Springs area

Over past 6 years, soil pH has declined from 6.2 to 5.7 most likely due to increased acidity in precipitation and the addition of NO3 to the soil

The significance lies in how the ecosystem will respond.  There seems to be a change at the base level in the soil – differences in fungi and microbes. This will predictably result in an ultimate change in the composition of the sotol grassland.  When a change occurs at the base level of the ecosystem, we can expect to see changes at other levels.

More funding for air quality study in the Big Bend region has been appropriated as a line item in the House, but not yet in the Senate.


Does dry deposition contribute to increase in pH? Possibly. It is important to continue studies.

Could the ongoing drought cycle play a role in changing soil pH? Possibly.

Are the American Clay bentonite crushing plant and the Rio Nuevo proposal good or bad ideas? Rio Nuevo is a bad idea. Right of capture rules that governs groundwater regulation was dreamed up in 1800s. Legislating and governing groundwater may be changing based on recent water planning work. Rio Nuevo stands the chance of sucking a lot of aquifers dry. The biggest concern related to bentonite crushing may be PM10… but what will be the exhaust emissions?

Any idea what the association between bentonite and dioxin may be (per World Health Organization report). Perhaps bentonite has absorbed dioxin.

Quality study for US Clay revealed calcium and sodium, neither or which are an issue. X-ray defraction was used to determine the purity of the clay.

Zeolite is prevalent around Casa Piedra, a better molecular sieve then bentonite.

Business Meeting:

Buy calendars, or check-out several for sale

Wall calendars $11.95

Engagement calendars $12.95

Election ballots were in the recent newsletter; please vote and return them.

Minutes of the October meeting were accepted per motion, second and voting.

Meeting adjourned.

Submitted by Linda Hedges, Secretary


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