Weekly Business Profile
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Keep The Rio Grande
Rio Grande, a Grand Legacy
We have a magnificent river at our doorstep, still largely untouched by commerce and industry. It roars down from Colorado through absolutely terrifying gorges, and only just begins to widen as it reaches the Albuquerque basin. Here the Rio Grande is no longer a pretty, slim mountain stream, but a wide nourishing river for both wildlife and agriculture. This river has never been a navigable stream; there have never been barges carrying heavy cargo. It's too shallow for a humble water wheel or mill. As a consequence we've never had riverfront industry. We've never had filthy piers, oily tug boats, or even heavy traffic along the river front. No highways run along its banks; no factories have sprung up pulling water into their process, spitting back out hot dirty rinse water. Instead, we have a riverside of small farms and wildlife habitat. Our Bosque is home to a great variety of creatures, and a migratory stop for our great modern dinosaurs—the Sandhill Cranes, resident in America for more than two and a half million years. Not bad for a metropolitan area of more than half a million people—a beautiful and spectacular blend of people, wildlife, outdoor sports, arts, urban farms, pink Sandia sunsets and always the Rio Grande. But now we're in danger of overwhelming this river, not by ill intent, but by our sheer numbers and our careless habits. Our litter, and casual trash, all those discarded things that we leave lying about on the ground or toss from a car window—all this refuse becomes potential river pollution when those few rare rains come roaring down the ditches and arroyos. Stormwater pollution is an awkward term, implying that there is something wrong with stormwater. In our community it’s important to understand that this infrequent rain, and sometimes a violent storm, is a very fragile phenomenon. Rain is a great benefit to the river, but a potential threat as well when it carries pollutants along with the fresh water. Given the serious, years-long drought we’ve suffered, you might suppose that stormwater pollution would be less important. The reverse is true. Rains are now so infrequent that the pollution is not washed free for several months at a time. It continues to accumulate every day. When the stormwater does come, it scours the ditches and arroyos, and flushes a great concentration of our waste into an already stressed river. The Rio Grande is suffering greatly from the drought, too little water for farmers downstream, and too much pollution. Again, we are fortunate to have very few chemicals and dangerous toxins in our watershed, but the simple “ordinary” stuff that we leave behind carelessly, nonetheless has a serious impact on the river. And it is completely pointless. There is no economic reason for our litter, no industry no mining or oil wells at fault, just our own thoughtless actions. There’s a free, easy remedy for this stormwater pollution. No one has to be an environmental activist. We don’t need a task force, or a trash czar, or a tax levy—we each just need to be a little more tidy, more thoughtful, better citizens and better neighbors. Like all rivers the Rio Grande is protected by the Clean Water Act. Our stormwater discharges to the river, have to be permitted, and by law Bernalillo County must reduce the pollution in these discharges. The Surface Water Quality Bureau of the New Mexico Environment Department sets Water Quality Standards, and has listed the Middle Rio Grande in the Albuquerque area as impaired (or damaged) by coliform bacteria since 2001. Consequently Bernalillo County, and all other permitted communities, must take steps to reduce this bacteria. One known contributing factor is dog waste. It’s not the largest source of bacteria—birds are responsible for 40 to 50 percent. But we can’t diaper the birds, or the bears, or coyotes, or any other wildlife. We can and should pick up after our own dogs. Hence, the Poop Fairy—a humble and humorous reminder that waste won’t go away by magic. We hope you enjoy the imagery, but the true meaning of “Scoop your Poop” is Keep the Rio Grand.
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