Scarantino'S Reply To Otero Mesa Letter Continued ...

Scarantino'S Reply To Otero Mesa Letter Continued ...

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The following is a continuation of Jim Scarantino's reply to Steve Finch, which originated in the printed Letters to the Editor section of this week's Alibi:

Mr. Finch's estimates of the water resources of the Salt Basin, which underlies eastern Otero Mesa, have been well known, even before the controversy over energy development erupted. What's newsworthy is what activists have done with his work. The focus of my article was activists' claim that Otero Mesa has enough potable water for 1 million people for one hundred years. No qualified hydrologist, including Mr. Finch, has yet publicly to assert that claim.

Mr. Finch in 2001 estimated approximately 15 million acre feet of potable water in the Salt Basin. In researching the article, I discovered that the Coalition for Otero Mesa had lumped into their representations an equal volume of brackish water, thus doubling Finch's estimate of potable water. I feel certain he is not aware how his research has been manipulated.

When I first requested the data behind the claim that Otero Mesa had enough potable water for 1 million people for one hundred years, Steve Capra, Executive Director of the New Mexico Wilderness Society, attributed the claim to David Chace, a hydrologist with Sandia National Laboratories. Capra in an e-mail stated that Chace had told him there was enough water for 1 million people for two hundred years, but that Finch had vetoed release of that information because Finch felt Sandia had a conflict of interest. Mr. Finch is confused in alleging I misquoted him on this. I was quoting verbatim an e-mail from Capra.

Mr. Finch did not contradict the factual claims of my story. He expressed concern that people were publishing estimates “written on the back on an envelope.” He told me that many assumptions go into such estimates, and that calculations of this nature were probably beyond the activists' abilities.

Before I submitted the piece, I e-mailed both Capra and Nada Culver, an attorney for The Wilderness Society, informing them of the facts I intended to report and asking if they were disputed. Neither disputed any facts, but both pleaded the story not run for reasons unrelated to its accuracy.

A few weeks back I wrote about environmentalists' image problems, and cited a poll showing they enjoyed no more credibility on environmental issues than utility companies. This saga helps explain why that is so.

Gov. Richardson is correct to protect Otero Mesa. Every right thinking person agrees its important aquifer must not be contaminated. But wild hyperbole doesn't help the cause and treats public opinion as something to be manipulated rather than respected.

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