Why Preserve Arroyos?
"El Paso is a unique place in many ways. One contributing element is the natural drainage systems of arroyos. Most of these arroyos carry runoff from the Franklin Mountains to the Rio Grande, and are dry most of the year. They flow most heavily in late summer and early fall when tropical air masses enter our region, during a period we call our 'monsoon season'. Originally these arroyos meandered freely across the land, responding to the volume and velocity of storm water runoff, thereby creating large flood plains and alluvial fans. (A good example of this are the Keystone Wetlands, created and sustained by the Resler Arroyo in Northwest El Paso.) Natural arroyos are rich in plant life due to the soil moisture that remains after runoff events. The abundant vegetation attracts a concentration of native wildlife in search of food and shelter."
The previous paragraph is taken from "Albuquerque's Environmental Story - Environmental Topic: Arroyos" by Rex Funk. The only change is that El Paso and the Franklin Mountains replace Albuquerque and the Sandias, and the Keystone Wetlands and Resler Arroyo were inserted.
El Paso's Comprehensive Plan, The Plan for El Paso, outlines arroyo preservation policy in ten pages beginning on page 51. The Comprehensive Plan protects arroyos as follows: "Goal: Protect and promote ecologically sensitive areas such as aquifer recharge zones, hillsides, bosques, arroyos and wetlands. Action: Assure preservation of natural habitats for wildlife, especially in riparian corridors (including arroyos), wetlands, and hillside areas. Action: Retain river, arroyos, and stream channels in their natural state to prevent undue erosion and sedimentation. Policy: Discourage new development in flood-prone areas. Action: Maintain natural stream corridors and arroyos in as original state of alignment as possible. Action: Design necessary flood control facilities to blend with and enhance developments through concepts such as park/ponding and retention of natural arroyos." Arroyos are natural drainage, flood control, erosion and sedimentation (water filtration) systems, in addition to being natural flora and fauna habitats, which are the greenfields in arid desert regions. Simply stated, arroyos are nature's gift to us.
In addition to El Paso's Comprehensive Plan, there are seven Municipal Codes that protect arroyos. Section 19.16.050.H, Stormwater Design in the Subdivision Code. It states, "Preservation of Natural Arroyos. Arroyos shall be preserved in their natural state, except that modifications of such requirements of Section 19.04.170 and is necessary to protect the public health, safety, or welfare. If a modification is authorized to allow improvements, the design for such improvements shall be incorporated into the subdivision improvement plans and approved by the city engineer. As part of initial review of a subdivision application prior to acceptance as complete, the city engineer shall determine the area within which improvements will require modification. The city engineers's determination shall be forwarded to the applicant and city plan commission which shall decide on any modification requested by the applicant." When is it necessary to protect the public health, safety or welfare by developing a subdivision or anything else in an arroyo? On the contrary, development in arroyos endanger the public health, safety and welfare.
The other ordinances are found in Title 18, Building & Construction (Grading). Section 18.44.020.C. "To ensure that the grading will not adversely affect the natural topographic features, arroyos or other drainage features or alter surface runoff." Section 18.44.220.E.1.d. "Fills...should not be placed where they cause encroachment upon arroyos or other natural drainageways." Title 20, Zoning, Preservation of the Natural Environment. Property Development Standards. Sections 20.18.130.G. 20.52.090, 20.52.100, and 20.56.100. "In (all) planned...developments, existing vegetation, animal life, arroyos, floodprone areas, steep slopes, and other natural features shall be considered in the planning, design and layout of buildings, service areas and location of streets in the allocation of open space preserve the natural environment."
None of these ordinances have ever been enforced to anyone's knowledge. We then need to ask ourselves two questions. First, what is it about the English language that anyone in City Hall doesn't understand? Secondly, based on the record, what would lead anyone to believe that passing additional arroyo preservation ordinances will be any more vigorously enforced than these? Nevertheless, the city is working on new arroyo preservation and open space ordinances and policies that are supposed to have more teeth. The outcome is still very much in doubt.
The real issue is regulatory takings versus the right to develop. Does the City of El Paso have the authority to enforce city plan standards and its codes that protect the public health, safety, welfare, historical preservation and environmental protection? "There is a heavy burden placed on the challenger to prove that the law does not achieve a legitimate public end or that it leaves no economic value", determined by the federal courts. Since the Resler Arroyo/Canyon was purchased with private funds and all lawsuits against the city have been dropped, the city's authority to enforce the existing arroyo protection codes remain unresolved. A recent inventory made by El Paso's Department of Planning reports that there are 285 arroyos or flow paths that cover 8,910 acres in El Paso. Of that number, 3,861 acres are privately owned. The bottom line is that privately owned arroyos can be regulated, but they cannot be taken for public use. However, publicly held arroyos must be protected before they become privately owned.
THE RESLER ARROYO FROM THE RELSER DRIVE OFF-RAMP AT I-10
Photo by Taylor Moore