Harney County’s Water Future: MESA and LESA Irrigation Systems

Uncertainties about water sustainability in Harney County are causing some ranchers to examine more efficient ways to irrigate alfalfa and hay crops.

Mark Owens went further. Mark is a hay farmer in Crane and one of the county’s three elected commissioners. In 2015, Mark attended a workshop on low elevation spray application (LESA) systems. Half-way through the presentation, Mark got on his cell phone and canceled an order for nozzles that would be used in his mid-elevation spray application (MESA) systems, the standard sprinkler system used in Harney County.

In March 2016, Owens converted 6 pivots to LESA. “It made total sense to me,” he said. “The savings in water and energy the first year were almost 25%. Using LESA, I was achieving almost 92% efficiency against the 75-80% efficiencies of MESA—with no reduction in yield.” For sure, both systems are better than water sprayed from wheel lines, which have about 65% efficiency.

Today, there are 42 more LESA systems in Harney County (48 counting Mark’s).

On May 17, 2017, Mark made a presentation to county ranchers at the ESD facility in Burns, where he compared new and old systems. People then drove out people out to Mark’s ranch for a demo.

LESA systems spray water from nozzles placed 12 inches above the ground or lower and spaced about 5 feet apart. As crops grow, the nozzles become less and less visible because they are under the canopy, further reducing water drift and evaporative loss, percolating water into the ground faster and saturating root zones more effectively. LESA works best on level fields.

LESA systems

LESA web image.jpg

Here is Mark’s comparison of MESA and LESA systems. The average water right allocation in Harney County is 3 acre-feet or 325,850 gallons per acre foot or 966,550 gallons per 3 acre-feet. This is typically the amount producers will utilize for optimal growth using MESA systems.

MESA                                                                        LESA

7.5 gallons per minute per acre                        5,8-6 gallons per minute

450 gallons per hour per acre                            348 gallons per hour per acre

10,800 gallons per day per acre foot                 8,352 gallons per day per acre foot

30 days to apply 325, 850 gallons                      39 days to apply 325,850 gallons

90 days uses 3 acre feet (97,200 gal)                90 days uses 2.3 acre foot (752,690 gal)

During his presentation, Mark made clear that reaching the high efficiencies of LESA systems depended on designing them to meet crop needs according to the type of soil and climate conditions. “Most importantly, you have to manage the system,” he said. “You have to go out and look at the fields. You can’t manage them from a pickup. It’s easy to over water.” LESA was so efficient, Mark had to shut down the system for five days last summer. “An efficiently designed system can be managed inefficiently,” Mark added.

Other Savings

LESA systems require less operating pressures. Mark reduced his horsepower requirements with a new pump design by eight horsepower, which saved approximately $10 a day in power costs.

If you have further questions about MESA and LESA, please contact Mark Owens.

Mark Owens

Harney County Commissioner

Cell:      541-589-2379

Office: 541-573-6356

mark.owens@co.harney.or.us

Retrofitting MESA to LESA

Harney County irrigation dealers are knowledgeable about conversions and costs. Basically conversion entails doubling the existing drops on the pivot lines, retrofitting them with double goosenecks and the correct types of sprinkler nozzles, and replacing regulators.

Cost and Financial Assistance

According to Mark, ‘If our results stay consistent during the second year, we will be able to recoup our out of pocket expenses within two years.

However, financial assistance is available for producers.

Harney Electric Cooperative customers can receive rebates on irrigation hardware upgrades and irrigation pumping improvements. Harney Electric has contracted with Harney Soil and Water Conservation District to deliver the program. Contact Bill Andersen, Energy Efficiency Analyst Harney SWCD, 541-573-5010, billhswcd@gmail.com

Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative OTCC) has a similar program, but funding is not currently in place. However, producers can fill out the paperwork and have it in place, when funding does become available. Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative 541-573-2666

The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB) provides up to 75% of the cost of projects that conserve natural resources and improve watershed health. Individuals are eligible to apply, but are encouraged to work with organizations such as the Harney County Watershed Council or the Harney Soil and Water Conservation District. Contacts: Karen Moon, Harney County Watershed Council 541-573-8199; Karen.moon!oregonstate.edu; or Marty Suter-Goold, Harney SWCD, 541-573-5010; marty.suter@or.nacdnet.net

In addition, The National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)—formerly Soil Conservation Service—has other programs to help producers identify ways to conserve energy, programs to help organic farmers selling less than $5000 of organic products per year, as well as for improvements to irrigation efficiency. For information on these and other programs, contact Zola Ryan, District Conservationist NRCS Hines Field Office, 541-573-6446 ext. 107; zola.ryan@or.usda.gov

Attend the June 28 Meeting

The fourth meeting of one the Water Availability sub-group is set for June 28, 2-5 p.m. at the ESD Building, 25 Fairview Loop.

Short presentations include:

2: 15 p.m. Irrigation Technology: Computer Management for Pivots (Matt Nonnenmacher, Clearwater Pump & Irrigation)

3 p.m. Groundwater Rights and Use (Harmony Burright, OWRD)

3:30 Review Water cycle concepts; discussion of social, environmental and economic impacts of adopting different irrigation technologies and other conservation practices?

The meetings are open to the public. Those who have a stake and interest in our water issues are encouraged to attend.  Hope to see you there.

Other posts

Other articles about the future of Harney County’s water.

 

https://homesweetjeromedrapaport.wordpress.com/2017/05/01/the-future-of-harney-countys-water/

Well complaints)

https://homesweetjeromedrapaport.wordpress.com/2017/05/16/the-future-of-harney-county-water-well-complaints/

 

Note:  I am a member of the Harney County Watershed Council; these are my views and do not necessarily refect those of council members.

 

The Future of Harney County’s Water

Harney County’s newest water challenge began in 2015, when the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) said it would no longer process any new well permits for 5243 square miles of the Harney Basin (45% of the entire county).

According to statements from the OWRD, groundwater pumping “appears to be exceeding groundwater recharge.” The primary use of permitted groundwater wells is for irrigating alfalfa and hay fields.

The moratorium was followed by the designation of the entire county as being in an official drought by Governor Kate Brown. Hard to even imagine this today when heavy snow and rain has left large lakes of surface water and flooding rivers.

Up to OWRD’s announcement, it had business as usual in Harney County, where agriculture is an 89 million dollar plus industry—42% crops; 58% cattle, according to a 2012 agricultural census. Alfalfa and hay prices were sky high. Cow/calf ranches were flourishing. Pivots shot water into the air without much regard to efficiency or conservation. There were scattered reports of domestic wells drying up or, for those ‘digging’ deeper, arsenic, salts and nitrates showing up in their drinking water. There were reports of too many wild horses on too little land sucking on surface water that was diminishing. And so on.

OWRD Explains the Moratorium

More than 120 ranchers showed up at an open hose meeting sponsored by OWRD in May 2015 for an explanation of the moratorium.

OWRD’s presentation showed slides of the infill of irrigation pivots in the last fifty years, declining water tables, etc. and suggested that groundwater permits might have been over-allocated. According to OWRD the estimated current annual groundwater usage is 201,250 acre-feet, which exceeds the 170,800 acre-feet available for groundwater use. As a result, “groundwater levels are declining, as total discharge exceeds recharge, depleting the water that is being stored in the aquifer.” This is commonly referred to as water mining.

OWRD announced a 4- to 5-year groundwater study of the Harney Basin’s aquifer by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and said the permit moratorium would last until 2020, when the study would produce results. Presumably te study will include new recharge estimates, since the recharge number used by OWRD came from a 1972 study that assumed one inch of recharge over the entire basin.

http://www.oregon.gov/owrd/docs/Place/Malheur_Lake_Basin/2015_May_Groundwater_Open_House.pdf  (If this link does not open, cut and past the URL into your search engine.)

Groundwater Study Rules Advisory Committee (RAC)

The OWRD presentation was a big wake-up call. Their presentation had cast doubts that water storage in the aquifer beneath the basin might not last forever. The new fear: water would get used up much more quickly than was ever imagined. How much water was left? No one knew.

One response was the formation of a Groundwater Study Rules Advisory Committee appointed by The Harney County Court and OWRD to meet together to iron out questions.

A major point of discussion surrounded 39 applications for groundwater permits that were left in limbo, since OWRD said they would stop processing all permits even those that were in process currently. One result was the adoption of new options for those 39 applications and was a good example of the beneficial kind of collaboration between state and local officials.

Since the formation of RAC, at least four all-day committee meetings have occurred. Part of the meetings is given over to educational presentations about the study, scope, known geology and hydrogeology of the Harney Basin. Part of the meetings is given over to answering questions. For example, some ranchers say that there is more than one basin in the study area and asked that the study not take a ‘one suit fits all’ approach; others say that water in some areas of the basin seemed plentiful and showed no depletion and therefore should be exempt from the moratorium. Some ranchers expressed skepticism that water mining is occurring at all.

In July 2016, a presentation showed the purpose and scope of the groundwater study; spoke about the development of observation wells; delineated the boundaries of the Harney Basin; and showed analyses of water level trends in various areas of the basin.

https://www.oregon.gov/owrd/docs/Place/Malheur_Lake_Basin/GWSAC_Presentation_2016JUL27.pdf (If this link does not open, cut and past the URL into your search engine,)

A second meeting in October 2016 included as USGS power point overview for past completed studies in other basins and the timeline and approach for the Harney study.

https://www.oregon.gov/owrd/docs/Place/Malheur_Lake_Basin/GWSAC_Presentation_2016OCT20.pdf (If this link does not open, cut and past the URL into your search engine,)

The January meeting included a presentation of how water levels in groundwater wells are measured.
https://www.oregon.gov/owrd/docs/Place/Malheur_Lake_Basin/Citizen_GW_Level_Monitoring_presentation.pdf (If this link does not open, cut and past the URL into your search engine,)

A fourth meeting held in April 2017  An excellent presentation called “Groundwater Hydrology 101 was presented by geologist Michael E. Campana in the April meeting.began ” explained closed basin hydrogegology,  groundwater and surface flows and the factors that affect how water enters and leaves the basin.

http://bit.ly/2ph2FYw

These presentations have been useful for providing a basis for discussing issues of concern. To date, meetings have been cordial and helpful.

Harney County Watershed Council

Another response to the moratorium and drought was a new collaborative effort to plan strategies for the future of water quality and sustainability. The Harney County Watershed Council (HCWC ) put in for and received a community-based planning grant from the OWRD for a new collaborative effort. As with the Groundwater Rrules Advisory committee, some meetings included educational presentations to stimulate and focus discussion.

For the first nine months, the goals of the meetings of the Community Based Planning effort were (1) to develop an inclusive group of all affected users in the Harney Basin; (2) determine what information is not being gathered by the RAC and the USGS study (for example, potential water quality deterioration); and (3) identify some management strategies that might be effective in ensuring sustainability for people, wildlife and the environment.

For example, HCWC member Dustin Johnson conducted a February 6 workshop about how to achieve better irrigation efficiencies. Topics included deficit irrigation, low elevation sprinkler application, irrigation scheduling, a producer panel and agricultural water quality management. There was also a presentation on financial assistance programs presented by the Soil Water and Conservation District.

 

Future workshops may include information about alternative water-saving crops and other issues identified by the process.

The HCWC also put in for and received grants to measure water levels in over 150 observation wells, over and above those being measured by the USGS, to help broaden the data for the groundwater study.

Meetings of the Groundwater Study Advisory Committee, Harney County Watershed Council and Community Based Planning are open to the public. They are great ways for members of the community to ask questions and share points of view.

According to OWRD representative Harmony Burright, OWRD place-based water planning coordinator: “I want to encourage everyone to think about how we can manage water in a way that considers multiple interests, values our interconnectedness, and fosters collaboration. The stories we tell are powerful beyond measure. . . and encourage us to work with our neighbors to build communities that reflect our collective values.“

That’s a powerful and inspiring goal for Harney County people to work towards.

Note:  I am a member of the Harney County Watershed Council; these are my views and do not necessarily refect those of council members.

Farewell Barbara Blackburn. Rest in Peace.

Barbara Blackburn was the reason Walt, Max and I moved to Jerome, Arizona. Greg Driver called today to say she had ‘passed.’

Barbara came to Jerome, AZ  when she left San Francisco in the arms of Dean, who was ‘throwing’ tires—vernacular for someone who repaired them. He was a handsome con man who convinced Barbara he was a talented photographer. She sold her home, bought a little travel trailer, some photo equipment for him, and off they went, landing in Sedona some months after, the money gone up their noses in a lot of cocaine.

A Sedona bartender told her she should look into Jerome. The first day in Jerome, Barbara put $15,000, the last of her money, into buying the Old Bakery and adjacent duplex, where she lived while she began to remodel the old Bakery building. It took her another six months or so to get rid of Dean.

Bakery ovens JeromeVarious_312

The old bakery ovens are still hanging around in the back yard of one of my friends. (Photo by Bob Swanson)

No Turkeys

We arrived in Jerome at 5 a.m. No cars on Main Street. No people. No sun. No nada. We’re dead-tired, think to catch a ‘motel’ in Clarkdale, which was a empty as Jerome. Turn around to explore Jerome’s ramshackle, twisty streets, for some sign of where Barbara might live. And after about ten minutes we notice a ‘NoTurkeys’ sign in a window.

Barbara greets us with a big smile and a joint. It’s nonstop party for the next three days with the hippies of Jerome. We were enchanted and totally exhausted by the time we left. Barbara invited us to stay with her when we moved.

A Magnanimous Dual Personality

Barbara was the only person I knew who had a dual  personality that she successfully kept together for years and years in San Francisco and Jerome: a banker/CEO/financial wizard by day and at night, a hippie that drank, smoke and dropped LSD, only to show up in straight work clothes the next day for whatever job she held. She was magnanimous, welcoming,  and inclusive to all she met, ready with a smile, cup of coffee, a joint, a meal.

She became CEO for John McNerney’s Jerome Instrument Corporation, and helped propel it into a four million dollar business.  Her special gift was knowing how to make a workplace easy for people to be in

JIC Circa 1980

Front step left: Nell Moffett Second Step: L-R: Paul Nonnast, Ester Burton, Darrell Fellers (Karen Fellers’ son) Third step: L-R: Iris McNerney, Kathy Davidson Fifth Step: L-R Ron Ballatore’s daughter Stephanie; Karen Gorman, Mary Nickerson, Susan Kinsella, Barbara Blackburn/ Sixth step: Lindsey Waddell (John Waddell’s son); Ed Dowling; Randy Murdock; Upper step: Sandra Strong, Carol Nesselrode, Pat Montreuil, Roger Davis Photo taken just after JIC moved from Earl Bell’s old lab near the Douglas Mansion in late 1980.

Barbara’s Acid Punch

She had a gift for making instant friends and weaving them into her life. She was a great hostess and her Bakery home became party central, for any occasion, for any friend that visited.

She was known for her acid (LSD) punch, a special for parties. Two very memorable ones were a JIC company party down at the river and a Valentines Party to commemorate a new office Barbara and I shared.

4 cans large Frozen Pink Lemonade

2 quarts gingerale

2 quarts club soda

2 bottles cheap champagne

1/2 gallon raspberry sherbert

100 hits of acid

The Great Outdoors

Many of our friends will tell you about rafting and backpacking with Barbara into many wildernesses. But our personal favorite was a ten-day backpack down Red Canyon in the Grand Canyon, with Walt and Greg Driver, to whom she was married for ten years. We hiked in the early morning hours; found a shaded cubbyholes to hide in during the heat of the day, played bridge, smoked joint after joint, and yes, dropped acid.

Would love if readers of this memorial would share favorite stories in the ‘comments’ section.

The Jerome Defense Fund

Barbara, Sue Kinsella and I formed “The Jerome Defense Fund” association and solicited donations for defendants of the Big Bust of 1985 to help them pay bail bond and legal fees. We held regular meetings, attended by many of those accused and their friends, and it became something between an information conduit and outlet for grief. We held a benefit dance, called Jail House Rock, with the help of 127 volunteers (twenty-seven of them musicians).

The Main Street stores, without exception, and many artists, made contributions for the large raffle that was held at the dance. We raised over $4,500 and split it among the defendants that needed money, including those who did not live in Jerome. Although it made a very small dent in what amounted to more than $75,000 in legal fees, the heart and solidarity behind it meant a great deal to the defendants.

Leaving Jerome
Barbara left Jerome the way she came in to it, in the arms of a con man that she met in a bar in Baja California. He claimed he was wealthy and owned a helicopter company in Tahoe that removed old growth trees. He had a special gift for cutting her off from her friends. John McNerney commented that he didn’t know any wealthy guys who had bad teeth.What was amazing was that Barbara didn’t find out just how strange he was until two years later when she got a phone call from the cops in Colorado who had arrested him with a car stolen from a dealership in Cottonwood, which he presented to her as a gift.

Last Communication: June 2016

“I have changed my life recently – moved from the mountains of Colorado to a more hospitable climate and one I could afford to live in: Albuquerque.  The medical services and doctors I can get here are wonderful and I am so in need.

Have had 4 stents placed -2 in femoral arteries and 2 in main aorta but yet have I have pulmonary arterial disease and congestive heart failure- both of which will not be corrected –-  “too much damage not enough benefit “-   have bought a sweet little home here in the old residential section of Albuquerque – and no snow!  Am on oxygen 24/7 and will always be – just trying to get my self strong enough  to walk more than ¼ block… it is a different life for me – but as an 82 year old said to me recently “at my age you do one day at a time”  ……. damn smoking finally took its toll

It’s been nice remembering the good days in Jerome.  Greg Driver called a couple of days ago – just to say hello – that was sweet.

Think of you and Walter often – hope life is still good in Oregon….hugs and kisses to you both.”

Adios, John McNerney

Note: Trying to move posts around. Put Malheur Siege and Music Biz blogs on “Pages.”  Want to have just Home Sweet Jerome blogs appear here.  Also: will be doing a digital version of the book and will include a few blogs that did not appear in the book.  Any favorites?

John McNerney, founder of Jerome Instrument Corporation (JIC), Jerome, Arizona in 1979, died on May 20 at his home in Todos Santos, Baja, Mexico. Iris, his wife was with him, as were a few of his closest friends. The lung infection he had battled with for many years finally caught up with him. He was 78 years old.

He was a 40-year friend. The sadness I feel is compounded with the recognition that as we grow old, our friends disappear around us. They become memories we carry in our hearts, but they cannot substitute for the comradeship, wisdom, stories and laughter that wove in and out of our histories as friends.

John and Iris moved to Jerome in 1973: “We bought a house for $13,000 in a desolate and empty town,” John told me. “It was all we could afford and the view was astounding. The first winter was brutal, there was one wood stove for four rooms, and no insulation. When the wind blew, the upstairs floor rippled. The cast of characters was astounding, old school bohemians and hordes of hippies that always seemed to be talking about how stoned they were. I had a patent on a mercury detector I couldn’t sell, my geology pick, and an old rusty saw. I bought a few tools and set myself up as a furniture maker.”  (Excert from “Arrival Tales” in the book Home Sweet Jerome: http://www.amazon.com/Home-Sweet-Jerome-Rebirth-Arizonas/dp/1555664547/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1463867069&sr=8-1&keywords=home+sweet+jerome

John volunteered to help re-invent the planning and design policies and reorganize the fire department. Iris took a job waitressing at the old Candy Kitchen restaurant (now Mile High).

JIC: Lifting Jerome out of Economic Depression

JIC was one of the catalysts that lifted Jerome out its economic depression and ghost town ‘appearance.’ (The others were the beginnings of a burgeoning art colony and a guerilla marijuana growing business.)

JIC Circa 1980

Photo of John and Iris and JIC’s employees in 1980, just after they moved into the old Jeorme high school. Front step left: Nell Moffett Second Step: L-R: Paul Nonnast, Ester Burton, Darrell Fellers (Karen Fellers’ son) Third step: L-R: Iris McNerney, John McNerney, Kathy Davidson Fifth Step: L-R Ron Ballatore’s daughter Stephanie; Karen Gorman, Mary Nickerson, Susan Kinsella, Barbara Blackburn Sixth step: Lindsey Waddell (John Waddell’s son); Ed Dowling; Randy Murdock; Upper step: Sandra Strong, Carol Nesselrode, Pat Montreuil, Roger Davis. Photo courtesy John McNerney collection.

John invented and began manufacturing a superior mercury vapor detector. One of JIC’s biggest buyers was the US Navy, which installed them on its submarines. Their closed air environment meant that breakage of mercury-filled instrumentation could cause nerve disease. “There’s a reason for that ‘mad hatter,’ John used to joke. ‘The reason those hatters got shaking fits is they used mercury-laden felt. “

Between 1981 and 1983, John recruited fifty employees and many sub-contractors from the four hundred people living in Jerome. The need for paying jobs was enormous, particularly for many people who stayed on the sidelines of Jerome’s burgeoning pot industry, participated in town politics and wanted to find a way to support themselves and their eccentric life styles in this quirk of a town.

John had an instinctive knack for recognizing someone’s skills in one field and assuming they could adapt them to another. “Maybe tourists only saw hippies, but in the four years I had lived here, I knew that many of my employees would be those so-called hippies. Many were geniuses. This tiny town was able to spit out all the talent I needed.”

Barbara Blackburn was a former VP of Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco, with special skills in managing personnel and setting up computer systems for tracking them. When John hired her, the only job she had been able to find was bartending for less than minimum wage. She became president of JIC. “She was a cut-loose hippie on weekends; but an extremely sophisticated financial professional during the week. She helped us grow into a first-rate company.”

Artist Paul Nonnast designed the detector’s instrument case on the basis of a hamster cage that he designed for a child’s pet hamster—an incredible labyrinth full of spinning balls and intricate ramps all done with phenomenal craftsmanship and imagination. “I didn’t know much about Paul,” John said, “but that cage made me want to. It was as though he had gotten inside the head of a hamster and designed from there.”

JIC hired my company to write their manuals and provide advertising and public relations services. (I got my promotional and writing skills in the music business when I worked as an artist’s manager for Bill Graham’s Fillmore Management.) My business partner was artist Gary Romig, my partner, who was known for his watercolors of birds (http://www.artofbirds.com/Gary-Romig.html).

jic-poster-4-x-6-51

The poster for Jerome Instrument Corporation was created by my advertising agency and illustrated by Pam Fullerton (pamelajeanpress.com). The Einstein quote fit John McNerney’s philosophy throughout his life.

Jamie Moffett, a renegade computer engineer, put together wiring harnesses and internal software. Jewelers and artists were hired for assembly work. “Engineers who visited JIC and looked inside the instrument were always amazed at the meticulousness of the work,” John said. “Many commented it looked like a piece of art.”

Hiring an all-Jerome crew did have an unexpected downside. “I soon found that I was hiring not just their skills but their idiosyncrasies, many of which I couldn’t even have imagined existed,” John said. “Nothing was secret; everyone hung out their eccentricities like so much laundry on a line. After work I’d meet my employees and their friends in one of the town’s two bars. A few hours later, I’d be at a meeting to figure out how to raise money for fire safety equipment. To live and work in Jerome was to experience togetherness on a scale you’ve never even dreamed of.”

In 1989 John sold his company to Arizona Instrument Corporation in Phoenix. They continue to sell the mercury analyzer: http://www.azic.com

New Life for the McNerneys

After selling JIC, John pursued his dream of building a sailboat to use on the bays near Seattle, Washington and Baja, California. I wish I had a photo of that beautiful hand-made boat. My husband and I sailed on it when we went ‘boat camping’ with John and Iris on some of the islands near La Paz. That’s where I learned the term, ‘ fishing with pesetas. ‘ John would approach a fishermen camped out on one of the shores and ask to buy one of the fish they caught for our dinner.

In the nineties, John built a new home in Todos Santos, now a somewhat quirky tourist and art haven, not unlike Jerome. Many of the old timers that still live in Jerome knew of the beaches there as surfer heaven. We knew them for their emptiness and for the whales that would come up close to shore and say hello if we stood on the beach long enough. It was as though we had summoned them.

McNerney the Activist Against Gold Mining 

While living in Todos Santos, John and Iris became activists against two major threats to the well-being of Todos Santos. One was a gold mine that would have been built close to the location of the water sources for the town and in a biosphere reserve. “The proposed mine near Todos Santos was a preposterous idea: the mine would have needed to move a million pounds of rock to get a pound of gold,” said John. The ‘rallying’ slogan was Agua Vale Mas Que Oro!” (Water is Worth more than Gold!).” Carlos Mendoza Davis, the governor of Baja Sur, who was elected in October 2015, put the final governmental kabash on the mine. He agreed with protesters that it threatened to suck up water reserves and potentially pollute the aquifer with processing chemicals and mining wastes.

The other was an ambitious building development that proposes to double to size of Todos Santos. The audacious plan began with the bulldozing of thousands of mangroves flanking the beautiful crescent shaped beach at Punta Lobos and flattening the sloping dunes. Developers built a 1000-foot long, low concrete sea wall and buttressed it with large rocks on the ocean side. Not twenty-five feet from the sea wall, they began constructing the hotel and a few homes.

The beach all but disappeared. In less than a day, hundreds of years of nature’s work was destroyed by a construction boondoggle, and with it, the livelihood that had sustained many generations of fishermen and their families. The damage is irreversible. The fishermen refer to the developers as ‘tres cucarachas’ (three cockroaches).

punta_lobos

The old beach at Punta Lobos, Todos Santos, Baja CA

sea wall:rocksP9129082

No more beach. Walls and rock. The proposed development at Punta Lobos.

Last October, a strong storm surge—not unusual there— washed away the beach right up to the large rocks and wall. “The sea wall is like the Footprint of Godzilla—blocking the drainage from a large watershed to the east and interrupting the natural ebb and flow of the sea,” said John McNerney. “Thirty foot waves from new storms will wash away the sea wall and surge right into the new hotel. Hotel owners will need to supply life preservers in the guest rooms.”

That was John: he had an uncanny ability to capsulize the absurdity of the developers in a pithy, funny statement. 

Adios

Adios, amigo. I like to think you are floating somewhere up there among the giants in the Milky Way and have found some landing for your great soul among the stars. Muchos besos. Que te vaya bien.

During the early nineteen seventies, John McNerney prospected for gold in the northern Nevada deserts during summers. He came up with an idea to use accurate measurements of mercury vapor to find gold. “Mercury and gold ore often exist near one another,” John said. “Mercury is easier to detect because it lets off gasses— volatilizes—in the soil. Under a hot desert sun, the soil heats up, causing the mercury vapor to rise upward. If I figure out how to accurately measure the amount of mercury vapor, I would have a window deep down into the earth that could lead to a deeply buried gold deposit.” After many experiments, he wasn’t having any luck translating his idea into a practical system.

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Audrey Headframe, Jerome, AZ. In the nineten eighties, a small gold strike deep under this head frame cause new mining to occur for a very brief few year.

John’s chance encounter with an entomologist in a bar in Tuscarora, Nevada supplied a possible solution. “He was counting bug populations by driving down the highway with a large tube stuck out of the window of his truck,” John said. “At the end of the tube was an electrified screen. As bugs stuck to the screen, the electrical resistance of the screen increased and he was able to measure their concentrations. Who knows how he came up with this novel idea. I got to thinking about it when it occurred to me that the bugs were like the mercury gas atoms. Maybe their adsorption onto a gold-plated screen would cause an electrical interference that could be measured.”

It was John’s eureka moment.

With the help of some Arizona State University (ASU) professors, John put together some gold-plated screens and headed back out into the desert. He would use the screens to collect mercury vapor. As he headed into the desert on his motorbike, he had the ingenious idea for collecting higher concentrations of mercury vapor over the soil by hooking up the gold screens to a portable car vacuum cleaner.

“This seemed to be working quite well,” John told me. “I’m out there vaccuming the desert, looking for mercury vapor. “

Then, out in the distance I notice two cowboys on horses. I figure they’re looking for stray cattle. They notice me on my hands and knees and start coming closer. Maybe they think I need help. Maybe they’re flashing on those Western movies where some bedraggled guy is dragging his ass across a sandy desert because he’s out of water. They urge their horses closer.

“That’s when the cowboys notice I have a vacuum cleaner in my hands and seem to be hosing the desert. The cowboys are dumbfounded. Nobody could think of anything to say. There is no common language for what is happening. The cowboys turn and ride away.”

(Excerpted from my book: Home Sweet Jerome: Death and Rebirth of Arizona’s Richest Copper Mining City http://www.amazon.com/Home-Sweet-Jerome-Rebirth-Arizonas/dp/1555664547/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1463867069&sr=8-1&keywords=home+sweet+jerome

The Incredible Hamster Cage

The previous blog told about how John noticed qualities in people that would help him with his manufacturing processes. John hired artist Paul Nonnast to design the detector’s case based on a hamster cage that Paul had designed for a child’s pet—an incredible labyrinth full of spinning balls and intricate ramps all done with phenomenal craftsmanship and imagination. “I didn’t know much about Paul,” John said, “but that cage made me want to. It was as though he had gotten inside the head of a hamster and designed from there.”

Paul was working as an apprentice for master sculptor John Waddell in Cornville www.artbywaddell.com/  His daughter Amy tells this story.

“Ah, that hamster cage,” said Amy Waddell. “You don’t know how many times I’ve told this story of a tall man—whose intensity scared me as a kid—eyes fixed on whatever he was working on, always sweating a little from that innate focus. I remember tiptoeing up the steep narrow splintered steps to his apprentice studio and pushed open the trap door to see all of his colorful spheres floating above me. He created magic worlds.

“Perhaps it was his idea to make it, perhaps mine, and perhaps I knew nothing about it until the moment I walked upstairs to his room one day and he unveiled it. I was very young, maybe seven or eight years old. The circular cage was a thing of beauty—about two feet in height and two and a half feet in diameter. A thin mesh ran all the way around the circular top and bottom plywood plates. There was a pole up the middle of the cage, and tiny pegs created a circular staircase from top to bottom with little kidney bean-shaped platforms that extended out at various levels. there was a large gourd strung up about an inch from the bottom, acting as a little womblike screen. Paul made a rather large habit trail in there, as well. A find ramp start at floor level, then wound up all the way around the cage.

“I was beyond thrilled. It was so beautiful. I couldn’t wait to put my hamster inside.

The hamster was in Nonnast heaven. It ran the habit-trail, drank from the large botle ffixrd to the side of his cage, ventured up the rap I rmember his little black eye and his ktle pik ears and the little fuzzy body as he traispe around his magnificangt  new digs—from pauper to royalty for no apparent reason.” https://www.flickr.com/people/paulnonnast/

 Prospecting for Gold

Two ironies  here. The first is that although John’s mercury detector was useful as a prospecting tool, the market wasn’t large enough to bring in big sales. Nor was the market dentistry, where John’s brother Rick thought the detector might sell. In those years dentists used a lot of mercury in their fillings, and there was a big suicide rate among them. The big market turned out to be U.S. Navy submarines.

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First ad created when JIC rigured the market was dentists and gold prospectors.

The second irony was that when John retired from Jerome Instrument Corporation, he turned against gold mining. One of his biggest regrets is finding the Jerritt gold mining prospect near Elko, Nevada, which John described as a most beautiful canyon that began filling with mining waste as soon as the mine opened. The Jerritt mine was shut down after it contaminated the Owyhee River and other streams with atmospheric mercury used in gold processing. The mine could re-open when it installed better mercury emission control equipment. “By that time the damage was done,” said John.

And by that time, John was living in Todos Santos, Baja, Mexico, where a large corporation wanted to mine for gold. John helped spearhead a successful grass roots movement against it. https://homesweetjeromedrapaport.wordpress.com/tag/john-mcnerney-mercury-manufacturing-jerome-az/ “You could say that my life has come full circle,” John McNerney said. “I used to be involved in helping mining companies find new sources of gold. The world needs metals, but mined responsibly. No one needs any more gold.”

(If you like this story,you may want to read about the Jerome that John helped rebuild: Home Sweet Jerome: http://www.amazon.com/Home-Sweet-Jerome-Rebirth-Arizonas/dp/1555664547/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1463867069&sr=8-1&keywords=home+sweet+jerome

Jerome, Arizona: Spook Hall and the Ghost City that Never Existed

Visitors to the 49th Annual Home Tour of historic homes and buildings in Jerome on May 17 and 18 reported many treats: homes beautifully restored by their owners and furnished as miniature museums of their lives. Because Spook Hall was a hub of this tour, readers might like to know how it got its name how Jerome became a ghost city.

Jerome, Arizona 1953

In 1953, less than a dozen businesses were still open in Jerome, Arizona— two bars, one Chinese restaurant, and two small grocery stores uptown. There was a mortuary near the elementary school, a small grocery store and gas station in the Gulch, and a pig farm out on the hogback.

The town was dying. Less than three hundred buildings remained. A population of 15,000 had dwindled to two hundred and nineteen people, 87 of them children, uncertain of what the future would bring. An eerie quiet settled into the town. No more explosions. No smoke wafted up from the Clarkdale smelter. No trains and whistles. Not much traffic, especially at night. No birds sang.

Jerome, Arizona, a ghost city that never existed.ver

View of Jerome, Arizona and Cleopatra Hill from the old cemetary. Photograph by Bob Swanson (Swanson Images.com)

And into that silence came the question, “What now?”

Spooks of Jerome, Arizona

In 1953, the Jerome Historical Society was formed and opened a mine museum, right where it still is on Main Street.

Society members spent their evenings gathered in the “Salt Mine,” their term for the saloon that had been located in the basement of the new museum. They churned out signs and brochures. They joked among themselves that they were a bunch of spooks. Once the word “spooks” was mentioned, the members jumped on it as part of the theme for promoting Jerome.

They made new hand routed ‘spook’ signage. The letters were white on a black background: “Spook’s Crossing” on Main Street across from the Mine Museum and “Luke the Spook,” their adopted mascot. Society members wrapped themselves in sheets and were photographed with the signs. The photographs appeared in newspapers and brochures.

The Spooks of the Jerome, Arizona  Historical Society

Jerome ‘Spooks’ on Main Street, Jerome, Arizona in the nineteen fifties. Courtesy Jerome HIstorical Society.

At the August 1953 meeting, society members discussed plans for an annual event. They gave it an official name: “Annual Spooks Homecoming, Potluck, and Dance” and invited present and former Jerome families. The free event was held in the Salt Mine.

The second Spook Night was held in Lawrence Hall (previously the J.C. Penney store), which the Jerome Historical Society purchased in 1954. The old wooden floor was a wreck and members worked many nights to make new flooring and nail it down. Some of the kids helped strip the old wood. The building became affectionately known as Spook Hall. Although faded, the J.C. Penney sign still remains. Today the hall is officially named the Richard Lawrence Memorial Hall, in memory of Jerome’s postmaster and first member of the society’s executive board, but those of us who live in Jerome call it “Spook Hall.”

The Invention of a Ghost City in Jerome, Arizona

One evening, some society member, nobody remembers who, dreamed up a sign that cemented the words “Jerome” and “ghost city” in visitors’ minds. The sign dramatized Jerome’s dwindling population in a sequence of descending numbers, each with a line crossed through it: 15,000, 10,000, 5,000, 1,000. At the end of the sequence were the words, “GHOST CITY.”

The ghost city of Jerome, Arizona that never existed.

The sign showed zero population in Jerome, Arizona, part of the Jerome Historical Society’s invention of a ghost city. Photo courtesy Jerome HIstorical Society.

Two signs were made and society members placed one on the hogback road that led out of town towards Clarkdale and one at the top of town. From either direction, the town looked desolate.

The signs were photographed and sent out with a press release that proclaimed Jerome, Arizona as “America’s First Ghost City.” Hundreds of newspapers and magazines picked up the story. Postcards of the image were sold in the Mine Museum.

Jerome Historical Society members that had never worked in an advertising agency had accomplished the most difficult marketing task of all. They branded Jerome as a ghost city.

Magazine and newspaper writers loved the ghost town moniker and readers of their articles never saw the name of the town without it.

Tourists told Mine Museum personnel for decades after that they had come to Jerome because of the ghost town stories. They took photographs of each other next to the signs. The signs disappeared sometime during the 1970s. . .

Thus, the history of a wealthy mining mecca became intertwined with the mythology of a ghost city that never really existed.

Excerpts from Home Sweet Jerome: Death and Rebirth of Arizona’s Richest Copper Mining City (www.homesweetjerome.net)

Diane Sward Rapaport's history of Jerome. Arizona after 1953

Book Cover of Diane Sward Rapaport’s history of Jerome. Arizona after 1953.

Open Pit Mining: The Protest that Worked

In 2009, Vista Gold Corporation,  a Canadian-owned company that was headquartered in Denver Colorado, announced plans for an open pit gold mine in the watershed of the Sierra Laguna, above the town of Todos Santos, in Baja, California.  The water for Todos Santos and adjacent villages came fro a dam that was very close to the location of the the proposed mine.  There are no other water sources. and the risk of contamination by mining waste was high. The value of the mine was estimated at 1.2 million ounces of gold over a 9.3-year period.

“The proposed mine near Todos Santos was a preposterous idea: the mine would have needed to move a million pounds of rock to get a pound of gold,” said John McNerney, known to many in Jerome as the founder of  Jerome Instrument Corporation in 1979.

John knows a lot about gold mines. He spent many summers prospecting in Northern Nevada and that’s where he got his idea for designing a detector that could accurately measure mercury vapor. He knew just how nasty the consequences of open pit gold mining could be.

One of his biggest regrets is finding the Jerritt gold mining prospect near Elko, Nevada, which John described as a most beautiful canyon that began filling with mining waste as soon as the mine opened. The Jerritt mine was shut down after it contaminated the Owyhee River and other streams with atmospheric mercury used in the processing of gold. It could re-open when it installed better mercury emission control equipment. “By that time the damage was done,” said John.

After John McNerney sold his company in 1988, he and his wife Iris moved to Port Townsend, Washington where John built a most beautiful boat that took them on many voyages. A favorite was sailing the islands that were near La Paz, Baja, California.Eventually they moved to Todos Santos, in Baja California (a tourist town not unlike Jerome, AZ), where John built a home. He joined Niparaja, an organization which is devoted to marine conservation and the protection of many of the sensitive environmental coastal areas and islands that he grew to love while sailing. (niparaja.org)

When Vista Gold announced the potential for a new open pit mine above the town he lived in, John helped spearhead the grass roots movement against it.

Virtually as soon as announcements of a new mine were made and permits applied for, a new website, vistagoldno.com, was put up and. During the first year, the articles were about the terrible working conditions and environmental disasters that attached to open pit mines. The first year also coined its ‘rallying’ slogan : Agua Vale mas que Oro! (Water is Worth more than Gold!).

The first article that was put up on vistagoldno website was: “Water vs 3700 tons of arsenic.” This short, concise, article made clear that the biggest threat to water sources was arsenic contamination. The article put up some graphic photos of the health problems that workers had due to working with arsenic. “With every hurricane or heavy rain, this exposed arsenic will leach into the aquifers for generations.” (Arsenic is a major component of acid mine tailing in and around Jerome.)

Hands and feet contaminated with arsenic.
Hands and feet full of arsenic poisoning.
John’s said that putting up these types  articles was part of the process of educating the community that had very little real knowledge about the effects of big mining in the communities surrounding them. “The information is all over the internet, John said. “We just had to find the best and start putting them up.”
The website shows the interesting sequence of activities that culminated in the protest that shut down the mine. The organization of the protest is clear and could easily serve as a model for virtually any other mine protest.

As the protest grew, so did the promises of Vista Gold—jobs (400 to 600 workers during construction and 300 full-time employees for the project’s life) and proper work-safety practices. Vista Gold also promised to use “environmental sensitive, state-of-the-art mining technology and practices, and uphold the highest international standards.” The company promised to build a desalination plant to ensure long-term, fresh water. (This was probably a just-in-case they wrecked the water sources for Todos Santos and nearby villages.)

Vistagoldno kept the pressure up. They put up stories about damage to Mexican communities that had ongoing mining operations. They featured a story about a few American companies that were protesting ‘dirty gold’ operations in other parts of the world. They summarized and provided links to a series of articles in the New York Times about contamination that resulted from the operations of global mining companies.

“When the residents of Todos Santos began to realize, ‘Hey that’s our lives they’re going to take away’—the protest picked up the momentum of a snowball careening downhill” John said.

The protest began to draw in leaders and residents in the communities that would be affected.  It was beginning to be so effective that. They wrote letters of protest to the mine and to Mexican officials.

Within a year, Vista Gold decided to change the name of the project from Paredones Amarillos (literally “yellow walls)” to the “Concordia” project “because it believed “that this will better reflect the integration of the project with the environmental, social and economic priorities of the region. The name Concordia (translated as “agreement” or “oneness”) was selected after “a wide-ranging dialogue with local communities and other project stakeholders.” which you could translate into community leaders were beginning be increasingly concerned about the nature of mining dirty gold. According to Vista Gold, “The name change is part of a broad program intended to communicate Vista’s commitment to developing the Concordia gold project in a way that is consistent with contemporary standards for sustainable development, environmental stewardship, and the health and safety of the communities in which the Company operates.”

Don’t you just love public relations mining speak!

In 2011, more than 8500 people chanting “Agua Vale mas que Oro! “ at a protest rally near Los Cabos. It included the entire town of Todos Santos — the cops, the school kids, the teachers, firemen, business owners, carpenters and plumbers and many others in neighboring communities. See a video about this march: http://www.bajainsider.com/environment/goldminevideo.htm

Support against the gold mining project drew .

Support against the gold mining project drew .

The following day, director of SERMANAT (environmental agency of Mexico) announced they would not issue the required permits for this mine.

Protesting a large mining operation can be done with committed leaders, their ability to inspire volunteers, a long-range plan to attract a strong following, and a catchy rallying slogan.

“You could say that my life has come full circle,” John McNerney said. “I used to be involved in helping mining companies find new sources of gold. The world needs metals, but mined responsibly. No one needs any more gold.”

The 7-Up Billboard Bites the Dust—Love in the Wild 70’s

I interviewed Charles Matheus in 1996; he had come back to Jerome to visit his mother. I asked him about what it was like to grow up here with the hippies. He chose to tell me this story about his parents and their friends, part of the older generation of eccentrics that had moved there in the sixtiesl

“I felt like I was surrounded by love. Before I talk about love, I have to talk about the billboard. In 1973, one of the focal points of conversations among my family’s friends was how to get rid of the billboard. It was the only billboard for 50 miles around and it was right at the apex of the curves. It took up the whole of our friend’s Larry Ahern’s living room window, a hideous “7-Up Power” ad in paisley flowers of Day-Glo orange/green/fuchsia. In an election year, the ad was temporarily replaced by an ugly mug of a sheriff running for the county spot against the USA’s red white and blue.

“One day, the billboard was gone. Most people thought it was Katie Lee who took it down. She was considered a radical before anyone knew the width of that word. In those years, she was a Western singer who sang about cows, horses, prostitutes and the disappearance of real cowboys.

“Ten years later, I was reminiscing with my Mom, just before I went to college. 
‘Wasn’t it great when Katie Lee cut the billboard down.

‘That wasn’t Katie, that was your father,’ said Mom. ‘One night he and his buddy Larry were sitting at the dinner table getting pissed off and they decided to do something about it. They went into the coal shed and got the blue chain saw they used to cut wood from up on Mingus. They made three cuts and toppled the billboard into the weeds, where it still lays.’

During an investigation of the crime, Winnie Foster, one of our friends that had moved to Jerome in the 1960s, confessed that she had done it, but the cops didn’t believe her. By that time, she was getting on in age and had broken a hip. She told us she wanted to spend a night in jail as part of her ‘bucket list.’ Winnie lived in a blue and white house across from the Methodist Church that her friends and family called “Foster’s Folly” because they thought she was crazy to buy a home in Jerome.

“My father died when I was young. I can’t describe what it is to feel proud of someone I hardly knew, nor can I tell you what’s it’s like to love someone who’s gone, but that’s love and love is hard to talk about.”