When a dozen members of our community, known for organic farming, were sickened by “routine” herbicide spraying along State Road 68 between Española and Rinconada (Taos County Line), we immediately went about finding out exactly what had happened and why. Most importantly we wanted to make sure it never happened again, to us or anyone else. The route involved the heavily trafficked road from Española to Taos. It runs very near the Rio Grande in many places. It runs near organic farms, migratory bird routes, homes, local businesses, acequias, and shallow residential wells.
The support we have gotten from all over the state (1,300 signatures on a petition), has shown us that we are but an example of a systemic problem. The first thing we discovered was that there seems to be no agency in New Mexico whose job it is to protect citizens or the environment from pesticides. It seemed logical to us to contact the Health Department and Environment Department for help. But they referred us back to the Department of Transportation who had done the spraying. This proved very frustrating in the beginning. Getting information often involved filing public information requests and waiting weeks. It seems the only recourse the public has in a case like this is to request the Department of Agriculture do an investigation (an obvious conflict of interest). It took two months to get the results. When received, the report only said “the driver was sent a warning letter and the Agency was given compliance instruction.”
Then we found out there was another version of the report including the fact that the applicator did not have a wind meter with him (as required by law). Rinconada, in particular, is a very windy area. Wind, plus the lack of information, disinformation, apathy about the hazards of pesticides, and desire for a quick fix, seems to be the explanation of what happened. We are presently awaiting this more complete version of the report from the Department of Agriculture through a public records request.
In the past week, since the community meeting with DOT on 9/7, as covered by The Taos News, the agency has been sincerely working with us to find a solution. They are sending a landscape engineer and their Environmental Manager to walk along some of the “problem” segments of the highway with some of our organic farmers, bee keepers, etc. We are hoping this leads eventually to a statewide safe solution. We see ourselves (by chance) as representatives and protectors of the river and of a typical New Mexican village lifestyle which is trying to live in harmony with the land and environment.
Cameron is an artist living in Rinconada and showing her work in Copper Moon Gallery in Taos.