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Community Voices

26 Feb 2013
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The eastern portion of the Coachella Valley struggles with poverty, bad air and water quality, high unemployment, high levels of asthma, a receding Salton Sea, high levels of arsenic in well water, pesticide-spraying—and the list goes on. It’s a far cry from the bright lights that shine over the golf courses to the west. However, residents are trying to do something about these problems, and an environmental justice movement is growing in the eastern Coachella Valley. As part of that movement, the inaugural Environmental Health Leadership Summit took place at Thermal’s Desert Mirage High School on Saturday, Feb. 23. The summit was organized by Promotores Comunitarios del Desierto and the Comite Civico del Valle, and had more than 30 sponsors. The focus of the summit was to promote health and environmental awareness, leadership, systems change and cultural and linguistic competency. Environmental health was the main topic—specifically air and water quality,…
19 Feb 2013
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My name is Eli Pagunsan, and I’m a 14-year-old aspiring writer. I’m a regular teenage kid. I go to school, and then I have chores to do at home. I love to read about history and current events. With everything that is going on in the world, sometimes I wonder how any of us manage not to have an overload. I started writing about eight months ago, when I created a story titled “Road to Allentown.” I think that after years of being exposed to news about war, somehow, I had to get it out of my system. I did not have anyone I could relate to about topics like that, so I began writing—a combination of pure imagination and facts. As the story evolved, I turned to the Internet for more inspiration. I used forums and met people who inspired me about certain characters. The Internet was an extremely…
12 Feb 2013
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President Obama’s nominee to head the Department of Interior, Sally Jewell, is historic––not for who she is, but for who she is not. She is a mountaineer; an ultra-marathon runner; the CEO of REI, the outdoor-gear giant; and a former bank executive and oil company engineer. She appears to be some kind of archetypal über-woman of the Pacific Northwest, jogging up Mount Rainier on coffee breaks. Jewell’s résumé is as richly complicated as the heady concept of “ecosystem management,” and it sounds like she has plenty of experience in both arenas. Those interested in “ecosystems” will look toward her years with REI and the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association; those leaning toward “management” will note her careers in the petroleum and banking industries. Another Seattleite (former Mayor Richard Ballinger) has been interior secretary before (albeit 100 years ago), and so has a woman, Gale Norton. But what sets Jewell apart…
09 Feb 2013
Amid all the talk, legislative proposals and presidential decrees inspired by the recent shootings in Connecticut and Colorado, perhaps the most significant was the announcement in early January that former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was starting a gun-control lobbying organization. Americans for Responsible Solutions seeks to raise $20 million by the next election cycle—about the same amount the National Rifle Association spent to influence the 2012 vote. More important, symbolically, is the fact that this ambitious effort was launched in the West, where guns are part of the culture. Giffords has long been a gun owner and gun-rights advocate. As a congresswoman, she was part of a cadre of Western Democrats—along with Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, Montana Sen. Jon Tester and others—who stayed in the NRA's relatively good graces because they supported firearms' traditional role. But then Giffords, along with 18 others, was shot down in a Tucson parking lot…
28 Jan 2013
Across maps of the arid West, expensive water pipelines are being plotted to meet the region's profound need for water. Among those under serious consideration are a 263-mile pipeline to bring water from eastern Nevada to Las Vegas; southwestern Utah's 139-mile Lake Powell pipeline; and the 500-mile Flaming Gorge pipeline from Wyoming to Colorado. Each would cost billions of dollars. But what if there’s not enough demand for water to pay for these projects? This might seem like an implausible question in a region defined by growth and expansion for over a century. But in fact, demand for water is falling in many parts of the country. Between the 1970s and the late 2000s, the amount of water used by American households fell everywhere—by tens of thousands of gallons per household each year in Phoenix and Seattle, to nearly 100,000 gallons a year in Las Vegas. The trend is due…
21 Jan 2013
On summer evenings in the former mining town of Silverton, Colo., the staccato sound of gunshots used to echo through otherwise quiet streets. A cast of stereotypical Old West characters riddled one another with bullets, as the legendary gunfighters did once upon a time in the West. Except that those kind of shoot-’em-ups didn’t happen out here in the West. Not really. Back in the 1950s, those fake Silverton gunfights followed a well-timed schedule, erupting when the narrow-gauge train, loaded with tourists, rolled into town in the middle of the day. Eventually, however, a group of history-minded citizens gained influence and rejected the violent charade as a mockery of their town’s history. By the 1970s, the fake gunfights were no more. The West always has been a land of myths, where visitors can live out their dreams—and their misconceptions. Perhaps the most persistent one is that of the gunslinging West,…
01 Dec 2012
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In the spring of 2011, I concluded a portrait project photographing residents, visitors, workers, scientists, park rangers and environmentalists who work and/or live at the Salton Sea. I interviewed them regarding their personal backgrounds, stories and hopes for the future of the Salton Sea—as well as their fears. They shared their stories and knowledge and gave the reader an idea of the cultural, historical, environmental and natural aspects of this area. This became a book, which was published in September 2012 by Salton Sink Press, entitled Portraits and Voices of the Salton Sea. The idea was to create a photographic documentary that focuses on those who will be affected most by the declining water levels, and gives them a platform to speak out. I also spoke with those involved in the restoration to help inform the reader of what’s involved, as education is key to leading others to learn about…

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