Throwing Away Energy

Confessions of a trash bin.

When you take out your trash, do you think about where it ends up? Most of the waste produced on the Fort Lewis College campus goes to a landfill 45 miles away in San Juan County, NM. Waste-related fees add up to $30,000-$35,000 annually, one of the many reasons why Fort Lewis aims to become a zero-waste campus in the future.

On a larger scale, the United States leads the world in both annual waste production and energy consumption. Combined, these factors present a serious issue for the U.S. What if there was some way to solve both problems in one stroke? What if the trash you put into the dumpster could turn into energy? In fact, it can and some places have been doing it since the 1980’s.

My hometown of Syracuse, NY, has been using waste resources to create energy for the city since 1995. The Waste-to-Energy facility takes in garbage from the surrounding area and burns it, using the heat to make electricity. The process dramatically reduces waste and simultaneously produces energy, conveniently solving both issues at once! Up to 990 tons of waste are burned each day, which generates around 35 megawatts (35,000,000 watts) of energy for the surrounding homes. This saves 7,330,000 barrels of oil annually- powering 380,000 homes throughout the year. This is just one of the reasons Syracuse is called the Emerald City.

So why doesn’t every city have one of these facilities? There are some questionable aspects, including, isn’t burning trash dirty and smelly? Actually, the Waste-to-Energy facility operates very cleanly. All of the fumes and smoke from the burning process are thoroughly scrubbed and cleaned before their release into the atmosphere. Air pollution from the plants is still a concern, however. The ashes leftover after burning still must be put into a landfill (but at a 90% smaller volume than the trash would have taken up previously). These ashes are sometimes considered hazardous waste. Lastly, the plants can consume not all waste products; most hazardous waste cannot be burned. However, the pollution concerns are very small and are greatly outweighed by the benefits.

Over one hundred similar facilities currently exist in the U.S., handling fourteen percent of the total waste produced. None exist in Colorado and Florida has the most, with 11 facilities spread throughout the state.

What if Durango had one of these plants? The FLC campus could produce some of its own energy and fulfill the goal of becoming a zero-waste campus. Although such a facility is a huge investment, it could one day create huge benefits for the city of Durango. With enough support, a Waste-to-Energy facility and a more sustainable community could be in Durango’s future.

Links for more information:



By Erica Gilrein

Water Day at Rotary Park


Photo by Hari Baumbach.

The Zero-Waste Team is extremely excited to host Water Day at Rotary Park on March 24th. The event is to inspire the community to work together to “spring clean” the Animas River and raise awareness about water conservation and quality. We will begin the day at 1:30 assigning participants portions of the river to clean, followed by live music and prizes for sorting out trash, and ending  the day with a couple of guest speakers and an awesome documentary about water. Everything will take place outside so make sure to bring proper dress apparel and your own blanket or lawn chair for the show. Also bring along your favorite mug to enjoy some hot chocolate for the nightly festivities. The Environmental Center is seeking to educate the community on our precious water resource while having fun on the Animas River! Hope to see you there!

~ Sarah Griffin

Fun in the Snow

Molas Pass     Photo by Coe Roberts

Molas Pass in winter, Photo by Coe Roberts

With Wolf Creek reporting five feet of snow in five days everyone should be thinking about getting outside and enjoying it.  Most people are flocking to the ski areas, however, if you’re not into the lines or the cost, there are many other ways to have funFor Fort Lewis students, Chapman Hill is now open, and with the freshly groomed powder, there should be a nice base for the rest of the ski season. There are snow makers and a small terrain park. A rope tow makes it easy to enjoy the hill without getting too exhausted. The hill is located along the northeastern edge of the rim. If you’re looking for a little more exercise and a view, then backcountry cross country skiing, or snowshoeing, is the perfect activity for you. Most backcountry trails are free and easily accessible to anyone. If you don’t know of any trails, and you’re a Fort Lewis student, then you could visit the Outdoor Pursuits office in the student life center. Those people with an Outdoor Pursuits membership can enjoy miles of groomed trail across from the Durango Mountain Resort, Purgatory, just by showing their O.P. membership sticker.  If you’re not a student then you can try visiting All the trail maps are provided by the San Juan Public Lands Center. Skate skiing is a great exercise and if you can ice skate then you’ll have no trouble picking it up quickly. You must have a groomed track to skate ski, so I would suggest going to one of the local Nordic centers to try it out. Or if you already have skate skis then the Hillcrest golf course has free groomed trails.

The recent snowstorms are a great excuse to get out and enjoy the great outdoors. There are so many ways to have fun, skiing, snowmen, snow angels, snowball fights, and the list goes on.

-Oliver Luneau

Costumed Mass of Bikers in Durango

The beginning of the bike ride at Buckley Park. Photo by Oliver Luneau

The beginning of the bike ride at Buckley Park. Photo by Oliver Luneau

Critical mass (CM) biking is a worldwide event occurring on the last Friday of every month in over 300 cities around the world including Durango. The Friday before Halloween, October 30, a large group of costumed bikers left Buckley Park with their mind set on stopping traffic and having fun. Critical Mass biking began in San Francisco 1992 to bring attention to the unfriendliness of cities towards bikers but it now has no single clearly defined goal.

The only universal trait of every Critical Mass ride is the group of bikers riding through town. There are no assigned leaders and no strict organization which is part of what allows the monthly event to remain unhindered by the authorities. The rides around the world vary by size greatly. Durango has one of the smallest rides because of the amount of people living here, although it would be great to change that. It’s important to realize that CM is about riding, having fun, and asserting bikers right to the road, and not about making trouble or law breaking. The ride starts at Main and Twelfth Street, Buckley Park, every last Friday of the month, assuming the weather allows it.

There is no set route for the ride and often times the leader is the person in the front. Participation is extremely important because without a “Critical Mass” that can stop motorized vehicles there is no ride.

Photo by Ashlee Robinson

Photo by Ashlee Robinson

Durango loves to celebrate Halloween and nothing gets people in the spirit like a crazy bike ride through town. Winter has started there will be no more Critical Mass rides this year. There were around thirty five participants in the Halloween ride and I hope to see large numbers of bikers there in the future. To learn more about the history of Critical Mass biking visit the Wikipedia page.

Photo by Ashlee Robinson

Photo by Ashlee Robinson

– Oliver Luneau

Water, Water everyhere but not a drop to drink

Lemon Resevoir - Heather Ellis

Lemon Resevoir - Heather Ellis

Water is always a big topic in the west. Water is required for life. Without it our crops die, our cities dry up, and eventually we would die. According to a Durango Herald editorial, Colorado’s Front Range is seeking new sources of water to fuel their population. Where do you think they’re looking? Across the continental divide, to the green and fertile western slope, at least that’s how they see us. One plan designed by Aaron Million, a Fort Collins developer, calls for a private pipeline that would carry as much as 250,000 acre feet of water from the Green River to the Front Range. The Green River, which begins in Wyoming and travels all the way into Utah where it merges with the Colorado River, is the primary water source for Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Southwestern Wyoming, and is one of the more popular river routes in the region. Luckily, Governor Bill Ritter does not support the idea of taking water from the Western Slope to support the Front Range. Gov. Ritter sees that while the Western Slope may have more water running through it, it is also a very arid region. Ritter also believes that the water from one watershed should not be used to support another, especially one that drains to the east instead of the west. If you want to learn more about this discussion check out the Durango Herald’s article here.

Is the Western Slope that wet? The Durango Herald reported that the Animas River, the river than runs through Durango, Colorado, is well below what it was in 2002. Why is this important? 2002, was one of the worst drought, and fire, years in Colorado history. The low water levels have been attributed to early runoff and a dry monsoon season. Hopefully, Colorado will have a snowy winter that will make up for the lack of a monsoon. But only time will tell. If we don’t get a good winter base it is likely that we could find ourselves in a drought with fires raging around us. If that happens we might need to steal some water from the Front Range.

– Ben Rogers

Save the Gulch


EC File Photo

Durango area residents have a common misperception that the Horse Gulch area is a protected playground. Horse Gulch is used for hiking, biking, horseback riding, wildlife habitat, and it serves as an important natural classroom for the college. All these activities in this area could easily be lost.

Volunteers from Trails 2000 began work in 1991 to build an impressive trail system in this area. Horse Gulch was host to the Single Speed World Championships at the end of last summer; this is a prestigious event that takes place once a year in different venues around the world. The fact that it landed in Horse Gulch illustrates the areas importance as a recreational resource.

Much of Horse Gulch is privately owned. These areas would be worth millions of dollars if they were to be developed and turned into homes. Some of the land is owned by the city of Durango and some by Fort Lewis College but that does not mean that the private owners do not have their own agenda. If the city built a road back into Horse Gulch, which has been talked about in city planning meetings, there would be a rush for private owners to start developing. A road may be built through this area to clear congestion on Hwy. 160 near the Farmington Hill. Many of the uses would be forever ruined if this were to happen.

An interpretive guide was put together last summer explaining all of the uses of Horse Gulch and will soon be on sale at the college and around town. The money from the sales of this guide will go towards a massive cleanup effort in the spring. For more information on this topic refer to this informative guide. There are many people that use this area daily and would be willing to do what it takes to keep it safe. With community support this area can be a free and permanent part of the Durango outdoor experience.

– Royce Johnson