The Sandoval Signpost

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letters, opinions, editorials

Stereogram c. Gary Priester

Peace On Earth, stereogram, by Gary Priester

Relax your eyes and look “through” the image, not focusing on the foreground. Let your brain work to see the picture above in 3-D. (No hidden image.)

re: Zócalo correction

I need to apologize for one huge mistake in my article on the Zócalo in the November 2007 Signpost. The list of highly accomplished artists in the former Zócalo threshold entrance is highlighted by Leo Romero, not Garcia as I had written. This is a lapse of great dimension and I can only seek redemption by suggesting everyone should know his truly great 3-D geographic portrayal of Albuquerque in the Rio Grande Valley that is the highlight of a wonderful civic park at the corner of Rio Grande Blvd. and Zearing NW.

Leo Romero is a civic geographic artist of remarkable talent and wonderful personality. I hope he can forgive me.

—TERRY LAMM, Albuquerque

re: winter driving woes on Camino de las Huertas

As winter approaches and icy roads become a peril, driving on Camino de las Huertas requires some special skills. For those unfamiliar with the passage, Camino de las Huertas exits north off 165 shortly after passing the U.S. Post Office in Placitas. For the first few miles, it is paved and home to our newly remodeled Community Center, historic rock art panels and the well-published and talked about washed-out Huertas Creek crossing.

That being said, the passage can become a black ice covered slippery driving experience with well-named curves and dips such as Dead Man’s Curve, Drop Off and Guard Rail Dip. My wife and I have labeled these curves and dips for good reasons.

To our knowledge, no one has ever died traversing Dead Man’s Curve. However, on two occasions, I have witnessed vehicles sliding off the sides of that Curve and dropping down several feet into our backyard arroyo and a county snowplow truck and propane vehicle buried waist deep in snow and mud at Drop Off.

Now comes the interesting part. Guard Rail Dip during icy conditions is usually the first point county road workers salt during the early morning hours. On many occasions, my wife has observed several vehicles slipping and sliding in their two-wheel-drive vehicles as they traverse the Dip. Barely spinning and grinding their way to the top of the Dip, they are then confronted with the steep incline which signals the passing of Pine D Ranch Road.

Most of the drama results in multiple delays, fender benders, rises in blood pressure, and frustration. There are plenty of solutions. The first would be the obvious—stay home when the weather gets foul. Second and more costly would be to trade up to an all-wheel-drive vehicle. Third, have the County strategically place fifty-five-gallon containers filled with salt compounds that will thaw the ice. Finally, what I chose to do is slap on the snowshoes or cross country skis and enjoy the day.

—RON SULLIVAN, Placitas

re: proposed commuter Web site to combat high gas prices?
Dear Editors of the Signpost,

With the price of gasoline forecast to increase by another twenty cents by the end of the year and very possibly $4 per gallon by spring, something has to give. Placitas needs to act now to bring direct commuter bus service between our homes and work places and schools in Albuquerque. We need a cyber site where prospective riders can provide basic information: the location and time of their destinations in town, their return time, and their home address. Such information could be easily plotted to show clusters of riders, destinations, and times. As soon as enough riders are identified, we could apply to the Park and Ride authority or Sandoval County transportation people and request help in establishing one or more routes. Ideally, the routes would drop most riders at their place of work or school, rather than having them make connections with Albuquerque buses. As an example, a bus could originate from the village or above, pick up passengers from the tributary roads joining highway 165, then go express to major destinations such as UNMH/UNM, hospitals and downtown, and make a return run at the end of the work day. If we can establish this Internet site now, publicize it, and make it visible to commuters, we may be able to keep ahead of the curve of rising gas prices. Also, if the site posted all commuters seeking alternative transportation and their times and destinations, it would facilitate carpooling and van pooling. Although I don’t have the computer expertise to set up such a site, I would be willing to help out.

Sincerely,
—DAN GIPS, Placitas

re: avian anger (an act so fowl)

Dear Friends Back East:

It was mighty nice to have a visit from two more old friends from back east. Thanks for coming! You seemed to have a great time except for that forgettable day at the bird sanctuary.

I’ve visited the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge several times since moving here, but never experienced such an event—sandhill cranes and snow geese depositing their fully digested intestinal remains of high-fiber diets onto the heads and shoulders of visitors—in this case each of you—and doing so with obvious intent and bewildering accuracy. Had I even the slightest inkling of this possibility, I most assuredly would have advised you to wear protective clothing, including hats. And the fact you were each wearing hair pieces gave new meaning to the term “carpet bombing.”

I am not, however, making light of this apparently unprovoked poop attack upon you by these wonderful creatures, and have searched for an explanation. I just may have found it.

The Albuquerque paper of that morning contained an article describing the outrage of a New York City councilman over the feeding of pigeons in your city. He has recommended a ban on such charity and seeks fines of $1000 for violators. He maintains that the tonnage of pigeon excretions is corroding your city’s infrastructure—even more than the political utterances of its former mayor. The councilman has called pigeons—distant relatives of the Bosque del Apache migratory birds—“rats with wings.”

I’m not entirely certain how the snow geese and cranes knew you were from the Big Apple. Perhaps your distinctive “fugheddaboudit” manner of speaking stood out from the ….less adorned… New Mexican parlance, thereby making you suitable targets of opportunity. Your [once-natty] Yankees sweatshirts may also have been a tip-off. And perhaps our feathered friends detected a lingering odor of mustard-laden Nathan’s hotdogs on your persons. We may never know, but they were apparently making a statement on behalf of their New York City pigeon brethren, responding to an avian messaging system every bit as effective as email and saying, “There’s a lot more where this came from.” At least that’s my theory.

And the birds probably committed their fowl act not knowing how much you loved and admired them, having adopted the human preference for knee-jerk, stereotypical, broad-brushed, bird-brained, shallow-minded, ego-based actions. It’s a very sad possibility, as I always thought birds operated on a higher plane.

Since moving here, birds have also impacted the life experience of my fine old former Rhode Island stray Coon cat, Patrick. I’m reasonably certain he was, in his days as a homeless derelict, an accomplished serial killer. Now, aged and neutered, he will not enter his fenced-in yard for limited daytime explorations without cautiously scanning the skies, including wide, yellow-eyed looks at the tops of nearby telephone poles. Thanks to airborne attacks by various birds of prey, Patrick has adapted to this role-reversal knowing he has now become part of their food chain.

Well….at least the rest of your visit was very pleasant, and I hope you come back. I also hope that that Councilman pays for the damage to your Yankees garb and chooses his words more carefully. In the meantime, I hope to stop dreaming about rats with wings.

—YOUR FRIEND, HERB, Placitas

Editorial:

The state of Bernalillo

—MAX SMELLING

Greetings from west Bernalillo. I’ve been told the view from here is a little different than the usual superb panorama of the Sandias. My view takes in the wonders of local government and the possible future of Bernalillo.

The view of the mountains from here is much like yours, beautiful but often taken for granted. Until recently, local government was pretty much taken for granted, too. Then this TOD thing came up.

Transit Oriented Development, some of us noticed, was about our Rail Runner depots. ‘Fine,’ we thought. ‘Let them fix up the depots. It doesn’t affect me.’

Well, it turns out that what they were really doing was devising a plan to change the heart of our town. A few locals did notice and stopped by to see what they were dreaming up. But not until a week before the plan was to be voted on were we informed that the “depot plan” would bring in hundreds and maybe thousands of people.

That train cost like $340 million, and now it’s time for Bernalillo to pony up. And it’s not enough to fill all the vacant land available with houses and streets, they want to squeeze forty or fifty people onto one acre. They call it density, but some of us just call it dense!

Most of us live here for one reason: we like it here. Bernalillo’s been here for a long, long time and has always been slow to change. The living’s easy, relaxed, and comfortable compared to the big city. We don’t have the higher incomes they have, but the cost of living is less too.

We have a multicultural, rural New Mexican atmosphere that Rio Rancho will never have. So the logical thing to do is make Bernalillo like Rio Rancho and jam in as many people as planners and developers can manage. Start with sixty-four acres running from 550 down to Avenida Bernalillo. And when that starts taking off, the rest of the town will soon follow.

All this development will take money from the town as it costs us plenty to provide them with services. They’ll need streets and lights, water and sewer, police and fire protection, and of course more schools. We’ll be lucky to ever have enough money to provide the existing town with the very same things.

No, the town and the developers won’t take your land with eminent domain. It says so right on the resolution causing this mess. I’m sure the folks from Albuquerque who wrote it mean every word. The people we chose to represent us were pretty much born and raised here, so they know how we all feel about keeping the Bernalillo way of life. They voted this in while being told, ‘it doesn’t change anything.’ Sounds like a great plan, doesn’t it?

Readers may email Max at maxsmelling@q.com.

re: NMDOT and FHWA study to evaluate road improvement alternatives to Chaco Canyon—Those proposed improvements? NONE! NADA! NO!

For the 35 years, I've known about the ongoing attempts to both improve road access and allow gas and coal development within this World Heritage Site. We who are trying to protect it are getting sick and tired of the continuous efforts by all exploiters—federal, state, county, private—who can't understand that this is a fragile archaeological treasure sustained by virtue of its very isolation. Here we go again—another voice joining the many to remind whomever that the impact of more visitors (as explained over and over again by archaeologists, historians, environmentalists, many more) will create irreversible damage to the archaeological treasures in Chaco.

If the exploiters want to do anything, then the study should suggest that San Juan County properly maintain the existing road which it fails to do. Why does this subject keep coming up? Who is behind it? Why ask why? Why ask who? Money vs. the preservers of something very special on this planet.

NO ROAD IMPROVEMENTS on San Juan County Road 7950 or any other roads leading to Chaco. To find out how to express your voice on this issue, go to: http://www.dont-pave-chaco.com/.

—CHRIS HUBER, Placitas

Signpost Cartoon c. Leichner

Data: Up in flames

—JAMES YEARLING

Each year, federal agencies fork out billions to fight fires, and a big chunk of that cash goes to blazes in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), areas where public land meets up with forested private land.

• $1.3 billion: Average annual cost to fight fires on public lands from 2000-2005.

• 80: Percentage of that used to protect homes.

• $14.54: Amount each taxpayer forked out to protect homes in 2006, compared to $7.65 in 2003.

• 3,290: Square miles in the western WUI.

• 915,072: Number of homes in the western WUI.

• 1 in 5: Ratio of those homes that are second homes or vacation properties, compared to one in twenty-five on all other western private lands.

• $1 billion – $1.5 billion: Amount that the October San Diego wildfires cost insurance companies.

• $835: Average insurance premium for California homeowners, seventh-highest in the nation.

• 14: Percentage of western WUI that currently has homes.

• $3.3 billion: Projected annual cost to protect homes if half of the western WUI was developed.

This article originally appeared in High Country News (www.hcn.org), which covers the West’s communities and natural-resource issues from Paonia, Colorado.

Since when did hunting become target practice?

—ROBERT ROWLEY

It started over the long Labor Day weekend and went on from dawn to dusk—the constant report of gunfire echoing against the Organ Mountains here in southern New Mexico. Another dove-hunting season had descended upon us, and all lovers of wildlife could do was wait for it to end while so-called hunters blasted to smithereens as many birds as their permits allowed—fifteen per day, thirty in possession at any one time. As I listened to the barrage of gunshots, I must admit I wondered about the mental stability of those shooters.

I know that many responsible hunters exist. Members of my father’s family, who live in upstate New York, were avid deer hunters. They owned a hunting cabin in the Adirondack Mountains, and trophy heads featuring huge antler racks were proudly displayed on the walls. But they also utilized everything they could from those kills, making hundreds of pounds of venison steaks and roasts, and, according to the stories, using the intestines to make sausage.

I’ve been a hunter, but never that kind of devoted hunter. It only took one incident to convince me I was not a killer for sport. I was a teenager when I shot a cottontail in the woods of northeastern Ohio, but when I went to pick up the dead rabbit, it was gone. The wounded animal had dragged its bloody body into a dense thicket where I couldn’t reach it. Although I’d never intended to skin the rabbit to bring it home for dinner, the idea of leaving an animal to suffer and die in the underbrush made me feel sick. I decided then that if I wasn’t going to kill for food, I couldn’t be a hunter.

The naturalist Joseph Wood Krutch once said, “When a man wantonly destroys one of the works of man we call him vandal. When he wantonly destroys one of the works of God we call him sportsman.” I may not be that radical in my assessment of hunters, but I’ve begun to think that hunting doves brings out the worst in people.

A few days after the season began, my dog and I went for a hike in the desert behind a mountain outside of Las Cruces. The first thing I saw was what looked like a tornado of turkey vultures—fifteen or twenty birds spiraling at various heights above the desert floor. Then, not twenty yards off the paved road near a new subdivision called Tierra Escondida, we came upon hundreds of twelve-gauge shotgun casings, an empty twenty-four-pack of beer, and a dozen assorted wings and other body parts of decimated doves. Whoever had hunted here had blasted away, relishing something other than the taste of succulent dove meat.

That’s what’s unsettling. How do you educate these people? And what can be done about them? If officers from New Mexico Game and Fish had made contact with these shooters, the hunters could be cited only if they failed to possess valid licenses and stamps for that specific area. If game wardens returned later and found that the site had not been cleaned properly, the hunters could be cited only for littering. But short of having psychologists doubling as conservation officers, there’s no way to determine a hunter’s motivation. Even if an officer could cite somebody for an illegal motive, what would it be—taking too much pleasure in the kill?

Perhaps if the requirements for getting a license were more stringent, some of these miscreants could be weeded out of the system. Maybe if all applicants were required to take the hunter education class, which is mandatory for potential licensees under the age of eighteen here in New Mexico, people would balk at the inconvenience and lose interest in dove hunting. Or perhaps we need a more draconian measure—banning dove hunting in the state, as Michigan did in 2006—to reduce drastically the number of shooters who kill doves for target practice. But as it stands now, anyone eighteen or older can go to a local Wal-Mart and buy a license.

I favor a ban on dove hunting, but there is no chance one would ever pass in this gun-loving “land of enchantment.” All I can do is wait out another September to December hunting season, and pray that my dog and I don’t happen upon too many other scenes of slaughter.

Robert Rowley is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado (hcn.org). He is a freelance writer and photographer in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Paddling down the Rio Grande near Bernalillo

Paddling down the Rio Grande near Bernalillo

Editorial:

Here’s an idea: A Rio Grande water plan

—FRANK TITUS, PHD

Management of New Mexico’s water resources, especially those of the Rio Grande, is disorderly, and the way we are doing it is increasingly dangerous for our state. It’s dangerous because it leads directly toward a time when we can’t meet our water commitments. If we get close to that, it’s likely: (a) we will have a constitutional crisis, (b) we may have to take property rights from many unwilling owners, and (c) we will pay a high cost—very high. The state’s fundamental water management problem is that we have purposely managed this resource as if it can provide for continually increasing demand even though it basically is a fixed supply. Quite obviously it can’t.

We have done this by manipulating water rights. What began in the days of the Old West as simple, rigid rules governing surface-water rights and delivery of wet water to water-right owners under a priority system has evolved into a set of arcane rules supposedly affecting both groundwater and surface water, but which have been applied selectively by various New Mexico State Engineers based on political economics and their individual interpretations of geography, hydrology, and legality.

In the early 1900s, improved technology made it practical to drill high-yield water wells in some of our state’s major river valleys and to produce large volumes of groundwater for municipal use or irrigation, thereby adding depletion of this water to depletion from continuing to irrigate with surface water. In our river-connected aquifers, nearly every gallon of groundwater pumped eventually reduces river flow by a gallon, but wells far from the river have a substantial time lag. Therefore, it was easy to delude ourselves with the pretense that impacts on river flows were far off in the future, hence not a worry. While New Mexico was the first state to recognize in its water laws that groundwater and surface water in a large river basin are likely two interconnected parts of the same hydrologic system, we never managed to fit the junior rights the state engineer grants for groundwater use into the older priority timeframe of surface-water rights.

Maintaining river flow is essential for delivery of compact water. So a system called “dedications” was devised whereby the Office of the State Engineer (OSE) grants a groundwater permit based on a promise to retire surface water rights when the effects of groundwater development actually reach the river. Thus, in theory, flow losses in the river will be fully offset, but the groundwater user doesn’t have to buy surface water rights until later. The problem is, it is far from clear what the ultimate total of dedications will be. That is, it isn’t clear how many surface water rights in Socorro and Valencia counties, the main irrigated areas, must ultimately be retired to satisfy existing (ignoring for the moment, future) dedications. That’s because, though the Rio Grande Groundwater Basin is now more than fifty years old, there is no central tabulation of water rights, their priorities, their transfers, or those encumbrances created by dedications.

The OSE about a decade ago began creating a computerized database called “WATERS” (Water Administration Technical Engineering Resource System). A marvelous idea; it was to be the state’s up-to-date, publicly searchable database of water rights. It got started OK, but the Middle Rio Grande Basin and some other important areas of active groundwater use have never gotten close to being completely recorded and up to date. Such information is critically important. Without ready access to these kinds of data, neither effective water banking, nor control over unconscionable double- and triple-dipping, nor even adjudication of water rights in the Middle Rio Grande will be possible.

The only reliable process for validating Middle Rio Grande water rights is adjudication. Every water-knowledgeable person knows this. So why isn’t the OSE focusing on compiling available water-rights ownership as its top priority, in preparation for adjudication? Why are OSE personnel not vigorously emphasizing this need and requesting funding for it above all other requests to the New Mexico Legislature? Why are some key personnel arguing that such compilation should be put off until adjudication itself starts, thereby delaying it and markedly complicating the court-based operations of adjudication? I suggest it’s because the concept of adjudicating the Middle Rio Grande ranges from worrisome, to threatening, to terrifying for individuals who understand its potential ramifications. This includes personnel of the OSE and many legislators.

Nevertheless, it is time to find out where we currently stand. It is also time to begin creating a Rio Grande Water Plan that assures development will occur in an equitable, orderly way. Proper planning also should allow for preservation of characteristics that we value in the state’s greatest river valley. If we fail to create a careful and comprehensive plan, we risk a variety of uncomfortable discoveries. For example, if dedications continue, their accumulation may commit more irrigated acreage to being retired than there are willing sellers. Do we then acquire water rights by condemnation? And, by the way, do we really want to do away with farming and turn the valley brown if we don’t have to?

There are alternatives to drying up farms, but they require gutsy planning. Here are examples. Aggressive conversion of the dense salt cedar jungle to open bosque forest, or even low-water-use farms, below Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge would markedly reduce depletion by evapotranspiration. (I don’t accept that the issue of the willow flycatcher can’t be addressed innovatively.) Never allowing Elephant Butte Reservoir to expand into its upper basin, thereby reducing lake evaporation, is another possibility. We might negotiate approval by our Rio Grande Compact partners, Texas and Colorado, of new upstream storage reservoirs where evaporation is less than at Elephant Butte. Being able to fill Abiquiu Reservoir to its basin capacity would also help. There are other alternatives.

We are not out of options, but none are cheap—nor is completing the WATERS database cheap. They would be politically more feasible if it were clear to the legislature and citizenry that there will be even higher dollar and environmental costs if we fail to address future problems and fail to create a bold Rio Grande Water Plan.

The water plan needs to be in place and guiding our operations long before we begin failing to meet compact deliveries. It must go well beyond the narrow limits of economics for all parties to recognize it as equitable. The vision that guides its content should, I think, partly be defined by openly asking the citizenry what characteristics they want preserved for future New Mexicans. Past opinion polls about water have already shown some nearly-universal statewide preferences.

Sherm Wengerd, deceased UNM professor and a character of the first order in western geology, once remarked to me, “When you’ve got a bear by the tail, you go where the bear goes.” Isn’t it time to let go of our bear’s tail, kick butt, and, with foresight and good sense, develop a plan that secures our water destiny is equitable and preserves the cultural and environmental things we New Mexicans value?

[Editor’s Note: Frank Titus has been a New Mexico hydrogeologist for fifty-one years. He has worked for the USGS, taught at New Mexico Tech, been science advisor to State Engineer Tom Turney, and was a charter member of the Water Assembly. This is part of an Op Ed series sponsored by the Water Assembly, with each article representing the opinions of the author.]

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