Sandoval Signpost


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  The Gauntlet

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Eastern Sandoval Citizens Association monitors local issues

—Chris Daul

The Eastern Sandoval Citizens Association hosted a forum to discuss three of the major issues facing residents in Placitas and Sandoval County on January 9. Those issues are gravel mining, pipeline safety, and proposed oil and gas well drilling. The event, held at the Placitas Presbyterian Church, drew over ninety people, including a number of government representatives. State Senator John Sapien, State Representative Jim Smith, Sandoval County Commissioner James Dominguez, Sandoval County Clerk Eileen Garbagni, and Arcy Baca, representing NM Public Regulation Commissioner Valerie Espinoza, were all in attendance.

The consensus at the forum was that the community was opposed to the current application by SandRidge Energy to drill an exploratory oil and gas well just west of Rio Rancho. There is little oversight of drilling in the County, and there are risks associated with this type of drilling in a rift valley. ES-CA has requested that Sandoval County impose a temporary moratorium on oil and gas well drilling within ten miles of the Santa Fe Aquifer and requested that the County adopt an ordinance to regulate this type of drilling before any applications are considered. (See a copy of the letter at

There are a number of existing ordinances and other documents that set out guidelines for oil and gas well drilling in other venues throughout the country. We have seen the impacts caused by unregulated sand and gravel mining. It is incumbent upon the County to have regulations in place before an activity is approved so that residents are properly protected from any potential negative impacts of that activity. ES-CA will continue to monitor this issue and post updates in the ES-CA forum.

The ES-CA Board held its monthly meeting on January 4 at the Placitas Fire Station. Where District election results were confirmed as follows: District 1—Ed Majka; District 2—Chris Daul; District 3—Jerry Saxton; and District 4—Tony Hull. The Board then elected new officers for 2016 as follows: President—Ed Majka; Vice President—Bob Gorrell; Treasurer—Susan Fullas; and Secretary—Chris Daul. The Board also adopted a budget which reflects operating expenses such as insurance and website maintenance. There are no paid staff members at ES-CA and all Board members volunteer their time, along with all of the other volunteers who manage various committees and issues. The next Board meeting is scheduled for February 1, beginning at 6:30 p.m., at the Placitas Fire Station (463 Highway 165). All are welcome to attend.

re: Will you put your dog on a leash?

Why do some people go to the dark side when you ask them this simple question? After the December mauling of my Service Dog at the Placitas Post Office by two loose dogs, I have been very careful not to unload my Service Dog when I see a dog running off leash. I get out first and ask kindly, “Would you please put your dog(s) on leash so that I may unload my Service Dog?” And that’s when it happens!

It’s almost like road rage—when seemingly nice, normal, friendly, stable people go to the dark side, they get ugly and even verbally abusive toward me. I don’t understand this type of reaction? I always approach an individual in a friendly manner and try to explain my situation. But, some people immediately become angry and they won’t listen to what I have to say. Have we become so selfish that we can’t see the bigger picture: public safety?

As a community, it’s our responsibility to provide for the safety of our families, our children, the elderly, disabled, and our animals. Dogs off leash pose a potential danger to them all.

The answer is simple: “All dogs must be on a leash or tether and under the control of their owner/handler when in public.” This is a Sandoval County New Mexico Ordinance No. 02-02-21-.8b, and a Town of Bernalillo, New Mexico Ordinance No. 146.

However, the solution is not as simple, because change is never easy. But, as a community of responsible animal lovers, we can effect change by supporting the leash laws. If you see dogs off leash, do your part by calling Sandoval County Animal Control at 252-2781 or in the Town of Bernalillo, call Bernalillo Animal Control at 891-7226.

Whether you are in public at a business that allows pets, in a park or your neighborhood, or a public open space, all dogs must be on-leash. Let’s work together for a safer community.

—Angel Rose and Isabeau Addison (Service Dog), Placitas


Are cows drinking the West dry?

—Tom Ribe, Writers on the Range

On a recent trip to California, I visited the North Coast, where spring usually means green hills with deep grass strewn with lupine and bright orange poppies bobbing in sea breezes.

This year, we found stunted grass, browning hills and the local news obsessing on the worst drought in California's recorded history. Suddenly, the most populous state in the country faces harsh reality, with water shortages threatening all aspects of life, from the economy to our food supply, to the very livability of our homes.

Holed up in Bodega Bay, I heard Gov. Jerry Brown on the radio talking about mandatory water-use restrictions for California's 39 million people. Brown usually can be counted on to take on issues realistically, yet when asked if he would restrict the amount of water that goes to agriculture, he demurred. Agriculture had suffered enough already, he said.

While we are all grateful to farmers and farm workers for producing the food we crave, the tough reality of severe drought should compel us to take a closer look at agricultural water use. In America's entrepreneurial environment, we're not used to asking hard questions about legal private-sector activity, but this severe and lingering drought—not only in California, but also throughout the West—could, and should, force a serious debate about private-sector use of public water supplies. It is long overdue.

This may be an uncomfortable process for politicians who will have to consider a difficult balance: water supplies for cities versus water for rural industries, including ones that may not be able to survive in a drying region.

Here are the cold facts: Cities in California use between ten to twenty percent of that state's developed water, producing 98 percent of its gross domestic product, while agriculture uses eighty percent of the water supply and produces only two percent of the state's GDP. And of the eighty percent that agriculture uses, only a portion is used for crops that directly feed people.

We could drill down deeper and see who is using water and for what, but this is where politicians start squirming, given that farmers produce both crops and campaign contributions. The majority of Colorado River water and agricultural water in California goes to producing feed for cattle, nourishing low-value crops like alfalfa and hay. Those crops use 14 million acre-feet of water a year, which is far more than what is used by water-intensive crops like rice, cotton or wine grapes.

Alfalfa is a huge water-waster largely because of its high rates of evapotranspiration, as well as the overall inefficiency of flood irrigation, the main means of watering the crops. Seventy percent of California's alfalfa goes to dairies, which use more than 700 gallons of water per cow per day, in facilities that have hundreds of cows, usually located in arid parts of the state. The 500,000 beef cattle in California require between 400 and 2,500 gallons of water for each pound of meat, depending on who supplies your statistics.

Of course, California is not the only area facing a drought. In the Rio Grande Basin of Colorado and New Mexico, the same pattern of alfalfa and hay production for desert dairies and feedlots depletes ground and surface water, leaving cities, wildlife, and recreation chasing ever-lower flows on this iconic river. According to the New York Times, livestock production uses 75 percent of Colorado River flows, which currently are 15 percent lower than they were in 1990—and dropping. Statistics for the Rio Grande are similar.

How do we handle a commercial interest that disproportionately burdens the public water supply? The dairy and beef industries and forage growers provide some jobs, but their high water consumption threatens many other crops and businesses—employing far more people—as well as the domestic water-users who depend on water for survival.

In 1983, the California Supreme Court, in the case National Audubon Society v. Superior Court, ruled that water falls under the public trust doctrine, which says that important public resources are so fundamental to society that courts can impose restrictions when private development threatens public use. The court applied the public trust doctrine to water that had been appropriated under state law, ruling that those appropriations were contrary to the public interest.

If politicians remain unwilling to confront wasteful use of our public water supplies, it might be time to bring a case to the courts.

Tom Ribe is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a column service of High Country News ( He lives in New Mexico.

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