The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989


Placitas water group, USGS discuss monitoring plan

Ty Belknap

Water Resources Association of Placitas met with the United States Geological Service and Sandoval County commissioner Bill Sapien on December 15 to discuss a plan for monitoring wells, springs, and creeks in Placitas. The USGS, in coordination with hydrologist Peggy Johnson, author of the most definitive study of Placitas water resources, has proposed a plan for biannual monitoring water levels of twenty representative wells, two or three springs, and Las Huertas Creek.

Data would be fed into an existing USGS database and be available on-line to the public. WRAP spokesman Dave Burlingame said, “Our purpose is to continue Peggy Johnson’s study of the hydrogeological area around Placitas. We hope to get the county on board to help pay for the monitoring so that the original study doesn’t become dated and end up on a shelf. The thrust of our efforts is to get all the home-owner associations and water boards in Placitas involved and to be a representative group for all the home owners in the area. We want to be inclusive of the entire community and get as much information as possible.”

WRAP member Tom Ashe said that the USGS will fund up to half of the $12,000 annual cost of the project. “Sandoval County could fund half of this project through a number of sources. They could place a surcharge on planning and zoning plan fees or on a per lot basis on newly platted lots,” he explained.

Bill Sapien said, “We are waiting for a letter of confirmation from the USGS outlining the parameters of the study. I think this is a worthwhile endeavor and I will go to the county to find resources for funding.”


States seek to block harmful new air rule

Signpost staff

On November 17, a coalition of 14 states, the District of Columbia and numerous local governments filed papers in federal court seeking to block implementation of a change to Clean Air Act regulations that will allow vast amounts of additional industrial pollution into the nation's skies. The new rule written by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was scheduled to take effect December 26. In their request for a stay, the states argued that the new rule violates the plain language of the Clean Air Act, conflicts with Congressional intent, and contradicts long-standing court rulings. On December 24, a federal appeals court blocked some of the Bush Administration’s changes from going into effect, dealing a major setback to one of the White House’s biggest of many attacks on the environment.

Tom Reilly, the Massachusetts attorney general said the court, “forced the EPA to take back its early Christmas present to the coal fired power plants in the Midwest.”

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, President of the National Association of Attorneys General, said: "This case provides the latest reminder of the Administration's disturbing modus operandi: adopt policies that increase air pollution and try to gussy them up as 'Clear Skies.' We're not fooled by the Orwellian clothing. This rule turns the Clean Air Act on its head. For the sake of the public's health, we cannot afford to let the EPA succeed."

New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid said: "The Clean Air Act is vital to the health of New Mexicans as well as the entire country. We cannot allow the federal government to weaken this law. Public health and the integrity of the environment will be the losers should the EPA be permitted to move in such a harmful direction."

The Clean Air Act requires existing industrial sources of air pollution to install modern air pollution controls when they are modified. While Congress intended pollution controls to be added for any modification that increases pollution, the EPA has allowed exemptions for "routine maintenance" to exclude routine work that would not increase pollution. From 1978 until earlier this year, EPA and the courts narrowly interpreted this exemption to cover work at a facility that, under common sense understanding, were truly maintenance projects.

However, in a rule announced just before Labor Day and published on October 27, the Bush Administration radically departed from this consistent interpretation. The new rule allows any modification to be classified as routine maintenance if it does not exceed 20 percent of the replacement cost of the unit — even if it creates more pollution. As a result, the facility would not need to add pollution controls, which can reduce air pollution by as much as 95 percent.

The provision of the Clean Air Act affected by the new rule has been the basis of a series of enforcement actions taken by EPA and the states against dirty power plants and refineries. Settlements of these cases have required the installation of pollution controls, resulting in hundreds of thousands of tons of emission reductions annually. EPA's new routine maintenance rule, however, would exempt almost all of the 20,000 factories and power plants potentially covered by the rule from having to reduce their air pollution. Indeed, EPA's own analysis of the new rule indicates that at least 95 percent of the violations at issue in the enforcement cases would no longer trigger the need to add pollution controls.

Additional air pollution permitted by the new rule would contribute to higher rates of premature mortality, respiratory disease, asthma attacks, acid rain, smog and other public health and environmental damage.

The Clean Air Act is the cornerstone of federal law designed to protect public health and the environment from the ill effects of air pollution. Although it has historically been strengthened since it was signed into law by President Nixon in 1970, the Bush Administration's NSR reforms significantly weaken one of the few tools available to control air pollution from older, dirtier industrial facilities.

The White House referred all questions to the EPA, whose spokeswoman Cynthia Bergman expressed disappointment with the court’s ruling. Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a group of power companies, called the ruling “a setback for energy efficiency and environmental protection.” He believes the rule will eventually be upheld.


Las Placitas Association offers free workshops, collects “memories”

Las Placitas Association is planning conservation workshops for the coming months. The workshops, held from 9:00 a.m. to noon at the Placitas Community Center, are open to the public at no charge. Details are still being planned, so for the latest information, see their calendar at

  • January 24—Grey Water Workshop. All about the aspects of grey-water systems. Why to use them, how to choose and build them, regulations, studies, and examples. Includes grey-water irrigation, treatment, grey water , and indoor reuse. 9:00 a.m. to noon, Placitas Community Center.
  • February 21—Drought Gardening Workshop. All about native plants that will flower and grow well in Placitas in spite of the drought.
  • March 20—Well and Septic Tank Workshop. All about taking care of your well and septic tank. We'll learn about how to maximize the useful life of a well and septic system and prevent premature failure.
  • April 17—Placitas Acequia Workshop. Jose A. Rivera, author of Acequia Culture: Water, Land, and Community will speak, and then the group will board a bus and tour Placitas acequias.
  • June 5—Rainwater Harvesting Workshop. All about rainwater harvesting including calculating needs and collection capacity, water treatment, system design, and list of suppliers and installers. Rainwater is one of the purest sources of water available. It’s quality almost always exceeds that of ground or surface water, and it is free.
  • June 26—Storm Water Management. All about storm-water infiltration practices on your land. Learn ideal conditions so that most rainfall (and snowmelt) will be absorbed by soils and taken up by your vegetation, so very little runoff occurs.

Las Placitas Association is collecting memories of how Las Huertas Creek used to be. If you could share your pictures or stories about historical uses or traditional values, call Maureen Hightower at 867-2433.

LPA is also looking for individual homes or developments that demonstrate storm-drainage management and erosion control as an important part of the site plan. If you have such a site for LPA to tour in a future workshop, call Lolly Jones at 771-8020.


Think New Mexico pushes strategic water reserve

Think New Mexico

[Every year Think New Mexico, a results oriented think tank, selects a policy topic to take up with the state legislature. They have focused successfully in making full-day kindergarten available. They also have an ongoing campaign to repeal New Mexico’s food tax. This year they are advocating the creation of a strategic river reserve. The following is an excerpt from the winter 2003 issue of their publication Rio Vivo. For more information, call 505-992-1315 or visit]

The time has come to break away from the anarchic, ad hoc way we have been managing our rivers. A good place to start would be to create a Strategic River Reserve. We envision that a New Mexico Strategic River Reserve would consist of a pool of publicly held water rights on every river system. These water rights would be selected by the Water Trust Board, according to a schedule that prioritizes the state’s most pressing needs, like compact compliance and drinking water protection. The Water Trust Board could pay for the public water rights with the proceeds of a designated fund, generated by a 10 percent share of the state’s annual severance tax bonding capacity or by a fee on water transfers. Finally, the Interstate Stream Commission would be responsible for monitoring those public water rights, installing and checking meters wherever public water is acquired to ensure that it remains in the rivers to meet the public uses for which it was acquired.

The problem is that the longer we wait, the more costly this solution will be, since purchasing water rights becomes more expensive with each passing year. Also, the longer we wait, the more lawsuits, conflict, and fighting over our rivers we will have to endure. A 1995-1996 poll by the University of New Mexico Institute for Public Policy found that 84 percent of the New Mexicans support allowing New Mexico state agencies to buy or lease water for public purposes.

The breadth of this support is not all that surprising when you consider that the philosophy behind a Strategic River Reserve has been ingrained in New Mexico’s culture since the time of the Anasazi, the Pueblos, and the early Spanish settlers, all of whom emphasized in their irrigation customs and laws that water is a sacred public resource that should be shared.

A Strategic River Reserve will not solve every aspect of New Mexico’s water crises, but it would represent important and timely progress toward a balanced and sustainable water policy. Moreover, by establishing the Reserve, we would not only be protecting the rivers, but all of us who depend on them.

Indeed, a Strategic River Reserve would balance a variety of human needs: clean water for drinking, a healthy agricultural industry, and new river-dependent economic development. It would respect the ancient traditions of acequias by shielding their water from purchase for the Reserve, while also recognizing the private property rights of water holders that are the foundation of the state’s water laws. Most importantly, it would serve as a buffer against both drought and conflict, preserving New Mexico’s heritage and quality of life.


You can’t stuff a stocking with chainsaw fuel, or can you?

Merrily Talbott

It’s in my genes. Like birds heeding the instinct to fly south for the winter; I am possessed every December by a mysterious force luring me to—where else?—the mall. But reject these instincts I must, for no Christmas gift would disgust my environmental extremist husband more than something from J.C. Penney. I love my husband and want to get him something he’ll like. Surely, countless women across the West are in the same predicament: what to get the man who wants nothing? It’s time to get creative and make a list of possibilities:

An energy-efficient washing machine. My husband, Dave, currently does his laundry about twice a year. Every six months or so, he trudges off to the town laundromat. His loads of socks probably make even the proprietors of Paonia Cleaners (where the local coal miners bring their work clothes to be washed) recoil in horror. He seems to think the rainwater-collection system in our off-the-grid house we built ourselves can support a real washing machine. After looking into it, I discover that the cost of one of these things surpasses our net income for the year.

How about a clothes-drying rack? Looking out the window, I see his last load of laundry hanging outside on the clothes line. Ah, the smell and feel of fresh laundry dried in the sun! But the temperature has hovered around freezing for the last few days, and his clothes are as soft as melba toast. After a few hours of Internet research I discover that the cheapest drying rack I can find is $50. Wal-Mart might have one for less, but let’s not go there. Literally.

I could knit him a hat. His cute, balding head is protected from the cold only by a ring of short, dark, scraggly hair that looks a lot like the tufts of wild rice grass he’s been trying to reintroduce on our land. The house we’ve built using mostly recycled materials is theoretically supposed to stay warm in the winter. The three-foot-wide north wall, which I affectionately call "the landfill," contains a few old refrigerators and other defunct appliances and is supposed to provide "thermal mass." It’s our first winter in the house, and I’m realizing that we could have refrigerators insulating every wall and it still wouldn’t keep the house warm. To be comfortable in our house, you’ve got to wear a hat. But really, who needs comfort? Besides, I don’t know how to knit.

There’s always the old stand-by: underwear. I’ve had success before in finding boxer shorts of various designs at thrift shops across the West. This year for his birthday I hit a gold mine at the Salvation Army: twelve pairs of briefs—tighty whities—size forty. They looked slightly big for his little behind, but at $1 a pair I couldn’t resist. Inspired by a comic I’d read in the Funny Times, I used fabric markers to write across the butt of each pair: January, February, March, etc. Who says women should be the only ones with underwear for different days? I arranged them nicely in a discarded plastic box and made a label that read, Men’s Pack O’ Twelve. But September’s pair was the only size thirty-four, and perhaps he’s been wearing them ever since. On second thought, maybe we should take a holiday off from the underwear gift idea.

Chainsaw fuel. Now, it’s not what you’re thinking. He’s an extremist only in how he lives. He’d never sabotage anything. But he does enjoy chainsawing trees, as he firmly believes junipers in the wrong place need to be cut down. They are, after all, almost an invasive species, not to mention that they make great firewood. And there’s always the forest-fire argument. But buying petroleum products makes him feel as guilty as a Catholic priest from Boston, though if I buy it for him, it could be a great gift.

Yet, something about a five-gallon jug of chainsaw fuel sitting under the Christmas tree doesn’t fit my nostalgic image of a Norman Rockwell Christmas morning. Well, I never thought I’d live in a house made out of refrigerators either, or be married to a handsome, intelligent, sensitive new-age guy who also happens to be an environmental extremist.

I guess I’ll go with the chainsaw fuel. Maybe with more fuel, we’ll get more firewood, have bigger fires in the woodstove and maybe, just maybe, be a little warmer this Christmas. What’s the point in giving a gift if you can’t find something in it for yourself? Happy holidays, everyone!

Merrily Talbott is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News ( in Paonia, Colorado, where she lives and writes.




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