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Some thoughts on the effects of the drought

—Mark Schiller
Editor, La Jicarita News

This editorial originally appeared in the June 2002 issue of La Jicarita News.

Over the next six months (unless we’re bailed out by significant rainfall) the general public in New Mexico and norteńo water rights holders in particular are probably going to experience what it feels like to be cannon fodder in the battle to determine what the priorities are going to be with regard to water distribution during times of drought. The law of “prior appropriation,” by which New Mexico water is supposedly distributed, states that the oldest established rights are entitled to their full appropriation before junior water rights are entitled to any appropriation. Nonetheless, municipalities such as Santa Fe, Las Vegas, and Albuquerque, most of whose water rights are not very old, seem to think they have an inalienable right to enough water to not only sustain themselves but to continue to issue building permits which will further tax the dwindling water supply. Moreover, the State Engineer, Tom Turney, continues to assure these municipalities that he will not cut them off as long as they make a good faith effort to implement and enforce conservation measure for current residents.

Why isn’t the state engineer demanding that these cities place a moratorium (as Espańola has done) on building permits until the drought has subsided and long-term, equitable regional water planning is in place? Why doesn’t the state engineer demand that water guzzlers like Intel implement conservation measures? Why does the state engineer allow Albuquerque, the state’s largest water user, to actually increase its water use during this crisis? Why does the state engineer allow a luxury subdevelopment like Las Campanas west of Santa Fe to maintain its already outrageous water use during the drought, including millions of gallons of water for two 18-hole golf courses? The answer to all of the above is, of course, “money talks.”

Ironically, some of the poorest, most politically marginalized people in the state, the pueblos and the acequia communities of el norte, hold a substantial amount of the senior water rights. Norteńos should be aware, however, that the state engineer, the developers and many of our state legislators are doing everything in their power to make it easier to transfer water out of agricultural use and into residential and commercial use. This includes: fighting legislation that would provide notification of proposed water transfers to acequia commissions so that they are able to protest the transfer within the prescribed period; endorsing erroneous and misleading reports such as the Western States Water Policy Report which states that agricultural uses of water are “lower value” and that if western states want to continue to prosper economically they must transfer water out of agricultural use and into “high value” uses such as residential and commercial development; and continuing to allocate state moneys to buy up and retire agricultural water rights so that New Mexico can meet its interstate water delivery obligations.

We are all well aware (or should be) of how the state and federal governments cheated the Native American and Hispanic communities out of their land grants. I suspect we’ll see the same kind of unscrupulous tactics in their efforts to strip them of their water rights. Rural communities need to seize this opportunity to strengthen possibilities for economic development by retaining their increasingly valuable water rights and putting them to “value added” uses. Perhaps strategically situated communities such as La Cienega, just south of Santa Fe, need to take the “bull” by the horns and set a precedent for rural communities throughout the state. In letters to the editor of The New Mexican and The Journal North, members of that community have claimed that Santa Fe’s “junior” water right use has impaired their “senior” surface and groundwater rights as well as drying up the wetlands for which the village was names. Now may be the time for them to seek a judicial remedy that will supercede the State Engineer’s authority and prevent Santa Fe from using water to which La Cienega is entitled.

New Mexico is one of the poorest states in the country. The gap between the rich and poor increases each year. The state must learn to live within its “carrying capacity” and stop allowing special interests to widen that gap by victimizing the poor.


re: wild-horse herd auctioned

Dear Placitas residents,

As many of you already know, Placitas has lost one of its wild horse herds. The horses were captured and sold at auction. The lead stallion of the herd broke his neck resisting captivity. The others were sold at different locations to different people. As far as we know, one or two have been accounted for. Our worst fear is that they have gone to slaughter.

We are still tracking them. Many of us believe that these wild horses are living, archaeological beings that are part of the Spanish conquistadors and the American Indians. They deserved more from this community, the Bureau of Land Management, and the New Mexico Livestock Board.

We believe that these situations can be resolved peacefully within this community. The only reason the lead stallion ventured so far onto private property was to ask for help to get his family through the drought. Members of W.H.O.A. are willing to go to great lengths to solve any wild-horse issues. We still hold firm on our claim to these horses and believe that these horses are protected under the Wild Horse Act of 1971.

We firmly believe the herds left in Placitas are direct descendants of herds located on B.L.M. land in 1971 and therefore qualify for protection. They wandered off of B.L.M. land to find food. To claim that these horses are feral or strays is a convenient excuse for the New Mexico Livestock Board to treat them as vermin.

If the New Mexico Livestock Board’s main goal is to find the owners of lost livestock, then why did they not advertise within the community where they captured the horses? Many of us are now left to deal with our loss, our anger, and our shock.

If any positive outcome can result from this situation, it would be that we resolve the issue peacefully without destroying these wild-horse families. W.H.O.A. [Wild Horse Observers Association] has started a tax-deductible wild-horse fund through Placitas Animal Rescue, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. This fund will go to fencing projects and maintaining the health and safety of these horse families. Contributions can be sent to: Wild Horse Fund, P. O. Box 724, Placitas, NM 87043, or can be given to: Placitas Animal Rescue, Account #8, at the New Mexico Educators Federal Credit Union. (Remember to write Wild Horse Fund in your check’s memo section.)

Please help us to help a part of Placitas’s living history and an important part of our Placitas family. The mission of W.H.O.A. is to help preserve the existence of the wild horses while acting as community-service advocates for our neighbors who are unsure about sharing their space with these families. If you have any questions or concerns, or if you would like to become a member of this group, please call 867-5228 or 771-3359. For the latest information, go to

A special thanks to Dan’s Boot and Saddle on Fourth Street for donating broken bales and leftover hay for these wild horses.


—Cindy King

P.S. If you feed the horses, use grass-alfalfa blend. Spread the hay out. Remove twine or baling wire. Avoid giving them grain, moldy hay, or any type of medication. Feed in a separate spot each time and stop when [we get enough rain so that] the grass grows back. Also, please feed horses away from neighbors who prefer not to have the horses close by. And if you put out salt, make sure there is also water.

[Express your feelings to this issue by participating in this month’s On-Line Survey]

re: new Placitas subdivision

Since Edwin Macy’s letter in the June issue of the Signpost begins what I’m sure will be a contentious issue for months to come, I would like to present the other side of the story. Being a seventy-year resident of Albuquerque and Placitas, I am quite familiar with our drought cycles, although I can’t recall them for a hundred years [back].

I am not a “developer” in the true sense of the word. I’m an individual who, along with my late brother, Ed, happened to be fortunate enough to acquire land in this area of Placitas starting in 1952. In 1974, my wife and I, along with our three sons, moved to the land tract that Mr. Macy referred to in his letter.

Upon moving to Placitas, we immediately became strong supporters of the community. My wife and I were instrumental in forming the local Parent-Teacher Organization, and in fact I was the first PTO president. My wife reestablished the Cub Scout den in the area.

The adobe house that we built was on a sixty-eight-acre tract that bordered Placitas Heights to the west, that subdivision having been developed in the late 1960s. As land became available adjacent or close to mine, I was able to acquire it. I am sure this stalled any development in this area behind the village of Placitas.

My investment in this land over these many years was intended to be part of my retirement plan; however, the dirt is hard to digest.

The residents in Placitas Heights, and elsewhere, have had free rein over what is now a 120-acre tract. In fact, I’ve been a resident there longer than any present resident in the houses abutting my property line, including Mr. Macy. I was never approached by any of these new residents as to future plans for my land, prior to their respective decisions to move into our neighborhood. They have always had unrestricted use of my property for their hikes and horses.

On Mr. Macy’s request I did meet with some Placitas Heights residents over a year ago to discuss my intentions, and I explained very clearly the status of my plans as of that date. Since then, I’ve talked openly with everyone who has contacted me. At the initial group meeting I promised that I would offer them the right of first refusal on any lots to be sold adjacent to their property. Today, I maintain that promise.

The size and number of lots are still undetermined at this time. The wells that have been drilled to date are to fulfill the county’s requirements to prove the necessary water to support the development plans. The roads built to date have been to provide the driller access to the hydrogeologists' selected well sites.

I am somewhat distressed to read Mr. Macy’s suggestion that the county commission still disapprove plans that would comply with the county requirements as spelled out in their planning and zoning regulations. As an attorney employed by the City of Albuquerque, I’m sure Mr. Macy is well aware of the costs associated with denying a property owner his legal rights.

I want to add that I have been approached by developers interested in purchasing my property outright. However, as a longtime resident of Placitas, I feel obligated to provide a subdivision that is environmentally sound. I also feel that I’m thick-skinned enough to go through what will most likely be a stressful process.

I welcome any comments or questions, .

George Shaffer


re: swamp coolers gulp oceans of scarce water?

[Originally addressed to the Albuquerque Journal, with copy to the Northside Signpost]

One of the featured articles in the June 9 Albuquerque Journal tells of swamp coolers gulping oceans of scarce water.


Have the Journal's editors and management looked at the inappropriate landscaping outside their own offices? Sheesh, for a moment when I drove through the Journal Business Park the other day, I had to stop and ask a passerby if I was still in New Mexico and not in Ohio!

When I drive though some of the neighborhoods in the Sandia foothills such as Cherry Hill, I have to ask myself the same question.

In a dry, arid climate such as this, swamp coolers are a necessity. Green lawns and lavish wall-to-wall landscaping are not. They are a luxury and inappropriate for an area with such a minute amount of water resources.

I can only suspect that many of these homes in Cherry Hill and surrounding areas have not only water-intensive landscaping but swimming pools, spas, high-flow toilets, and Jacuzzis that also gulp oceans of scarce water. Why were they not addressed in the headline?

Returning home to Placitas, I feel as though I am entering a different world, in which green lawns are as scarce as hens’ teeth and landscaping is confined to the immediate areas right around the house. Most of the landscaping is done with natural vegetation that is drought tolerant and requires a minimal amount of water.

Until the Journal and the communities that choose to live as if they were in a water-abundant climate learn to conserve water, I implore them not to browbeat me about the evils of swamp coolers!

Gary W. Priester


re: driving the speed limit

To the traffic cops of Placitas and New Mexico:

I want you to know, first of all, that I have no quarrel with speed limits. I believe in them. Laws are good. We humans need rules or we get way out of control. But I have a problem when I seem to be the only one following the rules and when I feel I am putting myself in danger for looking like I have cruise control for the elderly.

Just about a month ago, my husband was stopped on the S curve. You know the one. It's the spot where you've all been waiting patiently, reading the radar. He was doing fifty-five in what we now understand had "recently" been changed to a forty-five-mph zone. At least that is the local information the young officer was obliging enough to share with us. Okay, fair enough. My husband was ten miles an hour over the limit. He went to traffic school. He paid for his crime.

He wasn't crazy about traffic school, although it wasn't as bad as he expected. But now we are both vigilant. We try to go only two to three miles an hour over the limit. Lines of irritated drivers sit on our tail. If someone is pressing down hard on me, I may exceed the two-to-three rule and risk five. The other day one of these petulant lawbreakers passed me in a no-pass zone, barely missing a tractor trailer head on, also going way above forty-five miles an hour. Who would have been responsible for this accident?

Naturally, there never seem to be any of you around when a shiny white pickup races by me in a sixty-five [zone] at ninety, nor are you within radar range when two sports cars pass me on either side—and I am doing a risky eight to ten over.

Now, I know it would be unrealistic for you to be everywhere at all times. But, you know what? You ought to give guys like us a break. We're just driving defensively.

—Driving slow in Placitas


On the art of war

Carl Hertel

A friend recently sent me an article from The Onion spoofing homeland security. The article announces that Director Tom Ridge has ordered life jackets for all Americans, which we are instructed to wear at all times in preparedness for terrorist attacks. According to The Onion, the Office of Homeland Security did not offer any specific explanation for the order, yet all Americans dutifully donned their life jackets without asking why.

The spoof makes a lot of sense metaphorically and shines light on the new thinking required of Americans in this post-September 11 period of fear and loathing. The new thinking for survival seems to be centered around seeing our world as military strategists. It is much like the Warring States philiosophy of Sun Tzu, China’s fifth-century B.C. author of The Art of War. As the L.A. Times’ Henry Chu noted in a recent front-page article, Sun’s little book has been used for millennia by the likes of Napoleon and Mao, and lately Tony Soprano of the TV show The Sopranos. Chu outlines the use of Sun’s strategic aphorisms by all manner of folks from the United States Marine Corps during the Gulf War to CEOs of multinationals—all of whom find its advice about how to deceive and how to select your battles useful in capitalist enterprises, as well as in war.

One is led to wonder if the Bush Administration isn’t using Sun Tzu to guide their war on terrorism. Ironically, many of the White House cohort come from corporations where they may well have used The Art of War in their pursuit of profit. For example, Jeffrey Krames in his The Rumsfeld Way: Leadership Wisdom of a Battle Hardened-Maverick' describes the strategic philosophy of former businessman and current Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as based on the game of chess which approximates The Art of War with its emphasis on strategy and always thinking several moves ahead. The elder Bush’s time in China also may have served as a source for familiarity with Sun Tzu and his penchant for strategies of deception, ambush, power plays, misrepresentation and will to kill.

I was introduced to Sun Tzu in 1949 by the Chinese scholar Chen Shou-yi, who was my teacher at Pomona College. Dr. Chen knew Sun Tzu’s work firsthand as a refugee from the Communist takeover of his homeland. He gave us many examples of Mao’s use of the centuries-old wisdom to aid in the victory there. The People’s Liberation Army’s use of Sun Tzu is well documented and publicized. Those of us who participated in the so-called Korean Conflict came to know that all too well.

Strategic thinking does appear to be useful in chaotic times like pre-imperial China when Sun Tzu was alive—or post September 11 U.S.A. Henry Chu offers numerous examples from Sun Tzu of how this is true in our current situation, for example: “War is a deceitful game. . . therefore, espionage, disinformation, mind games, and stealth are all legitimate weapons in a skillful warrior’s armory.” Or, “Speed is everything. . . . An army should move as fast as a gale. . .[and] act as suddenly as a thunderclap.” The highly managerial, speedy, psychological, and tactical dimensions of the U.S. response to September 11 clearly reflect Sun Tzu’s insights.

As sinologist Thomas Cleary points out, the three basic principles of The Art of War are simple enough: emphasis on leadership for cohesion, organization for effectiveness, and strategy to allow the organization to act effectively. This focus on organization, tactics, and management reflects much of what is motivating the current administration’s approach to the war on terrorism. Obviously, there are dangers to democracy inherent in what these principles imply about the exercise of power. Interestingly, SunTzu’s follower Sun Bin warned about possible evils of perpetual warfare like the war on terrorism: “Those who enjoy militarism, however, will perish; and those who are ambitious for victory will perish. War is not something to enjoy, victory is not to be an object of ambitiion.”

Cleary sums up saying of the The Art of War writings: “This literature, however, may have yet another function. . .no less important than what emerges from its use in business, diplomacy and warfare. While the study and application of strategic thinking in these areas may be necessary to secure the economic, political, and territorial underpinnings of democracy, these cannot guarantee freedom unless individuals. . .have the right and opportunity to recognize and understand all of the operative influences in their lives and on their minds. . . . One of the most important functions of strategic literature in the public domain today may be to enhance the general understanding of power and its uses and abuses. . . . [and,] we might hope, to learn to avoid the abuses of power to which the massive, impersonal/infrastructures of modern life are inherently prone.”

Thus we may be using Sun Tzu’s ancient Chinese wisdom to defend ourselves against and to understand terrorism, but we can also use it as individuals and communities to come to understand power and to protect ourselves against its abuses. Dr Chen’s admonition to his students fifty years ago remains true today: he said that within the ancient wisdom of Sun Tzu’s book on strategic thinking lie the seeds not only for making war, but also for lasting peace and spiritual fulfillment.