The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989


Bernalillo addresses water issues:

testing arsenic removal, controlling water usage, finding funds for wastewater-plant upgrade

Bill Diven

Water wasters face citations and possible fines under an ordinance approved by the Bernalillo Town Council.

And the town, threatened with heavy fines itself, reports it has lined up most of the financing needed up upgrade its venerable wastewater plant. Rate increases once thought necessary to pay for the upgrade will be eliminated or reduced, according to town administrator Lester Swindle.

“We are nine-tenths of the way home,” Swindle said. “We cobbled together $13 million in eighteen months.”

The money includes a combination of state, federal, and county funding, consolidation of existing town bonds, and new bonding supported in part by recent water and sewer rate increases and an additional boost in sewer rates. Construction at the plant, aimed largely at a federal requirement to remove chemicals from the wastewater, would begin in December 2006.

“If the schedule holds, the Environmental Protection Agency has said that will show diligence, so it won't begin fining us in January 2007,” Swindle said.

The town also has launched a test project to remove naturally occurring arsenic from its well water to avoid an additional $4 million project to remove it from wastewater. The removal technology being developed by ARS Inc. of Placitas was installed at a town well in April with the goal of treating fifty thousand gallons a day of the one million gallons the town consumes.

The test is continuing, but treated water can't be returned to the town system until the technology is certified by the National Sanitation Foundation, according to ARS president Norbert Barcena. That certification is expected to take at least six weeks, he said.

ARS numbers show the technology is working as expected, although Barcena said he wouldn't release test results until an independent lab conducts its own analysis.

“We have been trying to get it to fail,” Barcena said of test procedures. “We have been unsuccessful at that.”

The conservation and drought ordinance approved by the council lists both voluntary and mandatory practices for routine water use and in the case of major drought or failure of the town water system. A state law passed in 2003 requires municipalities to pass such an ordinance.

“We need it to be able to apply for funding,” Mayor Charles Aguilar said. “I don't feel it will be a burden on anyone.”

The ordinance bans water wasting that allows town water to run off into streets or neighboring property. Additional requirements include:

  • Prompt repair of water leaks
  • Car washing from buckets or hoses with shutoff nozzles
  • Restaurants providing water only on request
  • Hotels and motels changing towels and linen on request for guests staying multiple nights
  • Yard watering from April 1 to September 30 limited to 4:00-10:00 a.m. and 6:00-10:00 p.m. and banned during rains or when winds exceed fifteen miles per hour

During a drought or system emergency, Stage 1 restrictions limit landscape watering to alternate days and limited hours. Stage 2 limits could ban outdoor watering, and close large commercial users such as laundromats and car washes.

A first violation of the ordinance results only in a citation, with fines starting at $25 for a second violation or $200 for a second violation of Stage 2 limits.

The town plans an ongoing education program on the requirements and voluntary practices such as limiting showers to five minutes, shutting off faucets while shaving and brushing teeth, xeriscaping lawns, and reusing gray water when possible to water shrubbery.


Eleven states challenge EPA cap-and-trade rule for mercury emissions

Attorneys general and an environmental-protection secretary representing eleven states, including New Mexico, filed a lawsuit in May challenging a new federal Environmental Protection Agency rule that establishes a cap-and-trade system for regulating harmful mercury emissions from power plants.

The trading scheme established by the rules will allow power plants, rather than reducing their own mercury emissions, to elect to purchase emission credits from plants that produce emissions below targeted levels. The rule will delay meaningful emission reductions for many years and perpetuate hot spots of local mercury deposition, posing a grave threat to the health of children. 

Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of uncontrolled mercury emissions, generating forty-eight tons of mercury emissions per year nationwide. Scientists estimate up to six hundred thousand children may be born annually in the United States with neurological problems leading to poor school performance because of mercury exposure while in the womb. Fish from waters in forty-five of our fifty states have been declared unsafe to eat as a result of poisoning from mercury.

New Mexico Attorney General Patricia A. Madrid said, “Once again, the Bush Administration fails to demonstrate concern for the health and safety of our citizens.”


Representatives announce Ojito legislation heading to House floor

Last month, Representatives Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Heather Wilson, R-N.M., announced the Ojito Wilderness and Land Transfer Act (H.R. 3176) had been approved by the House Committee on Resources. The legislation will now head to the full House for a floor vote.

The New Mexico representatives envision the Ojito Wilderness Study Area, nearly 11,000 acres, as a permanent wilderness area to be protected under the 1964 Wilderness Act. The bill also provides for the purchase and transfer of adjacent ancestral lands, now under the Bureau of Land Management, to the Pueblo of Zia. The public would have continued access but the lands would be preserved as open space, and unite two areas of the reservation.

"This is truly a compromise bill, and I look forward to its swift passage in the House," Udall said. "Since the Wilderness Act was passed in 1964, some seemingly divergent parties have managed to work together to protect some of our nation's most special lands. With both the House and Senate having already passed this bill last year, the Ojito Wilderness Act should become law this session."

"Good groundwork for this legislation is already in place in the House," Wilson said. "Our bill is locally developed, locally supported and a balanced approach.  It provides the long-sought transfer of important ancestral lands to the Pueblo."

Martin Heinrich with the Coalition for New Mexico Wilderness applauded Reps. Udall and Wilson for their leadership in moving the bill forward in the new Congress. "We look forward to continuing to work with Representatives Udall and Wilson to ensure that this popular measure becomes a reality in the very near future. The House Committee's action today was a very positive step in that direction," Heinrich said.

The legislation, developed locally with broad support, has had input from the Pueblo of Zia, the county, the Bureau of Land Management and the state land office.  In addition to Reps. Udall and Wilson, the effort has the support of Senators Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman, Governor Richardson, State Land Commissioner Pat Lyons, all 20 Pueblos of New Mexico, Bernalillo and Sandoval county commissions, the city of Albuquerque, adjacent landowners and grazing permit holders.

The Ojito Wilderness is home to many animal and plant species; known for dramatic land and rock formations, badlands, plateaus and mesas; contains a wealth of cultural, archeological and paleontological sites; is the 1978 discovery site of a large dinosaur skeleton, a 110-foot Seismosaurus, among the world's longest dinosaurs; and many historic sites of petroglyphs and multi-room pueblos of the Zia ancestors.


Blumenthal restoration project on Las Huertas Creek has widened and raised the creek bed

Blumenthal restoration project on Las Huertas Creek has widened and raised the creek bed moving the flow to the right of the photo from the former channel on the left.

Induced meandering is a success

Ty Belknap

Susan Blumenthal marvels at  how well her riparian restoration project is working this spring.

Last year, with help from the Las Placitas Association and a grant from the U. S. Department of Game and Wildlife, she built a system of massive rock baffles and weirs to induce meandering along the Las Huertas creek as it flows through her seventeen acres in Placitas. Blumenthal says that because of “a perfect storm” of events, and the above average snowmelt this spring, deposits of gravel and soil have raised the streambed several feet in places along the rock structures. Wildflowers, clover, cottonwood, and willow that she planted are flourishing.

Bill Zeedyk, retired U.S. Forests Service director of wildlife and fisheries management, has served as a riparian consultant for the project. He told the Signpost that the channel is meandering as planned. “The channel through Susan’s property has increased in length by three hundred feet. The grade is flatter and the flow is slower so there is greater recharge of the shallow water table beneath the material deposited by the running stream.”

Zeedyk said that road building and residential development all around the Sandias have resulted in the destruction of riparian areas. Upstream of Blumenthal’s property, Las Huertas Creek is affected by the road through Las Huertas Canyon. The creek was straightened to accommodate road building, allowing it to flow deeper and faster, picking up sediment along the way. This disturbance of the watershed is accentuated by urbanization and “hardscaping” by roads, driveways, and roofs that allow no opportunity for precipitation to soak into the ground.

“People tend to treat water as a nuisance that needs to be removed as quickly as possible.” Zeedyk explained. “Rainfall comes off a roof through gutters, drains to the parking area and then into a ditch next to the driveway; then it flows to the ditch along a county road and into the next arroyo. It’s like a pipe that allows no opportunity for water to disperse and soak in. Water from all the neighborhood houses all arrive at the arroyo at the same time so the flood is deeper and quicker to crest. By the time it gets to the stream, it does more damage.”

The rapid flooding causes the creek to straighten, erode, and downgrade, destroying the character of a riparian wetland system. When creeks dry up, as Tijeras Creek did in 2002, people tend to blame the problem on too many water wells, drought, or invasive vegetation.

It’s more complicated than that.

Zeedyk said that residents need to learn how to keep water on their property longer. “If they would just delay the runoff by a half hour, it would make a tremendous difference in the size of the flood.” Water can be harvested from roofs and channeled into catchments and flatter ground that support vegetation.

The combined efforts of individual landowners and larger restoration projects like Blumenthal’s could help maintain the natural beauty and health of the watershed, as well as promote recharge of the aquifer.


Learn about drought-tolerant plants

New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are presenting “Gardening with the Masters,” an ongoing lecture series sponsored by the Sandoval County Master Gardeners. On June 6, Carol Ann Scrivner from Santa Ana Nursery will speak on “Gardening with Drought-Tolerant Plants.” The program will run from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. at the Esther Bone Memorial Library, 950 Pinetree Road (next to the post office), in Rio Rancho. Admission is free and the public is welcome. For more information, call Sandoval County Extension Office at 867-2582.


From further South 1-9-94

Sunday morning — the call of the sunny
sky got me out to Coronado Monument.
Watching a duck taking a fast ride on a

Hearing wind rustle sturdy dead leaves on
 cottonwood by this river bank.
Recognizing call of a crane — they’re still here?
Searching & later seeing the low-flying flock
     fly past further south.

Drifting over from the campground: mariachis
y cumbias ... and from further downstream the
ebb & flow roar of cars passing on the bridge.

Seeing the golden seed pods of 4wing salt bush,
nutty brown branches & trunks fan spread over
grey cold glistening water.
Middle bank even shores — layer of fine red
vertical tamarisk shoots
foot prints among pebbles and round river rocks in the sandy dirt.
The river floor clearly visible 15 feet out
makes me want to take off shoes, roll up sweats & wade.

The luscious weekend.
 Time to stretch out in familiar dreams
       & yearnings
 Live the old dry ramada
 winter sun draws out the memories
 in the wood   in the earth  in the air and trees.
 Light slanting from further south draws out the familiar
 and it could be 1958.

 crow’s call
 robin’s call
 dog’s call
 wind picks up

 Shadows crisp on walls and ground.
 my ears too cold for staying out!

                                 —Cirrelda Snider-Bryan

From “Sandoval County—Up Over Our Shoulders, some poems that all belong in this same general vicinity, Alameda—Corrales—West Mesa—Pajarito Plateau—Bernalillo,”  by Cirrelda Snider-Bryan. Hand-bound and printed by La Alameda Press.


U.S. Fish and Wildlife denies pygmy rabbit a place on endangered list

A Western coalition of agriculture, small business, industry, recreation, local government, and property-rights advocates are applauding Friday's decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service not to add the pygmy rabbit to the federal Endangered Species list.

The pygmy-rabbit decision is the second major defeat for environmental activists on endangered-species listings this year, following the refusal by federal officials in January to place the greater sage-grouse on the endangered list. The Partnership for the West spearheaded campaigns in both cases to convince federal officials that the listings would be harmful to the species because they would chill state and local conservation efforts.

For further information, visit


Hart R. Schwarz, Neotropical bird specialist for the Cibola National Forest

(center) Hart R. Schwarz, Neotropical bird specialist for the Cibola National Forest,
led approximately thirty participants on very successful bird-watching
hike in the Placitas Open Space.

Hikers observe proliferation of flowers, birds on Open Space

Hart R. Schwarz

It was truly a spectacular day in May that summoned about thirty people, mainly from Placitas, to the Open Space, resplendent with the colors and voices of spring.

Great swaths of yellow covered the tessellated hills—all representing a single species: the Fendler bladderpod. There were giant primroses in whites and yellows, and in the valley of Las Huertas lush grasses, generously nourished by winter rains, had been rolled out for the many tired migrants. We counted about twice as many birds as in previous years because many more migrants are abroad in early May than in late April, and these avian nomads found the Open Space more inviting than usual. Not only was the grass greener, but there was a river that flowed with wild abandon, more swiftly and more deeply than even the last time it had come to life in 1997.

Ever since I conducted my bird inventory in 1997-98, the great horned owls have been the wildlife centerpiece of the Open Space. Every year they nest on the Open Space, and, I believe, every year they have been successful. The pair's courting ritual begins in February, and already by early March the eggs are laid; they hatch in early April, and in early May the young are ready to leave the nest. This year we had the good fortune to arrive when the young were indeed fledging. While at least two of the youngsters were still in their natal cave, one had managed to scramble up to the top of the mesa, from where he could survey his domain, although he certainly was not yet master of it. When we reached the mesa top ourselves, we approached the fledgling close enough to take a few pictures, but not so close as to precipitate a fatal plunge into the canyon below.

Early in 1998 we put up four nest boxes because natural cavities are in short supply for several cavity nesters, including include the juniper titmouse, the ash-throated flycatcher, Bewick's wren, and the mountain bluebird. We checked three of the four boxes and found that in one of them mountain bluebirds were feeding and brooding their recently hatched young. This is only the second time that this bluebird has nested on the Open Space, and each time water flowed in the creek. Another nest had young of either the titmouse or the wren and the third had six titmouse eggs.


Energy Bill rewards the fattest cats

Jon Margolis

As you may have noticed, gasoline costs more than of yore. Some basic economics: Gasoline is a manufactured good. Its price depends in part on the price of its basic commodity, in this case crude oil. It costs more than of yore, as does natural gas.

More basic economics: The price of crude oil and natural gas is high because the demand for it has risen sharply, while the supply (remember these italicized terms; they will be on the exam) has barely been inching up, perhaps because so much of the stuff that's easy to pump has been pumped.

In a market economy, when demand goes up faster than supply, the price rises. Despite public grumbling, this is good; it's the way the system is supposed to work because high prices create an incentive for more production, thereby increasing the supply, thereby bringing down the price, until a new equilibrium is reached.

The above-described market economy is also known as free enterprise, or, more baldly, capitalism. Though political liberals approve of it, or they would not be liberals, but socialists—quite a different category—conservatives really dig it.

These conservatives—as they call themselves—are in charge these days. So they could and did create an energy policy. Lucky them. The system was working according to their ideology. High prices were creating incentives for oil and gas firms to increase supply. The government didn't have to do much of anything, which is just what conservatives love, though it did speed up oil and gas exploration on public lands.

Nonetheless, it cut the taxes of the oil and gas companies by several billion dollars. Then it cut the taxes of coal and nuclear power companies that were also doing well, because the price of one fuel influences the price of others.

The stated reason for these tax reductions was to provide an incentive for the companies to produce more. But… I hear you sputtering, according to the rules of capitalist economies, didn't those high prices already provide ample incentive to produce more? So why—you may still be sputtering here—also cut their taxes and exacerbate the federal budget deficit, which conservatives are supposed to hate?

You pass the course. You have figured out the truth about the Energy Bill about to become law. (It is short of final Senate passage as of this writing, but its tax provisions were essentially set in the Budget Bill, which has passed). The ideology behind it is not conservatism.

A conservative energy policy would be market-oriented. Yes, this might include using tax breaks to create incentives not already provided by the market—for wind and solar power, for instance, or for getting folks to use less energy.

Such tax incentives are in the bill. About $400 million worth over the 10-year period of the legislation. But that pales beside the $7.6 billion in incentives for producers that did not need them.

So, if not conservatism, what ought one call the ideology underlying this strange bill? The standard liberal answer is that it is no ideology at all, more a legal corruption in which Republican politicians reward their friends and contributors.

There is some evidence to support this contention. One of the last decisions the House of Representatives made on the bill was to keep a provision protecting the makers of a gasoline additive called MTBE from lawsuits, even though MTBE has polluted drinking water in 29 states. And, wouldn't you know, the companies that make the stuff have given more than a million bucks to Republican candidates.

But there is no evidence that Republicans are more beholden to their big contributors than Democrats. What seems more likely is that the new breed of conservatives believes in the right of certain people—their rich and powerful friends -- to be immune from the restrictions mere mortals face. Rather than have these folks break the law, the politicians change the laws so that what was once criminal or actionable becomes legal and proper.

None dare call it kleptocracy. But unlike the Russian version, American kleptocracy stems not from venality but from ideology, a sort of neo-Nietzschean and anti-egalitarianism holding that the successful are superior; therefore, they deserve special privileges.

Besides, like everyone else, the new conservatives, having defeated their opponents, enjoy kicking them when they're down. The fervor for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, even though the oil industry isn't convinced there's much goop down there, stems at least in part from the joy of humiliating the other guys.

Jon Margolis is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News ( A veteran political reporter, he writes about Washington, D.C., from Barton, Vermont.




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