letters, opinions, editorials
re: thank you, Placitas Fire and Rescue
On Sunday, April 26, while hiking the Tunnel Springs Trail, my wife Eunice slipped and twisted her right ankle. She gamely tried to hobble down the last mile and a half, but quickly realized it was a no go. The Placitas Fire and Rescue and the Sandoval County Fire Department answered our distress call. A group of professional and dedicated people came to her rescue and after splinting her ankle were able to effect a difficult descent and get her to the hospital. Her ankle was broken. I wish I could remember everyone’s name, but there were so many, my memory fails me. We want to thank each and every one for their caring, compassionate treatment she received. We are lucky to have such wonderful people that on a moment’s notice can aid and comfort people in distress. Thanks to everyone involved.
—Jonathan Bromberg, Flagstaff, AZ
re: feeding ravens—low tech mice recycling
A couple of months ago I planned to barbeque and put a chunk of mesquite to soak in three or four inches of water in an 8-inch by 8-inch bucket by the grill. The wind got high so I had to cook indoors and I forgot about the soaking mesquite.
The next morning, I also found two lifeless mice in the bucket. Within an hour, the ravens had made off with the mice that I had dumped in a nearby open area. On a whim, I set the out the bucket and water—no mesquite—that evening and again had a mouse the next morning.
Since then I’ve harvested over thirty mice, once four at a time and another a double. They were all long eared, possibly brush mice, from the field guide description. This continued nearly every morning at first, gradually dwindling to one every few days now. The ravens have increased their patrols and usually claim their prize within five minutes.
So now I’m grateful. The ravens are fat and the mice don’t seem to mind.
—Bart H. Danford, Placitas
re: it’s a small world
Vicki and I were getting some late winter skiing in at Taos Ski Valley this March. We decided to revisit San Geronimo Lodge off Kit Carson Drive. It’s about a mile from the Plaza and looks a lot like some neighborhoods in Placitas.
Other than Charlie and Pam, the owners, we shared the lodge with a gentleman from Denver who was tearing apart Charlie’s baby grand piano in exchange for lodging chits at San Geronimo. By the time we left, the piano man had disassembled the inner workings including dampers, hammers, and keys and was ready to carry the parts back to Denver for some restoration. As luck would have it, a neighbor’s family has been in the piano tuning, repair, and moving business for several generations in Denver. Indeed, he does know the Howes family.
The next morning, we headed for Taos Ski Valley. It was a beautiful, sunny ski day with new powder and thirty-degree temperatures. Our usual skiing objective is to ski Kachina Peak Bowl. It’s a thigh-burning day of powder skiing. Lunch is a couple of bowls of leek and potato soup at the Bavarian Alm located near the base of Kachina Lift. Alm is a German word used to describe a rustic mountain retreat.
We almost always strike up a conversation with skiers who share the chair lifts to the mountain top. On one of our rides, we shared the lift with a lady named Dora from Houston who had just bought a home in Taos. During our nine-minute ride up Kachina Lift, we learned that Dora once owned property in Placitas Heights. She asked us if we knew a friend of hers named Ann. As she described her friend, we knew it had to be Ann Rustebakke, who still lives in Placitas. We enjoy Ann’s company during the Placitas Artists Series concerts. Needless to say, Dora was flabbergasted. We gave her our business card as a reminder to get reacquainted with Ann.
Apres ski dining at Doc Martin’s in Taos is always a delight. To complement our meal, we ordered a 2006 Dolcetto produced by Vivac, a favorite New Mexico winery in Dixon and owned by the Padbergs. The Padberg brothers are nephews of a friend who lives in New York City. We discovered that relationship a couple of years ago.
—Ron Sullivan, Placitas
The saga of domestic water use in the Overlook
In 1988, the Plat Map of The Overlook subdivision was filed, having met all the state and county subdivision requirements for the Placitas area and having received final approval by Sandoval County. The Office of the New Mexico State Engineer (OSE), the agency responsible for overseeing water use in New Mexico, agreed in this approval that each lot owner would assume responsibility for providing their own domestic well. At that time, the OSE would issue a domestic well permit for a five dollar fee granting the permit holder the right to drill a well and use up to three acre feet of water per year for domestic purposes although no metering of water use was required. The issuance of this permit was not subject to public review or protest and the use of the three acre feet of domestic water could not be sold or transferred to any other place or for any other purpose.
As an acre foot of water is 325,851 gallons, that would amount to 977,553 gallons of water per permit. As there were about 100 lots in The Overlook, this could amount to the OSE potentially granting 300 acre feet of ‘new’ domestic water use or the potential use of up to 97,755,300 gallons per year. With that in mind and after much discussion and consideration, the shareholders of Lomos Altos, Inc. (LAI), the declarant (developer) of The Overlook, most of whom were Placitas residents, agreed that to best serve the public welfare of the community and the state and to help promote conservation of water, LAI could put in a nonprofit cooperative water system for domestic use that The Overlook lot owners could join voluntarily for a small fee. The Bylaws of the Coop would limit annual water usage to 93,000 gallons per household per year with metered usage submitted to the OSE. Additionally, the water would be monitored for contaminants on a regular basis, something not required for individual wells.
To build this system would require not only the installation of a distribution system of well(s), pipes and storage reservoirs but would also require the transfer of validated and OSE approved water rights into the well(s) that would serve the system. The OSE, in addition to issuing domestic well permits, is responsible for regulating ‘commercial’ water rights which can be used for irrigation, subdivisions, factories, dairy operations, etc. Many ‘declarations’ of water right use for irrigation have been filed with the OSE over the last one hundred plus years but validating these claims is left up to the OSE. Upon proof of validity, these water rights can be purchased, retired and transferred from other uses as long as the water rights are transferred within the same OSE identified aquifer, such as the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District. LAI took the initiative and formed the Overlook Water Cooperative as a nonprofit corporation, drilled a well, built the distribution system and installed a reservoir. LAI then purchased some water rights and submitted an application to the OSE requesting the right to transfer those rights to the Overlook Coop well. The OSE analyzed the water rights we had purchased and approved their validity. The OSE then determined in an “Evaluation of Impairment to Existing Water Users: conclusion: ‘worst case scenario’ on a well 100 feet away from RG-52013 (the Coop well) – 1.14 foot drawdown after 100 years, cause no significant impairment to any wells of other ownership near RG-52013.” LAI therefore began buying, retiring from their existing use and transferring additional valid water rights into the Coop system. LAI successfully transferred 15.05 acre feet of water rights to the Coop well. However, in 1999, the applications to transfer the final 9.05 acre feet of water rights were protested.
A hearing took place on November 29, 2000, to evaluate the protests and the conclusion in the Report and Recommendation of the Hearing Examiner states that the transfer was appropriately approved. The protest was then appealed to District Court where again the transfer was approved. The protest was then appealed to the State of NM Appeals Court where the District Court decision was affirmed. The protest was then appealed to the NM Supreme Court where the Court, on December 5, 2006, issued a conclusion that included the following statement: “Therefore, we remand to the district court for a de novo proceeding to consider all existing water rights at the move-to location, or extinguish those rights, the extent of depletion at the move-to location, and determine whether this depletion constitutes impairment of existing rights.” The extent of depletion at the move-to location had been analyzed by both the OSE and LAI’s geohydrology firm and determined to be ‘de minimus’ or so small as to be immeasurable, thereby not constituting impairment of existing rights.
In the Placitas area, the water rights in question were those that had been declared for irrigation purposes at some point in time. The OSE’s normal procedure to validate (consider) or extinguish water rights declared for irrigation was to study aerial maps going back many decades to determine whether specific parcels of land had been consistently irrigated. By statute, allowing land to lay fallow for more than a few years invalidated whatever water rights might have once existed. Prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling, determining the validity of or extinguishing irrigation water rights was only required if those particular rights were to be transferred. The OSE apparently determined that they did not have the resources or staff with which to do the research required to validate or extinguish any and all potential declared irrigation water rights in the Placitas area as directed by the Supreme Court ruling.. Therefore, it was left up to LAI to notify any and all potential water rights holders that they could either validate their potential irrigation water rights or sign a waiver to agree to extinguish any claim to those potential rights. LAI hired an engineer to try and determine the extent of any irrigated land in the affected area and the conclusion was that there was some that could be validated but many of the declarations from many years ago were no longer is use.
As the Court decision did not affect anyone’s domestic use of water in any way and only concerned the use of irrigation water, LAI sent out notices to any potentially affected irrigation water rights owner that by directive of the State of NM Supreme Court, their potential irrigation water rights would need to be validated or extinguished in order for the transfer of the protested 9.05 acre feet of water rights to proceed. This seems to have set off a firestorm of protest and misunderstanding. In regards to the concerns of our neighbors in Placitas, LAI has withdrawn the application to transfer the last 9.05 acre feet of water rights to the Overlook Water Cooperative.
Although this withdrawal does not validate anyone’s potential irrigation water rights, and the transfer would have not had any effect whatsoever on anyone’s domestic use of water, LAI would like to sincerely apologize to any Placitas property owner that felt that we were somehow trying to take away their right to use water. That was certainly not our intention. As stated before, LAI was trying to promote the conservation of water and limit the number of domestic wells drilled in the Placitas area.
re: our precious water; does anyone really care?
There are two historic definitions of water in New Mexico: “Water is Life,“ and “Water is Destiny.“ Nowhere in the state are these more valid than in Placitas. We are often subject to severe shortages which have resulted in virtual temporary abandonment of the area, some of which occurred quite recently in the twentieth century. Money and the political influence it buys coupled with unbounded ambition to exploit our resources and people to make large profits, continues the perception of New Mexico and Placitas as a colony to take complete advantage of without any risk. This mindset has put reality and decency in the background as real estate and tax base expansion have become overwhelming obsessions. Any concern for our water resource, the environment, our future, and our fundamental ability to exist here, are considered radical anti-social attitudes and those that express such concerns are painted as villains out to deny people of their money, jobs, and property.
Recently, Lomos Altos development company, which built Overlook subdivision in Placitas, withdrew its application to transfer old surface agricultural water rights from Valencia County up to Placitas and into the ground to support their development. I and others protested this application, first made in 1997, stood our ground, and refused to bend to the corrupt decisions of the State Engineer, appealed up to the Supreme Court and won a new trial, and put Lomos Altos into such a corner they finally blinked and fled the case. All hydrological experts in this case, from the protestants, the applicants, and the State Engineer, agree that groundwater pumping is and will continue to permanently deplete our springs and creek flows.
Not only does this threaten our old agriculture and impair senior water rights holders and their property, it causes the total degradation of our rare and unique riparian environments. Our water tables are dropping in many areas, threatening our wells and water quality. Severe legal restrictions on water use loom on the horizon, as our water law becomes more verified by the courts and government finally responds to demands to properly administer it.
I put all those that plan to develop real estate in Placitas on notice they will be opposed and the huge pile of evidence developed in this case will be thrown at them with the full force of our water law and the desperation of those dying of thirst. I put Sandoval County on notice that future approval of any such developments without any real regard for our water resource and the future and welfare of present residents and landowners will be opposed. They will be sued and sued again, as the developers always threaten to do to get their way. If they are so fearful of the developers, then they had better consider being fearful of those that elect them and pay their lawful salaries. Developers that threaten to sue me for interfering with their business of making lots of money, well, I’m a free American whose ancestors fought the Revolution and they can bring it on. The perennial corruption rampant in New Mexico will corrode all of us if we don’t finally, in unison, put an end to it once and for all.
Some believe that the right to develop land that one has a piece of paper to is sacred and can be used to intimidate simply by waving that piece of paper in someone who cares’ face. Some don’t care about the world and the community outside of their property boundaries. Some only care about how much money and stuff they possess. Some only care about their material status and some only about assuaging their egos by dominating others. Some only care about their job and don’t care about how much harm that job does to the earth and others. I hope there are some people in Placitas that actually care about things beyond themselves and their carnal material desires, and I believe that the vast majority of us have to admit, albeit sheepishly, to this class.
Water is life. Water, unlike money, cannot be printed. No amount of political influence will make more water magically appear in the ground. We must learn to live with the little water we have or we won’t have any, no matter how evolved our society, how sophisticated our lifestyle, or how advanced our economy. We are not immune to the follies of past civilizations that exceeded the bounds of their natural resources and we can perish just as easily as they did. As global warming and an expanding population intent on living “the good life” put huge pressures on our natural resources, we must meet the challenges of survival and reject those that only create and live in bubbles. We must come together in the recognition that life and the water that makes it possible are sacred, find the solutions that bring peace among ourselves, and found a cohesive community that leaves a legacy of life, honor, integrity, and permanence.
Water is destiny. We have the right of choice in what our future will be and the kind of world our grandchildren will live in. That world, if it is to be livable, must be defended now. It’s our choice. I call on all of us to come together, get to know each other better, build trust and common cause, and create a community of true and free citizens that have a clear vision and a love of life.
The alternatives will be horribly unimaginable. Idealism is a survival response and it’s time we let go of our old, stale world and embrace the new. We have a wonderful inheritance given us by those that have lived here before, who knew how to survive, how to take care of the land and water, and wrest a humble but fulfilling life from it. This must be our template, toolbox, and inspiration. We can build a new world, if we only care and believe in ourselves. It’s our choice and our destiny. Those that wish to discuss these issues further, organize, or have good ideas and suggestions, can contact me at 867-9580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Lynn Montgomery, Placitas
re: tossed out of car windows
Driving to the Merc last weekend, I saw several people picking up trash along the S-curve. I assumed from the Highway Adopted signs that these must be all or some of those mysterious “Clowns of Enchantment.“ The exceptional job they did was evidenced by the number of bags of trash they left alongside the road for collection and proper disposal.
While the thought of Clowns of Enchantment makes me smile, there is nothing funny about the amount of trash tossed out of car windows by inconsiderate people who think the world is their dumpster.
My heartfelt thanks to the Clowns of Enchantment and the other conscientious people who volunteer their time to clean up after those other clowns who trash our neighborhood!
—Gary W. Priester, Ranchos de Placitas
Call me a local and forget about my grandpappy
—Gina Knudson/Writers on the Range
I live in Lemhi County, Idaho, but nobody else in my family ever did, and recently, that’s become a problem. I love the boiled-down democracy of city council meetings, the frank discussions of local school boards, the drama of planning and zoning hearings – and no, I’m not kidding. I find local politics fascinating, and I’ve have rarely met an opportunity for public comment that I didn’t seize.
But now, some of my fellow citizens are trying to insert what I lovingly call the “grandpappy clause” into our local system of democracy. This most recently arose as our Lemhi County Planning and Zoning Commissioners entertained revisions to the county’s comprehensive plan and development code.
Perhaps I’m crazy, but this seems to me like a fantastic time to come together as a community and outline what we love about this natural wonder we call home. We love our farms and ranches, the open space they provide, the county fair, the sweeping view of the Beaverheads, the Salmon and Lemhi rivers, steelhead fishing, elk hunting, seeing ospreys swoop down on wriggling trout. We’re nestled between the Continental Divide and the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, and we’re waru of suffering the fate of communities such as the Bitterroot Valley of Montana and Idaho’s Teton County, where local people watched as subdivisions swallowed up agricultural ground. The resulting traffic and the financial strains on schools and law enforcement swallowed up local treasuries.
In Lemhi County, people are aware of the need to plan for the future. Hundreds of residents have already weighed in on a county plan, changing wording and challenging old assumptions. But as our planning and zoning commissioners prepare to vote on the new development code, a new clause has been proposed, one that details not where your parents were born, but where their parents were born.
Some of my fellow residents have suggested that if your testimony doesn’t begin with the phrase, “My grandpappy settled in Lemhi County (insert number) years ago…,” your comment should be placed in a pile labeled “Transplants, vocal minority or strangers who have come from other states.”
I am not from another state, thank the good Lord, but I proudly fall under the first two labels. My husband and I transplanted ourselves from the Idaho desert to the mountainous Salmon seven years ago, and we’ve never been sorry. I believe that this remarkable part of the world is a place my people would have loved, if they had not ended up high-centered on the lava rocks of southern Idaho long ago.
As for being part of a vocal minority — well, guilty as charged. Democracy means more to me than majority rules. I believe innovation happens when someone attempts to try something new. More than a few changes in the world have come about just because of a vocal minority. My grandpappies would be proud of me if they thought I was playing that role -- being a vocal minority in this or any other community in the world.
Settling on a comprehensive plan may not sound exciting, but it is important. If enough citizens care to become involved, these documents can respect the culture of a place and its people and also chart the course ahead. The last thing a comprehensive plan should do is disenfranchise a broad cross-section of a community’s citizens.
Fewer than 8,000 people live in Lemhi County, and so the locals celebrate when a new surgeon, a fiddle player, a Little League baseball coach or a family with straight-A students moves to town. The county treasurer doesn’t hesitate to add new homeowners to the tax rolls. We don’t require most of our newcomers to apply for a temporary work visa.
The first night I spent in our new home in Salmon sealed my fate. I woke up at midnight and saw a herd of elk in the moonlight. The still-snowy peaks of the Continental Divide stood out in silhouette, and I heard Jesse Creek’s spring runoff warble through my window screen. Since that first night, this has been my home. We’ll raise our children here, and someday my ashes will mingle with this sandy soil.
The notion that multigenerational residents should receive preferential treatment in local democratic processes is shortsighted and bigoted, and, quite frankly, it stinks … a lot like a grandpappy’s old boot. Sooner or later, after all, everybody can use a new pair of shoes.
Gina Knudson is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). She lives and rabble-rouses in Salmon, Idaho.