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The Coronado conservation district is working with the Placitas acequia associations to keep water flowing in the ditches cleaned each spring by a small army of volunteers. Photo credit: Bill Diven

Voters stick with conservation district incumbents

—Bill Diven

Elections for the Coronado Soil and Water Conservation District are usually low-key affairs and don’t even happen if there is no competition for available seats.

But not this time.

For the May 5 election, 260 voters turned out to select three members of the five-person board. That might be a record for the Dust Bowl-era district, although no one is quite sure since the paper trail on board elections fades over the decades.

The voters returned the three incumbent supervisors to office by wide margins. Patricia Bolton defeated Patience O’Dowd 214-39; Marvin Mendelow defeated Renee Sposato 205-48; and Vice Chairman Albert Baca defeated Jami Watson 200-57. Mendelow and Baca are residents of Algodones while the others live in Placitas.

Also on the board are Chairman Lynn Montgomery and Supervisor Gary Miles, both of Placitas.

“This was just a little group helping farmers down in the valley,” Montgomery said of the district’s history. “There’s more interest in Coronado now, it seems, and I hope people support us in future projects and help us… We’re not an enforcement agency. We’re just a conservation agency trying to do projects on the ground.”

The district did manage to inject itself into the debate over free-roaming horses in Placitas two years ago by supporting the roundup of herds it said were damaging the drought-stressed watershed. That became an issue in the election as two of the three challengers work with horse advocacy groups in Placitas.

Coronado recently wrapped up a $75,000 dollar project working with the three acequia associations in Placitas to produce engineered plans for irrigation ponds to capture water in Las Huertas Creek and from springs above the village of Placitas. Funding came through state capital outlay requested by Sen. John Sapien and Rep. Jim Smith, and the district turned the plans over to the associations, which have applied for grant funding to begin the work.

“These acequias are critical to our community, to our heritage, and to who we are,” Montgomery said.

The district has also applied for an eight thousand dollar grant to do a two-acre pilot project on erosion control above Las Huertas Creeks in the Albuquerque Open space. The money would be used for tools to be kept for future projects and a workshop to train one or two teams of volunteers.

The volunteers would learn techniques for determining land contours to route runoff gently through placed natural materials and keep it from cutting channels as it rushes downhill.

“There’s a lot to it. Where is the water going? Where is the water coming from?” Montgomery continued. “These hills are melting before our eyes. We don’t realize how much erosion has been happening.”

All this is in addition to ongoing Coronado projects of maintaining the Piedra Lisa Dam, which provides flood protection for much of northern Bernalillo, and supporting Firewise Placitas, the local branch of a national effort to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires destroying homes and watersheds.

Unlike most government agencies, soil and water conservation districts can work on projects with private landowners

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