The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989


Group forms to preserve Las Huertas watershed

Kate Nelson
Vice Chairwoman
Las Placitas Association

The first time, in the dead of night, it sounded like a bomb. Loud enough to shake the house.

Will Ouellette raced outside and, in the blackness, saw a river roar through his backyard.

"You couldn't walk across it," he said. "You were afraid if you lost your footing, you'd be down at the Rio Grande."

This was in the 1980s, when Ouellette had his first experience with the breaking of the frozen springs that feed Las Huertas Creek.

During the last five years of drought, the midnight "boom" has softened. This year, there was no noise and not enough water to even trickle past the forest boundary.

What happens to desert watersheds when rain is sparse, when snow is sporadic? For the most part, they disappear. And when water does come, it flows with such force that it cuts deep channels, churns beyond occasional ponds, rushes into and out of our lives.

It doesn't have to be that way.

This July, Las Placitas Association held a town hall to gather residents' memories and dreams for a creek that has touched anyone who has hiked the back road, dropped a trout line, or fed a garden off its burble.

Out of that meeting grew the Las Huertas Creek Watershed Project.

What does a creek have to do with open-space preservation, the primary goal of LPA? Plenty.

For several years, we've strived to improve our community's open space by turning Las Huertas Creek into a "meandering steam"—one that hung around a bit longer than an errant "swoosh."

We moved rocks, built berms, and planted cottonwoods—efforts that, alas, wiped out whenever the churning stream reached us, miles downstream.

Maybe we should start higher, we wondered.

Thus, the town hall. The purpose was to organize and coordinate a community effort to protect and restore the watershed.

We heard from thirty people—residents, the forest service, water experts, pueblo representatives, acequia managers, and Bill Zeedyk, our "guru" in designing ways to slow down the creek.

They gave us ideas that ranged from the small to the enormous. An overriding theme was the need to offer watershed-protection tools to residents. And so, we've scheduled a series of workshops on gray water, drought gardening, well and septic-tank care, rainwater harvesting, and storm-water management. (See the schedule at

We'd also like to collect local memories of how the creek used to be. If you could share your pictures or stories about historical uses or traditional values, please give Maureen Hightower a call at 867-2433.


2003 Drought Summit

Signpost staff

The 2003 Drought Summit was held on September 16 in Albuquerque. Lieutenant governor Diane Denish welcomed the crowd of reporters, educators, hydrologists, politicians, bureaucrats, activists, scientists, and other representatives of the community with an interest in water. She said, "We all know what's at stake. Everything we consider precious in our state—our environment, our agriculture, our businesses—cannot exist without water. In fact, water may be the single defining issue on whether we literally sink or swim."

Julio Betancourt of the University of Arizona's Desert Laboratory spoke first on the scientific basis of drought and what we are facing. His research has focussed on "how climate variability, including megadroughts, affects ecosystems at different temporal and spatial scales." He presented a bewildering array of charts and graphs dealing with ocean temperatures and tree-ring data which was a little hard to follow completely, but did provide convincing evidence that we are probably about four years into a twenty-year megadrought.

The next speaker was Charles Liles, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Albuquerque. Liles pointed out that for sixty of the past 108 years, New Mexico has experienced severe to extreme drought conditions. Drought, it seems, is a normal feature of the climate in this state. He said that the past twenty years has been the third-wettest time in recorded history. The was the period of time when thousands of new residents were tricked by the weather into moving to the Land of Enchantment.

The third speaker, Steve Hansen, assistant Albuquerque area manager of the Bureau of Reclamation jokingly described the summit as "a party for Chicken Littles, Grim Reapers, and Cassandras." " In recent years, he said, we have had to deal with the reality that Albuquerque has a world-class aquifer with finite limits. He said that Elephant Butte Reservoir has effectively been drained of its normal capacity in just a few years’ time. Maybe that's okay though, because at full capacity, evaporation off the reservoir used 70 percent of the state's water. "Elephant Butte is where we spread our water out to dry," he quipped.

The rest of the summit included presentations dealing with the impacts of drought on watersheds, rangelands, biodiversity, infectious diseases, forest health, riparian areas, and wildlife. Dr. F. Lee Brown spoke about public-welfare and -policy considerations in times of drought.

D'Antonio took the podium for the final speech of the day in which he outlined steps the current administration is taking to deal with the problem. He said that the governor's task force has appointed five work groups charged with developing preemptive strategies to prevent drought emergencies:

    A Monitoring Work Group to do monthly evaluation of drought conditions

    A Recreation, Economic Development, and Tourism Work Group to analyze trends that could adversely affect the state's economy and identify alternatives

    A Wildlife and Wildfire Work group

    A Drinking Water Work Group that has created a framework for municipalities and industrial water conservation. They have recommended metering and measuring of all water uses, as well as requiring all water systems to institute rate structures to encourage conservation.

    An Agriculture Work Group to focus on conservation and watershed restoration

The task force is also looking into shortage-sharing agreements, water banking, and restrictions on domestic wells. They are investigating the feasibility of creating new water supplies by watershed restoration, new technologies such as desalination, and major water-conveyance projects.

To read more about the summit, visit and go to Governor's Drought Task Force. All the presentations are now on the site.


Pipeline for Sale ©2003 Rudi Klimpert

Shell Oil suspends work on controversial pipeline

Ty Belknap

Shell Pipeline Company made a surprise announcement on September 3 that they were suspending work on the New Mexico Products Pipeline. The proposal to transport gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel through the fifty-year-old crude oil pipeline that runs diagonally across the state had stirred a great deal of controversy over the last several years. Many residents opposed the project project because they believed the pipeline was so old and outdated that it was likely to leak and/or explode.

The pipeline passes through residential areas in Placitas, near the Placitas Elementary School, and through the parking lot of the Placitas Community Center.

The Bureau of Land Management is putting the final touches on the NMPP environmental impact statement that has been criticized for ignoring or downplaying safety issues. Joe Jaramillo, project manager for the BLM, said that the BLM would complete the EIS, but would issue no record of decision concerning approval of the project. He said that the EIS could be used if Shell decides to go ahead with the project or sells the pipeline within a reasonable (but unspecified) period of time. There is a thirty-day waiting period after the release of the EIS before it is finalized, but there is no further opportunity for public comment. Jaramillo said the time of the release of the EIS depends on Shell's input.

Shell stated that the decision to terminate the project was made after a review of the economics. "After more than three years of work on the NMPP, Shell has been unable to confirm the up-front commitments from shippers it needs to proceed with such a sizable investment," their September 3 press release stated. "In addition, Shell Pipeline's new investment strategy calls for more selective investments focused on opportunities closely tied to Shell Oil Company's other U.S. businesses. Shell is currently uncertain whether or not it will revive the project in the future. Shell is evaluating other options for utilizing the existing pipeline across New Mexico and is optimistic that the pipeline will perform a useful service for the state in the future."

Shell spokesman David Harrington said, "We are looking for ways to maximize our investment, including the sale of the pipeline." He said that the BLM was a couple of weeks shy of completing the EIS, and then they would "put it on the shelf." He explained, "We're not going to change our minds about this decision, but [completion of the EIS] seems like a natural end point."

Many opponents of the project celebrated Shell's announcement, reasoning that the longer the old Tex-New Mex pipeline remained idle, the more likely it was to stay that way permanently. Bert Miller of the grassroots organization Citizens for Safe Pipelines felt that the community effort to oppose the NMPP was a factor in Shell's decision. He encouraged members of the opposition to "pat yourself on the back."

Carol Parker, also of CSP, is not so sure that she buys Shell's explanation. She thanked the community for its support, but warned, "If Shell sells the pipeline, to whom? For what purpose? A crude-oil leak on this same pipeline was vastly underreported when it occurred in 1992 in Texas, and people in a nearby subdivision still have oil coming out of their faucets. How many more spills along the pipeline were underreported or not reported at all? We have five pipelines through this area. Our only salvation may be an active community group that keeps an eye on what is going on and holds pipeline companies responsible."


Spend a beautiful fall morning in the bosque

Carol Parker
Las Placitas Association

Las Placitas Association would like to invite you to enjoy a beautiful fall morning in the bosque and help restore it at the same time. On October 25, at 9:00 a.m., at the south end of Tingley Beach in Albuquerque, Las Placitas volunteers will help the City of Albuquerque Open Space Division in a restoration project known as the Zoo Burn. For those uncertain where Tingley Beach is, we will meet at Placitas Homesteads Shopping Center at 8:15 a.m. and carpool to the site. We plan to work until noon.

In July 1995, a portion of the bosque burned near the Rio Grande Zoo. The City cleared the area, planted young cottonwood poles, and removed exotic trees. As the area has recovered, there has been an unsurprising discovery: healthy bosque attracts beavers and—yikes!—the beavers are eating the new cottonwoods. The volunteers will put protective tree wrap around the cottonwoods and prune them to encourage them to put their growth into height rather than width.

This project will give you moderate exercise and a chance to see what a restoration project looks like up close. We will have free T-shirts (supplies limited). Bring gloves, sturdy shoes, water, sunscreen, and mosquito spray. If you have any questions, call Carol Parker at 867-0778 or




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