Sandoval Signpost
An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988

Las Placitas Association presents the third program in its 2011 Water Series

—Las Placitas Association

On October 8, from 1:00 to 3:30 p.m., the Las Placitas Assiciation will host the third program in its 2011 Water Series. Central to the presentations is the 2000 Report by Peggy S. Johnson, Senior Hydrogeologist for the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, New Mexico Tech. Johnson’s report, titled “Hydrogeologic and water resource assessment for the Placitas development area” focuses on an area in north-central New Mexico that provides the scientific framework for the area’s regional water planning.

A Summary of her Report may be viewed at our Sandoval County Government website:

Invited to present in our third program are the following:

Dave Lutz, Hydrotechnician for the U.S. Geological Survey New Mexico Water Science Center in Albuquerque. He conducted water level monitoring of Placitas wells and reported those findings to our Sandoval County Government. Guy Bralley, Water Engineer for Sandoval County Government. And Bill Turner, Hydrologist, AGW Consultants in Albuquerque and Water Bank, who has been central in studying the water resources of our area.

With their assistance we will learn much about the location, abundance, and quality of Placitas groundwater.

In our second program of the Water Series on September 17, Melanie Sanchez, Environmental Scientist, Ground Water Pollution Prevention Section, and other professionals in the New Mexico Environment Department, brought “Water Fair”: Free Well Water Testing. Thirty samples from Placitas were analyzed. At the same time, in another room, professionals told our audience about water well maintenance, well permits and water rights.

For more information of up and coming events, contact Cosmos at (505) 217-9384 or You must RSVP if you want to know the last-minute listing of presenters.

Local orgs host gear sale

On Saturday, October 29 at the Placitas Merc there will be a Placitas gear sale to benefit Placitas-based conservation organizations (Pathways: Wildlife Corridors of New Mexico, and the Las Placitas Association (LPA)). LPA board of directors president Reid Bandeen said, “This is a great way to sell some of your surplus recreational gear while contributing to a worthy cause, and get some early Christmas shopping done, by acquiring some quality gear at a great price.”

For sellers: starting at 8:00 a.m. bring your gear (skis, boots, bikes, camping gear, sports gear, outdoor clothing, golf clubs, etc. (sports/recreational gear only) to the Merc parking lot for logging in and pricing. Then hang around and shop, or go enjoy your Saturday while LPA markets your goods. Return later in the day to pick up your cash (20 percent will be deducted from sales price to benefit Pathways and LPA), or retrieve any unsold items. 

LPA will accept any donated items, and can provide a record of tax-deductible donation for any proceeds.

For buyers: Visit the Gear Sale starting at 9:00 a.m. and shop for those items that you’ve been wanting for yourself or as a gift. There should be some great values.

Please note, all transactions will be cash only. There is an ATM at the Merc for your convenience.

Mountain Musing

Grand opera at Los Alamos

—Wally Gordon, The Independent

People who are lucky, or live right, sometimes get a warning of impending disaster. New Mexicans must be both, for we got not one, but two warnings last week. The question is whether we will heed them.

Americans are used to thinking of earthquakes as a peril of living on the West Coast. In recent days we found out differently.

The first warning came Monday night, August 22, along  the border of New Mexico and Colorado. The second warning occurred several hours later near Richmond. Both were shocks, in more  ways than one. Shock is a word with multiple meanings. In recent days in Colorado and Virginia, it meant not only a stunning surprise, but an earthquake. The question is what do these shocks mean for us in New Mexico.

Colorado never gets major quakes, but the one Aug. 22 measured 5.8 on the Richter scale. Centered nine miles from Trinidad, it was widely felt in New Mexico. Colorado had not had a quake this large since 1967.

The East Coast also “never” gets earthquakes, but within hours of the Colorado quake, there was one of almost identical size, centered in Virginia near Richmond and felt over much of the East Coast. It damaged the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. so heavily that a memorial  service for Martin Luther King Jr. had to be moved, and serious cracks showed up in the Washington Monument, which, by congressional fiat, is the capital’s tallest structure. Seismic fault lines exist beneath much of the United  States, including New Mexico, which experienced 350 small quakes just in 2010. One recent quake, centered near  Socorro, was rated at 3.5 and was felt as far away as the East Mountains and the Estancia Valley. Seismologists predict an earthquake in New Mexico as large as 7.0 but have no idea when it might occur.

No one knows if earthquakes are becoming more  frequent or more intense, but there is scattered anecdotal evidence that the chemicals deeply injected in the ground to remove natural gas may be creating cracks that produce quakes. Major investigations of the phenomenon are under way, but the evidence at this point is totally inconclusive.

The most active seismic areas in New Mexico are along the Rio Grande Valley near Socorro and in the Jemez Mountains in the vicinity of Los Alamos National  Laboratory.

The latter is particularly interesting. A seismic fault runs directly beneath the lab’s facility for producing plutonium pits for nuclear weapons. This happens to be the only such facility in the country. Plutonium, a highly radioactive material that does not exist naturally, is one of the most dangerous substances ever created. Minute amounts inhaled or ingested can be fatal. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “internal exposure to plutonium is an extremely  serious health hazard. It generally stays in the body for decades, exposing organs and tissues to radiation, and increasing the risk of cancer. Plutonium is also a toxic metal, and may cause damage to the kidneys.”

The director of the lab told a congressional committee  that the plutonium facility cannot withstand an earthquake and must urgently be replaced. The cost is currently estimated at about $6 billion and rises with every year of delay. It would be the most expensive single project in the history of New Mexico, comparable to construction of the state’s entire interstate highway system.

Years of delay have been caused by a complex of political, scientific, diplomatic, and environmental factors. The initial plans for a new plutonium lab were drawn up before the earthquake danger was appreciated. At the time, an environmental analysis was done. Since discovery of the quake problem, the design for the new lab has been drastically redrawn and upgraded. Environmental groups are insisting that no work go forward until a new environmental study is done, which could take years.

Since the initial plutonium facility plans were drawn up, there have been two stark developments that raise profound questions about its future.

First, last year an additional nuclear disarmament treaty was agreed to with the Russians, and Obama said it was his aim to eventually get rid of nuclear weapons entirely. Against this background, the question arises why the United States needs to build more nuclear weapons to supplement the several thousand it currently has.

The reason has to do more with politics than military necessity. Obama wanted the Senate to approve the Russian treaty. Senator Pete Domenici, then the second-ranking senator in terms of seniority and the top Republican on the Senate Energy Committee, along with other Republicans  made approval of the treaty (which requires 67 votes) conditional on a major expansion of nuclear weapons work, especially at Los Alamos. This work would entail the  expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars and employ  hundreds, perhaps thousands of scientists, engineers, and technicians in New Mexico.

Meanwhile, the federal budget has become a grand source of political opera. The most recent operatic scene was the creation a few weeks ago of a supercommittee of twelve members of Congress—six Democrats and six Republicans—to cut federal spending. If a majority of the committee agrees on a plan, it goes to the House and Senate for an up or down vote. If they deadlock along partisan lines, which now seems to be a plausible outcome, there will be draconian cuts in federal health programs and a fifty percent slash in defense programs.

In a little-noticed last-minute change to the agreement, Obama got Republicans to agree that the fifty percent cuts would not apply just to the Pentagon, but would be spread out among all defense-related spending, including  the nuclear weapons programs of the Energy Department, among which Los Alamos is a leader. If there are fifty percent cuts in military-related spending, or even if there is an agreement on a broader range of cuts, it is at least questionable if $6 billion or so will be available to build a new plutonium facility.

This is a particularly crucial moment for the Tea Party groups in the East Mountains and elsewhere in New Mexico. They have made shrinking the federal budget their highest priority. Will they agree to slash Energy Department spending on the labs, including eliminating the plutonium facility—a position  that would be consonant with their ideology—or will they adopt the traditional  Republican stance of promoting high military spending in New Mexico?

When—not if—there is an earthquake, one that seismologists predict could be as large as 7.0, the old plutonium facility without earthquake protection may well still be producing plutonium pits for bombs we don’t need and can’t use.

We would seem to have stark alternatives: spend money we don’t have on a new bomb plant we don’t need, or risk major damage to our health and environment. But there is a third choice: stop building nuclear bombs.

The Independent is a newspaper for the East Mountains and Estancia, New Mexico.





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