Sandoval Signpost


An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988

Erosion in Placitas Photo credit: Ty Belknap

Erosion: how to see it, fix it, and prevent it

—Michael Crofoot

Isn’t this rain we have recently been blessed with just plain old great? And look at all the wonderful grasses growing along our roads, sometimes with huge bunches of wildflowers springing up in response to the much-needed rainfall. In September, we even sometimes got a bit too much rain here and there, so we can find serious new erosion. Some culverts were blocked, a few dirt roads became close to impassable, and new erosion gullies sprang up in many places. What can be done about the erosion here, and why should we do it?

I moved to Placitas from New Zealand about twelve years ago. While living in New Zealand, I worked with some native Maori people in the midst of the second worst erosion in the world. We started four new native plant nurseries, along with doing a bunch of harvesting native plant seeds and sowing them into the exposed and highly eroded lands there. So, I knew what erosion looked like there. All the same, when I moved to Placitas, it took me two years to understand what I was seeing in the Placitas landscape. And then, all of a sudden, I saw that the stones on the surface of our soils here are just lying there signaling that the topsoil has been washed away, exposing what I call the broken bones of the earth. Now in our Placitas area, and in much of New Mexico and the Southwest, we are seeing mostly subsoils with their small stones left sitting on top of the ground. No wonder there is pretty much only juniper bushes and a few pinyon pine trees growing on our hilly landscapes hereabouts.

We can learn how to see and read our local landscapes even better. There are basically three kinds of erosion to be seen here—sheet, rill, and gully erosion. Sheet erosion is when rainwater is moving down a broad slope and skimming off surface soil particles. Rill erosion is when sheet erosion begins to concentrate in small waterways where serious erosion begins to develop. Gully erosion occurs when runoff water accumulates, and then rapidly flows in narrow channels during heavy rains, removing soil to a considerable depth. Just about any arroyo here with both sides going vertically straight up is actually an erosion gully. Natural arroyos generally have at least one sloped bank and more vegetation on the sloped side as the waterway curves its way back and forth down the slope. One can see a number of the amazing erosion gully networks in our area by driving slowly up Rt. 165. There is the array of erosion gullies just after Camino de la Bueno Vista about a mile west of the Placitas village. A good while ago a couple of Hispanic elders, now deceased, told me they used to go on hay rides pulled by horses from the vicinity of Anasazi Winery over to the area around the Placitas Community Center. Since then, thousands of cubic yards of soil have been washed away there and one can barely walk that same territory over to the Community Center as the erosion gullies there are often thirty feet deep.

What can be done to help control the erosion hereabouts at the scale of private landowners? I would first turn to the Las Placitas Association’s excellent booklet titled Landowners Best Management Practices for Erosion and Stormwater Control from the Las Huertas Watershed Project, which is available at the LPA informative website. In this publication, we find some very simple and effective erosion-controlling techniques that anyone can do. Branch and rock dams can be effective along with the other well-considered prescriptions contained in the LPA pamphlet. The Watershed Project did extensive work along the Las Huertas creek bed making big erosion control structures, pruning out unwanted vegetation and planting lots of cottonwoods, willows, and a few other species. It has been said, that now we need to do work on the erosion in the uplands of the Las Huertas watershed to lessen the water flow during floods.

Another very important booklet is by Bill Zeedyk, An Introduction to Erosion Control, which is chock full of other great techniques and strategies to help us deal with the erosion which is all through the Placitas area. This excellent booklet is also available for free on the Internet by searching for “An Introduction to Erosion Control.”

More information about how to do erosion control in our area can be found at the Dryland Solutions website, whose folks work out of the Santa Fe area.

So there we go, folks. We can begin to see the various kinds of erosion in our lands and actually just walk out into nature and begin the seriously fun work to keep our water and soil right here in our local landscapes. A famous ecologist, Dr. Daniel Janzen, has called this sort of work the Gardenification of Wildland Nature, an ecological imperative where we are helping heal the land for our children’s welfare.

Eastern Sandoval Citizens Association

—Christopher Daul

The Eastern Sandoval Citizens Association (ES-CA) will be holding their autumn General Meeting on November 2, starting at 2:00 p.m. at the Placitas Community Center. Issues to be discussed include:

  • the proposed expansion of the BLM pipeline
  • the BLM Resource Management Plan (which the BLM has not yet published)
  • the LaFarge Mining operation
  • future development in the Placitas area

Additional topics may be added. The meeting is open to all residents of Placitas.

ES-CA will also be holding elections in November for the four district directors, and welcome nominations of candidates. Since Placitas has no local government, ES-CA is one of the organizations that looks out for the interests of Placitans. ES-CA welcomes the participation of all residents. While you must be a dues-paying member of ES-CA to run for director, new members are allowed to put their name in nomination. Yearly membership is fifty dollars.

There are many issues that affect us in Placitas, and various governmental entities whose actions can have a lasting impact upon us. ES-CA is one of our most important avenues for communicating with these governmental agencies. Volunteers are always welcomed, and we encourage Placitans to visit our website at to check out what we are doing and ways to help.

One thousand New Mexicans ask PRC to protect rule that enforces Renewable Energy Act

—Camilla Feibelman, Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter director

More than one thousand New Mexicans have written to their Public Regulation commissioners to ask them not to make damaging changes to the PRC “Reasonable Cost Threshold” rule, which enforces the state Renewable Energy Act.

The commission held a public hearing on September 10 on these amendments, which are being considered at the behest of anti-renewable-energy forces at the Attorney General’s office. The commission staff, as well as New Mexico Industrial Energy Consumers, is a consortium that includes Intel, Honeywell, University of New Mexico, and the City of Albuquerque.

The Renewable Energy Act requires utilities to provide 15 percent of their electricity from renewable energy by 2015 and twenty percent by 2020. The current minimum is ten percent.

Utilities don’t have to meet those requirements if compliance costs more than the Reasonable Cost Threshold set by the PRC. The proposed changes artificially inflate the cost of renewable energy so less renewable capacity would be added to the system before hitting the cost threshold.

The PRC is also considering eliminating requirements for a diverse mix of solar, geothermal, wind, and rooftop solar, as the law specifies. Since these “diversity” rules were implemented in 2007, New Mexico has gone from enough solar capacity to power about one hundred homes to enough to power about seventy thousand homes. Losing these rules would endanger all future solar projects and would mean utilities could fulfill their requirements by buying just wind or wind credits from out-of-state facilities.
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