Las Huertas Creek at the Tres Amigos Road crossing, normally a babbling
brook, surges with monsoon rain, washing out road culverts along
a .wmv file of the flood (requires Windows Media) (9 mb)
file for dial-up connection (1 mb)
Monsoons pound Placitas
By August 21, Jackie Ericksen had measured over fifteen inches of
rainfall at her home in Placitas village since the rains began in
late June. Total precipitation for the year through May totalled
just .29 inch. She said the village acequias had become clogged
with debris and overflowed and that water normally used for irrigation
was running across the field behind her house and into the creek.
Mayordomo of Acequias de Placitas, James Gonzales, said, “We
fixed up the ditches and took care of some of the erosion after
the July 5 storm and had the acequia working. Then another storm
damaged the system. We decided to just wait until the monsoon season
is over to fix it again. Nobody needs water for irrigation right
In between storms, crews of acequia members were working to clear
and maintain the ditches.
Ed Newville said that he had never seen flooding like this in
the village. “During one storm, we had hail piled two feet
deep on the roof. Water levels reached halfway up our horse fencing,
where it was backed up by debris that flowed down from the mountainside.
The mountain was stripped of soil and dead trees. More recent storms
have just brought rocks and sand.” he said. Newville said
that he has been using a front-end loader to clear debris so it
won’t flood his house.
Bad as things have been in the village, some of the most dramatic
flooding has occurred along Las Huertas Creek. The culverts at the
crossing on Camino de las Huertas have washed out three times this
summer. Residents were forced to use Camino de la Rosa Castilla,
which remained barely passable during several storms.
Mayordomo Lynn Montgomery said that they had to rebuild the ditch
and the diversion four times. “Our gabions filled with rocks
were completely washed away, along with a lot of PVC pipe, and the
creek bed dropped up to six feet,” he explained. “Residential
development on the hills above us has caused a lot of loose dirt
to wash down and fill the ditches. We’re tired of trying to
keep up with all the damage, and we will rebuild everything after
the monsoon season.”
Susan Blumenthal’s riparian restoration project and “induced
meandering” has pretty much washed away. She said “The
only thing left is the big diversions made out of huge boulders,
but it’s not a total loss. Even though my favorite old cottonwood
was knocked over, it’s still sending out new growth. Coyote
willows and some trees that we planted have managed too hold on.
A lot of vegetation is still growing. The creek bed is about three
times as wide but it’s at the same level as the creek. It’s
nature’s engineering project and we’ll just have to
see what happens.”
Reid Bandeen, La Huertas Watershed Project coordinator wrote,
“The floods of July proved to be a mixed bag for the Las Huertas
Watershed Project. Our estimates put the bigger flows in excess
of five hundred cubic feet per second, and the associated storms
between fifty- and one-hundred-year frequency events. Many of the
smaller hand-built meander-control structures built on private lands
weren’t able to hold up to this kind of flow. Larger, machine-built
structures, however, were tested and held nicely. We believe that
with another couple of years of vegetation growth, even many of
the smaller structures would have held.
“One of the main goals of our restoration work is to raise
the creek bed in areas where the channel has incised into a gully,
and place the main channel back into contact with its natural flood
plain. This enhances both riparian growth and groundwater recharge.
Although the existing stream banks were eroded in spots, the net
effect in much of the creek was to accomplish this reconfiguration
of the channel and flood plain. Given that odds are we won’t
see these kinds of flows again for a while, we now have a good base
upon which to build a healthy riparian zone along much of the creek.
“These floods have also demonstrated the importance of revegetation
and erosion control in the upland areas, especially on south-facing
slopes in the Rosa de Castilla area. We figure the creek flow at
least doubled over the reach between Tecolote Road and the Camino
de Las Huertas road crossing during the larger storms. These events
have also underscored the need for storm-water control in the developed
areas of the watershed.”
A drive around Placitas during the August 19 storm found Bill
Samier on Cedar Creek Road hoping that his well housing would not
be flooded out a fourth time should the culvert upstream in Arroyo
del Oso wash out again. He said he had been “camping out at
home for the last six weeks, using buckets of rainwater to flush
Samier’s fears were well-founded, as the culvert had indeed
exceeded its capacity and floodwaters were backed up in this arroyo
that drains a good deal of the north side of the Sandias—including
what flows through Placitas Village.
Nearby, the crossing on Camino de las Huertas was again washed
out. Drivers were turned back, some taking a few minutes to watch
culverts bobbing in the now familiar torrent. To reach their homes
on Indian Flats or beyond, they had to drive back to the village,
then down Tecolote Road to Camino de la Rosa Castilla. Floodwater
poured down from the hills to the north, threatening to wash out
the road in several places.
Bert DeLara waited with his family for the water to recede at
the crossing through the creek on Tres Amigos Road. He said that
he has been driving to his home through the creek for sixteen years
and has never been turned back until this summer. “During
one of the floods, that wave was as high as the top of my pickup,”
At the last house along Las Huertas Creek before the open space,
the Patterson family calmly cooked dinner while the floodwater raged
past the living room window. The creek has moved closer to the house
with every storm. It changed course when the revetments and other
flood control structures they had installed washed away earlier
in the summer. The backyard has been reduced to the size it was
fifteen years ago. Gone are the trees and gardens that filled the
reclaimed flood plain. A petroleum pipeline is ominously exposed
to boulders flowing downstream. “I measured eight thousand
cubic feet per second at the height of one of the floods,”
Bill Patterson told the Signpost. “That made this creek the
biggest river in the state. The water came down in a series of waves
when the roads upstream washed out.”
This reporter discussed the deluge and related issues such as
unrestricted development and inadequate infrastructure at length
with the Pattersons—at such length, it seemed only prudent
to wait for the flood to recede enough to wade across the creek
and walk home, rather than trying to drive.
Rebuilding I-25 won’t begin until 2007
The rebuilding of Interstate 25 between Bernalillo and Albuquerque,
which once was to be starting about now, has been put off until
next spring, according to the New Mexico Department of Transportation.
Work currently underway on the shoulders is actually part of the
design phase, as soil testing determines how traffic lanes and retaining
walls will be built, NMDOT district public information officer Phil
Most other details of how to widen and upgrade the traffic lanes
already are worked out, he added.
“We've got the footprint,” Gallegos said. “And
the 240 is done.”
That would be Exit 240, also known as the South Bernalillo Exit,
although the I-25 overpasses there were replaced a few years ago
and widened to accommodate three lanes each in anticipation of this
project, he explained.
When the project was first announced, it was intended to follow
quickly on the heels of the overhaul of the Tramway interchange
which extended the six-lane roadway from Albuquerque to the Sandoval
County line. That work was essentially completed in July, although
some minor finishing remains.
The $60 million project now planned to begin next year will add
a lane in each direction between Tramway and Exit 242, the North
Bernalillo interchange with U.S. 550 and NM 165. The Interstate
ramps on the south side of Exit 242 also will be rebuilt, but the
upgrade of the heavily congested highway bridges and connections
is a separate project still further in the future.
The Interstate Highway system is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary
this year, and the current roadway and bridges across Sandia Pueblo
to Bernalillo are considered old, congested, and obsolete,
“Technology has changed so much,” Gallegos said. “Cars
are faster, and traffic counts are way up.
“We're basically bringing the road up to modern design standards.”
The project is not yet ready to go to bid, although the final
design is nearing completion. Gallegos said NMDOT currently expects
construction to start in March or April and to take anywhere from
eighteen months to two years to complete.
A “tadpole shrimp” found in Bernalillo—part
of a genus that has not changed since its earliest fossil record
over 220 million years ago.
Brother and sister Leon and Phylicia Lovato (ages
eleven and ten) along with their cousin Quanah Martinez (age eight)
find living fossils in Bernalillo.
Prehistoric animals found in Bernalillo
This summer’s monsoons have brought more than verdant hillsides
and flash flooding. By mid-August the rains had created in Bernalillo
what biologists call ephemeral ponds and are otherwise known as
big puddles. The puddles naturally draw children, who find the amazing
desert spectacle of tadpoles and baby frogs where there once was
This year three Bernalillo cousins found even more unusual creatures
in the muddy pools. Brother and sister Leon and Phylicia Lovato
(ages eleven and ten) along with their cousin Quanah Martinez (age
eight) were playing in downtown Bernalillo when they collected what
appeared to be a tadpole, but upon closer inspection bore only a
passing resemblance to the plump amphibians. “It had a shell
and when you turned it over it was all bloody,” Martinez remarked
with some alarm, “It creeped me out.” The “bloody”
underside turned out to be reddish orange feathery legs—many
of them—on a one-inch-long body beneath a soft light-green
shell. A tail ending in two feelers extended another inch or so.
A quick trip to the new town library proved fruitless but a Google
search for “desert crustacean” immediately resulted
in a picture of the very creature they had found.
It is called a tadpole shrimp, part of the Triops genus and is
known as a “living fossil,” or an animal that has not
changed since its earliest fossil record. In the tadpole shrimp’s
case that is over 220 million years ago. It is specially adapted
to a wet/dry life cycle. When rain fills these ephemeral ponds the
eggs left in the dried mud incubate and the crustacean quickly molts
into adulthood and lays more eggs. In this species, if the puddle
stays wet long enough, there can be several generations hatched
in one season.
But the shrimp’s most amazing adaptation is that the eggs
can be dry for years, perhaps hundreds or thousands, no one knows,
and still hatch when the water conditions are right. Though some
species of tadpole shrimp are on the endangered-species list, they
have been found on every continent but Antarctica. Their habitat
is often encroached upon by human development and its pollution.
The pools where they were found in Bernalillo were indeed filled
with litter and old tires; however, for the tadpole shrimp this
summer, that was not a hindrance.
Town of Bernalillo adds new wine competition to
New Mexico Wine Festival
The Town of Bernalillo held the first wine competition of the
2006 New Mexico Wine Festival at Bernalillo at the Santa Ana Star
Casino. The competition was open to participating wineries using
New Mexico grapes, fruit, honey, or other, in the making of their
wine and having the wine available for purchase at the festival.
The wines were tasted in a blind format and evaluated on the following
criteria: color/clarity, bouquet/aroma, balance/body, flavors/taste,
length/finish and overall impression. Award-winning wines received
a judging consensus to be eligible for honors.
Mayor Patricia A. Chávez will formally present awards to
top scoring wines at the festival on Sunday, September 3, at 1:00
“As one of the founding members of the New Mexico Wine Festival
at Bernalillo, I am pleased to add a new element to the festival
this year”, stated Chávez. “It is an opportunity
for the Town of Bernalillo to recognize wineries and winemakers
for refining the quality of wines made in [New Mexico] and of New
Mexico fruits. I am impressed with the professional evaluation and
execution of the wine competition, and honored by the support of
the participating wineries.”
The wine-competition awards begin with the top Best of Festival
Medal, which is granted to the wine with the overall winning score,
without regard to variety or category. This coveted honor goes to
D.H. Lescombes, Cabernet Sauvignon 2002.
Best of Class medals are also awarded for excellent and outstanding
wine in the following categories: Sparkling, White, Blush, Red,
and Other. Rounding off the competition are the Gold and Silver
for further details of the competition and festival.
Meet the candidates at Democratic family social
The New Mexico Democratic Club is sponsoring “Sunday Funday
Free Family Social,” on September 24, from noon to 4:00 p.m.
at the Bernalillo Wine Festival Grounds. All state and local Democratic
candidates have been invited. No speeches are planned, and there
will be free food, beverages, music, entertainment, nonprofit informational
tables, voter registration, and a candidates/public softball game.
For added fun, there will be a jump tent, snow cones and games for
the kids, , and more. The event organizers encourage you to attend
and bring lawn chairs, blankets, enthusiasm, and an appetite. Further
details will be posted at www.nmdemclub.com.
La Farge Gravel Mining Operation plans sizable
Gravel mine threatens Placitas
Placitas residents recently received a bulk mailing from the Las
Placitas Association that included a petition for a moratorium on
new gravel mines in Placitas. This action was prompted by an unofficial
proposal from LaFarge Corporation to expand its mining operation
the entire length of Bureau of Land Management land north of Placitas.
The LPA summarized summarized the need for the moratorium: “Many
of us have experienced problems with traffic at the I-25–Hwy
165 intersection and you know that trucks and cars are an unsafe
mix. Similarly, gravel mines and residential communities are a bad
mix. That's why communities have land use plans to put compatible
uses together and keep incompatible uses apart. Without this new
application, the existing mine on BLM land would soon close and
the truck traffic would decrease. The BLM land use plan was originally
put into place in 1986 and allows mining. Placitas has changed significantly
since then yet BLM has never re-examined its 1986 land use decisions.
For comparison, Sandoval County's Comprehensive Plan doesn't permit
the mines in Placitas on private land to expand. Unless BLM's plan
is changed to be consistent with the county plan, Placitas will
continue to see more mining.”
Judy Hendry, LPA president, stated, “Since we sent out the
petition for a moratorium on mining, we've gotten an overwhelming
sense of just how outraged the community is about plans for another
mine in Placitas. LPA is doing everything we can think of to stop
another mine from going in. Right now, we are working a number of
options but we think our best shot is through our congressional
delegation and the moratorium, so we are urging everyone to sign
the petition and send it back to us.”
Under the Bush Administration, which makes perfectly clear its
intention to exploit and privatize public lands, the BLM has been
pressured from above to streamline the acceptance of drilling and
mining operations by minimizing the public process. The BLM land
use plan is outdated. Even though no official application has been
submitted, the threat of greatly expanded gravel mining is seen
as real and immediate.
LaFarge attorney M. L. Tucker told the Signpost, “Unlike
most other types of business, gravel mines must be located where
the product is geologically located. Good sand, gravel, and hard
rock happens to be located around our existing operation, so we
can use the same processing plant and existing roads. She said that
Lafarge had not officially applied to the BLM, but was speaking
to individuals and groups in the area, [presumably to garner support
for the plan]. She stated, “Product is extracted in accordance
with market needs for repair of roads and for new construction.
It is up to us to supply the need. We have only so much ability
to control the gravel trucks, but we are currently coming up with
programs to improve the trucking issue.”
The LaFarge outreach meeting with the LPA resulted in the petition
drive. A meeting with the Wild Horse Observers Association resulted
in more positive results, as displayed in a bulk mailing to Placitas
residents by WHOA that included the statement, “LaFarge is
working to ensure that its current and future plans allow for rapid
reseeding and natural rolling hills to leave the BLM as an open
space and allow suitable habitat for a horse preserve!”
This statement seems to tie the horse preserve to the expanded
mine, but Patience O’Dowd of WHOA wrote, “In the event
that the BLM allows LaFarge to mine the BLM areas north of the power
lines in Placitas, WHOA hopes that this area would be rapidly returned
to rolling hills and natural vegetation as opposed to further development,
oil and gas, or a loop road. The timing of WHOA’s recently
urgent efforts toward a horse preserve have been spurred by actual
and threatened future roundups and are unrelated to LaFarge’s
expansion proposals. WHOA will be pursuing a horse preserve regardless
of the BLM’s decision on the LaFarge expansion.”
BLM representative Tom Gow said that his office had had verbal
discussions with Lafarge concerning the expansion of mining operations
to another 846 acres, but had not received a formal application.
“We approved their request to drill some test holes in that
area [to determine availability of product], but we have not received
any technical data from that operation,” he said. Gow also
said that he was looking in to LPA’s contention that the BLM
had indicated in 1998 that no new mining applications would be approved
until the 1986 Rio Puerco Resource Management Plan was reviewed
and possibly updated to reflect local land use regulations.
Expansion of gravel mining into the BLM land would not only deprive
the public of recreational opportunity, it would also destroy habitat
in a vital wildlife corridor from the Sandias to the mountains to
the north. For a sample of what “reclaimed” gravel mines
look like, simply hike, drive, bike, or ride your horse (while you
still can) to the northwest corner of your public land north of
Placitas. Bring your dog along or maybe some guns for a little target
practice. Stay as long as you want. Compare the moonscape “reclamation”
you see there to the natural hills and vegetation of the adjoining
land that LaFarge wants to mine.
Placitas Library wants community input
—GAIL DELLAPELLE, BUILDING COORDINATION COMMITTEE,
PLACITAS COMMUNITY LIBRARY
The tiny, nine-hundred-square-foot Placitas Library wants you to
start dreaming big. Planning for the new facility is in full swing,
money has been allocated, grants awarded, and a site just down the
hill from the fire station may be the new library home. Now your
critical input is needed regarding the future programs and services
you would like to be considered for the expanded and more inclusive
new library building. A full understanding of the services and programs
preferred by the community is essential in creating an appropriate
building design that is representative of community values.
To meet this need the library has developed a focus-group program
to initiate a community out-reach. The goal of the focus group is
to engage as many Placitas groups and interested individuals as
possible in group discussions.
Begin thinking about what you would recommend be included in the
library for learning and enjoyment and what kind of services and
events would you like to see the library provide. What types of
programs and spaces should be available? What is unique about our
community that should be embodied in the library facility? What
do you want personally from the library? Your ideas are essential.
The focus-group program will be contacting organizations and individuals
over the next two months to set up these important discussions.
If you would like to be involved, please contact the focus group
by leaving a message at the library, at 867-3355, attention to Judy
Austin, Tina Thomas, or Gail DellaPelle or mail your comments: attention:
Focus Groups, Placitas Community Library, P.O. Box 445, Placitas