An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989

Signpost Cartoon c. Rudi Klimpert

Las Huertas Creek flood
Las Huertas Creek at the Tres Amigos Road crossing, normally a babbling brook, surges with monsoon rain, washing out road culverts along the way

Download a .wmv file of the flood (requires Windows Media) (9 mb)
or: wmv 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 now anyway.”

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 the toilet.”

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,” he said.

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 Gallegos said.

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.

Leon and Phylicia Lovato and Quanah Martinez

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 dust.

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 p.m.

“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 medals.

Visit 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

LaFarge gravel pit

La Farge Gravel Mining Operation plans sizable expansion.

Signpost Cartoon c. Rudi Klimpert

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

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 NM 87043.





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