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letters, opinions, editorials

Las Huertas Communty Ditch (LHCD) perspective on water

—Jon Couch, Chairperson, LHCD

Ever since Nancy and I moved here and joined the acequia community thirty years ago we have used the same diversions we use now. I say diversions because we have three in use. Water is diverted from Las Huertas Creek below the Sandia Man Caves into a ditch for two tenths of a mile where old floods have removed the stream bank that supported the ditch and exposed massive boulders. The water from the ditch at this point runs in the creek bed for less than a hundred yards before being diverted back into a ditch. Further down where the canyon opens up some of the water from the ditch is transported from Las Huertas Ditch down the canyon side, into the creek bed for about twenty feet, then diverted into La Jara Ditch on the other side of the valley.

The only thing that Las Huertas Community Ditch has done in the way of improvements over the years is to obtain a grant from the Coronado Soil and Water Conservation District five years ago for culverts that the acequia members installed in portions of the ditch to provide runoff protection from flash floods above.

This is not a new controversy. In 1942, a statement before the district court the Village commissioners said that in 1886 water disputes between the communities of Las Huertas and Las Placitas resulted in a meeting of the two mayordomos. An agreement was made, they say, that conceded to Las Placitas rights in “surplus” waters from the diversion that La Jara Ditch uses, and that the Village might build its own ditch, called La Joya in the statement, to accept the flood waters.

Severe droughts were experienced statewide during the years 1931 to 41 and 1942 to79 according to the Office of the State Engineer.

In the spring of 1942, acting on the advice of the Farm Security Administration engineers, workers from the Village cut and filled in the La Jara Ditch before its end and diverted all the water to the Village, leaving land below the La Jara Ditch dry. A La Jara water user and Commissioner was told to stop using water unless he had permission from the Village mayordomo and was threatened with arrest. The Village claimed rights to the La Jara Ditch and claimed they built it in 1886 themselves.

A suit was filed in the Sandoval County District Court on June 10, 1942 by the trustees of the El Canon de Las Huertas and La Jara Ditches against the water commissioners of Las Placitas. The court made the following conclusions:

1. The water rights of the people and the water of Las Huertas Creek go with the land.

2. The commissioners of Las Huertas/La Jara have control of both ditches as one system from a common source and are responsible to their own community for the maintenance.

They are further charged with the duty of maintaining and keeping open and unobstructed the entire La Jara Ditch from its intake to the point where it joins the Village ditch in order to assure the free flow of flood waters, which flow into La Jara Ditch and are not used by Las Huertas/La Jara Ditch.

3. The commissioners of Las Placitas “have no vested water rights in the water of La Jara Ditch or any water where the source is in the Las Huertas Canyon, except for the use of flood waters.”

4. The water of La Jara Ditch and “all waters whose source is within the watershed drained into Las Huertas canyon belongs to Las Huertas and La Jara communities with the right to divide and distribute through their communities as they see fit, subject only to the rights of Las Placitas to use of the flood waters.”

These findings and conclusions were incorporated into the Final Decree on February 3, 1943. The only water from Las Huertas Creek the Village Acequia can use is surplus water from La Jara Ditch, but the Village’s connecting ditch has vanished beneath new homes.

A 1991 UNM study found that 52 percent of the water flowing at Las Huertas Picnic Grounds was lost to infiltration before it reached Las Huertas Community Ditch’s old diversion a quarter of a mile above the current Upper Diversion. At lower flows, more than 52 percent is lost. It is possible that the percolating water reaches El Oso Spring in the Village. Studies done have been inconclusive, or worse, misleading, saying that there’s not enough data to draw conclusions, then drawing them. All that’s really known is that when there is water in Upper Las Huertas Canyon and no water in the Las Huertas Ditch diversions, there is still water in El Oso.

There have been more than thirty homes built right above El Oso in the last fifteen years, each with a well sunk into the aquifer. The Village should look closer to home for impairment of their water source.

Finally, it is, after all, a drought!

New Mexico’s A-to-F school grades: unstable, not validated, not ready to use

—Stephen M. Barro

Last month’s release of New Mexico’s second set of A-to-F grades for schools was accompanied by copious praise for the grading effort by the two state officials who initiated it: Governor Susana Martinez, who in 2011 convinced the legislature to write school grading into law, and Public Education Department (PED) Secretary-Designate Hanna Skandera, under whose direction the grades were produced. Both have asserted not only that the grades are valid, but also that the reported grade changes between 2010 and 2011, and 2011 to 2012 show real improvements in education performance.

In fact, they show nothing of the kind. The claims of “improvement” are based on nothing more than hand-picking a few positive results and citing them as evidence of progress. When one examines grade changes for all New Mexico schools (as this writer has done), a very different picture emerges: of the 821 schools that PED graded for both 2010-11 and 2011-12, 510 schools did not receive the same grade for both years. The ratings of 232 schools went up (46 by two grades or more—e.g., D to B); those of 278 schools went down (66 by two grades or more—e.g., from B to F).

The percentage of schools with “good” grades, A or B, fell from 32.2 to 28.5 percent between the two years, while the percentage with low grades, D or F, rose from 35.7 to 38.4 percent.

Of the 73 schools graded A for 2010-11, only 17 schools—less than one quarter of those initially identified as top performers—also received an A for 2011-12. The grades of 39 schools initially rated A dropped to B, 15 to C, and two to D.

Of the larger group of 264 schools graded either A or B for 2010-11, only 140 schools also were rated A or B for 2011-12. Of the remaining 124 schools, 88 were downgraded to C, 31 to D, and five to F.

At the low end of the performance scale, only 23 of the 88 schools graded F for 2010-11 also received an F for 2011-12 (though they were joined by 45 other schools previously graded B, C, or D).

Closer to home, here is a summary of grades received by schools in the Bernalillo Public Schools (BPS) district, which serves Bernalillo, Placitas, Algodones, and several pueblos: the grades of the ten BPS schools rated in 2010-11 included one B, six C’s, and three D’s. Then, in 2011-12, BPS grades went from mediocre to dismal. The grade of one school, Placitas Elementary, went up, rising from D to C. All the other schools’ grades worsened or stayed the same. The final tally: two C’s, seven D’s, and one F. Interestingly, BPS Superintendent Allan Tapia appears to be a supporter of the A-to-F grading system [See article, Page 1, this Signpost], notwithstanding his district’s sorry performance.

What the foregoing results mainly show, however, is not that New Mexico’s school performance deteriorated between the two years (though it may have) but rather that the grades are unstable and hence, of dubious reliability. This finding calls into question the soundness of PED’s methodology and points to the need for a full, independent, external review of the grading system.

Unfortunately, PED has kept much of the information needed for such an evaluation tightly under wraps. The agency’s online “Technical Guide” is opaque, cryptically written, and seriously incomplete. Conspicuously missing are the value-added models that PED developed to adjust students’ test scores for differences in student and school characteristics. Instead of unveiling these models, PED officials have claimed absurdly that “only a few people in the world” would be able to understand them. But in fact, nothing about PED’s approach appears to be new or esoteric. Value-added models, some considerably more complex than PED’s, have been constructed, critiqued, and applied in education for well over a decade. PED makes itself seem out of touch when it suggests that its work is too rarefied to be understood by anyone outside its own small coven of statistical wizards.

The limited information now available does suffice to identify some key questions that a serious review would address. Some concern technical aspects of statistical procedure, but others are broader questions about what is being measured, and why. As examples:

Why has PED based its grades partly on a proficiency indicator not adjusted for student characteristics, knowing that this will make some schools look like poor performers simply because their students come from less-advantaged backgrounds?

To what extent are PED’s models able to explain test-score variations among students, and what ranges of error are associated with model-based estimates of improvements in student performance?

Why, after having worked to develop models that reflect student ethnicity, poverty, and special needs, did PED decide not to take any such factors into account when it constructed indicators of student growth?

When and if PED reveals the details of its work, many more questions will undoubtedly emerge.

Finally, examining PED’s methodology is important because school grading foreshadows another item on the Martinez/Skandera education agenda: the use of value-added models to grade individual teachers. School-level modeling, its complexities notwithstanding, is simple compared with teacher-level modeling. Until PED can demonstrate mastery of the former, it should not attempt the latter. The stakes, if it proceeds, will be high: teachers’ jobs and salaries might depend on the results. So the scrutiny now being given to school grades would pale in comparison to what PED can expect when teachers become the statisticians’ targets.

Stephen M. Barro, Ph.D. in Economics (public finance), is a retired economist and policy analyst with more than thirty years experience in education research and education policy studies.

re: Fourth of July parade damper

“Nice parade,” but we sure missed the water play! My grandkids always get excited seeing the fire truck or water lorry coming from a distance on the chance they might get sprayed. Why not a little water fun in July? Shouldn’t there be parade variety for everyone? What I observed looked equally enjoyed by spectators and participants alike, some collateral water damage aside.

Moreover, I’ve become a little startled and alarmed by all the recently reported kazoo injuries. It appears these incidents are cropping up everywhere and reaching pandemic proportions. A friend of mine nearly had his eye put out at an unsupervised kazoo concert in Central America, where I personally don’t believe they have any regulation on the crazy things at all! I must admit I once dated an attractive kazoo thespian, but notwithstanding her incessant lip vibrations making her a pretty good kisser, we really had nothing in common. Maybe kazoos should be regulated to play only during “National Kazoo Day”(not kidding, there is really a Kazoo Day: January 28), though it’s pretty cold in January for the chops!

Consequently, if I remember correctly, in past parades, water salvos also originated and were returned from the notorious kazoo wagon, too. “Fire not, lest fire be returned.” Alas, it appears kazoo-ers must now be aqua pre-screened and patted down before boarding the infamous kazoo carriage. What’s next? No candy tossing!

Personally, I think a “wet kazoo’s the best kazoo” Long live the kazoo and other stuff, too!

—E. Schukar

re: to the Grinch who stole the Fourth of July Parade

Kazoos!? Do you really think my children went to the parade to watch the local bridge club play Kazoos? Quite frankly, when my family and I used to participate in the community parade, we couldn’t wait for the Kazoos to pass, and as we politely waived at that that group to hurry go by, we made sure that we didn’t squirt anyone who didn’t have a gun and or the animals included.

We didn’t holster anything! We found a parade (the Corrales Fourth of July Parade) that didn’t have a bunch of old “Fuddy Duddies” that complain every time the ball is hit into their yard. We participated as a family with young-at-heart grandparents, aunts and uncles and friends, with our water guns along with a whole community who did the same.

Water guns everywhere! Families, grandparents, grand kids, people of all walks of life cooling off in the sun. They seem to have found a solution to incorporate all aspects, including water guns and their entire community. They simply made a set of rules for people to follow instead of whining and complaining. As for your conservationist argument. I currently harvest one-thousand gallons of water from my rain barrels every time it rains and use low flow appliances in my home. Do you? I think I could spare forty gallons of water (which is less than an average wash of clothes) given that I harvest about five thousand gallons during the summer and monsoon season. The water we used in the parade was not even a drop in the bucket to amount to anything. Go buy some rain barrels at if you want to make a real impact.

I hold the Parade Master responsible for not being pro-active enough to include the entire community in his decision-making process to come up with a simple solution that allows everyone to have fun. I wondered last year—when the Fire Truck didn’t cool off the crowd with their sprayers, and the water truck guy who happens to be a predominant business owner in our community didn’t show up with his truck to spray the kids—what was going on. After a few Signposts and watching a Coup enforce their opinions on what is appropriate etiquette on small community parade, I couldn’t stay tight lipped any longer. You can keep your parade, but you won’t enjoy my family. You won’t enjoy one of the biggest belly laughs from my father-in-law, laughing with his granddaughters during the hot fourth of July parade. By the way, when you said it “insidiously grew every year” did you mean that maybe more people were catching on to the fun? Fun is addicting! I saw several dozen families using water guns last year. I hope to see them in Corrales next year as we create a water gun float! We will be exercising our real Fourth of July symbolism by doing what we want to do in our free society. The Grinches represent the hold England had on our country before 1776!!

P.S. I will never advise you to go to the Festival of Tomatoes in Spain. You may get your clothes stained!

Good Day!

—Dan Cordova, Placitas

re: wandering horses pose danger

Hello, Signpost folks,

The unnamed horses wandering the village seem to be a quaint novelty for some people—they are a reason of concern to me. We adults would be quick to squash a group of toddlers meandering down the village roads, but the horses have no more car sense than a kid. They can spook and take a right or left in a split second right in front of you.

To me, the horses are hazardous to our health and the road poses a danger to them. Hitting a horse at 40 m.p.h. would be a tragic and needless mishap. Can they be safely and reasonably moved?

Signed, Bugged Annie,Annie Kliss

[Editor’s note: The free-roaming horses are not controlled, either in population or range, by anyone. The sheriff says that it is the driver’s responsibility to avoid horses like any other road hazard. Two horses have been hit and killed during the past year. According to Bobby Pierce of the NM Livestock Commission, your only option is to corral the horses on your own property and call the Livestock Board to move them. Pierce warns, however, that in doing so you will risk the wrath of wild horse advocates, because this course of action could ultimately lead to auction and possibly slaughter of the horses. The Wild Horse Observers Association ( moved eight horse to a sanctuary last year. We suggest you contact them.]

re: alarming sounds

We love summer. Having the windows open and listening to the crickets, the coyotes, and the occasional great horned owl.

What’s hard to love is the annoying, sleep-depriving sounds of someone’s house or car alarm going off in the dead of night.

Last night for example, someone’s alarm went off in La Mesa at around 1:00 a.m and continued for hours. I’m not kidding. The alarm would wail endlessly, then stop for about two minutes—just long enough for us to drift off to sleep—then it would start up all over again. This went on, and off, for at least two, perhaps even three hours!

If we can hear this alarm in Ranchos—and it’s loud and annoying—I shudder to think what it must sound like to the immediate neighbors. Or are these neighbors stone deaf? How can they stand to hear this shrieking nocturnal abomination and not call the sheriff or the alarm company? Whomever’s alarm it was is not getting very much for their security dollars or support from their neighbors.

To preserve our own sanity, we would call the sheriff to report the alarm ourselves, if we could tell from which house it was emanating. From our remove it’s impossible to pinpoint the source. But people, if you live next door to someone who’s alarm has gone hysteric in the middle of the night, do everybody a favor and call the sheriff or the alarm company. You’ll be happier, we’ll be happier, and I won’t have to write these grumpy letters to the editor.

—Gary W. Priester, Sleepless in Ranchos

re: gold medal mice

Dear Friends Back East,

It was good hearing from you and to know you’re surviving life in the Big Baked Apple. I know you are eagerly anticipating the coming days of bone deep cold, iron grey airborne slush, and dirty yellow doggy snow accompanied by icy ill winds that scream down crowded, slimy, salty avenues. How I envy you.

Here in Placitas, I have encountered a recurring problem, which, I will now share with you. Once again, there are animal sounds to be clearly heard in the ceiling and walls of my dwelling, and they are louder and more varied than ever. Yes, I am aware that I claimed victory over these rodent invaders a year ago—but they have returned with Macarthur-like vengeance.

This is demoralizing, and Patrick Cat and I are again struggling mightily to find entry points so as to make the proper arrests and/or otherwise administer punishment. In the past, you suggested I get professional help. I agree that is needed. But I also need to address this rodent problem.

Oddly enough, the latest unwelcome tell-tale sounds of animal presence coincided with television coverage of the London Olympics. Indeed, it almost seems that the creatures above us have been conducting their own mouse equivalents of one hundred, two hundred, and four hundred meter sprints. In fact, in the course of a few days, the noise over our heads suggested multi-mouse competition in all ten decathlon events, with the exception of discus and javelin (I am not entirely certain about shot put).

It seems that some of these sounds emanate from the roof rather than the ceiling, so I have done repeat reconnaissance in those upper environs in search of clues. I finally recognized the possibility—unlikely though it may be—that these critters could gain access by voluntarily plummeting down any of the small rooftop stacks and vents that serve as exhausts from fans and appliances. Perhaps there are small gaps here or there on the downward trip that provide these travelers access to the ceiling and walls?

Although this doesn’t seem like an easy maneuver, I suppose these creatures could consider such action akin to the Olympic high diving competition. And they are, of course, natural born furry spelunkers, blessed with undaunted mousey courage.

In the meantime, all entry points identified in previous years remain visibly stuffed with orange insulating foam sealant – that ultra sticky material that expands to fill gaps. And where that has shrunk or deteriorated, there are small rocks hammered into the remaining openings. And where that effort seemed incomplete, I’ve started the process of jamming in chunks of steel wool. All this has succeeded in giving my home a kind of Beverly Hillbilly curb appeal.

Patrick, for his part, is showing some fatigue from constantly looking up and is clearly relying on me to take care of the matter, preferably by herding the invaders in his direction. I’ll keep you posted on this Sherlock Holmes/Indiana Jones adventure. In the meantime, stay safe and un-infested.

—Your Friend, Herb

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