The Alameda Floods

Floods were expected. Dams and levees had been built and rebuilt at the mouth of arroyos and along the Rio since Pueblo times. The 1885 levee was built after a huge flood in 1884 and had already been breached twice before a night in September 1903 when a 19,000 cfs flow broke through a dike and wiped out the modest town of Alameda.

Map bitThe water wasn't just from the river. Extensive grazing of the lands on the mesa east of the valley contributed to increasing sediment loss. Waters swept up hunks of dirt and trees along the banks in thick powerful rushing mud that spilled into the valley.

Any hope that nature wouldn't repeat the insult before the levee was rebuilt again was dashed the following year when another flood, almost as large, overwhelmed the valley again. After this one nearly all the structures, including two parish churches and three villages, had been destroyed.  Many residents moved to higher land along the valley edges. Or moved to California.

Into this scene of community disorder quietly stepped a prominent attorney named Alonzo B. McMillen. And while remaining residents of the Alameda grant were rebuilding their lives, acequias, homes and churches, McMillen filed for court partition of the Alameda grant on behalf of one Vincenta Montoya, heir of Vigil, late of California. Within five years, McMillen owned  45% of the grant. And by 1920 his San Mateo Land Company owned an estimated 75,000 acres of the former 89,000 acre Alameda Land Grant. This is where Rio Rancho is today.



Spoiling Junior

At the Audubon Water, Birds and Conservation Summit on June 15th, participants heard about the Western Rivers Action Network and their efforts to address river health. Insightful presentations by panelists got people thinking. There will be a similar workshop in Las Cruces on June 29th.

It sure got me thinking. Junior water users - primarily municipalities and industries - are not supposed to have priority over senior water users - mostly tribes and farmers.  But no one wants to tell a city 'no.'  State water administrators bend over backwards to avoid it and appear to have assigned them a nearly unquestioned primacy over others. The agencies, engineers, hydrologists, lawyers, lobbyists and consultants who represent the 'juniors' are in the pilot's seat of the ship and no court adjudication is on the horizon.

Take Rio Rancho and Intel for example. They don't have all the water rights for the water they're using, but no one is telling them no, or slow. Take the oil and gas industry that consumes and permanently pollutes an un-tracked amount of fresh groundwater. No one is telling them no, or slow, or to collect data (or even follow the law.)  Just the farmers. They are hearing 'no' quite a bit these days.

Water data also seems framed to benefit junior users. The huge place in pie charts for agriculture often counts  flows in the river and riverside drains, ditches and acequias of the inner valley that support flora, wildlife habitat and, significantly, aquifer recharge from those waterways and farms. All that water is "agriculture." Naturally, the eye is drawn to that magnificently fat pie slice when the need to conserve comes up.


Data presenters also frequently make a distinction between "Economic Development" and "Agriculture." Like farmers are doing it for fun.  Industry and the land speculation arts real estate are considered real economic development that must have adequate water supplies.  To some, farming is a quaint relic of the 19th century. Like sunbonnets.

Where does birdwatching and New Mexico's huge outdoor economy fit in?  Well, if it can't join the Chamber it isn't economic development.


Water Planning: Rinse and Repeat

'A water right is a hunting license not a warranty deed.

Overheard at the 19th Annual New Mexico Water Dialogue Thursday, January 10, 2013

The official title was 'Reviving Water Planning: Successes, Challenges and Opportunities' but I prefer mine. One overwhelming point that stuck with me from the day: hard choices are going to need to be made about water. And those choices can be made more equitably through water planning - a collaborative effort involving varied interests.

There were a couple of elephants in the already well-populated room at the Pueblo Cultural Center. One was called-out by an attendee - the  City, more accurately but irritatingly, the Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority, to whom we are to be eternally grateful for not having included 'wastewater' in their name. The 'they' there is actually nobody but well-paid staff and a fluid mix of representatives from the member governments. It's a structure, I believe, designed to distance it's member board from accountability and its actions from public transparency. The elephantine status comes from being the biggest water user in the State.

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Waiting for Wildfire

A woman wearing camo yoga pants and dark sunglasses picked up the cold pint of IPA and a stiff wind blew the napkin away.  It fell at the feet of a large woman in loud clothes. She looked at it briefly and pushed it away with a sequined tennis shoe, continuing on about how miserable she was in the heat and how this might as well be Dallas and couldn't they get a table inside. The man with her whispered something and she burst into laughter sending the rhinestones on her huge t-shirt into shimmering cascades. The woman in the sunglasses by the window mumbled something to the big dog at her feet and stared at the distant smoke plume.

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Turtleback Mountain Diary Vol.1 Dam Walking

I dreamed Governor Susana Martinez was on a broomstick flying above all the little people on Elephant Butte Dam. 

The Albuquerque Journal was at the Elephant Butte Dam Walk and so was I. Their thoroughly unsnarky and factual account begs amendment.

Dam walk dam
The weather was wonderful which is a big reason there are a lot of people in this part of Sierra County, if you can call 7,500 a lot.  Turn out for the event was tremendous. Possibly all 7,500 people were there. Paranoia Security meant restricting access to the dam after 9/11 and restricting access to anything makes it more desirable. 

Volunteers did a great job but there were shuttle buses involved.  The first shuttle for non-VIPs was from parking to the restaurant and recreation area for ceremonies, including a stirring rendition of all thirty three verses of Oh Fair New Mexico. The second was a shuttle to the dam itself.  Again, for all but VIPs and invalids, there was a long disorganized wait.  A meaner crowd might have mutinied. But this is New Mexico and mostly everyone was relaxed. Many, including those for whom the buses invoked painful childhood memories of bullying, walked to the dam.

It was one shuttle too many for at least a couple of impatient yankees disappointed they didn't get to see the Governor  - not that she was expected, but whatever.  They didn't want to walk or wait and didn't make it to the dam.  Instead they drove to the overlook to burn one and watch people, like tiny ants, moving back and forth across the top of the giant structure. Dam walk balloons


Four Decades on the Horse

Will Sands in The Durango Telegraph has the history of the Iron Horse, the bike race from Durango to Silverton this weekend, and the brothers who started it all. (Telegraph Photo of rider on Coal Bank Pass last week.)

Durango telegraph coal bank pass
Four decades later, Tom and Jim Mayer are also going to make a second run at it. In honor of the 40th anniversary, the brothers will again race from Durango to Silverton this Saturday, Jim inside the locomotive and Tom atop the same Schwinn Paramount that he rode and won the original challenge on back in 1971. “It’s no longer a 10-speed; my knees can’t do that any more,” Mayer said. “But I thought it would only be appropriate to ride the original frame in tribute.”

(Telegraph photo of an early Iron Horse race) Iron-horse-2

Nuclear Oh

 Yokoso News livefeed is informative. 

The twitter feeds aren't.  Defenders of nuclear technology are out in force giving stern warnings for ninnys not to overreact and cause panic.  Real men aren't afraid of isotopes and earthquakes! At the other end of the spectrum are theendoftheworld hashtaggers. 

I've always loved the Amory Lovins quote about nuclear energy.  He said it was like cutting butter with a chainsaw.  Or it's like driving a super-charged V-12 four-wheel drive on a bike path. You only need it for the mountains but you're determined to get your money's worth and everything smaller will have to get out of the way.  Sustainables?  Pffft.

Overkill is messy.  The wisdom of nuke use rests on overkill - the big assumption about big base power demand. We must meet big demand and demand is always growing bigger.  This is the fundamental assumption of proponents - including energy companies who produce electricity. 

Meet demand or grandma will die of heat exhaustion in her desert trailer! This is the same mentality that suggests huge water pipelines to the desert will be necessary to keep grandma hydrated. 

At some point it makes more sense to move the trailer.