Rearview: Water wranglers rope support, the hum gets heard and Bighorn sheep reach new heights


­10 years ago -- 'Water plan flows forth…finally'

By Andy Dennison, Feb. 21-27, 2008

Whiskey's for drinking but water's for fighting. This turn-of-phrase is probably so popular in the West because this arid landscape is where everyday citizens work with water, try to quantify it and are sure to get feisty in battles for it. But in the long-running water struggles of Northern New Mexico, a few people seemed to find a moment of agreement.

"Few subjects raise the blood pressure of Norteños more than water but, at a mediated meeting of municipal decision makers convened in Taos, the future of the entire region may well have gotten healthier," read a front-page article from one decade ago.

The Interstate Stream Commission, the statewide public body that along with the State Engineer oversees water issues in New Mexico, dictated that watersheds come up with regional water plans that would be used in long-range forecasting and evaluating water rights transfers.

A steering committee of volunteers from around Taos County joined together to write the plan for the Upper Rio Grande watershed.

Here's what they knew at the time: the region's "140 or so" acequias collectively owned about 60,000 acre-feet of surface water rights and 7,400 domestic wells were being used by the area's residents, the largest owner being the Top of the World Ranch.

But the committee "bumped up against opposition from municipalities, water districts and other water-rights owners over how to enforce" certain aspects of the plan. Specifically, the issues of whether to publicly notice water rights transfers and whether to create a local review panel for those transfers were the sticking points in finishing the state-mandated document.

"The process got stuck with the mixture of values and implementation," said Rosemary Romero, a facilitator who was hired to reach consensus among the five governments that had the authority to give the plan a seal of approval.

As of February 2008, both the review panel and public notice were taken off the table although the panel was eventually created all the same.

The Taos County Water Advisory Committee still meets monthly and does provide input on water rights transfers. By far the most controversial transfer in recent years is the cache of rights from Top of the World. The state engineer approved a transfer to Santa Fe County to make the water rights-math work out in the devilishly complex Aamodt Settlement.

The water board recommended protesting that transfer, which the Taos County Commission followed. The county government is currently paying for a law firm to do so.

25 years ago -- 'Sound source solved: military blamed'

By Jess Williams, Feb. 25, 1993

As long as folks in Taos were spit-balling theories for the root cause of the infamous "Taos Hum," why not have the congressperson weigh in?

That's exactly what happened with then-U.S. Rep. Bill Richardson (who would go on to become governor, an ambassador and an energy secretary) visited a town meeting and opened up the show by saying the sound that had plagued the ears of many a Taoseño was "a Department of Defense project, most likely an Air Force project."

Some people lauded his perspective on the matter because it threw legitimacy behind their experience.

Bob Saltzman, who had suffered from the impacts of the hum for more than a year, said, "Finally the days of [my wife] Catanya and me being called exaggerators, alarmists, perpetrators of a hoax, etc., are over."

Richardson seemed dedicated to figuring out what the source was. He even wrote a letter to the defense secretary also naming as possible hum sources potential radar tests at Kirkland Air Force Base, low-flying helicopters and an "airborne laser laboratory which could cause sound vibrations."

Despite his effort, Richardson's comments never satisfied most people. Like a good pair of classy boots, talking about the "the source of the sound" is always in vogue.

50 years ago -- 'Ten Bighorn Sheep Arrive'

Staff report, Feb. 22, 1968

A few Canadian "transplants" got "the trip of their lives" a half-century ago when one of the first Bighorn sheep reintroductions in Northern New Mexico took place in the tallest peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Although we now adore the Bighorns near the Río Grande Gorge, Red River and Taos Ski Valley, they weren't always the fixtures they are now. The sheep were eliminated from the landscape.

Bighorns were extirpated in New Mexico around the beginning of the 1900s. The last evidence of the animals in New Mexico was a track found in the Truchas Peaks south of Taos.

Their reintroduction started in the 1940s when a group of sheep were gathered from Alberta and brought to the Sandias. The population that would become the founding stock for many of the rest of New Mexico's herds.

In the early spring of '68, 10 Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep from Banff National Park in Canada were airlifted to 12,000 feet to Frazier Peak in the Sangres. Included in the small band of sheep were seven ewes and three rams -- "but no preferential treatment for the ladies as all the animal were transported in the same manner to their new playground."

Officials had trucked the sheep from their home province of Alberta, a journey of nearly 1,500 miles. The last leg of the reintroduction operation was led by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and started at Twining, now the ski resort at TSV.

One by one, the sheep were unloaded from their trailer and put in a box. And one by one those boxes were moved to a landing zone, attached with a rope to a helicopter rented by the department specifically for the sheep and then pulled into the air before landing down a couple minutes later at Frazier Peak.

The newspaper described the animals as "bewildered but unharmed."

Finally, when all 10 game crates were lined up on the peak, game and fish employees "moved swiftly" to unleash all the Bighorn sheep simultaneously.

Since then, Bighorn sheep have only become more integrated into the wilderness (and some human-occupied places, too) of Northern New Mexico.

The herd eventually made its way onto tribal land. Officials from Taos Pueblo used those animals to lead another reintroduction in 2007 when Bighorns were taken from the peaks in the Sangres and released into the Río Grande Gorge. In the past decade, those sheep became the largest, healthiest and most trophy-winning herd in the state.