Hot Springs Case, part 5: Office of State Engineer bureaus evaluate Riverbend 400 AFY application

by Kathleen Sloan | April 14, 2020
5 min read
​Different bureaus within the Office of the State Engineer are evaluating the Riverbend Hot Springs’ application for a new appropriation of 400-acre-feet-a -year commercial water right in the Hot Springs Underground Water Basin. 

The Water Use and Conservation Bureau, represented by Molly Magnuson and Julie Valdez, were tasked with “finding the quantity of water needed for the proposed expansion….” 

The Cloverleaf Trust, doing business as the Riverbend Hot Springs, currently has 15 hot-springs bathing pools and wants to add eight more, applying for a new appropriation of 400 AFY about two years ago. The water would be pumped from an exploratory well drilled four years ago that is 240 feet deep. 

Magnuson and Valdez used three different methods for evaluating how much water the Riverbend would need for the eight new pools. 

Asked to rationalize how it arrived at 400 acre feet a year in its application, Cloverleaf states the eight new pools will each hold 748.1 gallons for a total of 5,984.8 gallons. With a “47-minute refresh rate” for each of the pools over an 18-hour day, the math works out that each pool will need 48.39 acre feet a year. In total, 387.12 acre feet a year are needed for the eight pools, with 13 more acre feet a year needed for “cold day contingency.” 

The first method Magnuson and Valdez used to calculate how much water the Riverbend needs for the expansion was the “heat-factor method.” Using Cloverleaf’s calculation that the flow rate of the exploratory well is 39.6 gallons per minute, they estimated the eight pools would need 319 acre feet a year versus Cloverleaf’s 387 AFY calculation. 

The difference between the OSE and Cloverleaf calculations are the number of hours the Riverbend operates. Magnuson and Valdez said the Riverbend’s web site shows it is open 8a.m. to 10 p.m., which is 14 hours. They added one hour to fill the pools in the morning, for a 15-hour fill-and-refresh time period to keep the pools hot. According to the Cloverleaf’s hydrologist, Jim Witcher, the pools are emptied and cleaned each night. Magnuson and Valdez claim Cloverleaf’s calculation assumes the pools operate 24 hours a day. 

The second method used was the “capacity method. Again using Cloverleaf’s 39.6 gallons-per-minute flow rate and 47-minute refresh rate, Magnuson and Valdez shorten Cloverleaf’s 24-hour-a-day variable to 14-hours-a-day, claiming Riverbend needs 316 acre feet a year for the expansion. 

The third method used was the “proportion method.” Magnuson and Valdez propose drilling into the shallow hot springs aquifer to meet the expansion needs, which is how the 15 current pools operate—from shallow wells. 

“Using a ‘Proportion’ method,” Magnuson and Valdez found “that adding 8 wells would require approximately 96 acre-feet per annum shallow groundwater if the wells were used during current business hours based on the amount of water currently used for the demands of the business.” 
Magnuson and Valdez arrived at 96 acre feet per year by looking at the Riverbend’s metered water readings. They said the actual water used for the 15 pools in operation was 105 acre feet in 2018. 

They claim the Riverbend give a “calculated use” of 345 acre feet a year is needed to fill and keep the current 15 pools hot. But in actuality, the Riverbend uses about “30 percent of the calculated use,” Magnuson and Valdez state.

With little explanation, Magnuson and Valdez therefore assume the eight new pools will only use about one-third what Cloverleaf is applying for, or 96 acre feet a year from the shallow, not the deep hot springs basin. 

Laura Petronis, of the OSE’s Hydrology Bureau also evaluated Cloverleaf’s 400-acre-feet-a-year application. 

Petronis estimates the drawdown 400 acre feet a year of pumping from the Cloverleaf’s exploratory well will have on the Rio Grande and the first 40 feet or shallow part of the hot springs aquifer, which is sandy soil with some clay “lenses.” 

In 10 years the Rio Grande would be depleted of 389.42 acre feet. In 40 years the Rio Grande would be depleted of 396.73 acre feet. In 100 years the Rio Grande would be depleted of 398.39 acre feet, Petronis said. 

For wells in the Hot Springs basin, Petronis said 15 wells would be “critical,” that is, their senior water right would be “unacceptably” affected by 400 acre feet a year of pumping from the Cloverleaf exploratory well, according to her pumping model and calculations. 

However, Petronis excluded 10 of those wells from her model. Nine wells “are not completed” or not in use, she said. And a well owned by TorC Properties, one of several protestants in the case, is excluded because “it is uncertain if this well has been deepened.” Evidently the lack of information on the depth of the well precluded Petronis from putting it in the pumping model. 

The remaining five wells are owned by two other protestants to the Cloverleaf application. The Martin Family Trust, doing business as the Artesian Bath House, owns three of the wells, which are not pumped, but come up under their own pressure. The other protestant, Meleasa Malzahn, president of La Paloma Hot Springs and Spa, owns two wells which also are not pumped, but well up under natural pressure. 

According to Petronis’ model, the Artesian wells would drop 8.1 feet over 40 years of pumping 400 acre feet a year at the Cloverleaf well. If the whole commercial water right is exercised, that is if 514 acre feet a year is pumped, the drawdown would be 16.6 feet in 40 years.

La Paloma’s wells would drop 1.3 feet if 400 acre feet a year is pumped and 5.1 feet if 514 acre feet a year is pumped over 40 years, Petronis states. 

Because of the drawdown to the river and the critical wells, Magnuson and Valdez and Petronis all recommend that the Cloverleaf’s 400 acre-feet-a-year application be denied. 

Kathleen Sloan is the Sun’s founder and chief reporter. She can be reached at or 575-297-4146.
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Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.

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