Category Archives: Bernalillo County

Adaptive Actions with Tijeras Creek


Tijeras Creek during a dry season. The remediation project is uphill on the left.

Upper Tijeras Creek during a dry season. The project site is up to the left.

When I first visited the Tijeras Creek Remediation Project two years ago, it was to explore large-scale earthworks: a system of basins, swales, berms and spillways.  I discovered that much more is occurring there.  The project returns natural processes to the upper creek’s floodplain and expands watershed awareness and resiliency know-how.

Before: Degraded Environment

Following the expansion of A. Montoya Elementary School, stormwater from the parking lot and rooftops flowed through culverts that dumped onto the stream bank.  But when it rains just two-tenths (.2) inch, over 300,000 gallons flows into the area.  The intensity of the water carved out gullies, carrying pollutants from the parking lots.  As water rushed through the gullies, it carried loads of soil into the creek.  Some people used the area as a dumping ground. Thus:

  • Water pollution
  • Groundwater depletion
  • Invasive plants
  • Loss of bio-diversity
  • Degraded public space.

Ongoing: Resiliency

The opportunity to develop solutions that mimic nature was something that Jim Brooks couldn’t resist.  Jim has offered volunteers a variety of skill-building activities using permaculture principles.  As Jim describes it, “We’re treating the water with respect when it falls into the site.” The teams practice a variety of adaptive actions, revealing soil as a living thing.  It’s a long-term process that includes new basin and spillway installations this year.  


  • Water Harvesting with earthworks
  • Groundwater supports floodplain.
  • Clean stormwater enters creek.
  • Water is stored in living systems.
  • The plant /soil / food web expands.

The earthworks and soil techniques are applicable in many places where development and nature meet, and volunteers are inspired to practice them in their own places.

Work Parties Dig It

Querencia Green is coordinating work parties with volunteers for the spring and summer.  We’ll start on Sunday, March 20 with Albuquerque Involved volunteers and anyone who wants to participate (wear suitable work clothes).  Tools are provided but you can bring your own. The project site at 24 Public School Road is only eight miles from Albuquerque’s eastern boundary.

We’re also sponsoring field trips with high school classes to increase outdoor experiential learning! Teachers can contact Joanne via the Contact page.

More news about the spring events appear on Facebook Tijeras Creek Remediation Project.  

During 2015 and 2016, project support is provided by the PNM Foundation, and field trips with Highland High School are supported by Albuquerque Involved.  Thanks to all who are part of the resilient solutions!

September Work Party at Tijeras Creek

Learn about the improvements on the stream bank and ideas for future expansion.

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Tijeras Creek Remediation Project
DATE & TIME: Sunday, September 13, 9 am – 1 pm
LOCATION: 24 Public School Rd., Tijeras  (map below)

 Crews will work on these items (dependent on soil moisture conditions):

  • Ground preparation and seeding
  • Remove invasive plants
  • Repair and construct rock spillways to slow stormwater.
  • Soil sponges.

Over the past several years, James Brooks has been working with his design and installation team, experts in herbicide application, and volunteers to build a system of basins, swales and berms that improve Tijeras Creek’s water quality and solves stormwater management problems.

Upcoming work parties will provide hands-on experience with stormwater harvesting and green infrastructure, the suppression of invasive plant species, habitat restoration, and improvements in soil health and stabilization.

Schedule: We will start at 9:00 am at the parking lot with an orientation.

Supplies: Bring sunscreen, your full water bottle and work gloves.   Soilutions / Adaptive Terrain Systems will provide necessary tools. If you have tools, bring for your use.

Work Requirements:  Streambank remediation is a moderately strenuous activity.  Please wear pants, long-sleeve shirt, hat and work boots.

We need to get a head count in advance!  Answer the Poll below or visit Facebook Tijeras Creek and look for this event.  Questions?

Facilities:  Portable toilet facility is on site.

Hosted by Soilutions / Adaptive Terrain System with Querencia Green.

Financial support provided by PNM Foundation.

Site map 2 MY

Stormwater Solutions and Opportunities

During the summer in New Mexico, you can expect to see a lot of rain fall to the earth within an hour.  A half-inch.  An inch.  Did you see the water flowing down the streets, carrying dirt, gravel, and pollutants? This monsoon season has offered several (though not enough) opportunities to get wet and see the impacts of stormwater, particularly in Albuquerque’s downtown area during a local storm.  The monsoon is also the time to appreciate visible, functioning Green Infrastructure.  Players across the mid Rio Grande region are designing and building green infrastructure as a stormwater management strategy with beneficial uses.

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Basins filled with rainwater are soothing and cooling, while they absorb water from rooftops and parking lots, allowing it to slowly infiltrate and nurture plants.  The basins in these photos were intentionally designed to prevent stormwater flooding problems.  Water that could have flowed onto streets or eroded a stream bank can instead spread, sink and nurture a living landscape.

Pine Cone Technology

Understanding your site is central in designing and nurturing a Green Infrastructure / Rainwater Harvesting solution.  One of the simplest and most elegant techniques I found this year is in Rick Borkovetz and Diane Scena’s front yard.

The native blue gramma grass is largely sustained by natural precipitation.  Rick describes: “The grass slopes downward to the sidewalk.  To solve the problem of losing precious stormwater that used to flow onto the sidewalk, we dug a small trench along the edge of the sidewalk and filled it with pine cones that drop from the trees overhead.  The trench captures the stormwater before it reaches the sidewalk.  This seems to be where many of the ‘feeder’ roots of the pines are located so the stormwater is concentrated where it will be most beneficial.  Over time, the pine cones break down into mulch that can then be shoveled back onto the grass, and the trench is refilled with new cones: a never ending cycle.”

Opportunities to Grow Water Solutions

The 2014 Forum for Innovative Stormwater Infrastructure will be on Friday afternoon, October 10 at UNM.   The New Mexico Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects (NMASLA) convenes this open forum each year.  Six presentations from landscape architects, other professionals and advocates for green infrastructure will share their stories and news about projects and policies.  The forum is free and registration is required.

NMASLA also offers a great opportunity for hands-on learning, on the morning of October 10:  The Green Streets BootCamp with James DeRoussel from Tucson’s Watershed Management Group.  Registration and a fee are required.

Compost happens, but in this arid land it helps to have some knowledge and experience!   Master Composters teach others how to compost.  The training course to become a Master Composter is scheduled from October 11 to November 8 in the North Valley.  The course gives you the expertise to volunteer with Bernalillo County Extension Master Composters. There is a fee for the training and some volunteer hours are required.

Water Blues dvd Logo

We have the water blues, but green solutions are appearing in New Mexico and around the U.S.   Water Blues, Green Solutions is a documentary film about four cities that are confronting water quality and supply issues with innovations in green infrastructure, water conservation and strong public involvement programs.  Querencia Green and other champions are requesting a local TV broadcast of the film.  The DVD is available for home and educational screenings, and resources are available to explore on the website.

Earthworks working at Tijeras Creek

Jim describes the design of the basin and berm.

Jim (far left) describes the design of the basin and berm system, with Kurt Capalbo and Dana Allen.

A few days after a sole spring shower, a few explorers walked through the Tijeras Creek Restoration site with Jim Brooks.  Tijeras Creek is a tributary of the middle Rio Grande watershed, flowing westward in the canyon between the Sandia and Manzano mountains, near Interstate 40.  Jim designs and constructs resilient green infrastructure using permaculture principles, and owns Soilutions, the compost company.  He provided project tales and details as he guided us through the work areas.

Culverts and pavement send stormwater into onto the banks of the creek.

Culverts and pavement deliver stormwater onto the banks of the creek. A restored mulched area is visible above the culverts.

Previously, large rainstorms would deliver stormwater draining from 16.5 acres of pavement and buildings into eroding gullies, delivering sediment and pollutants to the creek.  Jim described how volunteer crews have removed multitudes of elm trees and re-sculpted the slopes so that the water slows down in basins, drains into the soil, and flows into the next basin down slope.  Several rock-covered berms between the basins reveal how effective they are in altering the water’s speed and volume – sediment covers the rocks.  Some areas need repair; as Jim says, it’s always a process.

Jim and Dana stand near a soil sponge in the basin.

Jim taps a soil sponge in the basin as Dana checks it out.

Within the basins, Jim is experimenting with a “soil sponge” technique.  His special soil mix is shoveled into small deep pits, where rainwater finds porous spaces to collect in, attracting nearby plant rootlets and offering seedlings a better chance at survival.

Soil sponge

Soil sponge with porous and organic materials

One of my favorite spots was the restored area alongside the roadway, where Jim installed a “net and pan,” a technique that harvests water in small depressions that are connected by a boomerang-shaped network of shallow channels.  The mulch in the photo below covers the earthworks, making it difficult to see, but the earthwork is retaining water, creating an ecological win-win situation for grasses, herbs, worms, fungi and millions of other microscopic critters.  Just add more water with the next monsoon!

Net and pan with mulch on top

Net and pan with mulch on top

There is plenty of work to do: removing unwanted plants, maintaining the existing restored area, and generating more basins and berms and gentle slopes.  Jim is co-hosting an Invasive Species Control Workshop on Saturday, June 28, from 9 am until Noon.  He’ll demonstrate using his favorite weed removal tool, the skidger!  The location is easily found near the middle and elementary schools on Public School Rd, just southwest of the Tijeras exit on I-40.  Albuquerque dwellers are fortunate to live so close to an important restoration site where we can work and learn!  For more information, call Soilutions at 877-0220.

Jim Brooks

Jim Brooks


Seasonal Notes – Spring into Resilience

Water resilience rebates, free classes, and hands-on training

It still feels like Spring in mid-May, with snow dusting the tallest of the Sandia mountains—a perfect time to develop more resilience in using water.  Affordable or free materials and diverse learning opportunities make it even more possible to conserve and re-use.

If you really want to get your feet wet, Catlow Shipek from Watershed Management Group shares the news about their Rainwater Harvesting certification course in Albuquerque.   Bring it!

Tree love = mulch

Mulching shades the ground, retains moisture, and nurtures the small and microscopic critters that create living soil.  Wood mulch is sold at nurseries and by soil expert / local provider Soilutions.   Professional arborists and tree care companies may have extra wood mulch from the trees that they prune and remove, and you can pick up a load if you shovel it.  Or, DIY and recycle your branches and dead trees by renting a mulcher from a home and garden store.

Once you have the mulch, form an area around the tree’s drip line that will contain 3 inches of mulch.  Explore and view TreePeople‘s video for more.

Roll out the rainbarrels. (It will rain.)

Rebates for rain barrels are available from the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority.  You buy a barrel and send in the required form with the receipt.  The rebate amount is based on the size of the barrel.   (Also, a program that recognizes the drought’s impact on the urban forest, “Tree-bates,” helps pay for tree maintenance, such as irrigation equipment, fertilization or professional tree care.)  Free short classes on efficient outdoor water use, xeriscaping and how to benefit from the Water Authority’s rebate program are offered every month.

Living in the country?  Property owners in the unincorporated area of Bernalillo County who aren’t customers of the Water Authority can qualify to receive a 100-gallon rainbarrel with installation support for $40.  Rain barrels can provide water during wildfire emergencies as well as water for animals.

Materials for rainwater harvesting projects can be found at no or low cost through the ABQ Freecycle group and on Craigslist – farm and gardening.  Billy Kniffen is an terrific water harvester and offers videos on DIY barrels.

Watershed Management Group announces Water Harvesting  course

Catlow Shipek of the Watershed Management Group (WMG) provides this news:  WMG, a non-profit educational organization, is excited to bring its Water Harvesting Certification course to Albuquerque.  The 7-day intensive program, which will be offered September 15-21, provides the highest quality and greatest depth of training in integrative water harvesting offered in the nation. Join our list of Certified Practitioners to integrate new skills and knowledge into your practice, educational, or advocacy work.

This unique course includes hands-on training through actual implementation of a rain garden, plastic rain tank, and a laundry greywater system.  Instructors will include author Brad Lancaster, WMG co-founder Catlow Shipek, and Santa Fe based permaculture and water harvesting designer Jeff Adams.  An early registration discount is available until July 18th.


Rainwater Harvesting and Green Infrastructure Demonstration Program

Demonstrate with your neighbors!

Collaborate on rainwater and stormwater harvesting demo projects with Querencia Green.  Technical and organizing support is available for neighbor teams in Albuquerque and the North and South Valley.  Key activities should include:

  • Hold a Workshop and form a Demo Team in your neighborhood.
  • Examine local Opportunity Sites. Consider site designs for your selected project.
  • Develop connections and identify actions for installing the project.

Benefits abound:  Learn how to use rainwater efficiently.  Develop a model for our community.  Support a cleaner Rio Grande.

Read more.  Fill out an interest form if you and a few neighbors want to make the most of the rain when it falls.

Rain to Harvest, Water to Share

I like to walk in the rain and watch the water running off the rooftops and into the downspouts of my townhome community.  When it rains for a while, most of it drains into the parking lots and driveways, then into the streets.  It seems like such a loss in a time of drought and climate change!

I was inspired to harvest rainwater, and my community’s Sustainability Committee took on the challenge.  So far, there are four rainwater tanks installed on the site.  We enjoy learning and observing the results.  Water conservation is one result, when residents use the stored water for gardens and houseplants instead of potable (tap) water.  Property protection is another; the tanks hold stormwater that could collect and ‘puddle’ near foundations and doorways.

A few lessons learned

Tank size: Location and budget determines size.  Consider the amount of water that can be captured.  How much rain falls on your roof areas during the year and during a monsoon event?

1 inch of rain on 1 square foot of surface = 6/10 gallon.  1 inch of rain on 1,000 SF = 623 gallons.

A neighbor would collect water in buckets and lug them back to her patio, until a tank was installed.

A neighbor would collect water in buckets and lug them back to her patio, until a tank was installed.

One of our downspouts could convey an average amount of 8,200 gallons of rainwater a year, though the drought has reduced the actual amount in recent years.  Some people have told me that they bought a tank that was too small, and they wanted more storage capacity!

Overflow: Where does the extra water go when the tank is full?  An overflow pipe with holes allows extra water to drain in a controlled manner.  Swales and basins will slow water flow on a slope.  Another tank can be connected to the first tank. Opportunities become apparent with observation.

Preparation: Build a foundation for the tank on a level surface.  Our committee drew a plan for the first tank and used sand for the base, topped with pavers.  Use concrete blocks to raise the tank’s height.

Purchase: We purchased our tanks from a local vendor who installed them with overflow pipes.  The tanks are made by a local company with recyclable, food-grade polyethylene.  Rebates are available to customers of the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority for new rainwater tanks, depending on the size.  Also look for the more integrated Rainwater Harvesting Landscape rebate.

The sound of rain in New Mexico is sweet.  The sound of rainwater flowing into a tank changes as the tank fills up.  Those sounds are even sweeter.  

Joanne McEntire