August 31, 2018

NM Environment Review: Western river flows and woes, plus intensifying El Niño and La Niña

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Laura Paskus

Almagre Arroyo after a rainstorm

All week, we track environment news around the western United States, finding the most important stories and new studies you need to read to understand what’s happening with water, climate, energy, landscapes and communities around New Mexico. Then Thursday morning, you get that news in your Inbox.

 You can subscribe to that weekly email here.

Here’s a snippet of what subscribers read this week:

• Changes are afoot with the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, and they could affect New Mexico workers and communities.

This is one of those issues that can make people’s eyes glaze over. Who wants to think about oversight of nuclear facilities, technical boards and safety reports over morning coffee? And given the onslaught of news, it’s hard to keep up with the weakening of one more board, or changes to yet another rule. But this is one New Mexicans shouldn’t stop paying attention to, no matter where you live.

• Last week, at NM Political Report we covered plans by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Albuquerque-Bernalillo Water Utility Authority and others to try and keep the Rio Grande flowing through Albuquerque through the end of the year.

•  We’ve written a lot this year about the Rio Grande’s low flows. But rivers across the West are struggling right now. In Colorado, the Yampa River is so low, state officials may soon “place a call” on the river—or, cut off some users—which they’ve never had to do there before.

• Esquire has a story, “The Water Crises Aren’t Coming—They’re Here” that’s definitely worth reading, especially since it touches on the problems with the Ogallala or High Plains aquifer, upon which people in eastern New Mexico rely. “As far as continuing to be useful, the Ogallala might be exhausted by 2070,” writes Alec Wilkinson. “A reasonable estimate is that it would take six thousand years for rain to replenish it.”

• Speaking of water, Bloomberg takes a look at wastewater in the Permian Basin from the oil industry. (We’ll have more on this issue next week, so stay tuned.)

• While we’re all keeping our fingers crossed for robust El Niño conditions in the Southwest later this year and into the winter, it’s worth taking a look at a new study in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union that finds planet-wide warming will amplify the effects of El Niño and La Niña. These include increases in the intensity of heat waves and wildfire driven by El Niño and La Niña. The National Center for Atmospheric Research, which led the research, has a nice summary of the study here.

• Now go subscribe to the email so you can get the full list of news stories and studies in your inbox next Thursday.