Facing down a century-old problem on the Canadian River

HARDING COUNTY, N.M.—Descending the narrow dirt road into Mills Canyon, U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Michael Atkinson jokes that in the nineteenth century some homesteaders headed to California surely reached the rim of the Canadian River, peered down its 1,000-foot-deep canyon and decided to settle here in New Mexico. He points to a small stone building on the floodplain below and explains that in the 1880s, Melvin Mills planted thousands of fruit trees. For more than two decades, horses hauled up tons of peaches, pears, apples and cherries, as well as walnuts, chestnuts and almonds. But in 1904, a flood wiped out Mills Canyon Enterprise and now all that’s left are the stone remains of the storehouse and Mills’s home and this wagon road Atkinson twists down. That’s not the only story this floodplain tells.

NM Environment Review: More LANL news, plus the Gila River diversion and EPA’s Scott Pruitt

We usually send out the New Mexico Environment Review on Thursday mornings. If you prefer reading the news in your email, sign up to receive that message. The Santa Fe New Mexican’s Rebecca Moss keeps up her great coverage of Los Alamos National Laboratory, this week with a story about how the lab took a week to find hazardous waste it had lost. The Silver City Daily Press’s Benjamin Fisher reported that the state had some questions for the New Mexico  Central Arizona Project Entity:
Before approving a nearly $200,000 higher cost ceiling for yet more engineering, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission questioned if the group charged with developing a diversion of water from the Gila and San Francisco rivers could meet upcoming federal deadlines for them to do so at a meeting in Albuquerque on Tuesday. The Durango Herald reported that Colorado farmers may receive 50 percent of their normal allocations of irrigation water.

East Mountain water application spurs protests from residents, silence from State Engineer

The tony neighborhoods tucked into the juniper-dotted grasslands on the east side of the Sandia Mountains represent yet another battleground in New Mexico’s water wars, one in which the state’s top water official has abandoned one side for the other. Last week, testimony ended in a trial over whether a private company can pump more water—114 million gallons more each year—from the Sandia Basin. Nancy Benson and her husband live in San Pedro Creek Estates, where they built their retirement home in 2000 after living in Albuquerque. She is shocked the state would consider granting the application after rejecting it previously. “This area is fully appropriated, there is nothing extra,” she said.

Students and their allies march in Albuquerque against gun violence in schools

A student-organized march and rally in Albuquerque attracted thousands of people to Old Town this morning as part of the national March for Our Lives which protested gun violence and school shootings. The march began at the Old Town Plaza and ended a few blocks away at Tiguex Park. Along the edges of the crowd at Tiguex Park, Democratic gubernatorial and congressional candidates shook hands and spoke with attendees. But most of the calls to action, poems and inspirational words came from middle school, high school and college students. Lillian Hunt, 17, and Emma Buck-Anderson, 19, who helped organize the rally, both said they just want adults to hear their concerns when it comes to issues like school safety.

NM Environment Review: ‘Breakdown’ in KAFB leak partnership, plus climate and Borderlands

If you want to be ahead of the curve, sign up to receive our New Mexico Environment Review email on Thursday mornings. -John Fleck is no longer with the Albuquerque Journal, but he just can’t let go of the news. On Wednesday, he published a short piece on his blog about the “breakdown” in the partnership between Kirtland Air Force Base and the New Mexico Environment Department and the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority. The Air Force is responsible for the leakage of more than 24 million gallons of jet fuel into local groundwater supplies. According to a recent memo from the water authority to the New Mexico Environment Department, which Fleck posted online, the base’s new strategic plans are “disconnected from the stated goal of protecting drinking water and the aquifer and undermine Water Authority’s ability to ensure the safety and quality of drinking water.”

Furthermore, the memo notes that the updated strategy “implies that the site is moving from an active remediation strategy to a passive remediation strategy….” The authority opposes that “as it extends the damages to water resources and places liabilities on the water users and utilities, while allowing the responsible party to take minimal efforts towards corrective action.”

Read the entire memo here.

NM Environment Review: Gold King Mine, Zinke’s ethics, coyotes and more

-The Denver Post reported that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt said he plans to review about 400 claims filed against the agency over the 2015 Gold King Mine spill by the end of March. Bafflingly, however, the Trump administration also signed a resolution, reversing an Obama-era rule that prevented mining companies from dumping their waste into waterways. #mc_embed_signup{background:#fff; clear:left; font:14px Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif; width:100%;}
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-USA Today reported that U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is again accused of mixing politics with government business, this time in Pennsylvania.

New Mexico’s fire season roars to an early start

New Mexico’s wildfire season typically begins in May or June. But it’s only March, and New Mexicans are already dealing with wildfires. Earlier this month, a fire ignited on Kirtland Air Force Base, burning about 200 acres. The fire’s cause is still under investigation, according to base officials. But a lack of coordination between the base and local fire departments has worried some East Mountain residents.

NM Environment Review: No-go on solar plus public lands, nuclear waste and more

On Wednesday, Gov. Susana Martinez signed the budget passed earlier this year by state legislators. But she refused to sign a bill that would have reinstated state tax credits for solar. That bill reinstated a tax credit that had expired after a decade, one that had spurred the deployment of 220 million BTUs per day of solar heating energy and 40 megawatts of solar electricity. The tax credit would have given people who install a solar thermal system or photovoltaic system at their home, business or farm a ten percent credit of the purchase and installation costs, up to $9,000. #mc_embed_signup{background:#fff; clear:left; font:14px Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif; width:100%;}
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NM Supreme Court upholds state copper rule

A state rule to protect groundwater from copper mine pollution will stand. The New Mexico Supreme Court affirmed the rule Thursday and rejected arguments from environmental groups and the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General that the rule violated the state’s Water Quality Act. In the court’s unanimous opinion, justices sided with the New Mexico Environment Department and the mining industry to uphold the 2013 copper rule. #mc_embed_signup{background:#fff; clear:left; font:14px Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif; width:100%;}
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Let’s Talk New Mexico—let’s talk about water

This morning, KUNM’s Hannah Colton led a discussion about the Texas v. New Mexico & Colorado lawsuit and water rights. If you missed today’s episode of Let’s Talk New Mexico, which was produced in partnership with NM Political Report, you can listen online here. Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would allow the federal government to pursue its claim in the water case on the Rio Grande. During oral arguments before the court earlier this year, the U.S. government argued that New Mexico was also harming its ability to deliver water under the compact, as well as under its international treaty with Mexico. Guests on KUNM this morning included:
Peter White, Santa Fe water rights attorney
Jay Stein, attorney for City of Las Cruces
State Sen. Joe Cervantes
Tania Maestas, New Mexico Deputy Attorney General for Civil Affairs
Samantha Barncastle, attorney for Elephant Butte Irrigation District
We’ll have more coverage on the case and what’s at stake for New Mexico next week, but if you need a primer on the timeline of the issue, visit here.