As NM’s water situation worsens, SCOTUS battle over the Rio Grande intensifies

Last winter, snows didn’t come to the mountains, and the headwaters of the Rio Grande suffered from drought. In April, the river—New Mexico’s largest—was already drying south of Socorro. And over the summer, reservoir levels plummeted. Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court battle between Texas, New Mexico and the U.S. government over the waters of the Rio Grande marches onward. At a meeting at the end of August, the special master assigned to the case by the Supreme Court set some new deadlines: The discovery period will close in the summer of 2020 and the case will go to trial no later than that fall.

As warming strains NM’s water supplies, ‘status quo’ no longer works

On the downstream side of Elephant Butte Dam, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation employees navigate a stairwell above the Rio Grande, passing scat from the ring-tailed cats that like to hang out here, and enter through a door into the 300-foot tall concrete dam. Built in the early twentieth century, Elephant Butte Dam holds back water stored for farmers in southern New Mexico, the state of Texas and Mexico. At full capacity, the reservoir is about 40 miles long and can retain more than 2,000,000 acre feet of water. Jesse Higgins, an electrician who manages the powerplant at the dam, goes first and flips on the lights, which flicker and fire up after a few minutes. Labyrinthine tunnels burrow throughout, and water drains along the sides of the narrow, elevated path.

NM Environment Review: Ed Marston, mines and meetings

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:
• I haven’t written about the death of Ed Marston, in large part I haven’t quite faced that fact yet. Ed died of complications from West Nile at the end of August, and Christie Aschwanden has a fitting post about him over at The Last Word on Nothing.

NM’s reservoirs weathered this year. But what will happen next year?

Right now, New Mexico’s largest reservoir is at about three percent capacity, with just 62,573 acre feet of water in storage as of September 20. Elephant Butte Reservoir’s low levels offer a glimpse of the past, as well as insight into the future. Over the past few decades, southwestern states like New Mexico have on average experienced warmer temperatures, earlier springs and less snowpack in the mountains. And it’s a trend that’s predicted to continue. “There was no spring runoff this year.

Safe Passage: Getting wildlife where they need to go

It can be scary to drive at night in rural New Mexico. There aren’t lights to see who might be on the side of the road, ready to race or saunter across. While we’re zooming along a ribbon of highway at 75 or 80 miles per hour—sometimes in a line of cars, sometimes all alone out on the highway—often, there are owls hunting, foxes looking for mice in the grassy median, coyotes bringing food home to the den, or elk on their way to water or higher ground. Even during the day, pronghorn or deer might dart across the road. When a car collides with an animal, it’s bad news for everyone.

Oil Conservation Commission will take up well density issue later this fall

The New Mexico Oil Conservation Commission delayed a decision to approve an energy company’s request to increase well density in two northern New Mexico counties. At its meeting on Thursday, the commission also rejected a community group’s request to intervene in the hearing. Hilcorp Energy Company’s Justin Furnace emailed a statement on Thursday evening. “The Commission made it clear today that the application has merit, but at the Commission’s request, Hilcorp will be re-notifying affected operators in the San Juan Basin to ensure that they are aware of the proposed change,” Furnace wrote. Hilcorp asked the state to amend the “pool rule,” or well density requirements, in the Blanco-Mesaverde Gas Pool in San Juan and Rio Arriba counties. Under the current rules, companies can drill four wells within the designated 320-acre spacing units, and only two can be drilled within each 160-acre section.

NM Environment Review: Who cares about the Rio Grande?

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:

• On Sunday, the New York Times ran a provocatively-titled op-ed, “The Rio Grande is Dying. Does Anyone Care?” The op-ed has some disappointing errors in it, as anyone familiar with the Rio Grande and the Colorado River noticed.

State will consider boosting gas well density in northern NM

At its meeting on Thursday, September 13, the New Mexico Oil Conservation Committee will hear from an energy company that wants to double the density of gas wells in northwestern New Mexico. Hilcorp Energy Company is asking the state to amend well density requirements in what’s called the Blanco-Mesaverde Gas Pool in San Juan and Rio Arriba counties. Under the current rules, companies can drill four wells within the designated 320-acre spacing units, and only two can be drilled within each 160-acre section. Companies can also ask the state to increase the density of wells on a case-by-case basis, something Hilcorp notes in its application New Mexico has allowed it to do in 62 instances this year. Rather than continuing to file individual applications, each with its own public notice and hearing, the company is now asking New Mexico to change the spacing rules for the entire Blanco-Mesaverde pool.

New study: Colorado River declines due to warming

The Colorado River supplies water to seven states, including New Mexico, before crossing the border into Mexico. Then—theoretically, nowadays—it reaches the Sea of Cortez. Demands from cities and farms, along with climate change, strain the river and affect its flows. Now, a new study shows that even though annual precipitation increased slightly between 1916 and 2014, Colorado River flows declined by 16.5 percent during that same time period. That’s thanks, in large part, to “unprecedented basin-wide warming.” Warming reduces snowpack and increases the amount of water plants demand.

NM Environment Review: Copper Flat permits and temporary waterways

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:

• The company that owns New Mexico Copper Corporation, and plans to open a mine near Hillsboro, announced to its shareholders at the end of August that it is working toward gaining two important state permits. THEMAC noted that there will be a hearing on one of those, the groundwater discharge permit from the New Mexico Environment Department, during the week of September 24 in Truth or Consequences.