NM Environment Review: San Augustin Plains Ranch, drought (& more drought) and a “Hothouse Earth”

-In High Country News, Cally Carswell of Santa Fe pondered climate change and New Mexico’s future. You can read her essay, “Drought, dread and family in the American Southwest” here. -Cody Hooks with the Taos News is taking a three-part look at drought in New Mexico. His first story is on the state’s water planning process. -If you missed it a few days ago, New Mexico State Engineer Tom Blaine dismissed the Augustin Plains Ranch water application as “speculative.” Locals are happy, though wary, and the company called the move “short-sighted.” Here’s the story. At NMPR, we also wrote about drought and El Niño. (And found Gov. Susana Martinez still hadn’t convened the state’s Drought Task Force.)
-Ryan Lowery with the Las Vegas Optic reported on a land-access dispute in northern New Mexico involving the State Land Office.

NM grandmother recognized for one-woman fight for clean air

AZTEC, N.M. – A New Mexico woman who has spent her life in the San Juan Basin near hundreds of oil and gas wells says she’ll continue her fight for a cleaner environment despite her own health issues. Shirley McNall is profiled in a report by the group Moms Clean Air Force about the consequences of living near oil and gas drilling. In the town of Aztec, McNall takes journalists and other visitors on what she calls a “Toxic Tour of Hell” in northwest New Mexico, which she said includes residential neighborhoods dotted with leaky gas tanks, oil on the ground, fumes venting into the air and nonstop compressor noise. McNall said it’s important to demonstrate to others what many people live with, “to show ’em how we live, all over the United States now, with these dangerous little industrial sites right next to our homes and our schools and our churches. Aztec has over 110 gas wells in our little town.”

Imperiled wildlife are caught in a political tug-of-war

As temperatures climb to triple digits and fires rage from California to Colorado, Western lawmakers and the Trump administration are turning up the heat on the Endangered Species Act. On July 12, the conservative Western Congressional Caucus, which was founded to “fight federal overreach” and advocates for extractive industries, introduced a nine bill ESA reform package. And in a separate move, the Trump administration is proposing to change how federal agencies implement the law. A common thread in the bills is a push to give more authority to the Interior Secretary and states. The proposed rule changes dial back federal agencies’ ability to pursue policies that hamper development.

NM Environment Review: Rigs up, skiing out and SF Farmers Market celebrating ’50’

-New Mexico’s rig count has reached an all-time high, and 101 of the 103 rigs currently drilling new wells are in the Permian Basin. Last year at this time, there were 57 active rigs in the state. -Andrew Oxford has a story at the Santa Fe New Mexican about the aftermath of the Ute Park Fire. According to his story:
The flames of the Ute Park Fire, which burned around 37,000 acres in this rural part of the state, were extinguished in mid-June, but communities are still grappling with strained water systems, the prospect of flash flooding and the hit to tourism. -Sandia Peak Ski Company knows it’s in for more snowless winters.

Giving back to the river, one deal, one drop at a time

Earlier this month, a trickle of water started flowing back into the Rio Grande near the Pueblo of Isleta. It wasn’t runoff from a thunderstorm or storm drain. Rather, it was part of a deal between Audubon New Mexico, local municipalities and The Club at Las Companas to put water in the river for the benefit of the environment. After a poor snow season in the mountains, the Middle Rio Grande started drying in early April, when it should have been running high with snowmelt. As of Thursday, about 30 miles are dry south of Socorro and another mile is dry where the river flows through Isleta. The Rio Grande will never be what it once was decades, nevermind centuries, ago.

NM Environment Review: BLM defers Carlsbad leases, Zinke’s Interior Department & musical river flows

-The Associated Press reported that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management decided to push back a lease sale in southeastern New Mexico that included parcels near Carlsbad Caverns National Park. To see more on that issue, check out the story we ran about the lease sale earlier this month. Want to get the NM Environment Review in your email a day early? Sign up here! -The Santa Fe New Mexican’s Rebecca Moss, as part of a reporting partnership with ProPublica, uncovered the Trump administration’s move to “inhibit independent oversight” of the nation’s nuclear facilities, including Los Alamos National Laboratory. It’s a must-read story for New Mexicans.

Feeding—and healing—the hood

Beneath the gnarled limbs of a sprawling cottonwood tree at the edge of his South Valley farm, Lorenzo Candelaria settles into a circle of lawn chairs. He’s surrounded by staffers from Project Feed the Hood, including Travis McKenzie, Stefany Olivas, Luzero Velasquez and a few student interns. There’s also nine-year old Trayvon, who hops into the (empty) roasting pit, samples blackberries, catches (and frees) a tiny toad and peppers Candelaria with questions about his beehives. “This is the Cottonwood Clinic,” says McKenzie. He’s the co-founder of Project Feed the Hood, which connects communities with healthy food and young people with the land—and a paycheck.

NM Environment Review: Holtec license and hearing news, land grant dispute and more

-The Carlsbad Current Argus reported that one oilfield worker was killed and another injured when a tank battery caught fire Wednesday near Loving. -The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced Wednesday that the public can request an adjudicatory hearing on the application a company has filed for a license to temporarily store 8,680 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel from commercial power plants, and to eventually store more than 20 times that amount between Hobbs and Carlsbad. According to the NRC, the hearing—if granted—would be held before three administrative judges and could address issues of law or fact with the application filed by the company, Holtec International. The deadline for requests is Sept. 14; requirements and procedures for requesting a hearing and petition to intervene are online at the Federal Register.

Beleaguered BLM office faces decisions on oil leases near national park

In September, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management will hold a sale on almost 200 drilling leases for 89,000 acres in Chaves, Eddy and Lea counties. About a dozen of those leases are within a mile of the boundary of Carlsbad Caverns National Park. The National Parks Conservation Association hopes the BLM will defer the parcels nearest to the park, in critical cave and karst areas and in other places with environmental concerns or wilderness characteristics, said Ernie Atencio, the nonprofit’s New Mexico Program Manager. “They heard our request to that effect, and they might even agree and prepare the paperwork for it, but that’s another decision that has to come down from D.C. and no longer in the hands of local managers,” he said. Since 1923, when President Calvin Coolidge signed the executive order creating what was then called Carlsbad Cave National Monument, the region has been transformed, largely due to oil drilling in the Permian Basin.

NM Environment Review: Draft state water plan, Gila meetings, LANL transition and more

One of the biggest environment stories this week is the release of an updated New Mexico State Water Plan. Susan Montoya Bryan covered that for the Associated Press, noting a few of the plan’s recommendations, including:
New Mexico’s supply of groundwater should be reserved for periods of drought, communities should have sharing agreements in place when supplies are short and alternatives such as desalination should be explored regardless of the cost. She interviewed Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, a Santa Fe Democrat who has worked on water issues for years. Wirth noted that the state hasn’t spent enough money on water planning in recent years and that “the plan has become more a reaction to the evolving conditions.”

NM Political Report reached out to the public information officer for the state’s two water agencies, the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer and the Interstate Stream Commission to interview State Engineer Tom Blaine or other state officials about the plan and its implementation. We received no response.