NM Environment Review: the Biblical version, minus locusts

In partnership with ProPublica, the Santa Fe New Mexican’s Rebecca Moss has the run-down on the new contract to run Los Alamos National Laboratory. Last week the U.S. Department of Energy and National Nuclear Security Administration announced details of the Triad National Security LLC, which will include the University of California, the Battelle Memorial Institute and Texas A&M University. Sami Edge with the Santa Fe New Mexican has a cool story about protecting rare plants like the Holy Ghost ipomopsis from wildfires. And it’s not an environment story, but if you read Julie Ann Grimm’s story about Forrest Fenn in the Santa Fe Reporter this week, you’ll be glad you did. To receive the NM Environment Review on Thursday mornings, sign up for our weekly email here.

NM Environment Review: record heat, record CO2, WIPP and more

Yup, it’s hot. And dry, and smoky. And greenhouse gassy. Scripps Oceanography and NOAA announced this week that average levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere exceeded 411 parts per million in May. That’s a new record. And their studies show that the rate of CO2 increase is accelerating. To read more visit here.

Federal royalty committee meets in NM today

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The Royalty Policy Committee meets in Albuquerque today. While it isn’t a household name, the RPC was rechartered by U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke after the Trump administration made increased production of domestic oil, gas and coal the centerpiece of its energy policy. When companies drill or mine on federal lands, they currently pay 12.5 percent in royalties to the federal government and states. Because New Mexico receives the second-largest amount of federal royalty revenues in the nation, said Pam Eaton, senior energy advisor with The Wilderness Society, the state stands to lose significant income if that changes. “We have a committee that was pulled together by the Trump administration that’s really just focused on making those public lands cheap, easy and fast to drill,” she said, “so that companies can make the biggest buck possible.”

NM Environment Review: Fires, WIPP, bears and more

The big news this morning is the Ute Park Fire in northern New Mexico near Ute Park and Cimarron, which blew up overnight to 8,000 acres. According to the New Mexico State Forestry update at 7:30 this morning, 12 structures at Philmont Scout Ranch were destroyed, and 150 other structures are threatened. As of Friday morning, Highway 64 is closed between Eagle Nest Lake and Cimarron and State Route 204 is closed at Cimarron. There are evacuation centers at the Eagle Nest Senior Center, Cimarron Elementary/Middle School and the Raton Convention Center. Around the state right now, there are a few other fires burning, including the Kellar Fire in the Lincoln National Forest, the Arena Canyon Fire in San Juan County and the Buzzard Fire in the Gila National Forest.

NM Environment Review: Drought, politics and relationships with rivers

It’s been a busy week, and we have plenty of news to share from around the state and region. -New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas has filed the state’s counterclaims in Texas v. New Mexico & Colorado, the U.S. Supreme Court lawsuit over the waters of the Rio Grande. We’ve posted those pleadings on our site, if you want to read them for yourself. Want to get this in your inbox a day earlier? Sign up for the email list.

Restrictions in force as wildfire dangers rise in NM’s forests

Last year, we wrote about campers abandoning fires over Memorial Day weekend, a time when New Mexico’s forests experience a big bump in visitor activity. Reporting that story was pretty startling. All told, campers just in the Jemez Ranger District of the Santa Fe National Forest abandoned 19 campfires over that three-day weekend. Tagging along with fire protection officers for just one day, we saw unsafe campfires (some because they weren’t contained within a fire ring, others because they were way too big for their rings), people firing guns close to other campers and drivers of both trucks and ATVs in places they shouldn’t be. People left campfires burning while hiking; others left smoldering fires and trash behind after packing up altogether.

NM fires back in Rio Grande water battle

New Mexico filed its responses to Texas and the federal government on a U.S. Supreme Court lawsuit over the waters of the Rio Grande. On Tuesday night, New Mexico Attorney General and its contract attorneys filed the state’s counterclaims on Texas v. New Mexico & Colorado. We’ve posted those three pleadings below. A press release announcing the counterclaims included a quote from Balderas:
Our legal strategy will hold Texas and the federal government accountable for the significant amount of precious water being misappropriated that rightfully belongs to New Mexico’s working families and small businesses, and for the federal government not using proper accounting and failing to ensure reasonable water delivery improvements. Using the best science, technology and evidence-based strategy, we will protect our traditionally underserved and culturally diverse population, and protect against those interests that threaten our citizens and businesses.

New Mexico back under water storage restrictions on the Rio Grande

Despite the rains that doused parts of New Mexico on Monday, the state officially entered into drought conditions on the Rio Grande when water levels in two key reservoirs dipped below a critical legal threshold. On Sunday, New Mexico entered into Article VII restrictions as storage in Elephant Butte and Caballo reservoirs dropped below 400,000 acre-feet. Under Article VII of the Rio Grande Compact, that means Colorado and New Mexico can’t store water in any upstream reservoirs built after 1929. In the Rio Grande watershed, reservoirs capture and store native Rio Grande water and water piped from northwestern New Mexico via the San Juan-Chama Project. Each drop is earmarked for particular users and managed under the legal strictures of the compact.

Given drought and dropping reservoirs, water issues critical for next governor

New Mexico’s next governor should be ready to confront the state’s critical water issues on his or her first day in office. That’s according to Mike Connor, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior during the Obama administration, who spoke at a water conference at the University of New Mexico on Thursday. The agenda looked ahead—past the six remaining months of Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration—to what the next governor needs to understand about New Mexico’s water challenges, from drought and water transfers to interstream agreements, including on the Colorado River, whose waters seven U.S. states and Mexico share. Connor noted that on the Rio Grande, Elephant Butte Reservoir is 18 percent full, and said it could drop to less than five percent by the end of this year’s irrigation season. “The governor needs to have some policy initiatives ready to go as quickly as possible because there are going to be water issues that need to be addressed from the get-go,” he said.

NM Environment Review: drought, ‘stokes,’ new studies and more

On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall joined fellow Democrats to question U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt about his ethical and spending decisions. As reported by the Washington Post, Udall grilled Pruitt:
Udall, describing Pruitt’s management of the agency as “disastrous,” again called on Pruitt to resign. The former Oklahoma attorney general, he said, has treated his “position of public trust as a golden ticket for extravagant travel and fine dining.”
Irrigators in northwestern New Mexico are worried about the drought, prompting New Mexico State University to offer a workshop on water conservation, according to the Farmington Daily Times. Noel Smith also reports that the filing period has started for Navajo Nation elections. The Carlsbad Current-Argus has an update from the city’s mayor on efforts to remediate the area’s brine well.