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.
If there is one swath of land that holds the most promise for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s vision for energy dominance, it might be southeast New Mexico. The 6-million acre region includes part of the Permian Basin, which stretches into west Texas and is expected to produce more than any other nation except Saudi Arabia by 2023. In August, the Bureau of Land Management released a 1,500-page draft of a new management plan for the New Mexico side of the basin that will determine how its resources will be used for the next 20 years and beyond. The BLM’s Carlsbad field office, which oversees this three-county region, is the busiest in the nation for oil and gas drilling. It’s also a landscape of deserts, grasslands, small mountain ranges and spectacular underground caves.
Inside the New Mexico State Land Office, current Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn sits at a dark wood desk ringed with a painting of the Rio Grande Gorge, a saddle, and a pair of leather chaps pinned on the wall, homages to a lifetime spent on cattle ranches. But it’s the decor outside that tends to draw more attention: Dunn installed a model pump jack in front of the State Land Office building on Old Santa Fe Trail. Its bobbing head —powered by a solar panel — is a familiar sight in oil country. From that desk, he manages the state’s land trust: 9 million acres of surface land, and 13 million acres of mineral estate. It’s his job to maximize revenue from those acres through leases for businesses, grazing and rights-of-way, royalties from mining potash, coal, salt and caliche, and above all, fossil fuels, which accounts for 92.7 percent of the revenue generated the office.
Discouraged by seemingly endless court battles, gerrymandering opponents in some states are shifting their strategy two years before the 2020 census sparks another round of redistricting for legislative seats. Voters in Colorado, Michigan, Missouri and Utah will decide in November whether to have independent commissioners, rather than state lawmakers, draw congressional maps and the lines for state legislative seats. Except for Colorado, where lawmakers added the ballot measure, activists got these initiatives on the ballot by gathering signatures. And earlier this year, Ohio voters overwhelmingly approved a measure that requires bipartisan support for new lines, though the power to draw them returns to the majority party if several redistricting attempts fail. The new system goes into effect in 2021.
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.
Despite a legal team that includes celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti, an eight-year-old Guatemalan boy separated from his father under Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy remains in a shelter in Baytown with no end in sight. Byron Xol Bol, who was detained with his father after crossing the Rio Grande into Texas in May, is one of 416 separated children who have yet to be reunited with their parents, as attorneys scramble to untangle the details of the cases and the government fails to meet court-ordered deadlines to reunify the children with their families. The Trump administration launched a zero-tolerance policy earlier this year that led to more than 2,500 children being separated from their families, including the Xols. President Trump walked back the policy in June after public outcry, and signed an executive order on June 20 that essentially reverted to the prior “catch and release” policy that the president had criticized. Byron Xol is among more than 300 children whose parents have been deported, making reunification even more challenging.