Overflow crowd opposes state’s proposed science standards

Hundreds of New Mexicans waited in Santa Fe outside the Jerry Apodaca Building on Monday morning. They were there to share their thoughts about the statewide science standards proposed by the Public Education Department’s (PED) acting Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski. Under the proposal, New Mexico would join about 20 other states around the country and implement Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which have been developed and recommended by scientists and educators. But New Mexico plans to adopt those standards with some key changes involving lessons on climate change, evolution and the Earth’s geological age. People started arriving an hour-and-a-half before the start of the 9:00 a.m. hearing, and others didn’t leave until almost 2:00 p.m. Some New Mexicans stood in line for more than three hours, waiting for their names to be called so they could enter the building, stand before public officials in a small auditorium and speak for three minutes each.

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Running Dry: Groundwater levels are dropping across the West, including in the East Mountains

Garrett Petrie and Teri Farley moved to New Mexico about ten years ago. They found a house on five acres in the East Mountains because they liked being “off the grid.” Moving from Tucson, they were both well-aware of the water issues in the region. “We asked a lot of questions,” Petrie said. “We kept hearing things like, the wells really vary out here and you can get a good one, you can get a bad one.”

They thought they had a good well when they bought the house.

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Interstate Stream Commission resignations expose conflict with state’s water boss

This week, three members of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) resigned, including Chairman Caleb Chandler, Jim Wilcox and longtime director, Jim Dunlap. In his resignation letter, Dunlap wrote that he was leaving the ISC with “great concern for lack of direction from the State Engineer and adherence to New Mexico State Statutes.”

Dunlap explained that decision to NM Political Report Thursday evening. “I felt like our state engineer was trying to take over and be totally in control of the ISC and wouldn’t let us do our job in the sense that the statutes call for,” Dunlap said. “He fires our director without any of us knowing why or anything—and she was working out quite well, I thought. But she didn’t take orders from him, and he didn’t like that, and he up and fired her.”

The commission consists of nine directors by the governor, including the director of the ISC and the state engineer, who serves as secretary.

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Three Interstate Stream Commissioners resign this week

This week, three members of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) resigned, including Chairman Caleb Chandler, Jim Wilcox and longtime board member, Jim Dunlap. Earlier this year, ISC Director Deborah Dixon also left. Her departure came shortly after a public disagreement with State Engineer Tom Blaine at an ISC meeting. Update: One of the ex-ISC members told NM Political Report why he quit. The ISC consists of nine commissioners appointed by the governor, including the director of the ISC and the State Engineer.

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Still no solid plans for Gila River diversion, despite millions spent

With a big deadline bearing down in 2019, the New Mexico Central Arizona Project Entity, or CAP Entity, has yet to choose a plan or exact location for the Gila Diversion. That’s despite already spending more than $12 million of the state’s federal subsidy for the project. At the end of September, AECOM—the engineering firm hired to come up with designs for the CAP Entity to choose from—presented board members with possible design ideas based on the group’s cost and needs. The CAP Entity was then supposed to decide at its October 3 meeting on a plan. Instead, the group punted.

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Zinke’s high-price flights, oil and gas news and upcoming public meetings

US. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is under investigation for his travel arrangements—again. Earlier this week, the department’s Office of the Inspector General opened an investigation into privately chartered flights the secretary took, costing taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars. This isn’t the first time Zinke has exercised (alleged) ethical lapses when it comes to air travel. #mc_embed_signup{background:#fff; clear:left; font:14px Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif; width:100%;}
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State’s top water official gives legislators optimistic brief on water dispute with Texas

The Legislative Finance Committee held its September meeting at Spaceport America, surrounded by cattle ranches and seemingly endless expanses of mesquite. On Thursday afternoon, legislators were updated on an issue that doesn’t involve rockets or space travel—but is critically important to the state’s future: the Texas v. New Mexico lawsuit in the lower Rio Grande. In 2013, Texas sued New Mexico and Colorado in the U.S. Supreme Court, alleging that New Mexico was taking water that legally should flow to Texas under the terms of the 1938 Rio Grande Compact by allowing farmers to pump groundwater connected to the river. Were the Supreme Court to side with Texas, it could force some southern New Mexico chile, pecan and cotton farmers to stop pumping groundwater. Or, the state could even wind up paying Texas up to $1 billion in damages.

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Meeting eases some tensions over San Augustin Plains water deal

For about a decade, tensions have flared over a proposed water project in southwestern New Mexico. Last year, Augustin Plains Ranch, LLC filed the third version of its application with the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer, requesting permission to pump 54,000 acre-feet—more than 17 billion gallons—of water each year from the aquifer and pipe it to the Albuquerque area. If approved, the company would draw water from 37 wells, all in sparsely-populated Catron County, near the town of Datil. But at a public meeting in Socorro Thursday night, the scene was subdued. Opponents of the proposed San Augustin Plains water project filled an auditorium at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, and New Mexico State Police officers kept an eye on things inside and outside the Macey Center.

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Zinke says workers are ‘not loyal to the flag,’ more problems at LANL + upcoming meetings and public comment periods

Earlier this week, the Associated Press reported what t U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s told the National Petroleum Council in a speech. The secretary said he was working to make the agency’s regulatory culture more business friendly, and admitted that he knew going into the agency that about one-third of its employees are “not loyal to the flag.”

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He also said he was planning to move leadership of some agencies, including the Bureau of Reclamation and the Bureau of Land Management, out of Washington, D.C. and into western states:
The moves follow military strategy, Zinke said: “Push your generals where the fight is.”
While details remain largely under wraps, Zinke said he was excited. “It’s going to be huge,” he said in a speech to the National Petroleum Council, an advisory committee that includes leaders of the oil and gas industry.

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Democratic members of NM delegation appeal to Kelly on national monuments

As we reported last week, New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich brought national attention to errors in U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s report to the White House about national monuments. In particular, Heinrich pointed out factual errors in the report related to the two New Mexico national monuments being reviewed. Zinke has recommended changes to both monuments. Now, the Democratic members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation have sent a letter to White House adviser, and former Marine General, John Kelly about the mistakes. At the urging of Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, President Donald Trump signed an executive order this spring directing Zinke to review all national monuments designated since 1996 that are larger than 100,000 acres.

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