This week, we’re running a series of interviews with New Mexico’s four gubernatorial candidates, each of whom answered questions about issues related to water, energy and climate change. Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham currently serves as New Mexico’s congresswoman for the first congressional district. Before that, she worked in New Mexico state government as secretary of the Department of Aging and Long Term Services and the Department of Health. NMPR: We’re coming off a bad winter and drought has returned to the state, what critical water issues are you keeping an eye on right now? Michelle Lujan Grisham: I would actually disagree with your question.
In springtime, rivers are supposed to swell with snowmelt, filling their channels and triggering fish to spawn. This year, however, the Middle Rio Grande has already dried south of Socorro. Record-low snowpack in the mountains upstream means that the state’s largest river is in trouble this year. And so are the species and communities that depend on it. Earlier this week, biologists headed to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge to start scooping up endangered fish from pools and puddles and relocating them to a stretch of the river that is still flowing.
The tony neighborhoods tucked into the juniper-dotted grasslands on the east side of the Sandia Mountains represent yet another battleground in New Mexico’s water wars, one in which the state’s top water official has abandoned one side for the other. Last week, testimony ended in a trial over whether a private company can pump more water—114 million gallons more each year—from the Sandia Basin. Nancy Benson and her husband live in San Pedro Creek Estates, where they built their retirement home in 2000 after living in Albuquerque. She is shocked the state would consider granting the application after rejecting it previously. “This area is fully appropriated, there is nothing extra,” she said.
Over the next week, New Mexico Political Report will be reporting from…not New Mexico. Instead, we’ll be taking a closer look at the Colorado River. The Colorado delivers water to more than 36 million people in seven states and two countries. Its waters carved the Grand Canyon and, far more recently, allowed the growth of Sunbelt cities like Phoenix and Tucson. (No, neither is near the Colorado.
New Mexico still isn’t out of the woods when it comes to its long-running drought. That’s what Phil King, a civil engineering professor at New Mexico State University and water advisor to the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, said. The latest U.S. Drought Monitor release shows that 98.66 percent of New Mexico has no abnormally dry or drought conditions. This is the highest percentage since the monitor began tracking drought conditions in 2000—breaking the record of 95 percent from last week. King says that the monitor only takes “a shallow look at drought,” tracking soil moisture and recent precipitation.
Two years ago, 21 children and teenagers sued the federal government, alleging that it had violated their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property by taking actions that cause climate change and increase its dangers. The young people, including Albuquerque-born Aji Piper, want the government to align carbon emissions reductions with what scientists say is necessary to avoid catastrophic and irreversible warming. “Going to rallies is great, speaking up is great,” said 16-year old Piper of climate activism. “But we need to get our government in on this.”
The youth say that by not cutting greenhouse gas emissions, the government has failed to protect essential public trust resources like land, air and water for future generations. The suit is led by Our Children’s Trust, an Oregon-based nonprofit, which tried to stop intervention by the fossil fuel industry in the case.
New Mexico is the sixth-fastest-warming state in the United States, with average annual temperatures expected to rise 3.5 to 8.5 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100, according to a report released by the Cambridge, MA.-based nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists. The report lays out many of the impacts New Mexicans may already be familiar with, including temperature rises, decreasing wateravailability, changes in snowpack, wildfire, conifer dieoff from insects and drought, and impacts to tribal communities from post-Los Conchas fire flooding. And it discusses the describes challenges posed to New Mexico culture, communities, and economic sectors–particularly the state’s agricultural sector.
Union of Concerned Scientists report: http://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/attach/2016/04/Climate-Change-New-Mexico-fact-sheet.pdf Summer temperatures in New Mexico vary from year to year, but a careful analysis shows a consistent warming trend—a trend that is projected to continue into the future. Since 1970, the trend has steepened to an increase of about 0.6°F per decade.
May rains have come through New Mexico, making the landscape a little more green than New Mexicans are used to. May of 2015 is one of the top-ten wettest months in Albuquerque history when it comes to precipitation. Thanks in large part to this, the May drought outlook looks better than it has in years. The May 19 update to the Drought Monitor from The National Drought Mitigation Center found that less than half of the state was in a drought. This was the first time since 2011 that this could be said.
The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority (ABCWUA) Governing Board may decide on Wednesday to ease up on fines for residents who waste water. According to the meeting agenda, the board that oversees rate and rule changes is set to vote on a two-year pilot program that would focus on education instead of fines for wasting water. Katherine Yuhas, ABCWUA’s water conservation officer, told New Mexico Political Report the idea behind the pilot program came from talking to customers and realizing they wanted more education when it came to water waste. She said generally, residential customers are conscientious of water waste and fix leaks promptly. “The idea with this legislation is to say, ‘Ok, what if they didn’t even need a fine?,’” Yuhas said.