NM Environment Review: snowpack and water edition

All week, we look for stories that help New Mexicans better understand what’s happening with water, climate, energy, landscapes and communities around the region. Thursday morning, that news goes out via email. To subscribe to that weekly email, click here. Here’s some of what subscribers read this week:

Snowpack in the Upper Rio Grande Basin is looking good, at 112 percent of normal. There’s a  caveat, however, said Royce Fontenot, senior service hydrologist at the National Weather Service in Albuquerque, at the monthly drought monitoring working group meeting.

CDC identifies communities to test for PFAS. But none are in New Mexico.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) identified communities in five states, where they plan to test for human exposure to per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Those are the same chemicals that contaminated the groundwater below Cannon and Holloman Air Force bases. PFAS was found within foams used to extinguish petroleum-based fires, and also used in products like non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing, stain-resistant fabrics and other products.  

But New Mexico isn’t on the list of five states where testing will occur.  

Starting this year, ATSDR will test eight communities near military bases, including:

Berkeley County, WV near Shepherd Field Air National Guard BaseEl Paso County, CO near Peterson Air Force BaseFairbanks North Star Borough, AK near Eielson Air Force BaseHampden County, MA near Barnes Air National Guard BaseLubbock County, TX near Reese Technology CenterOrange County, NY near Stewart Air National Guard BaseNew Castle County, DE near New Castle Air National Guard BaseSpokane County, WA near Fairchild Air Force Base

In 2018, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that activities at 126 military bases had contaminated groundwater with PFAS.

NM Environment Review: Water management, water issues + the news

All week, we look for stories that help New Mexicans better understand what’s happening with water, climate, energy, landscapes and communities around the region. Thursday morning, that news goes out via email. To subscribe to that weekly email, click here. Here’s a snippet of what subscribers read this week:

On Monday, NM Political Report published a story looking back at the history of the Office of the State Engineer. Within that story—reported and published prior to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham naming a new state engineer—we noted that in 114 years, 20 men have held that powerful position.

New administration opens up on lead data

In 2017, Reuters published a map on lead poisoning among children across the nation. The story examined where children were tested for lead and how many had high levels of the toxic metal in their blood. At that time, NM Political Report spent months trying to speak directly with experts at the New Mexico Department of Health (DOH) about that exact issue. But Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration wouldn’t allow that. And we never got a complete picture of how state officials were handling childhood lead exposure.

Guv’s office close to announcing choice for powerful water position

The search for a new state engineer has been ongoing since the transition team convened in December, but Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has yet to say who will carry out her policy as the state’s top water boss. But Lujan Grisham’s Communications Director Tripp Stelnicki said Friday a candidate is in place and an announcement, forthcoming. “I would say that if it’s not the toughest, it’s absolutely one of the toughest positions across state government to fill simply because of the expertise needed and the level of nuance,” Stelnicki said. Candidates must be registered professional engineers and also have “an understanding of these deeply-entrenched issues that go back decades, centuries—that are even older than the state,” Stelnicki said. The Office of the State Engineer (OSE) administers New Mexico’s water resources, overseeing both surface and groundwater rights.

NM Environment Review: a record-breaking 2018, Roundhouse low-down + more news

All week, we look for stories that help New Mexicans better understand what’s happening with water, climate, energy, landscapes and communities around the region. Thursday morning, that news goes out via email. To subscribe to that weekly email, click here. Here’s a snippet of what subscribers read this week:

If you missed our coverage of Holloman Air Force Base, we have two stories this week, one on a 2018 report documenting groundwater contamination from PFAS at Holloman, and a second from this morning on the state’s order to the Air Force on cleanup. And there’s plenty more news around New Mexico, too.

State to Air Force: Clean up contamination at Holloman

The state of New Mexico has responded to reports of groundwater contamination at yet another Air Force base—this time, Holloman Air Force Base. On Wednesday, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) issued a notice of violation against the U.S. Air Force over groundwater contamination at Holloman, which sits on nearly 60,000 acres just outside the City of Alamogordo. “We are dismayed by the Air Force’s lack of prompt response to the contamination found at Holloman and will use all avenues available to us to hold the military accountable and make affected New Mexicans whole again,” said NMED Secretary-designate James Kenney in a press release from the department. “This Notice of Violation is a step toward ensuring that happens.”

A November 2018 Air Force site inspection report showed contamination levels in some areas at Holloman are 18,000 times the federal limit for PFAS. PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of human-made chemicals, and include perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS).

2018 report shows off-the-charts contamination in Holloman AFB water

The groundwater below Holloman Air Force Base near Alamogordo tested positive for hazardous chemicals—and the contamination levels are more than 18,000 times higher than what the federal government says is safe.  

A November 2018 site inspection report provided to the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), and obtained by NM Political Report this week, details the contamination. Currently, the state is trying to understand the extent of the problem and what might be done. According to the report, in 2016, the U.S. Air Force identified 31 potential release sites at Holloman. Two years later, in 2018, contractors tested five areas to determine if PFAS were present in soil, sediment, ground or surface water.

Budget talks for New Mexico energy, water and environment agencies

Each session of the New Mexico Legislature, it’s tempting to rush to cover bills, some of which never make it out of committee, let alone get signed into law. There’s no doubt many important bills are winding their way through the legislature this year—related to renewable energy, healthy soils and pollution fines. But this year, I’m kicking off environment coverage of the 2019 session by looking at what three critical agencies have to work with in terms of budgets and responsibilities. On Friday, the heads of the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD), New Mexico Environment Department (NEMD) and the Office of the State Engineer presented to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee. The top staffers were there to answer questions about their department’s budgets, one version recommended by the Legislative Finance Committee analysts and another recommended by the governor’s office.

Shutdown is over, but federal workers remain uncertain

On Monday, federal employees will return to work. For now. After more than 30 days, the partial federal shutdown ended Friday. During that time, almost 11,000 New Mexicans—and 800,000 people nationwide—were either furloughed or working without pay. But many people remain wary, given that the deal worked out between Congress and the White House only reopens the government for three weeks, through February 15.