This spring has already been a busy one for water managers. The Rio Grande and its acequias and irrigation ditches are currently full and forecasters predict more snow for the mountains this weekend. Unlike many years over the past two decades, when water managers wondered how to spread out water deliveries to farmers and growers so everyone makes it through the growing season, this year the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District (MRGCD) is watching for a different problem, one born of high water levels—the pressure on levees. “It’s feast or famine,” said Mike Hamman, chief engineer of the district, which delivers water to irrigators from Cochiti dam to Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge. It’s also election season in the district.
The political reaction to President Donald Trump’s executive order on national monuments has been largely predictable. Republicans praised the move to review monument designations made by presidents since 1996. Environmental groups and Democratic lawmakers, like Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, have condemned the order. Related story: Trump review of national monuments includes two in NM
Meanwhile, New Mexico State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, himself a Republican, said the order could “hinder” a proposed land exchange between the State Land Office and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review national monument designations, including two in New Mexico, made under the Antiquities Act since 1996. “We’re now getting something done that people thought would never get done, and I’m doing it in honor of you guys,” Trump said during the signing ceremony, calling out a number of Republican lawmakers, including Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Utah Sen. Mike Lee. In particular, Trump recognized Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, saying “Believe me, he’s tough. He would call me and say, ‘you gotta do this.’ Isn’t that right, Orrin?
If you haven’t gone out to look at the Rio Grande, no matter where along its banks you live, now’s the time. The snowmelt is pouring down the channel, causing the river to overbank in lots of places throughout the Middle Rio Grande Valley. In southern New Mexico, the normally dry channel is also running as water managers are moving water from reservoirs to southern New Mexico fields and orchards and to Texas. Speaking of snowmelt, March was an exceptionally warm month in New Mexico. According to the National Weather Service, 143 record-high temperatures were broken across 34 weather stations on 15 days.
On Wednesday evening, students, baby boomers, dogs, kids and organizers for the Albuquerque March for Science spread across a corner of Bataan Park, making signs, trying on yellow T-shirts and getting to know one another. When they rally in downtown Albuquerque on Saturday, expect their protest signs to be clever. Or very nerdy. In the park, participants were drawing inspiration from Isaac Newton, Jane Goodall and Neil deGrasse Tyson. One sign read, “Einstein was a refugee.”
The nonpartisan event, which is planned for Washington, D.C. and hundreds of cities around the United States, is modeled on the Women’s March in January.
I’ve been reporting on environment issues for almost 15 years, and during most of that time, it hasn’t exactly been a breaking news beat. There are disasters like wildfires or the Gold King Mine spill. But for the most part, covering issues like drought, climate change and energy policy doesn’t usually involve a race to deadline. It seems like that’s been changing lately, however. Part of that change is due to the Trump administration.
Six years ago this June, an enormous cloud above the Jemez Mountains was visible across northern New Mexico to south of Albuquerque. Punching into the clear, blue sky, it looked like a thundercloud, or even a mushroom cloud. That day, heat from a wildfire was rising so quickly that the winds couldn’t push it away, forming a pyrocumulous cloud. By the time it was extinguished, Las Conchas Fire had burned 156,000 acres. “The first day, I remember I was in Washington D.C., and got the report it was 40 acres in size,” said Jorge Silva-Bañuelos, who is now superintendent of the Valles Caldera National Preserve.
Last week, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas joined a coalition to oppose the Trump administration’s attempts to delay the U.S. Court of Appeals from making a decision on the Clean Power Plan. That 2015 plan would have helped states reduce carbon emissions from power plants. Utilities, the coal industry and 24 states immediately sued to stop the plan from being implemented. The appeals court unanimously denied a motion to stay the rule, but in 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5 to 4 to issue a stay pending the appeals court decision. Then, at the end of March Trump ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review and revoke the Clean Power Plan, which would have required states to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
As we reported on Friday, Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed the Next Generation Science Standards Act. In her message, she wrote that “the Public Education Department has already been working diligently to route the standards through the appropriate vetting process.” The governor also argued the standards don’t belong in statute because it would “make it more difficult to update science standards in response to scientific advancement in the future.”
As Matt Grubs wrote in the Santa Fe Reporter, that bill would have required the state to adopt updated, nationally-vetted benchmarks for teaching science in public schools. As Grubs wrote last week: Supporters, like bill sponsor Rep. Andrés Romero, D-Albuquerque, agree that it’s better to let the PED change standards administratively. But no one from the state’s education agency has explained the delay in putting the NGSS into place. In 18 other states and Washington, DC, the most controversial issues surrounding Next Gen adoption have been human-caused climate change and the theory of evolution.
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.