The Colorado River supplies water for more than 36 million people in two countries and seven states, including New Mexico. As river flows and reservoir levels decline due to drought, warming and over-demand, states are wrangling over how to voluntarily conserve water use—before reservoir levels reach critically low levels and trigger mandatory cutbacks. New Mexico is one of the states most vulnerable to the impacts climate change is wreaking on the river. Yet, it’s unclear what the state is doing when it comes to drought management in the state and basin-wide negotiations on the Colorado. The seven states subject to the Colorado River Compact are divided into Upper Basin states—Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah—and Lower Basin states—Arizona, Nevada and California.
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:
You’ve heard about the groundwater contamination at Kirtland Air Force Base, where jet fuel leaked for decades into Albuquerque’s aquifer. Now, there’s another problem at an Air Force base—this time at Cannon Air Force Base in eastern New Mexico.
This week, we shared the entire NM Environment Review online. Next week, we’ll return to sharing only a snippet on the website and saving the rest for subscribers to the weekly email. To ensure you don’t miss out, sign up here.
Let’s face it: there’s only one story this week. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a special report Monday detailing the serious need for action on climate change. As we reported Wednesday, the IPCC noted that if humans don’t drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the next decade, we will not stop warming that’s expected to have widespread and catastrophic impacts upon the Earth’s ecosystems.
National papers, magazines and television programs covered the report, which includes a summary for policymakers.
If humans don’t drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the next decade, we will not stop warming that’s expected to have widespread and catastrophic impacts upon the Earth’s ecosystems.
That’s one of the most pointed findings in a special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was tasked with studying how a 2.0° Celsius rise in global temperature will affect the planet, its ecosystems and human communities, compared with a 1.5°C temperature increase. According to the IPCC’s special report, if the Earth’s temperature increases by more than 1.5°C, the changes will be “long-lasting” and “irreversible.”
Already, the global temperature—averaged between land and sea temperatures—has risen 1° Celsius, or 1.8° Fahrenheit, since 1880. That change has contributed to sea level rise, the melting of Arctic sea ice, coral bleaching of ocean reefs and ocean acidification. In places like the American Southwest, warming is already affecting snowpack, forest dieoffs, water supplies and wildfire season. “The more warming that we cause, the broader and more intense are the impacts in general,” said University of New Mexico Earth and Planetary Sciences Professor David Gutzler, in summing up the main message of the report.
Given the fire hose of news from Washington, D.C. every day, New Mexicans can be forgiven if they miss stories about environmental overhauls from the White House and funding mishaps in Congress. But ignorance isn’t bliss when it comes to climate-changing methane emissions, less money for public lands and parks or the intergenerational impacts of mercury exposure. At NM Political Report, we’re continuing to track the federal changes that affect New Mexicans. Here are a few of the most important issues that popped up recently. Udall: Climate change ‘moral test of our age’
At the end of last month, Congress let the Land and Water Conservation Fund lapse.
•The Durango Herald reported that in Durango last week, the Animas River registered its lowest levels in more than 100 years of records. On Sept. 26, the river through the southwestern Colorado town dropped below 100 cubic feet per second. Jonathan Thompson wrote about it on his website, too. •And by the time the Animas crosses into New Mexico, it’s in even worse shape. As of Wednesday, it was running at less than ten cfs.
In the past week, we’ve published a series of three stories about the Rio Grande, Elephant Butte reservoir and the U.S. Supreme Court case over the waters of the Rio Grande. In just one sentence, here’s the gist of the three stories: New Mexico squeaked through a really bad water year—a historically bad water year—but that’s not always going to be possible, especially if the headwaters of the Rio Grande have another dry winter. Part 1: NM’s reservoirs weathered this year. But what will happen next year? Part 2: As warming strains NM’s water supplies, ‘status quo’ no longer works
Part 3: As NM’s water situation worsens, SCOTUS battle over the Rio Grande intensifies
• Low flows aren’t unique to the Rio Grande.
On the downstream side of Elephant Butte Dam, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation employees navigate a stairwell above the Rio Grande, passing scat from the ring-tailed cats that like to hang out here, and enter through a door into the 300-foot tall concrete dam. Built in the early twentieth century, Elephant Butte Dam holds back water stored for farmers in southern New Mexico, the state of Texas and Mexico. At full capacity, the reservoir is about 40 miles long and can retain more than 2,000,000 acre feet of water. Jesse Higgins, an electrician who manages the powerplant at the dam, goes first and flips on the lights, which flicker and fire up after a few minutes. Labyrinthine tunnels burrow throughout, and water drains along the sides of the narrow, elevated path.
All week, we track environment news around the western United States, finding the most important stories and new studies you need to read to understand what’s happening with water, climate, energy, landscapes and communities around New Mexico. Then Thursday morning, you get that news in your Inbox. You can subscribe to that weekly email here. Here’s a snippet of what subscribers read this week:
• I haven’t written about the death of Ed Marston, in large part I haven’t quite faced that fact yet. Ed died of complications from West Nile at the end of August, and Christie Aschwanden has a fitting post about him over at The Last Word on Nothing.
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. “There was no spring runoff this year.