On third anniversary of teens’ deaths, restoration project flourishing

This Sunday, people gathered at a spot along the Gila River in southwestern New Mexico to nurture a small habitat restoration project and remember three Silver City teens who died in a plane crash three years ago. The mission of the Butterfly Way, located at The Nature Conservancy’s Gila River Farm, is to enhance the river corridor with native flowers, trees and milkweed that will benefit pollinators, including monarch butterflies. “It’s sort of a community effort to beautify a piece of the floodplain that had been highly hammered and damaged over time by different agricultural land uses,” said Patrice Mutchnick, mother of Ella Jaz Kirk. “We started planting pretty quickly after the kids passed. We drew up a five-year plan how to restore this area, and are using the monarch as the cornerstone of the project.”

At first, it was just family members, but over time, Mutchnick said they’ve invited more neighbors and friends, student groups and community members, to come to the farm.

State approves contract change after Gila diversion plans shift again

On Monday, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) voted to amend an engineering contract for the proposed Gila River diversion. The change was necessary because the company’s earlier work, done at the direction of the state and the entity planning the diversion, didn’t take into account crucial information. The ISC and the New Mexico Central Arizona (CAP) Entity has been moving diversions plans forward, even though the proposed infrastructure would cross lands owned by The Nature Conservancy and the state of New Mexico. Last week, the CAP Entity’s board of directors  confirmed their latest plans weren’t going to work, and voted on a new scope of work for the engineering company, AECOM. According to a presentation by ISC Gila Basin Manager Ali Effati, the cost of the revised tasks and deletion of former tasks will offset each other.

Around NM: Spring runoff, planning trouble on the Gila, oil boom and more

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.

Around NM: Springtime highs, Water Project Fund, dropping oil prices and more

Happy First Day of Spring! It’s hot out there. Record hot, in fact. On Sunday, the Albuquerque Sunport hit 80 degrees—making it the 3rd earliest 80-degree day for that location’s recorded history. This morning, the National Weather Service office in Albuquerque said those above normal high temperatures will continue in central and eastern New Mexico—and that the winds will return, too.

Bill for oversight of Gila diversion project dies in committee

A bill related to the proposed diversion on the Gila River has effectively died. The Senate Finance Committee tabled the bill Monday night and asked the bill’s supporters and opponents to resolve the issues on their own, without changing the law. Sens. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, and Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, introduced Senate Bill 340, which would have required additional oversight of the federal money New Mexico receives to plan and build the diversion. Had the bill passed, the Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) would have been required to answer specific questions before paying out more money for attorneys, engineers and consultants.

Around NM: Unspent money, wildfires, Gila update and more

Today, the New Mexico Office of the State Auditor released information about unspent funds in various state accounts. A quick read of the report shows that New Mexico isn’t spending all it has available on environment and water projects. According to the report, New Mexico has $512 million in unspent water-related infrastructure funding. The office points out that despite increasing needs around the state, “water-related infrastructure funds continue to accumulate faster than they can get out the door.”

The state also has $43 million in “stagnant funds” that haven’t been used the last two years according to the State Auditor. Among the largest of those 39 funds?

Gila spending bill clears committee

A bill to increase spending oversight on a proposed diversion on the Gila River passed the Senate Conservation Committee this morning—and will head next to the Senate floor. Sens. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, and Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, introduced Senate Bill 340, which would require the Interstate Stream Commission’s spending on the Gila River diversion to go through the normal legislative budget process. Before putting more money toward the project, officials would need to show the project is technically feasible, explain how much water is available from the river and who would use it, estimate the project’s price tag and determine how New Mexico will cover the difference between the federal subsidy and the project’s actual cost. The bill passed the committee, though four objected to the pass including Republican Sens.

Bill would provide oversight on Gila diversion spending

When it comes to New Mexico’s proposed diversion on the Gila River, even discussions about routine financial reporting elicit passionate disagreements. Sens. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, and Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, introduced a bill that would increase oversight of spending by the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission on the diversion. During his presentation to the Senate Conservation Committee Thursday, Rue explained that the bill focuses on the process of how ISC spends federal money. “We are not here to make a judgement about the diversion,” he said.

After U.S. Senator’s request, ISC releases previously-withheld data

Last month, NM Political Report wrote about how a one-sentence provision in state law emboldened an agency to keep one citizen from obtaining public information. In December, retired Interstate Stream Commission Director Norman Gaume asked his former agency for an unlocked copy of an Excel spreadsheet showing how much water is diverted from and used along the Gila River and its tributaries each year. The agency’s questionable actions against Gaume drew the attention of one of New Mexico’s U.S. Senator, and a state representative who introduced a bill to make a slight wording change to the state’s open records law. Over the past few years, Gaume has opposed the state’s plans to build a diversion along the Gila River in southwestern New Mexico. With an unlocked copy of the spreadsheet, he could examine the formulas and original data within the spreadsheet.

The ‘politics’ of wrangling data on the Gila

A one-sentence provision in state law is emboldening at least one agency to keep public information from seeing the light of day. All officials have to do is accuse someone of having a political agenda. For more than a year, retired Interstate Stream Commission director Norman Gaume has wanted to know how much water farmers and others currently draw from the Gila River. That’s where the state plans to build a controversial new project that would divert more water from the river. Specifically, he wondered if water users are using the maximum amount of water they’re already allotted from the river.