NM Environment Review: record heat, record CO2, WIPP and more

Yup, it’s hot. And dry, and smoky. And greenhouse gassy. Scripps Oceanography and NOAA announced this week that average levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere exceeded 411 parts per million in May. That’s a new record. And their studies show that the rate of CO2 increase is accelerating. To read more visit here.

New Mexico back under water storage restrictions on the Rio Grande

Despite the rains that doused parts of New Mexico on Monday, the state officially entered into drought conditions on the Rio Grande when water levels in two key reservoirs dipped below a critical legal threshold. On Sunday, New Mexico entered into Article VII restrictions as storage in Elephant Butte and Caballo reservoirs dropped below 400,000 acre-feet. Under Article VII of the Rio Grande Compact, that means Colorado and New Mexico can’t store water in any upstream reservoirs built after 1929. In the Rio Grande watershed, reservoirs capture and store native Rio Grande water and water piped from northwestern New Mexico via the San Juan-Chama Project. Each drop is earmarked for particular users and managed under the legal strictures of the compact.

Given drought and dropping reservoirs, water issues critical for next governor

New Mexico’s next governor should be ready to confront the state’s critical water issues on his or her first day in office. That’s according to Mike Connor, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior during the Obama administration, who spoke at a water conference at the University of New Mexico on Thursday. The agenda looked ahead—past the six remaining months of Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration—to what the next governor needs to understand about New Mexico’s water challenges, from drought and water transfers to interstream agreements, including on the Colorado River, whose waters seven U.S. states and Mexico share. Connor noted that on the Rio Grande, Elephant Butte Reservoir is 18 percent full, and said it could drop to less than five percent by the end of this year’s irrigation season. “The governor needs to have some policy initiatives ready to go as quickly as possible because there are going to be water issues that need to be addressed from the get-go,” he said.

A dry Rio Grande in springtime isn’t normal. But it will be.

I smell the mounds of dead fish before seeing them. By now, the fish are desiccated. Most lie in low spots along the riverbanks where they crammed together, taking refuge as the last of the puddles and rivulets dried. The temperature is in the high 80s as we trudge up the sandy channel of the Rio Grande upstream of the town of San Antonio. I wonder what it must have smelled like two or three weeks ago, when the river first dried here.

Gubernatorial candidate Joseph Cervantes on the environment

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. Today, we feature state Senator Joseph Cervantes, a Democrat, who has served as a legislator for Doña Ana County since 2001. NMPR: We’re coming off a bad winter and we’ve got drought returning to the state. What critical water issues are you keeping an eye on right now? Joseph Cervantes: Clearly, the resolution of the Aamodt settlement and the Texas v. New Mexico litigation are critical to the state.

Gubernatorial candidate Jeff Apodaca on the environment

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. We kick off the series with Democrat Jeff Apodaca. Apodaca is a former media executive and the son of former Gov. Jerry Apodaca. NMPR: We’re coming off a bad winter and we’ve got drought returning to the state. What critical water issues will your administration tackle?

Coming up this week: Gubernatorial candidates answer questions on water, energy, climate

This week, NM Political Report is publishing interviews with New Mexico’s four gubernatorial candidates about water, energy, climate change and other environment issues. Throughout election season, candidates typically talk a lot about jobs, education, the economy and what their opponents might be saying or doing. Those are undoubtedly important issues. But so are conflicts over water, the fact that the southwestern United States is warming at nearly double the global rate, and chronically low morale at some of the state’s most important agencies. We didn’t tailor the questions we asked to elicit campaign promises or to paint candidates into an ideological corner.

Southwest won’t run out of water, but changes need to happen now

For more than a decade, researchers have explained that warming will affect water supplies in the southwestern United States. Now in a new paper, hydrologist Shaleene Chavarria and University of New Mexico Earth and Planetary Sciences Professor David Gutzler show climate change is already affecting the amount of streamflow in the Rio Grande that comes from snowmelt.

“We see big changes in the winter and early spring,” said Chavarria. “Big changes in winter temperature, increases in springtime temperatures and decreases in streamflow.”

The paper, recently published in the Journal of the American Water Resources Association, is based on her graduate work in the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department. Snowpack is the main driver of the Rio Grande’s flows in the Upper Basin of New Mexico, explained Chavarria, who examined annual and monthly changes in climate variables and streamflow volume in southern Colorado for the years 1958 through 2015. She found that flows have diminished in March, April and May.

NM Supreme Court upholds state copper rule

A state rule to protect groundwater from copper mine pollution will stand. The New Mexico Supreme Court affirmed the rule Thursday and rejected arguments from environmental groups and the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General that the rule violated the state’s Water Quality Act. In the court’s unanimous opinion, justices sided with the New Mexico Environment Department and the mining industry to uphold the 2013 copper rule. #mc_embed_signup{background:#fff; clear:left; font:14px Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif; width:100%;}
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Let’s Talk New Mexico—let’s talk about water

This morning, KUNM’s Hannah Colton led a discussion about the Texas v. New Mexico & Colorado lawsuit and water rights. If you missed today’s episode of Let’s Talk New Mexico, which was produced in partnership with NM Political Report, you can listen online here. Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would allow the federal government to pursue its claim in the water case on the Rio Grande. During oral arguments before the court earlier this year, the U.S. government argued that New Mexico was also harming its ability to deliver water under the compact, as well as under its international treaty with Mexico. Guests on KUNM this morning included:
Peter White, Santa Fe water rights attorney
Jay Stein, attorney for City of Las Cruces
State Sen. Joe Cervantes
Tania Maestas, New Mexico Deputy Attorney General for Civil Affairs
Samantha Barncastle, attorney for Elephant Butte Irrigation District
We’ll have more coverage on the case and what’s at stake for New Mexico next week, but if you need a primer on the timeline of the issue, visit here.