This time last year, the riverbed of the Rio Grande south of Socorro was sandy, the edges of its channel strewn with desiccated fish. Even through Albuquerque, the state’s largest river was flowing at just about 400 cubic feet per second, exposing long sandbars and running just inches deep. This year, the Middle Rio Grande is booming, nearly ten times higher than it was last April—and it’s still rising. Running bank-to-bank, the river’s waters are lapping up over low spots along the bank, nourishing trees and grasses, replenishing groundwater and creating much-needed habitat for young fish and other creatures. This year’s high flows through the Middle Rio Grande come thanks to a mix of natural conditions, like snowpack, and also manipulation of the river’s flows from dams, diversions and interstate water-sharing agreements.
SILVER CITY, N.M.—On Monday morning, the organization responsible for planning and building a diversion on the Gila River convened a special meeting to discuss a letter from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. In that letter, the federal agency reiterated concerns over the project’s schedule. During the special meeting, New
Mexico Central Arizona Project (CAP) Entity board members placed blame for the
delays squarely on the shoulders of Reclamation itself, along with the
contractor hired to conduct environmental studies, environmental groups and the
administration of former-Gov. Bill Richardson. NM Political Report obtained a copy of the letter, which is from Reclamation’s Phoenix office area manager, Leslie Meyers. In it, Meyers follows up on a March 15 conference call between Reclamation and the CAP Entity and asks if the group plans to continue spending money on the environmental impact statement (EIS).
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. We love when you read the NM Environment Review on our webpage. But wouldn’t you rather see all the news a day earlier, and have it delivered straight to your inbox? To subscribe to the weekly email, click here. Here’s a snippet of what subscribers read this week:
Last week, when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the last of the bills from the 2019 legislative session, she line-item vetoed $1.698 million in New Mexico Unit funding for the Gila River diversion.
In a lawsuit against the U.S. Air Force, New Mexico alleges the military isn’t doing enough to contain or clean up dangerous chemicals that have seeped into the groundwater below two Air Force bases in the state. On Tuesday, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) filed a complaint in federal district court, asking a judge to compel the Air Force to act on, and fund, cleanup at the two bases near Clovis and Alamogordo. “We have significant amounts of PFAS in the groundwater, under both Cannon and Holloman Air Force bases,” NMED Secretary James Kenney told NM Political Report. PFAS, or per and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are toxic, human-manufactured chemicals that move through groundwater and biological systems. Even in small amounts, exposure to PFAS increases the risk of testicular, kidney and thyroid cancer and problems like ulcerative colitis and pregnancy-induced hypertension. NMED Secretary James Kenney
“We want the groundwater cleaned up in the shortest amount of time possible, and we think at this point litigation is our best and fastest approach,” Kenney said.
What do ranchers, environmentalists, counties, scientists and state regulators have in common? They all want to know what’s happening with New Mexico’s rivers, springs, aquifers and reservoirs. The Water Data Act, which unanimously passed the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee Thursday morning, would help various agencies organize and share their water data. The bill’s sponsors include Rep. Melanie Stansbury, an Albuquerque Democrat, and Rep. Gail Armstrong, a Republican who lives in Magdalena and represents one of the most rural parts of the state. Rep. Melanie Stansbury
Environment-related bills have been moving through the Roundhouse this year, addressing issues ranging from climate change to renewable energy.
“How’s your day today?” the grocery store cashier asks. “Oh my God,” I can’t stop myself. Even though I know the checker wasn’t expecting anything more than the requisite, “Fine and you?” response. I launch into a hand-waving homage to the day: I just got back from the Sandias, where there’s this little spring, and I learned the coolest thing. Scientists can tell if springs, like that come out of the mountain…they can figure out if that groundwater came from summer monsoons, or from winter snowmelt. Because get this: They study the water’s isotopes.
Fourteen years after Congress authorized New Mexico to trade 14,000 acre feet of water with a downstream user in Arizona—and four years after a state commission voted to build a diversion on the Gila River—there’s little to show for the project, other than continued confusion and about $17 million in spent money. “The process is going to end at some point,” said Norman Gaume, an opponent of the project and a former director of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (ISC). “It’s a question of how much more money will they waste?”
At an ISC meeting on Thursday, the state approved an additional $110,000 for the engineering firm Stantec, as well as an amendment that would allow the quasi-governmental organization in charge of the project to someday spend money slated for the diversion on other water projects. But, noted Gaume, each of the 15 members of the New Mexico Central Arizona Project Entity will need their governing boards to approve it, too. In practical terms, he said, the change means little: the joint powers agreement says the state can only spend money on the diversion.
Shortly after Michelle Lujan Grisham was elected governor, she started assembling her transition teams for various state agencies. In November, Lujan Grisham announced that Sarah Cottrell Propst and Toby Velasquez will head the Natural Resources Committee, which reviews the agencies that oversee water, energy and environment issues. Velasquez is deputy director of New Mexico State Parks. Cottrell Propst is executive director of Interwest Energy Alliance and served as the energy and environmental policy advisor to Gov. Bill Richardson from 2006 to 2010. Over the weekend, Lujan Grisham announced transition teams for the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department; the Environment Department; the Office of the State Engineer and the Interstate Stream Commission.
The state of New Mexico says the U.S. Air Force needs to immediately develop a plan to protect dairies from chemicals at Cannon Air Force Base. The New Mexico Environment Department announced today that Cannon Air Force Base near Clovis is violating the state’s Water Quality Act and related ground and surface water regulations. The state agency issued a Notice of Violation, which requires the Air Force to create a plan to protect local dairies from contamination in the short-term and also evaluate the possibility of installing systems to treat contaminated water supplies. If the military fails to comply, New Mexico can issue civil penalties of up to $15,000 per day for each violation. Chemicals from fire fighting training activities have been found in the groundwater below Cannon, and in groundwater wells off-base.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state of New Mexico released a draft report on Friday about the possibility of someday reusing or recycling wastewater from the oil and gas industry. According to the draft white paper compiled by the EPA and three state agencies, “Given that drought is no stranger to New Mexico, decisions about water are growing ever more complicated and meaningful.”
This summer, the EPA and three New Mexico agencies convened a working group to understand and clarify existing regulatory and permitting frameworks and create a road map toward finding other uses for wastewater generated by oil and gas drilling. The draft report lays out various possible reuse scenarios, explains which agencies would be involved in permitting and regulations and parses some of the legal issues. As the authors note, New Mexico became the third-largest oil producing state in the U.S. in 2018 and the industry produces enormous quantities of wastewater. According to the report:
For every barrel of oil, four or five barrels of produced water may be generated: an estimated 168 to 210 gallons of produced water for every 42 gallons of oil produced.