March 2, 2018

NM Environment Review: March lease sale near Chaco postponed, plus gas hikes, San Juan settlement and subalpine trees

Laura Paskus

Chaco Culture National Historic Park

In an exclusive story published Thursday evening, Michael Coleman reported that U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke postponed an oil and gas lease sale in northwestern New Mexico. According to the story:

Zinke told the Journal in an exclusive interview Thursday afternoon that “there have been some questions raised” so the Bureau of Land Management will hold off on the sale of about 25 parcels on 4,434 acres within Rio Arriba, Sandoval, and San Juan Counties in northwestern New Mexico.

Mark Oswald reported in the Albuquerque Journal on Tuesday that more than 20 acequia and community ditch groups want to overturn a 2013 court decision that approved  an agreement between the Navajo Nation and the state of New Mexico settled a decades-old water rights claim on the San Juan River, a tributary of the Colorado River that flows through northwestern New Mexico.

Their filing, by Albuquerque attorney Victor Marshall, seeks to toss out the judge’s ruling because he lived and worked on the Navajo Nation in the 1970s.

It’s a shocking enough motion that former newspaperman, and current UNM Water Resources Department Director, John Fleck weighed in the issue on his blog this week. Fleck notes that non-Indian water users in New Mexico have continued to wage a battle against the Navajo Nation’s New Mexico residents:

I spent months examining Marshall’s claims in detail. His legal claims are dubious, having failed repeatedly in court. His hydrologic claims are laughable, aimed at repeatedly exaggerating the size of the Navajo peoples’ share of the water in order to make it seem an unreasonably large share of the state’s water. See here for my attempt at a simple explanation. 

But this is about more than law and hydrology. There is an implicitly racist element to this litigation – the implication that in allocating water to residents of the Navajo Nation it is being taken from New Mexicans. These people are New Mexicans. This is simply a legal recognition of water that is rightfully theirs.

Read his whole piece here.

Kevin Robinson-Avila reported on the rate hike the New Mexico Gas Company is seeking from the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission for the Albuquerque Journal. If approved, he wrote, it would generate $8 million more in annual revenue and help the company pay for investments in its natural gas transmission and distribution system. That will interest customers, but one paragraph in particular grabbed my interest:

The complete rate request, which the company filed Monday morning at the PRC, proposes a variety of changes to the utility’s rate design to smooth out the volatility in company revenue caused by erratic weather patterns and a warming climate, said Tom Domme, vice president of regulatory affairs.

Wednesday, NPR aired a story about how oil production in the United States will soon top that of Saudi Arabia and Russia. Their story focuses on West Texas, and it’s worth a listen if you missed it.

And you can file this one under “More Cruddy News About the West’s Forests,” but a recent study from scientists at the University of Colorado at Boulder shows that drier summers and a drop in average snowpack over the past four decades is affecting the ability of spruce and fir trees to establish themselves in Colorado’s mountains.

Scientists looked at more than 450 Engelmann spruce and 500 subalpine fir to see when they germinated—and found that most date to years when there was above-average snowpack and wet summer conditions. Read the study in the peer-reviewed journal, Ecology, here or see the CU Boulder Today release here.