Federal lawmakers from Colorado, New Mexico outline priorities for spending to address Colorado River water crisis

Democratic members of Congress from New Mexico and Colorado sent a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation urging the agency to prioritize funding for long-term solutions to the Colorado River Basin water crisis. This comes as the Bureau has $4 billion in funding allocated by the Inflation Reduction Act to address drought in the west. “The [Colorado] River is the lifeblood of the American Southwest, with nearly 40 million people reliant on the water resources across seven states and 30 Tribes,” the letter states. U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján, both from New Mexico, and U.S. Reps. Teresa Leger Fernández and Melanie Stansbury, also from New Mexico, joined Colorado’s Sen. Michael Bennet and Reps.

Group accuses PNM, AVANGRID of misleading the public

An environment and consumer protection advocacy group said the Public Service Company of New Mexico and AVANGRID engaged in an ad campaign to mislead the public. New Energy Economy filed a motion to show cause with the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission on Friday. In a press release, the group stated that the order to show cause comes as a result of emails from confused New Mexico residents who have seen advertisements that make it look as if PNM and AVANGRID are a single company. The PRC rejected an application for the two entities to merge last year, though that decision has been appealed to the state Supreme Court. NEE has asked the PRC to investigate what it terms as a “deceptive and misleading co-branding strategy” that it alleges PNM and AVANGRID are engaging in because “they believe that the PRC’s decision is no more than a small pothole on the way to the merger that they are hell-bent on accomplishing.”

“When PNM CFO Don Tarry was deposed in another case, he accidentally referred to the merger as ‘delayed’ rather than its actual status – denied, because the PRC that we elected determined that it would not serve the public interest,” NEE Executive Director Mariel Nanasi said in a press release.

Revised recovery plan released for Gila trout

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its plan on Wednesday for recovering the Gila trout, which is found in high mountain streams in parts of New Mexico and Arizona. The plan prioritizes efforts like reintroducing the fish into historical habitats, removing or managing nonnative trout species and captive breeding of the Gila trout at hatcheries. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Gila trout is one of the rarest trout species in the country. It first was listed as endangered in 1973 when the Endangered Species Act passed, but has been recognized as endangered since 1967. It was later downlisted to threatened in 2006.

Beaver dam analogs bring ecosystem benefits in areas where habitat won’t support beavers

Beavers are increasingly viewed as an important part of the efforts to mitigate impacts of climate change, but in some parts of New Mexico the former beaver habitat has been destroyed. In those situations, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish will sometimes turn to man-made structures that mimic beaver dams. These structures are known as beaver dam analogs. Ryan Darr, a spokesperson for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, said in an email that the department has seen the natural development of off-channel habitat as well as the expansion of riparian areas after the installation of beaver dam analogs. 

Within one or two growing seasons, the riparian and aquatic habitat improvements linked to beaver dam analogs have benefited wildlife and fish. Darr said there are several types of beaver dam analogs. Some of them are classified as post-assisted.

LIDAR data used to prioritize projects in Hermits Peak burn scar

As the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire smoldered and monsoon season rolled in, response turned from fighting the flames to trying to protect lives and property from flooding and runoff around the burn scar. Because of the size of the fire and the risks to people—post-burn flooding killed four people—methods like walking or driving the landscape to evaluate the damage weren’t feasible. “There was a big push on doing this faster than traditional methods and with more effectiveness,” Katherine Kraft, director of product strategy for Teren, said. Teren is a climate resilience analytics company that has been doing work to gather data about the burn scar. Its methods involve flights over the burn scar to gather LIDAR data that could then be used to prioritize areas for stabilization activities.

New online portal shows climate change impacts

A new website launched this week is intended to help people visualize how climate change is impacting their communities and to help communities plan for and respond to climate change. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’ administration announced the new Climate Mapping for Resilience and Adaptation portal on Thursday. According to a White House press release, the portal will “help state, local, Tribal, and territorial governments and leaders better track real-time impacts and access federal resources for long-term planning.”

The site does this through location-based data about climate threats and information about federal funding opportunities to help prepare for and respond to climate impacts. The 20 largest climate-related disasters in 2021 carried a combined price tag of more than $150 billion in damages. There are currently more than 114 million people in the United States who are experiencing drought conditions and, within the last 30 days, more than 49 million people have faced heat alerts, according to the new portal’s real-time monitoring dashboard.

NMED works on rules to limit carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants

With less than a month left before the scheduled closure of the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station, the New Mexico Environment Department is working on a rule that would ensure any future coal-fired generation emits less than 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour. The new emission requirements will go into effect on Jan. 1 and will impact both existing and future power plants. “The only affected facility that there is right now, even though it is closing down, is the San Juan Generating Station,” Robert Spillers, an environmental analyst with NMED’s Air Quality Bureau, said during a stakeholder engagement meeting at San Juan College on Thursday. The meeting on Thursday included discussions about the rulemaking process for coal plants as well as the new ozone precursor rule that applies to oil and gas facilities.

Amid New Mexico’s history of legacy pollution, Holtec tells lawmakers that nuclear storage proposal is safe and secure

Officials with the company that wishes to temporarily store spent nuclear fuel in New Mexico are working to assure lawmakers that it would be both safe and secure. 

Holtec International Project Director Ed Mayer presented the plans for the nuclear fuel storage to the Science, Technology and Telecommunications Committee on Thursday during its meeting in Hobbs. His presentation comes as New Mexico has been fighting the company’s proposal. During this year’s legislative session, legislators introduced a bill to ban the storage of spent nuclear fuel in New Mexico. While the bill made it through two committees, the House ultimately did not pass the proposal. 

Related: Bill to ban spent nuclear fuel storage in New Mexico passes committee

While the bill did not pass this year, spent nuclear fuel storage will likely be debated once again during next year’s session. In July, after the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced plans to issue a license to Holtec to construct and operate the facility, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called upon the Legislature to “deliver a proposal to my desk that protects New Mexico from becoming the de facto home of the country’s spent nuclear fuel and it will have my full support.”

Opponents point to the risks surrounding radioactive material as well as the history of pollution in New Mexico and environmental racism.

PRC hopes to finalize transportation electrification rule by end of year

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission unanimously approved the issuance of a notice of proposed rulemaking on Wednesday in hopes of finalizing the agency’s transportation electrification rule by the end of the year. This rule is intended to work hand in hand with the investor-owned utilities’ transportation electrification plans that the state regulators have already approved. It comes following lengthy pre-rulemaking stakeholder engagement, an effort that was spearheaded by Commissioner Joseph Maestas. That engagement included a statewide summit earlier this year, hosted by the consulting and engineering firm Gridworks. “This is a really important step for the entire state as transportation is the number two source of carbon emissions and state agencies and private entities are going to have to work hand and hand to transition New Mexico and its infrastructure toward a cleaner running, more sustainable future,” Maestas said. 

Rulemaking processes can be lengthy, but PRC General Counsel Russel Fisk said that the transportation electrification rule is not as complicated as some other rules the PRC has recently finalized, such as the community solar rules.

Proposal would use $566K in settlement funds for ABCWUA wastewater outfall project

Settlement funding to remediate groundwater at two Superfund sites in Albuquerque could be used to partially fund the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority’s Southside Wastewater Reclamation Plant Outfall Restoration project. The Office of Natural Resources Trustee is seeking public comments on a proposal to use $566,000 of money remaining from settlements in the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Tie-Treater and South Valley Superfund cases to help the outfall restoration project. The ONRT reached two settlements in the early 2000s that resulted in about $5.8 million of funding for projects to improve groundwater quality and restore habitat. Of that $5.8 million, $566,000 remains. The ATSF Tie-Treater site operated as a railroad tie treating facility from 1908 until 1972 and is located near the Rio Grande State Park.