Efforts are underway to craft legislation for regional water utility authorities

With only a few months left before the beginning of the legislative session, efforts are picking up to draft legislation. 

Rep. Susan Herrera, D-Embudo, and Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, hosted a meeting on Tuesday to discuss legislation that would enable the creation of regional water utility authorities similar to the ones that serve communities in the Lower Rio Grande area and Albuquerque and Bernalillo County. This is not the legislation’s first rodeo, as Herrera put it. Wirth sponsored the Regional Water Utility Authority Act in 2019, but it died. Currently, small water systems in the state have options like entering into joint power agreements or creating umbrella entities, but these don’t fully address the needs. “I want to believe that timing is everything,” Herrera said.

Use it or lose it: NM Supreme Court rules unused water rights can be lost even if some of the water is used

New Mexicans who do not use all of their groundwater rights for a certain length of time can lose the rights to the unused portion, according to a new ruling out of the state Supreme Court. A well that once provided water to steam engines on a bustling railroad in the now-defunct railroad and mining town of Cutter, located in Sierra County near Truth or Consequences, ceased operations. Since then, only three acre-feet of water per year has been used and the water rights have been transferred to a new owner. This water came from a well built to supply the railroad and livestock. Cutter dates back to the late 1800s when it formed as a mining community.

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.

Native American groups challenge changes to the PRC, say ballot wording caused confusion

A petition filed this week in the New Mexico Supreme Court challenges a constitutional amendment that made sweeping changes to the state Public Regulation Commission. 

The amendment, approved by voters in 2020, reduced the number of commissioners on the Public Regulation Commission and transformed it from an elected body to one with members appointed by the governor, effective Jan. 1, 2023. Three Indigenous nonprofits led by women—Indigenous Lifeways, New Mexico Social Justice & Equity Institute and Three Sisters Collective—filed the petition on Sept. 12. They claimed that the ballot language in the 2020 election when voters approved the constitutional amendment wasn’t adequate to inform voters about what would happen if it was approved.

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.