Rio Grande roars to life with runoff

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.

Gov. Lujan Grisham signs medical cannabis omnibus bill

New Mexico is set to see some sweeping changes to its medical cannabis law. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed Senate Bill 406 into law which is the first major statutorial change to the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act since it was enacted in 2007. The Senate bill made broad changes to the program that range from allowing medical cannabis in schools to allowing licensed manufacturers to process home-grown medical cannabis. While some changes are straightforward, others will require the state Department of Health, which oversees the Medical Cannabis Program, to promulgate new rules. Here’s a breakdown of everything SB 406 does:

Medical cannabis in schools

By June 14, medical cannabis will be allowed on some public school campuses under certain circumstances.

Tracking the methane boom

On a late March weekend, State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard headed out to the Permian Basin, to visit oil wells on state trust lands. These are wells that churn out profits for corporations, build up the state’s general fund from taxes and royalties and send money to schools and hospitals. Looking through a special camera that detects emissions of volatile organic compounds, Garcia Richard also saw that the wells are sending methane and other pollutants into the air. “There are seemingly innocuous pieces of equipment, tanks, pipes, and then you look at it with the FLIR camera and you can see these clouds of emissions,” the commissioner said. “We went to some older operations, some newer operations, some [wells operated] by some smaller companies, some by larger companies.”

After last year’s ‘brutal’ water conditions, forecasters and farmers keep an eye on snowpack

Recent storms packed the mountains of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico with healthy snow levels, and meteorologists anticipate El Niño conditions will persist through the spring. This is welcome news after last year’s dry conditions. But in the long term, forecasters and farmers still remain cautious. That’s because long-term drought has dried out the state’s soils. And reservoirs remain low, particularly on the Rio Grande and its tributary, the Chama River.

Decades after it was discovered, pollution continues migrating beneath Socorro

SOCORRO, NEW MEXICO—Just north of Socorro, a squat, square building sits on the west side of Interstate-25. There’s a gate across the driveway, but it’s wide open. And it’s easy enough to drive right onto the Eagle Picher Carefree Battery Superfund site. There are signs of other visitors, too: Fresh graffiti graces the walls, inside and out, and a wooden pulpit poses more questions than it can answer. Rain has poured through holes in the ceiling, pooling on the concrete slab.

‘Intolerant’ of groundwater contamination, NM sues Air Force over PFAS pollution

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.

As NM’s water boss, D’Antonio is back on the job

This week, John D’Antonio will take the helm at the Office of the State Engineer, the agency that oversees water rights and applications in New Mexico, for the second time. D’Antonio served as State Engineer beginning in 2003, through the administration of Gov. Bill Richardson, and for almost a year under Gov. Susana Martinez. After leaving the state position in 2011, D’Antonio returned to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and was named deputy district engineer for the agency’s Albuquerque district. Asked why, at this stage in his career, he’d want to head the state agency again, especially given New Mexico’s water challenges, D’Antonio said he didn’t initially apply for the position. “But as I spoke to the transition team…and noting how much of a challenge we have as a state, I thought it was important to have someone coming back in that could pull a lot of things together,” he said.

Bill repealing pre-Roe anti-abortion law clears first Senate hurdle

The bill to repeal a currently unenforceable ban on abortion in New Mexico passed the Senate Public Affairs Committee 4-2 along party lines Saturday afternoon and now advances to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Rep. Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces, and Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, sponsored the bill, which would repeal a 1969 state law which made both performing and receiving an abortion fourth-degree felonies, except with special permissions. The law is currently unenforceable because of the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme court decision which federally recognized the right to have an abortion. The committee hearing lasted just over two hours, and the room was filled to the brim and required overflow seating. Supporters and opponents of HB 51 were ushered in through separate doors and asked to keep public comment civil and short.

New administration opens up on lead data

In 2017, Reuters published a map on lead poisoning among children across the nation. The story examined where children were tested for lead and how many had high levels of the toxic metal in their blood. At that time, NM Political Report spent months trying to speak directly with experts at the New Mexico Department of Health (DOH) about that exact issue. But Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration wouldn’t allow that. And we never got a complete picture of how state officials were handling childhood lead exposure.

Dem leaders, shoppers don’t want food taxed again

On a frigid Tuesday morning, Mariah Peña drove from her home at San Ildefonso Pueblo to go grocery shopping in Santa Fe with her son and little sister. Inside the Market Street supermarket, 7-year-old Damian settled onto his back in Peña’s empty shopping cart, kicking his legs up in the air in front of a case of colorful donuts. “Why should food be taxed?” Peña said. “Just trying to make it as a single mom is hard enough.”