Recreational cannabis industry sparks struggle for water rights in parched New Mexico

When New Mexico’s recreational cannabis bill was signed into law in April, Mike Hinkle and Ryan Timmermans jumped at the chance to get into the industry. The two business partners, both recent transplants from the South, bought portable buildings, seeds, grow lights and a property in the village of Carson, with a domestic well they thought they could use to irrigate their plants. In total, they invested more than $50,000. “That’s actually the most money I’ve ever had in my life,” Hinkle said. “I was extremely excited because we thought we had a shot.”

This story originally appeared at Searchlight New Mexico and is republished with permission.

Solar developers, utilities reach agreement regarding interconnection applications for community solar

While community solar interconnection applications cannot fully be processed until the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission adopts rules next spring, the three investor-owned utilities are accepting interconnection applications from developers hoping to build a community solar array following a complaint from the Renewable Energy Industries Association. While these applications can still be submitted, the developers will not necessarily have any advantage by submitting their application early. Community solar projects are small arrays that provide electricity to subscribers, many of whom are unable to install rooftop solar. That includes renters, people who live in apartments and low-income households. In June, the PRC ordered the investor-owned utilities to provide notice to the developers, including posting on their websites, that stated the rules are not complete and the applications cannot be processed at this time.

With increased push for outdoor recreation, stream access question remains contentious

As outdoor recreation becomes more common in New Mexico, the intersection of stream access and private property rights could become more contentious, according to those on both sides of the debate. Both sides agree that the public has a constitutional right to float waters in New Mexico, even when these rivers cross through private property. But they disagree on whether people have the constitutional right to wade through a streambed on private property or to fish in the stream where it crosses private property. Lesli Allison, a Santa Fe resident and executive director of the Western Landowners Alliance, told NM Political Report that the central issue is about property rights. She compared it to whether the public has the right to enter a house and get a drink of water from the kitchen sink. 

Allison said, unless the waterway was used for commerce at statehood, the bed and the banks belong to private landowners when the stream or river crosses private property.

Moms concerned about COVID, but many still want in-person learning for their kids

Scared and watchful, moms said they want their children to remain in in-person learning despite the Delta variant causing another COVID-19 surge in New Mexico. After about a year of remote learning, New Mexico public schools started the new year in August and returned to in-person learning. But the Delta variant is spreading the virus, causing a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in New Mexico and throughout the country. The virus is spreading predominantly among people who are unvaccinated. In recent weeks, cases of COVID-19 have increased in children, who cannot get vaccinated yet if under the age of 12.

As Texans fill up abortion clinics in other states, low-income people get left behind

“As Texans fill up abortion clinics in other states, low-income people get left behind” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news. Two days after Texas’ new abortion restrictions went into effect, women’s health clinics in surrounding states were already juggling clogged phone lines and an increasing load of appointment requests from Texans. At a clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico, an abortion provider said that on Tuesday, the day before the law’s enactment, every patient who had made an appointment online was from its neighbor state to the east. By Thursday, all of New Mexico’s abortion clinics were reportedly booked up for weeks, and a Dallas center had dispatched dozens of employees to help the much less populated state’s overtaxed system.

NM medical cannabis producers warn of cannabis shortage ‘crisis’

As New Mexico prepares for its new recreational-use cannabis industry, two cannabis producers are warning of an impending crisis if state regulators do not lift a moratorium on expanding existing medical cannabis production. 

After the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department and its Cannabis Control Division announced a halt on approval of new facilities until further rules are finalized, two legacy producers, who rarely see eye to eye on regulations, said they are both worried about supply when adult-use sales begin next year. 

Earlier this year, Nicole Bazzano, the acting deputy director of business operations for the Cannabis Control Division, sent a letter to medical cannabis producers informing them that any new production facilities would have to wait until after September. 

“The [Cannabis Regulation Act] prohibits the [Cannabis Control Division] from accepting any new applications on or after June 29, 2021, for additional premises until related rules have been finalized,” Bazzano wrote. “As such, the [Cannabis Control Division] will not be processing applications for additional premises submitted June 29, 2021 or later, until rules for the corresponding license types are finalized.”

Duke Rodriguez, who is the president and CEO of prominent cannabis company Ultra Health, said that a pause on increasing production facilities will only worsen shortages he has been warning of for years.  

“We’re going to have a crisis,” Rodriguez said. “Mathematically we cannot avoid it.”

Rodriguez has long said that New Mexico, particularly in rural areas, was already experiencing cannabis supply shortages because of rules and regulations that cap the number of plants for cultivators. 

Rodriguez said the data his company has compiled shows that New Mexico could run out of cannabis completely just several days after recreational-use sales begin. He said allowing medical cannabis producers to expand operations as a way of bolstering supply is only part of the solution and that it may be too late to completely avoid a crisis. That’s partly, he said, because the New Mexico Department of Health’s Medical Cannabis Program capped production to 450 plants per producer for years.

Groups work to track E. coli in rivers

In late August, San Juan Watershed Group Coordinator Alyssa Richmond reached out across the San Juan River using a long pole as it flowed through the Fruitland area and scooped up water. This water was transferred into a bottle that was capped to be sent to a lab in Florida where it will be analyzed to see how much bacteria like E. coli is coming from human waste. Human waste can lead to high levels of E. coli in rivers and the section of the San Juan River where the watershed group collected samples is listed as impaired for the bacteria. That means if people were to ingest the raw water it could make them sick. E. coli is one of the top three causes of water impairment in New Mexico, according to the New Mexico Environment Department’s 2020-2022 integrated report, and agencies throughout the state are working to address the bacteria contamination. 

E. coli in the water can come from numerous sources, including leaking septic tanks, livestock, wildlife and pets. 

Efforts are underway on both the San Juan River in northwest New Mexico and the Rio Grande in Albuquerque to test how much E. coli is coming from human waste.

Unable to get assistance: What happens to New Mexicans who speak lesser used languages

Kahleel Alkhalil, a 35-year-old Syrian refugee living in Albuquerque with his wife and eight children, has not been able to receive government relief he qualifies for because he speaks Arabic. Alkhalil is one of thousands of New Mexicans who are eligible for pandemic relief who speak a language other than English or Spanish, said James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children. Because the nonnative speakers do not possess either English or Spanish skills, they are often unable to access government assistance they qualify for during the COVID-19 pandemic because state government documents and systems do not offer alternative language choices, Jimenez said. A recent New Mexico Voices for Children report, Eligible but Excluded, said that federal law requires state agencies to provide “meaningful access” to people who speak languages other than English but many state agencies in New Mexico have no plans in place to improve language access. This makes breaking a system of economic hardship difficult and is inequitable, the report states.

Acequias along the Rio Chama face water shortages amid drought, climate change

For centuries, acequias have provided water to farmers along the Rio Chama near Abiquiu, but now some stretches are drying up and the community is facing curtailment. With climate change leading to less water in the area—especially in terms of spring runoff—the acequia members are looking to make every drop count. “They’re not making any more water,” said Tim Seaman with the Rio Chama Acequia Association, while speaking with U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, a New Mexico Democrat, as they stood looking out over the Rio Chama below Abiquiu Dam. Leger Fernández visited acequias along the Rio Chama as part of her Agua Es Vida tour on Tuesday. The tour was an opportunity for the congresswoman to see first hand how climate change is impacting water users in New Mexico.

40 million people rely on the Colorado River. It’s drying up fast.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.Series: Killing the Colorado The Water Crisis in the West

This story was originally published by ProPublica

On a 110-degree day several years ago, surrounded by piles of sand and rock in the desert outside of Las Vegas, I stepped into a yellow cage large enough to fit three standing adults and was lowered 600 feet through a black hole into the ground. There, at the bottom, amid pooling water and dripping rock, was an enormous machine driving a cone-shaped drill bit into the earth. The machine was carving a cavernous, 3-mile tunnel beneath the bottom of the nation’s largest freshwater reservoir, Lake Mead. Lake Mead, a reservoir formed by the construction of the Hoover Dam in the 1930s, is one of the most important pieces of infrastructure on the Colorado River, supplying fresh water to Nevada, California, Arizona and Mexico.