Los Alamos team models drought, climate change on the Colorado River

Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory modeled future drought indicators to gauge how climate change could impact the Colorado River Basin. “We really think that drought is one of the greatest risks in terms of climate change to the stability of the Colorado River Basin,” said Katrina Bennett, a member of the Los Alamos team that published the results of that modeling in the journal Earth and Space Science. 

Bennett said that drought is complex, but using a simplified machine learning, or artificial intelligence, process, allowed the team to assess the changing drought indicators. The team modeled indicators like soil moisture, runoff, evaporative demand, changes in temperature and precipitation. 

Bennett said her team saw a large change in soil moisture as well as runoff and streamflow. She said changes in snowpack in the Upper Colorado River basin will mean that runoff from the snowmelt occurs earlier in the year. She said that is already well documented, but the modeling her team did found that even in scenarios where precipitation increases, the higher temperatures will lead to more of it evaporating rather than flowing downstream.

With climate change fueling wildfires, changes are needed to prevent worse scenarios

Climate change is contributing to the large wildfires that western states like New Mexico are experiencing, and scientists say humans need to make changes to prevent worse fire risks. New Mexico’s largest wildfire in recorded history surpassed 300,000 acres this week and it is not the only large fire burning as the state experiences hot, dry conditions and very low humidity. A study published this month in the journal Ecology Letters found that wildfire risks are going to increase in states like New Mexico. By the end of the century, the study states that “high levels of fire risk, which were historically confined to pockets in California and the intermountain western US, are projected to expand across the entire western US.”

William Anderegg, a University of Utah associate professor, is one of the co-authors who led the study. As he was studying climate stress and risks, Anderegg said it was a bit surprising, and also depressing, how much the fire risk increased in high climate change scenarios.

Lujan Grisham touts New Mexico’s climate policies at COP26

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham highlighted her administration’s steps to combat climate change by reducing emissions while talking about climate change at an international conference on Monday. Her remarks came during a Cut Methane sub-national spotlight as well as when she joined the White House national climate advisor Gina McCarthy, U.N. Special Envoy Michael Bloomberg and others during the America Is All In discussion at the U.S. Climate Action Center as part of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP26, in Glasgow, Scotland. Cut Methane is a group of 30 organizations, including the Environmental Defense Fund, who are in Glasgow for the climate conference. Meanwhile, America Is All In is a coalition of U.S. leaders who support climate action. During the Cut Methane interview, Lujan Grisham said climate change is an existential crisis.

Governor says goals to address climate change should be codified

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called for codifying New Mexico’s goals for addressing climate change while speaking at the state’s first climate summit hosted by House Speaker Brian Egolf on Monday. During her speech, she highlighted progress that the state has made toward addressing and mitigating climate change and spoke about what still needs to be done. “I think we should codify that work in the next legislative session,” Lujan Grisham said. That call was met with applause from the audience in the House chambers at the New Mexico state capitol, where the conference was taking place. “If we don’t have that framework in statute, it’s too easy to not move as diligently or as quickly or as effectively,” she said.

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.

New Mexico’s climate may lead to a smaller carbon footprint when growing cannabis

When the New Mexico Legislature was considering a bill that eventually became the Cannabis Regulation Act, one of the major topics of concern was water use. Ultimately, lawmakers agreed to require cannabis growers to prove they had legal access to water. But one issue that was not addressed, at least not at length, was how much power it would take to operate possibly hundreds of grow operations around the state. A study released in March of this year showed that as states move towards legalizing adult-use cannabis, greenhouse gases and energy consumption have gone up. The study also showed that some of the higher energy-use areas were in the southwest and midwest regions of the U.S. And while state regulators do not have any specific energy restrictions for cannabis growers, two people familiar with New Mexico’s cannabis industry said the state’s climate will likely play a key role in keeping the carbon footprint of cannabis small. 

The study from earlier this year found that high levels of greenhouse gases and excessive energy use comes from indoor growing, where climate control is reliant on fans, high powered lights and manufactured carbon dioxide. 

A spokesperson for the state’s Regulation and Licensing Department, which oversees the state’s Cannabis Control Division said there are currently no restrictions or guidance for energy consumption.

House votes to restore Obama-era methane rules

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 229 to 191 on Friday to reinstate methane regulations implemented under President Barack Obama’s administration and rolled back by former President Donald Trump. The House’s vote comes after the U.S. Senate voted in late April in favor of the measure, which is intended to reduce the methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. A dozen House Republicans broke party lines and voted with the Democrats in favor of the resolution. Related: Senate votes to reverse Trump’s rollback of methane regulations

Of New Mexico’s congressional delegation, U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, a Republican, was the only one to vote against restoring the methane rules. Environmental advocates praise the vote

Members of the environmental advocacy community in New Mexico praised the vote.

Guv quietly looks to expand export markets for natural gas

In July 2020, Gov.  Michelle Lujan Grisham signed onto a letter of support for a natural gas export facility being proposed in Baja California, Mexico. The letter, which was addressed to Mexico’s Energy Secretary Nahle Garcia, touted the facility as a potential “major North American west coast energy export hub” of natural gas to Asian Markets. 

“Energy demand is soaring in Asia, led by China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and India due to manufacturing and economic growth,” the letter reads. “All of these countries are using natural gas as a way to decrease their greenhouse gas emissions.”

The letter was signed by two other governors and the chairman of the Ute tribe in Colorado, on behalf of the Western States and Tribal Nations Natural Gas Initiative (WSTN). New Mexico joined the group in late 2019, with little media attention, when the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with WSTN. A few months after sending the letter, the facility was approved by Mexico’s regulators and Baja California joined WTSN.

‘We’re all in the same storm.’ Some voters worry politicians aren’t taking climate change seriously enough

For 18-year-old Artemisio Romero y Carver, a single piece of legislation changed his outlook on participating in democracy. 

Romero y Carver, a steering committee member of Youth United for Climate Crisis Action (YUCCA), said that before 2019, he was not engaged with the politics of a government that he felt didn’t represent him or address his concerns. 

“Then I read the Green New Deal. For the first time I saw a document, a piece of legislation, something that was part of the U.S. government that didn’t seem antithetical to my own life, that seemed like a genuine representation of my interests, in policy,” he said. 

Romero y Carver was not alone. The Green New Deal, introduced by U.S. Rep. for New York Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, a Democrat from New York, and Democratic U.S. Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, galvanized a sector of the electorate, even if it didn’t get very far in Congress. The legislation, a set of goals which outlined an aggressive transition to renewables that included support for fossil fuel-dependent communities and the electrification of the U.S. transportation sector, was quickly written off by many moderate Democrats and the entire Republican Party at the national level as being unrealistic.  

But for Romero y Carver, and other young voters who are deeply concerned about climate change, the plan was an example of exactly the type of policies that are needed to address the climate crisis head on. 

“In general, I find that people my age recognize climate change and recognize the immediate need for bold action. But we also don’t feel that that is ever possible when it comes to voting.

Water reckoning looms in New Mexico’s future: ‘We’re not prepared for what’s ahead of us’

Water experts painted a grim picture of New Mexico’s water future during a panel discussion focused on water policy and management. The panel was hosted by Retake Democracy, an advocacy group based in Santa Fe. 

Dave Gutzler, a professor at UNM’s Earth and Planetary Sciences department, emphasized that climate change is here, and is already impacting the state’s precipitation patterns. 

“Anyone who’s lived here for a while knows that variability is endemic to New Mexico,” Gutzler said. “But the climate is now changing in ways that go beyond natural variability.”

Gutzler said climate change will have three major impacts to water resources in the state. 

“One of them is that the temperature is going up. It’s already going up rapidly,” he said, pointing to data that shows average temperatures in the state have already risen 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1970s. 

“That is causing rapid decline in snowpack, rapid increase in evaporation rates, [and] a decrease in groundwater recharge,” he said. “Just the temperature change itself will have an effect on a lot of resources.”

Gutzler said the climate will also become more “energetic” and variable. 

“That means the rainfall will tend to be delivered in more intense doses, and the dry spells will also be more intense,” he said. 

And thirdly, he said, the weather will permanently move north. 

“We expect the winter storm track to shift northward and take the precipitation— rain and snow—with it,” he said.