EBID officials, farmers testify during virtual Texas v. New Mexico water trial

Groundwater provides an important source of irrigation for farmers in southern New Mexico, but Texas alleges that New Mexico’s use of groundwater below Elephant Butte reservoir has reduced surface water in the Rio Grande that is available for farmers downstream. 

Texas filed a lawsuit in 2013 before the U.S. Supreme Court alleging that New Mexico has violated the Rio Grande Compact. This week, special master Judge Michael Melloy heard witness testimony and opening arguments during the first week of a virtual trial. Melloy is tasked with compiling a report for the U.S. Supreme Court. The virtual section of the trial will be followed by an in-person section in the spring in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in March. 

Related: Change up: SCOTUS changes special master on Rio Grande water battle

The United States has intervened in the case, arguing that New Mexico has failed to administer the groundwater use and that failure threatens not only the compact but also the 1906 treaty agreement with Mexico. This treaty requires the United States to provide Mexico with up to 60,000 acre-feet of water annually.

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.

As water levels drop in Elephant Butte, Reclamation prepares for conditions not seen since the 1950s

Recent rains have brought some relief to Elephant Butte reservoir in southern New Mexico, but the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is still preparing for low levels that have not been seen since the 1950s. Mary Carlson, a spokesperson for the BOR, said three decades of drought conditions where dry years have not been offset by multiple years of good precipitation have had a negative impact on reservoirs throughout the state—and Elephant Butte is no exception. Elephant Butte provides the state with a wide range of economic benefits from attracting tourists to providing farmers and ranchers with irrigation water. Located north of Truth or Consequences in Sierra County, the state’s largest reservoir stores water for southern New Mexico and Texas and is an important component of the Rio Grande Compact. As of Tuesday, the reservoir was at just 7.3 percent of capacity.

A river runs dry: Climate change offers opportunity to rethink water management on the Rio Grande

Albuquerque residents coping with the COVID-19 pandemic have flocked to the Rio Grande this spring and summer in droves, said John Fleck, director of the Water Resources Program at the University of New Mexico. “What we’re seeing in Albuquerque is stunning. People are in the river in ways that we’ve never seen before,” Fleck told NM Political Report. “People are out wading in the river, splashing around, playing, setting up family picnics on the emerging sand banks.”

That fun may soon come to an abrupt end. For the first time in decades, Albuquerque is facing a dry Rio Grande.

NM Environment Review: ‘political connections and tax breaks’ + news from around NM

Holtec International was in the news last month when the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission denied requests from some groups to hold an additional hearing over the company’s license to build an interim storage site in southeastern New Mexico to hold nuclear waste from commercial power plants. The Camden, N.J.-based company is also hoping the NRC will allow it to buy a closed nuclear power plant in the Garden State so “it can decommission it and gain control over an almost $1 billion decommissioning fund,” according to a May 8 story from the Associated Press.   

ProPublica and WNYC have also been looking into the company’s activities. In a story published today, Nancy Solomon and Jeff Pillets report that the company “gave a false answer about being prohibited from working with a federal agency in sworn statements made to win $260 million in taxpayer assistance for a new plant in Camden.”

Also, according to the story:

Holtec’s new factory in Camden is part of a resurgence for the poverty-stricken city pushed by South Jersey Democratic boss George E. Norcross III, who is an unpaid member of Holtec’s board.Norcross’ brother Philip is managing partner at the law firm that represented the company in its EDA application, Parker McCay.Sheehan worked closely with Philip Norcross on the Holtec matter, according to the emails obtained by WNYC and ProPublica. The law firm’s work on behalf of several Camden projects is now under scrutiny.

Irrigation district, state issue head’s up on high waters

If you’re out and about in the Middle Rio Grande’s bosque right now, there are some things you should know, as runoff continues ripping through the watershed. This morning, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District and the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission notified local governments and the public that high flows on the Rio Grande and the Chama River are expected to last through June. “Most of the bosque will be flooded during this time, and water will be against the levees,” the two agencies wrote in a joint press release. The irrigation district actively monitors its levees, especially older “spoil bank” levees and works with other state and federal agencies to address any seepage or erosion. MRGCD also closed public access to levee roads, drains and the bosque between the southern boundary of the Pueblo of Isleta and Reinken Road in Belen, where construction crews are working on levees.

NM Environment Review: What do the Rio Grande, Mike Pompeo & student climate activists have in common?

What do they all have in common? Well, they’re smashed into a really full NM Environment Review. So grab a snack and strap on your reading glasses. There is a ton of environmental news this week. Usually, only email subscribers get to read the entire review, but we’re feeling generous this week.

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.

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.

NM Environment Review: Defender of the Gila passes on, Abq developer digs in + NM students get ready to protest

All week, we look for stories that help New Mexicans better understand what’s happening with water, climate, energy, landscapes and communities around the region. Thursday morning, that news goes out via email. To subscribe to that weekly email, click here. Here’s a snippet of what subscribers read this week:

This week, New Mexico lost one of its most enthusiastic, and fierce, outdoorsmen. Dutch Salmon passed away earlier this week, and many of us will miss the former New Mexico Game Commissioner and former Interstate Stream Commissioner.