How much do we know about our watersheds? New study says gaps in knowledge exist because of ‘bias’ in stream gauge placement

Corey Krabbenhoft saw the ebbs and flows of New Mexico’s rivers growing up in Albuquerque. From that experience, she knew how many of the waterways in the state only flow at certain times of the year. As a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Buffalo, she is the lead author on a new paper published in the journal Nature Sustainability that looks at stream gauges, particularly in what the authors call “bias” in placement. Krabbenhoft explained that the study doesn’t focus on where the stream gauges are located, but rather what types of rivers are represented globally when it comes to monitoring with gauges. This paper documented that ephemeral waters, headwaters and waterways in protected areas like wilderness areas are less likely to have stream gauges on them, which can lead to a gap in knowledge about how the river systems work. 

In contrast, larger rivers that often have dams on them regulating the flows and usually pass through more populated areas are more likely to have these gauges.

Senate passes cannabis law changes, adds new water rights language

The New Mexico Senate approved a bill late Monday night that aims to clean up language of the state’s Cannabis Regulation Act, increase production limits for small cannabis companies and allow those smaller companies to wholesale cannabis to and from other cannabis businesses. 

The most significant changes SB 100 proposes are increasing plant limits for cannabis microbusinesses from 200 to 1,000, allowing those types of businesses to buy, sell and transport cannabis from other companies and allow medical cannabis companies that were previously required to be registered as nonprofits to become for-profit companies. 

After an amendment in a committee hearing the day before, nearly all of the debate on the Senate floor was devoted to water issues, even though the original bill did not address any changes related to water.    

Earlier this week, a Senate committee approved an amendment that stripped a water right verification section from the Cannabis Regulation Act. 

During a Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, proposed removing the section, calling it “unnecessary red tape.”

“There’s one instance of a constituent of mine that was trying to get licensed and they tried to transfer ownership into a separate business so that it didn’t put his farm into liability,” Pirtle said on Sunday. “And it became problematic to prove who has the legal right, who’s supposed to have it, who’s leasing from whom.”

Sen. Katy Duhigg, D-Albuquerque, who works as a cannabis attorney, agreed with Pirtle. 

“We have hamstrung this industry with the approach that we took to water in the bill last year,” Duhigg said on Sunday. “I think we got it wrong, frankly, last year, with what we did with water.” 

Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, unsuccessfully tried to further amend the bill to include what she said was a compromise in verifying legal water access. Her amendment, she argued, would only require that a cannabis company “demonstrate” that it has legal access to water. But after about an hour of debate, her amendment failed on a 19-20 vote, with a number of Democrats voting against it. 

Most of the pushback on the amendment came from Pirtle who reiterated his comments from the previous day, arguing that it’s already illegal to use water for any agricultural use without legal access to it. 

“You have a water right or you don’t have a water right,” Pirtle said.

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.

Monsoon rains help reservoir levels, but won’t end drought in New Mexico

Monsoon rains have brought a small amount of welcome relief to dwindling reservoirs in New Mexico but drought conditions will continue to impact the state, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Albuquerque Area Office. The BOR had projected that Elephant Butte Reservoir, located near Truth or Consequences, could drop to 1 percent full. But the BOR now projects that the season will end with 97,000 acre-feet of water in Elephant Butte, or 4 percent full. “Our projections are based on the expected snowpack runoff and the expected demand from downstream users. In a year like this, we didn’t have much of a spring runoff,” said Albuquerque Area Office Manager Jennifer Faler in a press release.

Navajo-Gallup water delay spurs problem solving in arid Southwest

Early this year, five of Gallup, New Mexico’s 16 water wells stopped producing water, including two of its biggest. After a few days of maintenance, two worked. The other three were out of commission for more than a month. Had it happened in summer, the city might have asked residents to dramatically reduce use. “I’m not in crisis mode,” said Dennis Romero, Water and Sanitation Director for the City of Gallup, but “it could go to crisis mode very quickly.”

The shortage isn’t wholly surprising — 20 years ago, the city decided it could limp along on aging groundwater wells with dropping water levels until a new water project began delivering San Juan River water in late 2024.

New Mexico is experiencing climate change in the form of drought

Hydrologist Katrina Bennett describes extreme weather events like droughts and floods as the way that human societies experience climate change. These events are immediately noticeable and can have rippling impacts, including economic repercussions. These events will become more frequent and intense amid climate change, according to a paper Bennett published in the journal Water on April 1. Bennett’s co-authors include Carl Talsma and Riccardo Boero, who also work at Los Alamos National Laboratories. The study highlights the need to look at the extreme events together.

New Mexico’s coming megadrought highlights farmers’ control of water

High above south-central New Mexico, satellite imagery shows a brown sea in arid Socorro County, broken up only by the Rio Grande, which splits the county and the state down the middle. Here in the northern reaches of the Chihuahuan Desert, it rains maybe 10 inches annually and the sun shines brightly 280 days a year. Zoom in a little closer near a town called San Antonio and the scene remains barren. Seventy-six years ago the U.S. government decided to test its first nuclear bomb here at the Trinity Site, about an hour’s drive from downtown. New Mexico’s yearly snowpack is trending down, along with overall precipitation, as the climate gets more trying for farmers.

Indigenous leaders and activists call for solution for To’Hajiilee water crisis

Indigenous community leaders and activists held a virtual information session on Indigenous People’s Day to bring awareness to a water crisis in To’Hajiilee, a Diné community 20 miles west of Albuquerque. 

The community of roughly 2,500 is currently relying on just one supply well, which pumps water up from the Rio Puerco aquifer. The water levels in the aquifer have dropped in recent decades, and what water that’s left is filled with corrosive dissolved solids that eat through the pump equipment and wreak havoc on the indoor plumbing systems of the residents in To’Hajiilee. 

The Navajo Nation owns rights to surface water that could be piped into To’Hajiilee and serve the community. To’Hajiilee and the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority (ABCWUA) have already devised a project plan to build a pipeline that would transport the water from a holding tank in the county’s far western boundaries to To’Hajiilee. 

But plans to access and transport that water are being thwarted by a development firm that hasn’t agreed to sell a two-mile easement for the pipeline. RELATED: A ‘humanitarian crisis’: To’Hajiilee’s aquifer is running out of water

“I thought today would be a really, really important day and an important message to share in front of my children that we are important, we are here, we need to be seen, we need to be heard and what better day to do it than on Indigenous People’s Day,” said Renee Chaco Aragon, a resident of To’Hajiilee and mother of ten. “We need people that are willing to listen, take time out of their lives and out of their day, to help us in our crisis.”

It’s not uncommon for the community’s single supply well to go down, Aragon said, disrupting daily life for everyone in the community. 

“It is a very nerve-wracking thing to deal with on a day to day basis.

A ‘humanitarian crisis’: To’Hajiilee’s aquifer is running out of water

The Diné community of To’Hajiilee is named after a spring in the area, which at one point sputtered up enough freshwater to fill one bucket after another. That’s what the name references, roughly translated into English. Today, the segment of Rio Puerco aquifer that is located beneath the village, which sits just outside Albuquerque near I-40, is running out of water. “It appears the aquifer has been decreasing,” George Mihalik, an engineer with the firm Souder, Miller and Associates, told NM Political Report. “If you go up and down the Rio Puerco aquifer, like Laguna Pueblo to the south, they have similar issues with the wells there.”

Souder, Miller and Associates is working with To’Hajiilee’s chapter government to improve the chapter’s internal water systems. Mihalik has been working with To’Hajiilee for at least eight years, he said.

No relief in sight for drought gripping northern New Mexico

“I wish I had better news,” said Dave DuBois, New Mexico’s State Climatologist and director of the NM Climate Center at the New Mexico State University, during a weather outlook webinar hosted by the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) held in May. DuBois was looking at a three-month weather outlook map forecasting rain during New Mexico’s summer months and monsoon season. 

“I really didn’t want to see this,” he said, swirling his mouse over a patch of brown in the Four Corners area. “Not a lot of good news there. This is showing some probability for below-average precipitation for northwest New Mexico.”

Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Experts agree 2020 is shaping up to be a challenging year for water in New Mexico. Despite a near-normal snowpack last winter, dry soil conditions and a very warm spring — with hardly any precipitation since January — has thrust much of the state into drought conditions, again. 

John Fleck, director of the Water Resources program at the University of New Mexico, referred to it as a “sneaky drought” during a separate presentation hosted by NIDIS. 

“How did this sneak up on us?