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Flu Activity Increases Across State, Public Hearing On Chromium Plume

Kelly Sikkema
Creative Commons via Unsplash

Officials: Flu Activity Increases Across New Mexico Associated Press

The flu is continuing its march across New Mexico.

State officials said Friday the New Mexico Health Department has investigated 21 outbreaks in long-term care facilities since October. That's more than was reported during the entire 2016-2017 flu season.

Flu-related hospitalizations, especially in older residents, continue to steadily increase. There also have been 18 flu-related deaths and 72 pneumonia-related deaths in adults this season.

State Epidemiologist Michael Landen says there's still time for people to get vaccinated.

In the U.S., annual flu shots are recommended for everyone age 6 months or older. Last season, about 47 percent of Americans got vaccinated, according to federal figures.

Flu is a contagious respiratory illness. It can cause a miserable but relatively mild illness in many people, but a more severe illness in others.

Public Hearing Upcoming On Los Alamos Chromium PlumeAssociated Press

The New Mexico Environment Department will be setting a date soon for a public hearing related to the cleanup of chromium contamination at one of the nation's premier federal laboratories.

Agency spokeswoman Allison Majure said Friday a notice informing the public will come at least 30 days before the hearing.

In a recent ruling, the state Court of Appeal sided with a coalition of environmental groups, finding there was no evidence to support an earlier decision by regulators to deny requests for a hearing.

At issue is a state permit that allows Los Alamos National Laboratory to release treated wastewater as part of its efforts to address groundwater pollution.

The Communities for Clean Water coalition has concerns that discharging the treated water could end up pushing the chromium plume closer to drinking water wells.

Dry Conditions Cramp New Mexico Water Supply Forecast Associated Press

New Mexico's water resources could feel the pinch later this year thanks to dismal snowpack and a strengthening weather pattern in the Pacific Ocean that typically brings drier weather.

The National Weather Service in Albuquerque issued an update Friday on the water supply outlook.

Senior hydrologist Royce Fontenot says drought has expanded across New Mexico in recent weeks. Severe conditions now cover 60 percent of the state.

He said some areas, particularly in the eastern plains, have not seen any moisture for the last 100 days or so.

He also said snowpack levels for all basins are well below normal and that will affect water supplies going forward.

Forecasters estimate New Mexico would need as much as 270 percent of normal precipitation in some areas to recover by the spring.

New Mexico Education Funding Proposal Heads To House Floor Associated Press

A proposal to increase funding for early childhood education in New Mexico by distributing more money from a multibillion dollar state sovereign wealth fund has cleared another legislative hurdle.

A panel of House lawmakers on Friday recommended approval of the constitutional amendment by a 7-4 vote with Democrats in support. It now heads to the House floor for consideration.

The initiative would increase annual distributions from the Land Grant Permanent Fund by 1 percent.

Supporters say preschool programs need more money to expand. Republican Gov. Susana Martinez's administration is seeking more general fund spending for public schools and early childhood education but opposes greater investment withdrawals.

Approval by the Legislature would set up a statewide vote in November on the issue.

Police: More Than 40 Pounds Of Pot Found On School Grounds Associated Press

Authorities are trying to figure out how more than 40 pounds of marijuana ended up being dumped at an Albuquerque elementary school.

Police say the pot was found in several trash bags at Manzano Mesa Elementary School on Thursday morning. The discovery by a custodian prompted the principal to call police.

The Albuquerque Journal reported that it marked the second instance of marijuana being found at or near an elementary school this week.

A police report says there wasn't anything in the bags found at Manzano Mesa that could be used to trace the drugs to the person who dropped the stash. The school's security camera did not capture anything.

School officials say students were never around the bags and did not come into contact with the contents.

Navajo Plans Second Utility-Scale Solar Farm In Kayenta Associated Press

The Navajo Nation is expanding a solar energy farm in Kayenta.

The second phase will produce the same amount of energy as the first — about 27 megawatts, or enough to power 18,000 homes. It's expected to start operating next year.

The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority is financing the $50 million project through loans.

Tribal officials say they'll sell the renewable energy credits to the Phoenix-based Salt River Project. SRP also will get energy equal to the amount generated at Kayenta.

The setup is similar for the first phase in Kayenta that went online last year.

The two utilities signed an agreement Friday to work together on future renewable energy projects, with a goal of 500 megawatts over the next five to 10 years.

96-Year-Old Woman Crawls For Help After Carjacking Associated Press

Mexico authorities are looking for a thief who pushed a 96-year-old woman from a vehicle after driving off with the car.

Albuquerque police say the incident happened Wednesday when Sally Barillas and her niece stopped to get gas. That's when a man jumped into the car while it was still running and drove away, with Barillas in the passenger seat.

The thief drove a few blocks before telling Barillas to take her purse and get out. The man ended up shoving her out of the car after she had trouble undoing her seat belt and opening the door.

Police say Barillas then crawled to a nearby home for help.

Family members say Barillas suffered back pain and also had bruises on her palms.

Police say the suspect remains at large and the car is still missing.

Democrats Eye Scrapping New Mexico's $50M Film Spending Cap Associated Press

Democratic state lawmakers want to eliminate New Mexico's annual $50 million cap on film incentive spending but the future of the proposal is unclear.

A bill eliminating the cap is moving through the New Mexico House and comes after state officials reported the film and television industry contributed more than a half-billion dollars to New Mexico's economy in 2016.

Rep. Bill McCamley, a Las Cruces Democrat, says there was a direct correlation between the money the state spent on incentives and the return it got.

But Rep. Rebecca Dow, a Truth or Consequences Republican, says she sees the tax credit as going to some of the wealthiest people in the world.

Data from the New Mexico Film Office show film and television productions contributed $505 million to the state's economy in 2016. That included 61 major productions.