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THURS: U.S. House panel launches probe of New Mexico 2020 election audit, + More

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House panel launches probe of New Mexico 2020 election audit - By Farnoush Amiri And Morgan Lee Associated Press

A congressional oversight committee said Thursday it has opened an investigation into a partisan audit of the 2020 election results that is taking place in New Mexico and was authorized by a Republican-led county commission.

The House Oversight Committee issued a letter to the head of EchoMail, one of the contractors involved in Arizona's partisan ballot review, requesting the private company produce documents and information regarding its forensic audit in Otero County, New Mexico, by the end of the month.

"The right to vote is protected by the Constitution and is the cornerstone of our democratic system of government," Democratic Reps. Carolyn Maloney, the chair of the committee, and Jamie Raskin, the chair of a subcommittee on civil rights, wrote to the company.

The committee said it is looking into potential intimidation by volunteers from a conspiracist group who are going door to door canvassing voters in Otero County and asking intrusive questions.

The company's forensic audit proposal called for volunteer canvassers from New Mexico Audit Force to go to voters and review voter registration data.

The canvass is already underway, according to lawmakers, and more than 60 county residents have contacted state and local officials expressing concerns about interactions with the canvassers.

The committee's letter was penned to EchoMail founder V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai, who has previously participated in advancing conspiracy theories about the 2020 election as well as his own loss in a Massachusetts state Senate race.

A request for comment from Ayyadurai was not immediately returned Thursday.

Nearly a year and a half after the 2020 general election, the U.S. continues to grapple with bogus claims surrounding Democrat Joe Biden's presidential win. Ballot reviews have been conducted across the country, from Arizona's Maricopa County to Pennsylvania's Fulton County.

An Associated Press review of votes cast in battleground states contested by then-President Donald Trump also found too few cases of fraud to affect the outcome.

Trump, a Republican, and his allies have falsely claimed that voting systems or ballot tallies were manipulated to steal the election from him. Judges across the country, of both parties, dismissed those claims. And even Trump's former attorney general William Barr said a month after the election that there was no indication of widespread fraud that could change the result.

The announcement of the committee's probe comes weeks after New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, said that many Otero County residents have been caught off guard when approached by canvassers who are affiliated with the New Mexico Audit Force group and claim in some instances to be county employees.

The county commission in January authorized a $49,750 contract for a countywide review of election records and voter registration information linked to the 2020 general election. It accepted a proposal from EchoMail, which was among the contractors hired by Republican Arizona state lawmakers to review the 2020 election in Maricopa County and provide a report on ballot envelope images.

The review in Arizona's largest county ended in September without producing proof to support Trump's false claims of a stolen election. The county election department found that nearly every finding by the contractors included faulty analysis, inaccurate claims, misleading conclusions and a lack of understanding of federal and state election laws.

The House Oversight Committee said EchoMail has until March 31 to respond to its letter and hand over the documents requested in the New Mexico probe.

"The Committee is investigating whether your company's audit and canvass in New Mexico illegally interferes with Americans' right to vote by spreading disinformation about elections and intimidating voters," the letter said.

Cowboy politician 2nd person to go on trial in Jan. 6 riot - By Morgan Lee And Jacques Billeaud Associated Press

An elected official in New Mexico who helped found the group Cowboys for Trump is headed to trial in Washington next week on a charge related to the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. He plans to show up for court on horseback in a defiant show of support for former President Donald Trump.

Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin has been charged with knowingly entering restricted areas of Capitol grounds, one of hundreds of pro-Trump supporters facing charges for disrupting the certification of Joe Biden's 2020 presidential win. His trial will be the second among the hundreds of people arrested in the riot.

He's one of at least 10 people charged in the riot who either held public office or ran for a government leadership post in the two and a half years before the attack. They include candidates for mayor in west Texas, city council in Kansas and West Virginia, county commission in Washington state, congressional seats in Florida and statehouses in Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia. Another Jan. 6 defendant is running this year for a congressional seat in New Hampshire.

Seven of the 10 defendants were accused of entering the Capitol building, and at least five had expressed doubts about the legitimacy of the presidential election. False claims about election security have become prevalent in Republican circles, and the outcome of Griffin's trial could create political problems for other elected officials ensnared in the massive prosecution.

Griffin has been in office since 2019 and is one of three elected officials responsible for management, administration and budget. During his time in office, he also served on the county's board for canvassing local election results.

In 2019, he helped found Cowboys for Trump with a group of rodeo acquaintances to spread a conservative message about gun rights, immigration controls and abortion restrictions. Many of those messages were delivered on horseback.

Griffin, a former rodeo rider and former pastor, plans to drive his horse "Red" to the nation's capital, as he has in earlier outings in Washington with the group, and then ride the animal to the courthouse.

He rejects Biden's 2020 election and believes Trump to be the real winner, despite a lack of evidence and statements by elected officials, local elections leaders and Trump's own attorney general that the results were correct.

Griffin voted in January with his county commission to hire a private contractor to review the 2020 presidential election in Otero County — where Trump won with a 62% share — with door-to-door canvassing that has triggered concerns about voter intimidation. The review is still being conducted.

Prosecutors have submitted a variety of images that show Griffin breaching barricades on the day of the 2021 insurrection — climbing a toppled fence and another barrier to access the Capitol steps. Images taken by Griffin's own videographer show him reveling in the Jan. 6 crowd and using a bullhorn to lead the throngs in prayer.

Matthew Struck, the videographer who accompanied Griffin, has been granted immunity and is expected to testify at the trial, prosecutors said in a filing Thursday.

He doesn't deny that he was at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021; he admits he entered a barricaded area to reach an outdoor balcony of the Capitol on the afternoon without going inside the building.

But his attorneys have demanded that prosecutors provide first-hand evidence that then-Vice President Mike Pence was still at the Capitol — a prerequisite for the U.S. Secret Service to invoke access restrictions.

Prosecutors say Pence's exact location at the time the county commissioner entered the Capitol grounds is irrelevant — and that the Secret Service shouldn't have to disclose sensitive security information concerning the riot response.

Griffin pointedly disagrees.

"People are charged with entering an unauthorized zone and it might not have been an unauthorized zone to begin with — that's the legal question right now," Griffin said in an interview with The Associated Press. "It's really a shame on Mike Pence's part — individually and personally — he should step up and let us know what time he left the building, unless he's trying to defend the government and trying to continue to make patriots suffer."

U.S. District Court Judge Trevor McFadden ruled that prosecutors must call a witness to testify who has first-hand knowledge of Pence's whereabouts during the attack if they want to try Griffin on a charge of entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds. Earlier, McFadden rejected Griffin's accusations of misguided and discriminatory prosecution.

Griffin was arrested on Jan. 17, 2021, by Capitol Police after he returned to Washington in opposition to Biden's election and inauguration. He spent nearly three weeks in jail before his release pending trial.

Back at home in southern New Mexico, Griffin withstood a recall election attempt. State election regulators sued Griffin over his refusal to register Cowboys for Trump as a political group. Griffin says the group is a for-profit business and that he worries about contributors being identified and harassed.

In early March, Griffin confirmed that he won't seek election this year as a commissioner or otherwise compete in the 2022 election cycle, saying he had lost faith in the political system.

The fate of other politicians remain unclear. A former legislative candidate in Pennsylvania is now in prison on a 60-day sentence for his presence inside the Capitol building during the riot. A former West Virginia lawmaker who resigned his office three days after joining the mob into building is charged with one count of civil disorder and due in court on Friday.

Over all, at least 765 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the Capitol riot. At least 231 of them have pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanors. At least 119 riot defendants have been sentenced, with 50 of them getting terms of imprisonment of jail time already served.

Approximately 90 others have trial dates. The first trial of a rioter ended with a conviction on all counts.

NTSB: 13-year-old drove pickup that struck van, killing 9 - By Cedar Attanasio, Jill Bleed And Anita Snow Associated Press

A 13-year-old was driving the pickup truck that struck a van in West Texas in a fiery collision that killed nine people, National Transportation Safety Board Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg said Thursday.

The truck's left front tire, which was a spare tire, also blew out before impact, he said.

Although it was unclear how fast the two vehicles were traveling, "this was clearly a high-speed collision," Landsberg said.

One must be 14 in Texas to start taking classroom courses for a learner's license and 15 to receive that provisional license to drive with an instructor or licensed adult in the vehicle. Department of Public Safety Sgt. Victor Taylor said a 13-year-old driving would be breaking the law.

The pickup truck crossed into the opposite lane on a darkened, two-lane highway before colliding head-on with a van, killing the boy, a man traveling with him, six New Mexico college students and a golf coach.

The University of the Southwest students, including one from Portugal and one from Mexico, and the coach were returning from a golf tournament when the crash occurred Tuesday night. Two Canadian students were hospitalized in critical condition.

The National Transportation Safety Board sent an investigative team to the crash site in Texas' Andrews County, about 30 miles east of the New Mexico state line.

The golf teams were traveling in a 2017 Ford Transit van that was towing a box trailer when it collided with the truck, and both vehicles burst into flames, according to NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss.

He said the vehicles collided on a two-lane asphalt highway where the speed limit is 75 mph, though investigators have not yet determined how fast either vehicle was traveling.

The Texas Department of Public Safety identified the deceased as: Golf coach Tyler James, 26, of Hobbs, New Mexico; and players Mauricio Sanchez, 19, of Mexico; Travis Garcia, 19, of Pleasanton, Texas; Jackson Zinn, 22, of Westminster, Colorado; Karisa Raines, 21, of Fort Stockton, Texas; Laci Stone, 18, of Nocona, Texas; and Tiago Sousa, 18, of Portugal.

Also killed were Henrich Siemens, 38, of Seminole County, Texas, and the unidentified 13-year-old boy who were in the 2007 Dodge 2500 pickup.

Critically injured aboard the van were Canadian students Dayton Price, 19, of Mississauga, Ontario, and Hayden Underhill, 20, of Amherstview, Ontario. Both were taken by helicopter to the University Medical Center in Lubbock, about 110 miles to the northeast.

"They are both stable and recovering and every day making more and more progress," University of the Southwest Provost Ryan Tipton said Thursday of the two injured students.

"One of the students is eating chicken soup," said Tipton, calling their recovery "a game of inches."

Tipton said University President Quint Thurman personally visited the students' parents at the hospital, illustrating the close community at the college with only about 350 on-campus students.

Underhill's brother Drew said their parents, Ken and Wendy, flew to Texas.

"Hockey was a big part of life for a while, but his true passion is golf," Drew Underhill said.

The Mexican Federation of Golf posted an online note of condolence to the loved ones of Mauricio Sanchez.

Sousa was from Portugal's southern coast, where he graduated from high school last summer before heading to college in the U.S., said Renata Afonso, head of the Escola Secundária de Loulé.

"Any school would be delighted to have had him as a student," she said.

Stone's mother wrote of her loss on Facebook Wednesday.

"She has been an absolute ray of sunshine during this short time on earth," Chelsi Stone said in a post. "We will never be the same after this and we just don't understand how this happened to our amazing, beautiful, smart, joyful girl."

Team member Jasmin Collum had been scheduled to play but at the last minute decided instead to visit her parents in Houston, her mother said.

"We knew all those people on board," Tonya Collum said. "Basically the whole team is gone or in the hospital."

The University of the Southwest is a private, Christian college located in Hobbs, New Mexico, near the state line with Texas.

A memorial was set up Wednesday at the course near campus where the team practices. There were flowers, golf balls and a handmade sign with a cross and the initials USW.

"It's the very least we could to for the players, and of course Coach James," said Rockwind Community Links Manager Ben Kirkes.

"These kids were great kids and they were great, great community members," Kirkes said.

The university said on Twitter that counseling and religious services would be available on campus.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said on Facebook that she is "deeply saddened" by the loss of life.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also expressed sympathy, saying: "We grieve with the loved ones of the individuals whose lives were horrifically taken too soon in this fatal vehicle crash near Andrews last night."

The teams had been taking part in a golf tournament at Midland College, about 315 miles west of Dallas. Midland College canceled Wednesday's play because of the crash.

Texas crash victims included new students just branching out - By Coleen Slevin And Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

Self-disciplined and competitive, Jackson Zinn was all business on the golf course. Despite his big heart for helping others, he could be tough on himself if he wasn't shooting in the 60s.

Family pastor Rick Long of Grace Church in Arvada, Colorado, said Zinn had just wrapped up a tournament with his University of the Southwest teammates in Texas when he called his father, Greg Zinn, to talk about what he thought had been a disappointing round.

"And he just said, 'Jackson, you're amazing. You're not always going to score the way you need to score. You'll be great.' That was their last conversation," Long said.

About an hour later, the college junior piled into a van with his teammates to head back to New Mexico. It was on a two-lane farm road Tuesday evening that a pickup truck collided head-on with the van, killing Zinn, his coach and five teammates.

Authorities announced Thursday that the truck veered into their lane after a tire blew. An unnamed 13-year-old who was behind the wheel and his passenger, 38-year-old Henrich Siemens, also died in the fiery crash.

Jackson Zinn was close to his parents and two younger sisters, coached children playing in a special needs soccer league his family organized and was well loved by his co-workers at the Red Robin in suburban Denver where he worked as a waiter when he was home from school, said Long in an interview Thursday.

Zinn transferred to the University of the Southwest after spending one year at a military school in New Mexico, seeing it as an opportunity to both play golf and get a Christian education, he said.

Zinn loved the smell of the golf course and the feel of tees and clubs, and enjoyed being able to relax and play in the church's annual golf tournament to raise money for Indigenous people in the Peruvian Amazon, Long said.

"He said that that's the one place he could play his game and play it well and not feel the pressure of having to perform because he was doing it for a bigger mission, a bigger reason," he said.

Most of the students killed in the crash were getting their first taste of life away from home at the private Christian university where on-campus enrollment hovers around 300.

They included freshmen Laci Stone of Nocona, Texas, Travis Garcia of Pleasanton, Texas, Mauricio Sanchez of Mexico, and Tiago Sousa of Portugal. The school and authorities did not release hometowns for Sanchez and Sousa.

Also killed were junior Karisa Raines of Fort Stockton, Texas, and golf coach Tyler James of Hobbs, New Mexico.

The two injured students were identified by authorities as Dayton Price of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada; and Hayden Underhill of Amherstview, Ontario, Canada.

Garcia was voted Pleasanton High School's most valuable player last year, when he and his fellow Eagles made their first-ever appearance at the Texas state championships. He was remembered by those who worked with him at a golf club near Pleasanton as a phenomenal kid who made great strides in just a few short years after first picking up a club.

Myles Dumont, manager of golf operations for the River Bend Golf Club. said Thursday that Garcia played a big role in his high school team's success. He also said the teen didn't mind spending hours and hours outside, practicing his craft.

"He really just fell in love with the game, and we were all really excited to see where his golf career was going to take him," Dumont said. "We were really proud of him, really happy to see him have an opportunity to go somewhere to play. The sky was the limit for him."

Sousa also had an "immense passion for golf," said Renata Afonso, the head of Escola Secundária de Loulé, a high school he attended on Portugal's southern coast.

"He was a very dedicated student, very involved in social causes," she said. "Any school would be delighted to have had him as a student."

Stone graduated from Nocona High School in 2021, where she played golf, volleyball and softball. Her mother, Chelsi Stone, described her as a ray of sunshine and told the story of how the 18-year-old had begged her to get tiny matching heart tattoos before returning to the University of the Southwest.

"I'm so forever grateful that God gave me the courage to go through with it and always have this memory with her," Chelsi Stone wrote on her Facebook page.

The men's and women's golf teams were united not only by their love for the game but by their faith, friends and family have said.

With many students away for spring break, the university was planning a gathering next week, while counselors were at the ready to help students before that. Prayers and condolences continued to flood social media sites on Thursday as separate fundraising efforts were underway by the university as well as friends to help the victims' families.

Faith, love of sports linked victims of Texas crash - By Jamie Stengle, Susan Montoya Bryan And Cedar Attanasio Associated Press

Laci Stone had a special request for her mother. The 18-year-old wanted to get tiny matching heart tattoos before leaving her Texas hometown and returning to New Mexico to finish out her freshman year at the University of the Southwest.

She begged her mother.

And now Chelsi Stone is glad she didn't chicken out.

"I'm so forever grateful that God gave me the courage to go through with it and always have this memory with her," Chelsi Stone wrote on her Facebook page.

She is among the parents, other family members and friends who have been left brokenhearted and devastated after a fiery crash killed Laci, five of her teammates and a coach while they were returning home from a golf tournament in Texas on Tuesday.

Most of the students were freshmen who were getting their first taste of life away from home at the private Christian university with enrollment numbering in the hundreds. Some of them were far from home, having come from Canada, Mexico and Portugal.

Chelsi Stone said she wouldn't wish the pain she was feeling on her worst enemy. She described her daughter as a ray of sunshine and said her family will never be the same.

Stone graduated from Nocona High School in 2021, where she played golf, volleyball and softball. Her high school announced on social media that it would be canceling Wednesday's softball game, saying the community was heartbroken over losing one of its own. Instead, dozens of people gathered on the field to pray.

The other victims included golf coach Tyler James of Hobbs; junior Karisa Raines of Fort Stockton, Texas; junior Jackson Zinn of Westminster, Colorado; freshmen Travis Garcia of Pleasanton, Texas; and fellow players Mauricio Sanchez of Mexico; and Tiago Sousa of Portugal.

The two injured students were identified by authorities as Dayton Price of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada; and Hayden Underhill of Amherstview, Ontario, Canada.

Authorities identified the occupants of the pickup truck that collided with the team's van as Heinrich Siemens, 38, of Seminole, Texas, and a 13-year-old boy who also was from Seminole. Police have yet to release his name.

Authorities said James was bringing the students back to New Mexico on Tuesday night when the crash happened. Those who knew him said it had been his goal to be a head coach, and he was excited to be there.

"That was his dream job, to be a head coach and he was living out his dream," said Ryan Erwin, vice president for student engagement and athletics at East Texas Baptist University in Marshall.

James graduated from ETBU in May with a master's of science in kinesiology. While there, he had been the graduate assistant coach for the golf program.

Erwin said James had not only a love for coaching, but for mentoring students as well.

After beginning his college career playing golf at Ottawa University in Kansas, he transferred to Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas, according to his biography on the University of the Southwest website.

Troy Drummond, Howard Payne University's head golf coach and associate athletic director for operations, said James played for three years at Howard Payne and helped coach the team his last year.

"He had a passion for golf, you could tell that from the very start. He'd pretty much eat, sleep and drink golf," Drummond said.

Drew Underhill, Hayden's older brother, said his parents were on a plane headed for Texas so they could be with his brother. Hayden Underhill was going to school on a golf scholarship.

"Hockey was a big part of life for a while, but his true passion is golf," his brother said. "He loves golf. His favorite is Jordan Spieth. And he always loved to watch Jordan, follow Jordan."

Friends of Raines, who was a biology student, started a fundraising page for her family. They described her as "a beautiful and kind soul who will be deeply missed by everyone."

Aside from golf, what tied the teammates and their families together was their faith. Social media pages were inundated Wednesday with a steady stream of offerings of prayers and condolences from fellow college golfers, community members and others.

A short drive from the campus, local golfers set up a memorial at the course where the team practices. Groundskeepers placed flowers, golf balls and a handmade sign with a Christian cross and the initials USW.

"We have a memorial. It's the very least we could do for the players and of course coach James," said Rockwind Community Links Manager Ben Kirkes. "It's a tough time."

Kirkes said he saw the team members nearly every day, and was close with them.

"These kids were great kids and they were great, great community members," Kirkes said. "They were polite and they were just a pleasure to be around."

He knew that many of the kids were from overseas, and tried to make it a welcome place for them.

"Pursuing a collegiate career in anything sportswise is a great opportunity for kids overseas," Kirkes said. "We wanted to make them feel like they were at home."

Haaland: Report on Indigenous boarding schools expected soon - By Felicia Fonseca Associated Press

The Interior Department is on the verge of releasing a report on its investigation into the federal government's past oversight of Native American boarding schools.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland told journalists during a call Wednesday that the report will come out in April but didn't specify a date. She first outlined the initiative in June, saying it would uncover the truth about the loss of life and the lasting consequences of boarding schools.

Starting with the Indian Civilization Act of 1819, the U.S. enacted laws and policies to establish and support boarding schools for Native Americans across the nation. For over 150 years, Indigenous children were taken from their communities and forced into these assimilation-focused schools.

Discoveries of the remains of more than 1,000 children in Canada renewed a spotlight in the U.S. and stirred strong emotions among tribal communities that included grief, anger, reflection and a deep desire for healing.

"We have been very cognizant of the fact that we need to create a safe space for people to share information and seek resources," Haaland said Wednesday. "We recognize this is a very traumatic experience for many people."

The Interior Department said it had no further details when contacted by The Associated Press.

The work on boarding schools will include compiling and reviewing records to identify past schools, locate known and possible burial sites at or near those schools, and uncover the names and tribal affiliations of students, Haaland said.

The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition signed an agreement with the Interior Department in December to share research but has noted that Interior's authority is limited.

"We see it as a critical first step for this country to acknowledge and address the horrors and cultural genocide our Native children, families and tribal nations suffered through Indian boarding schools run by the federal government and churches," said Deborah Parker, the coalitions' chief executive and a citizen of the Tulalip Tribes.

The coalition is in Washington this week pushing for bills that would create a commission to expand on Interior's findings, said spokeswoman Lora Horgen, a citizen of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma.

Haaland made her remarks on boarding schools in highlighting the work she and others in the Interior Department have done since she took over the agency a year ago. Haaland, of Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, is the first Native American ever to hold the post — raising the hopes of Indian Country for significant changes in an agency that has broad oversight of tribal affairs.

She summed up the work as impactful. She noted the administration's response to climate change, the coronavirus and to the need for improvements to roads, broadband and other infrastructure. Tribal leaders have welcomed infusions of funding but said those investments need to be sustained in the future.

Specifically for Native American tribes, Haaland pointed to the restoration of the original boundaries for Bears Ears National Monument in southern Utah; a push to create a buffer around Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico to protect the area that's sacred to pueblo tribes from new oil and gas leasing; and a commitment to scrub a derogatory term for Native American women from geographic features on federal land.

President Joe Biden on Wednesday also renewed the Violence Against Women Act, which includes provisions to protect Native American women that had been lacking, Haaland said.

Haaland was joined in the call by fellow New Mexican Tanya Trujillo, an assistant secretary for water and science at the Interior Department. Trujillo outlined investments in water infrastructure that she said will help build resilience in the system and ensure there's enough for the natural environment that relies on it.

The U.S. West is in the midst of a megadrought that has shrunken rivers and key water sources faster than expected. On Wednesday, Lake Powell on the Colorado River dropped to its lowest level ever, raising new concerns about power produced at the dam that holds it back on the Arizona-Utah border.

Already, California, Nevada, Arizona and Mexico are taking a mix of voluntary and mandatory water cuts from the river.

Santa Fe woman gets prison term in 2018 death of her stepson - Associated Press

A Santa Fe woman accused of fatally strangling her 5-year-old stepson in 2018 is facing a 25-year prison term.

Prosecutors say 23-year-old Melynie Tyalan Curtis pleaded no contest Tuesday to charges of second-degree murder and child abuse resulting in great bodily harm.

They said Curtis' plea agreement calls for the dismissal of the remaining charges against her in a nine-count amended indictment.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the 23-year-old Curtis will be required to serve at least 85 percent of her sentence and won't be eligible to accrue day-for-day credits for good behavior to reduce her prison time beyond 15 percent.

Authorities said Curtis called 911 in September 2018 to report she had found her stepson unconscious in a bathtub.

He was airlifted to an Albuquerque hospital where medical personnel told police the boy's injuries were not consistent with a near-drowning.

Jayden Curtis died a few days later when his parents took him off life support, according to authorities.

Officials: Albuquerque balloon flights get FAA clearance - Associated Press

The Federal Aviation Administration will allow Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta flights this October without requiring balloonists to install new tracking equipment as required under a federal rule, FAA and city officials announced Wednesday.

"Today, our pilots are cleared for takeoff and we're ready to celebrate a half century of the Balloon Fiesta as planned," Mayor Tim Keller said in a statement.

The statement said balloonists can sign a letter of agreement developed by the FAA outlining safety requirements for navigating Albuquerque's airspace, "the majority of which are already best practices for most balloonists."

Meanwhile, the FAA will conduct research and consultations to reach a permanent solution by next March, the announcement said.

The agreement also covers year-round flights over Albuquerque.

"We recognize the important role that hot air ballooning plays in New Mexico's culture. The FAA has reached an agreement that enables balloon pilots to continue flying safely in the region while we work on a long-term solution," FAA Regional Administrator Rob Lowe. said in the announcement statement.

Keller, members of the New Mexico's congressional delegation and others had called on the FAA to waive the requirement for the technology.

FBI: Shooting on tribal reservation involved federal agents - Associated Press

The FBI said Wednesday it is investigating a shooting that involved federal Homeland Security Investigations agents and occurred on a tribal reservation in New Mexico.

No agents were injured but one "subject" was wounded in the incident Tuesday on the Laguna Pueblo, the FBI said in a brief statement.

No identities or details on what prompted the shooting were released, and the FBI said no additional information was available because the investigation was ongoing.

Laguna Pueblo is 42 miles west of Albuquerque.

Lake Powell hits historic low, raising hydropower concerns - By Sam Metz And Felicia Fonseca Associated Press

A massive reservoir known as a boating mecca dipped below a critical threshold on Tuesday raising new concerns about a source of power that millions of people in the U.S. West rely on for electricity.

Lake Powell's fall to below 3,525 feet puts it at its lowest level since the lake filled after the federal government dammed the Colorado River at Glen Canyon more than a half century ago — a record marking yet another sobering realization of the impacts of climate change and megadrought.

It comes as hotter temperatures and less precipitation leave a smaller amount flowing through the over-tapped Colorado River. Though water scarcity is hardly new in the region, hydropower concerns at Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona reflect that a future western states assumed was years away is approaching — and fast.

"We clearly weren't sufficiently prepared for the need to move this quickly," said John Fleck, director of the University of New Mexico's Water Resources Program.

Federal officials are confident water levels will rise in the coming months once snow melts in the Rockies. But they warn that more may need to be done to ensure Glen Canyon Dam can keep producing hydropower in the years ahead.

"Spring runoff will resolve the deficit in the short term," said Wayne Pullan, regional director for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages water and power in more than a dozen states. "However, our work is not done."

Though both Lake Powell and its downstream counterpart, Lake Mead, are dropping faster than expected, much of the region's focus has been on how to deal with water scarcity in Arizona, Nevada and California, not electricity supply.

For Glen Canyon Dam, the new level is 35 feet above what's considered "minimum power pool" — the level at which its turbines would stop producing hydroelectric power.

If Lake Powell drops even more, it could soon hit "deadpool" — the point at which water likely would fail to flow through the dam and onto Lake Mead. Arizona, Nevada, California, and Mexico already are taking a combination of mandatory and voluntary cuts tied to Lake Mead's levels.

About 5 million customers in seven states — Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — buy power generated at Glen Canyon Dam.

The government provides it at a cheaper rate than energy sold on the wholesale market, which can be wind, solar, coal or natural gas.

For the cities, rural electric cooperatives and tribes that rely on its hydropower, less water flowing through Glen Canyon Dam can therefore increase total energy costs. Customers bear the brunt.

The situation worries the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, one of the 50 tribal suppliers that rely on the dam for hydropower. It plans to spend $4.5 million on an alternative energy supply this year.

"It's a very sensitive issue for all of us right now," said Walter Haase, the tribal utility's general manager.

Bureau of Reclamation officials last summer took an unprecedented step and diverted water from reservoirs in Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado in what they called "emergency releases" to replenish Lake Powell. In January, the agency also held back water scheduled to be released through the dam to prevent it from dipping even lower.

Anxieties stretch beyond hydropower. Last summer, tourism and boating were hobbled by falling lake levels. The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is taking advantage of the low levels at Lake Powell to extend boat ramps. Most are now closed or come with warnings to launch at your own risk.

In Page, Arizona, which benefits from recreation at Lake Powell, officials launched a campaign this month to highlight that lower levels aren't necessarily bad for visitors, noting receding shorelines have revealed sunken boats, canyons and other geographic wonders.

"There's tremendous amounts of history out there," City Councilman Richard Leightner said. "You can see some of the old dwellings, and parts of the Old Spanish Trail are accessible now. It's an opportunity, but it just depends on the person's frame of mind."

The record low also comes after a tough year for hydropower. Last year, as U.S. officials worked to expand renewable energy, drought in the West drove a decline in hydropower generation, making it harder for officials to meet demand. Hydropower accounts for more than one-third of the nation's utility-scale renewable energy.

Nick Williams, the bureau's Upper Colorado Basin power manager, said many variables, including precipitation and heat, will determine the extent to which Lake Powell rebounds in the coming months.

Regardless, hydrology modeling suggests there's roughly a 1 in 4 chance it won't be able to produce power by 2024.