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THURS: Couple found dead as wildfire destroys New Mexico homes, Expanding drought leaves western US scrambling, + More

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Couple found dead as wildfire destroys New Mexico homes - By Susan Montoya Bryan And Paul Davenport Associated Press

The remains of a New Mexico couple were found near their burned home as a wind-driven wildfire charred more than 200 residences on the edge of a mountain community in the southern part of the state.

Fire crews on Thursday pointed to a break in what has been a steady stream of relentless gusts as their chance to make headway against the deadly wildfire, which is believed to have killed the two people, Ruidoso spokesperson Kerry Gladden said Thursday.

Police investigators and firefighters found the older couple's remains Wednesday afternoon after family members notified Ruidoso police that the two had tried to evacuate but were unaccounted for.

The remains were found near the home but not in it, and no additional information was immediately available, Gladden said. Authorities were working to confirm the identities of the two people.

The fire moved into a more densely populated area on Ruidoso's northeastern side Wednesday afternoon, prompting more evacuations. Laura Rabon, a spokesperson for the Lincoln National Forest, interrupted a fire briefing and told people to get in their cars and leave after the flames jumped a road where crews were trying to hold the line.

Authorities have told as many as 4,500 people to evacuate. Overnight, crews kept the flames from pushing further into the village, Rabon said.

The fire has torched about 9 square miles of forest and grass, and the strong winds that battered the area have left behind toppled trees and down power lines. Crews continued work Thursday to restore power to parts of the village that have been without it since Monday.

While the cause of the blaze was under investigation, fire officials and forecasters warned that persistent dry and windy conditions had prompted another day of red flag warnings for the eastern third of New Mexico and other parts of the Midwest.

Incident Commander Dave Bales said the strategy was "attack while we can," noting that winds were expected to pick up Thursday afternoon and again Friday.

"We're trying to keep this fire as small as possible, especially because it's right in the community," he said. "We've had a loss of a lot of structures so our crews are right there on the fire front going as direct as possible."

Six new large fires were reported Wednesday: three in Texas, two in Colorado and one in Oklahoma. In all, wildland firefighters and support personnel were trying to contain 11 large fires that have charred more than 40 square miles in five states.

The National Interagency Fire Center reported Thursday that since the start of the year, 18,550 wildfires have burned about 1,250 square miles. That's well above the 10-year average of 12,290 wildfires and 835 square miles burned.

Hotter and drier weather coupled with decades of fire suppression have contributed to an increase in the number of acres burned by wildfires, fire scientists say. The problem is exacerbated by a more than 20-year Western megadrought that studies link to human-caused climate change.

Elsewhere in New Mexico, wildfires were burning northwest of Ruidoso, along the Rio Grande south of Albuquerque, in mountains northwest of the community of Las Vegas and in grasslands along the Pecos River near the town of Roswell.

Expanding drought leaves western US scrambling for water - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

Tumbleweeds drift along the Rio Grande as sand bars within its banks widen. Smoke from distant wildfires and dust kicked up by intense spring winds fill the valley, exacerbating the feeling of distress that is beginning to weigh on residents.

One of North America's longest rivers, the Rio Grande is another example of a waterway in the western U.S. that's tapped out.

From the Pacific Northwest to the Colorado River Basin, irrigation districts already are warning farmers to expect less this year despite growing demands fueled by ever-drying conditions. Climate experts say March marked the third straight month of below-average precipitation across the U.S. and areas of record dryness are expanding in the West.

On Thursday, federal water managers shared their annual operating plan for the Rio Grande, a major water source for millions people and thousands of square miles of farmland in Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and Mexico. They believe they can keep the river flowing, but it will depend on the weather.

Ed Kandl, a hydrologist with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, said warmer temperatures will affect supplies but relief could come if summer monsoons develop. "We'll just have to see what happens," he said.

Mark Garcia, who farms about 400 acres (160 hectares) with his family in Valencia County, just south of Albuquerque, ran the numbers. He has a degree in mathematics and taught calculus for years before retiring and turning to the farm full time.

He found his family would be compensated for not irrigating about half of its acreage this year, and more water would be left in the river to help New Mexico work off a debt that has been growing as the state falls short of its obligations to deliver water to neighboring Texas.

"Logically, it was almost like a no-brainer," Garcia said of opting into the fallowing program. "The risk analysis was, I had to take it, I had to do it. I didn't want to, though."

Sitting in his backhoe in one of his fields, Garcia began to get emotional. He said he grew up watching his dad farm the land.

"I was born into this," he said. "The hard thing for me is I feel like I don't want the government to pay for me not to work. I have an issue with that."

The state of New Mexico and the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District are hoping more farmers can make that tough choice — at least long enough to help managers address the pending water debt.

Even the conservancy district, which oversees irrigation from Cochiti Dam south to Elephant Butte Reservoir, acknowledges it's a temporary solution.

Casey Ish, a water resources specialist with the district, said over 200 irrigators have enrolled, and officials are targeting fields that are less productive or need to be rested.

"For us, this is just one tool and one way the district is trying to help the state manage the state's compact debt, but we certainly don't anticipate pulling a third or half the district into a fallowing program year over year," Ish said. "That's not sustainable from a price point or an ag point."

Thursday's virtual meeting included estimates of how much the Bureau of Reclamation will have to work with this season based on spring runoff predictions and current reservoir levels. Officials said it's possible the Rio Grande, as it passes through the heart of Albuquerque, could start drying in late August or early September.

With below-average snow cover and reservoirs in some places reaching critically low levels, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration noted in its most recent monthly climate report that concerns are mounting that the western drought will intensify.

On the Colorado River, the U.S. Interior Department recently proposed holding back water in Lake Powell to maintain Glen Canyon Dam's ability to generate electricity amid what it said were the driest conditions in the region in more than 1,200 years.

The potential impacts to lower basin states that could see their water supplies reduced — California, Nevada and Arizona — aren't yet known. But the conundrum speaks to the wide-ranging functions of Lake Powell and Glen Canyon Dam, and the need to quickly pivot to confront climate change.

In the Pacific Northwest, experts are predicting one of the driest summers on record, noting that nearly 71% of the region made up of Oregon, Washington and Idaho is in drought and nearly one-quarter is already experiencing extreme drought.

An irrigation district that supplies more than 1,000 farmers and ranchers on the California-Oregon border announced earlier this week that they would get a fraction of their normal water allocation this year due to drought. It's the third consecutive year that severe drought has impacted farmers, fish and tribes in a region where there's not enough water to satisfy competing demands.

Irrigation districts that supply water to farmers along the Rio Grande in southern New Mexico and along the Pecos in the east also are promising short seasons.

Just north of the New Mexico-Colorado border, farmers in the San Luis Valley turned on their spigots April 1, drawing on their share of the Rio Grande. Water managers in New Mexico immediately saw the gauges drop, meaning less water ultimately will make its way to central New Mexico.

New Mexico swears in Shannon Bacon as chief justice - Associated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court has a new chief justice who will oversee the administration of the judiciary and act as an advocate for state courts at the legislature on budgetary and other matters.

Shannon Bacon was sworn in Wednesday to a two-year term as chief justice, a post that also involves coordination with the State Bar that sets professional standards for attorneys.

Bacon was appointed by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in 2019 and won statewide election in 2020. She previously served nine years as a state district judge in the Albuquerque-based 2nd Judicial District.

Bacon already leads several high-court initiatives including a review of issues related to race and bias in the state's justice system and efforts to promote diversity among judges and judicial employees. And she is active in efforts to improve eviction and foreclosure programs and reform the state's guardianship and conservatorship.

Bacon's years on the Supreme Court have been marked by webcast proceedings amid the COVID-19 pandemic, support for the governor's authority to impose sanctions under emergency health orders and an opinion upholding the Legislature's spending authority over federal pandemic aid.

The justice was a dissenting voice in a Supreme Court decision allowing the Legislature to convene without in-person public access to the Capitol building in 2021.

Albuquerque begins rolling out anti-speeding camerasAlbuquerque Journal, KUNM News

Albuquerque has installed the first set of anti-speeding cameras across the city in hopes of slowing drivers down with traffic fatalities on the rise.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that the initiative was announced at a news conference Wednesday. Speeders caught by the cameras can either pay a $100 fine or serve four hours of community service within 3 months of getting the ticket.

The first three cameras are posted on Montgomery and Gibson Boulevards, which the city identified as particularly dangerous roadways. Warnings will start to be sent out on April 25 and actual tickets will begin a month later. The program will eventually expand to a total of 10 cameras city-wide.

Mayor Tim Keller said he was putting drivers “on notice,” and that something needed to be done about the city’s pedestrian fatality rates.

He emphasized that the cameras are focused on curbing excessive speeding that can cause crashes and deaths, and that drivers going just a little over the speed limit won’t be cited.

The mayor said the program was designed to avoid issues encountered with the city’s former red-light camera program by including a community service option to pay the tickets off and amending the review and appeal process. Additionally, the tickets, which will come in the mail, will not appear on a driver’s record.

Children's book illustrator scours Santa Fe after art theft - Associated Press

An accomplished illustrator of books for children including a work authored by Chelsea Clinton says she is searching for a packet of penguin illustrations that were taken from her unlocked car.

Gianna Marino said Wednesday that she filed a police report after the pack of 20 illustrations disappeared overnight from the backseat of her car in Santa Fe, during an extended stay in the Southwestern hub for artists and authors.

Marino said she scoured pawn shops, galleries and social media for the illustrations without finding a clue.

The theft won't halt publication of the images in a new book about penguins and the loving bonds of family, but Marino says she wanted to save the original illustrations or give them away to friends.

"I do very detailed work, and it's probably months and months of work," she said. "I actually woke up in the middle of the night and thought, 'Oh I forgot to lock the car.' It wasn't until about six hours later when I was driving down the road when I went, 'No!'"

Marino has written and illustrated more than a dozen children's books, collaborating with Clinton on the 2019 work about endangered species titled "Don't Let Them Disappear."

Destructive wildfires rage in New Mexico, Colorado - By Susan Montoya Bryan And Paul Davenport Associated Press

Firefighters scouted the drought-stricken mountainsides around a New Mexico village as they looked for opportunities to slow a wind-driven wildfire that a day earlier had burned at least 150 homes and other structures while displacing thousands of residents and forcing the evacuation of two schools.

Homes were among the structures that had burned, but officials on Wednesday did not have a count of how many were destroyed in the blaze that torched at least 6.4 square miles of forest, brush and grass on the east side of the community of Ruidoso, said Laura Rabon, spokesperson for the Lincoln National Forest.

Rabon announced emergency evacuations of a more densely populated area during a briefing Wednesday afternoon as the fire jumped a road where crews were trying to hold the line. She told people to get in their cars and go.

New Mexico State Police released a statement late Wednesday saying two people have been found dead in a residence. Their identities will not be released until the Office of the Medical Examiner can positively identify them.

Strong winds prevented a suspension of the aerial attack on the flames and kept authorities from getting a better estimate of how large the fire had grown. But some planes returned to the air as winds subsided late in the day, and seven air tankers and two helicopters have now been assigned to the fire, Forest Service officials said Wednesday evening.

While the cause of the blaze was under investigation, fire officials and forecasters warned Wednesday that persistent dry and windy conditions had prompted red flag warnings for a wide swath that included almost all of New Mexico, half of Texas and parts of Colorado and the Midwest.

Five new large fires were reported Tuesday, and nearly 1,600 wildland firefighters and support personnel were assigned to large fires in the southwestern, southern and Rocky Mountain areas, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Hotter and drier weather coupled with decades of fire suppression have contributed to an increase in the number of acres burned by wildfires, fire scientists say. And the problem is exacerbated by a more than 20-year Western megadrought that studies link to human-caused climate change. The fire season has become year-round given changing conditions that include earlier snowmelt and rain coming later in the fall.

In Ruidoso, officials declared a state of emergency and said school classes were canceled Wednesday as the village — about 140 miles northeast of El Paso, Texas — coped with power outages due to down power lines.

The residences that burned were mostly a mix of trailers and single-family homes, and close to 4,000 people were displaced by evacuations that were ordered Tuesday. That number was expected to grow with the latest call for residents to leave.

Village spokeswoman Kerry Gladden said authorities spent part of Wednesday surveying as much damage as possible before the winds kicked up again. Air tankers also were able to drop a few loads of slurry, and more air support was expected Thursday.

"Right now, everybody is just rallying around those who had to be evacuated," Gladden said. "We're just trying to reach out to make sure everyone has places to stay."

Donations were pouring in from other communities in southern New Mexico. State officials said emergency grants have been approved that will provide resources to firefighters and for other emergency efforts.

Ruidoso in 2012 was hit by one of the most destructive wildfires in New Mexico history, when a lightning-sparked blaze destroyed more than 240 homes and burned nearly 70 square miles.

Rabon said Wednesday that no precipitation was in the forecast and humidity levels remained in the single digits, which would make stopping the flames more difficult.

"Those extremely dry conditions are not in our favor," she said.

Another wildfire in the Lincoln National Forest northwest of Ruidoso burned at least 400 acres after it was sparked Tuesday by power lines downed by high winds. Crews confirmed Wednesday that 10 structures there were lost.

Elsewhere in New Mexico, wildfires were burning along the Rio Grande south of Albuquerque, in mountains northwest of the community of Las Vegas and in grasslands along the Pecos River near the town of Roswell.

In Colorado, crews were battling wind-whipped grass fires that had destroyed two homes and forced temporary evacuations.

Texas keeping most truck inspections despite border gridlock - By Paul J. Weber And Acacia Coronado Associated Press

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday defied intensifying pressure over his new border policy that has gridlocked trucks entering the U.S. and shut down some of the world's busiest trade bridges as the Mexican government, businesses and even some allies urge him to relent.

The two-term Republican governor, who has ordered that commercial trucks from Mexico undergo extra inspections as part of a fight with President Joe Biden's administration over immigration, refused to fully reverse course as traffic remains snarled.

The standoff has stoked warnings by trade groups and experts that U.S. grocery shoppers could soon notice shortages on shelves and higher prices unless the normal flow of trucks resumes.

Abbott announced Wednesday that he would stop inspections at one bridge in Laredo after reaching an agreement with the governor of neighboring Nuevo Leon in Mexico. But some of the most dramatic truck backups and bridge closures have occurred elsewhere along Texas' 1,200-mile border.

"I understand the concerns that businesses have trying to move product across the border," Abbott said during a visit to Laredo. "But I also know well the frustration of my fellow Texans and my fellow Americans caused by the Biden administration not securing our border."

Abbott said inbound commercial trucks elsewhere will continue to undergo thorough inspections by state troopers until leaders of Mexico's three other neighboring states reach agreements with Texas over security. He did not spell out what those measures must entail.

At the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge, where more produce crosses than any other land port in the U.S., truckers protesting Abbott's order had effectively shut down the bridge since Monday. But Wednesday afternoon, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said the protests had concluded and commercial traffic had resumed.

Nuevo Leon Gov. Samuel García joined Abbott in Laredo, where backups on the Colombia Solidarity Bridge have stretched for three hours or longer. Garcia said Nuevo Leon would begin checkpoints to assure Abbott they "would not have any trouble."

Abbott said he was hopeful other Mexican states would soon follow and said those states had been in contact with his office. On Tuesday, the governors of Coahuila and Tamaulipas had sent a letter to Abbott calling the inspections overzealous.

"This policy will ultimately increase consumer costs in an already record 40-year inflated market — holding the border hostage is not the answer," the letter read.

The slowdowns are the fallout of an initiative that Abbott says is needed to curb human trafficking and the flow of drugs. Abbott ordered the inspections as part of "unprecedented actions" he promised in response to the Biden administration winding down a public health law that has limited asylum-seekers in the name of preventing the spread of COVID-19.

In addition to the inspections, Abbott also said Texas would begin offering migrants bus rides to Washington, D.C., in a demonstration of frustration with the Biden administration and Congress. Hours before the news conference in Laredo, Abbott announced the first bus carrying 24 migrants had arrived in Washington.

During the last week of March, Border Protection officials said the border averaged more than 7,100 crossings daily.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki called Abbott's order "unnecessary and redundant." Trucks are inspected by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents upon entering the country, and while Texas troopers have previously done additional inspections on some vehicles, local officials and business owners say troopers have never stopped every truck until now.

Cross-border traffic has plummeted to a third of normal levels since the inspections began, according to Mexico's government. Mexico is a major supplier of fresh vegetables to the U.S., and importers say the wait times and rerouting of trucks to other bridges as far away as Arizona has spoiled some produce shipments.

The escalating pressure on Abbott, who is up for reelection in November, has come from his supporters and members of his own party.

The Texas Trucking Association, which has endorsed Abbott, said that the current situation "cannot be sustained."

John Esparza, the association's president, said he agrees with attempts to find a remedy with Mexico's governors. But he said if talks take long, congestion could overwhelm bridges where inspections by Texas are no longer being done.

"The longer that goes, the more the impact is felt across the country," Esparza said. " It is like when a disaster strikes."

The slowdowns have set off some of the widest backlash to date of Abbott's multibillion-dollar border operation, which the two-term governor has made the cornerstone of his administration. Texas has thousands of state troopers and National Guard members on the border and has converted prisons into jails for migrants arrested on state trespassing charges.

Critics question how the inspections are meeting Abbott's objective of stopping the flow of migrants and drugs. Asked what troopers had turned up in their truck inspections, Abbott directed the question to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

As of Monday, the agency said it had inspected more than 3,400 commercial vehicles and placed more than 800 "out of service" for violations that included defective brakes, tires and lighting. It made no mention of whether the inspections turned up migrants or drugs.

New Mexico GOP tells schools to reject social studies change - By Cedar Attanasio Associated Press / Report For America

A Republican lawmaker is telling New Mexico school districts to defy state education rules and ignore newly overhauled K-12 social studies standards enacted by the state's education department, calling them racially divisive.

The standards were the first complete overhaul of history, geography, economics, and social studies since 2001. In addition to race, they added sections, including LGBT history, the 9/11 attacks and personal finance. Some other states, however, have restricted the teaching of race in moves that New Mexico Republicans have cheered. They see the issue as a potent one in this year's gubernatorial race.

"As local school officials, you are morally obligated to reject these standards and to proceed serving your community as the autonomous school official you were elected to serve as," wrote State House Minority Whip Rod Montoya, in the letter, shared Tuesday by Republican officials.

The letter marks an escalation in the politics of education in New Mexico because it urges school boards to ignore state rules codified by the Legislature and enforced by the education department.

By law, the Public Education Department sets education standards. School districts are funded by the Legislature with the expectation that they follow them.

Following a rulemaking process with public input, the education department increased the focus on Native American history, and required students to learn more about the role of privilege and race in public life.

Education officials say the implementation of new standards in fall of 2023 will increase inclusivity in the classroom and prepare students to live in an increasingly multicultural society.

About half of New Mexico is Hispanic, and around 10% of residents are Native American.

It's unclear what all-out defiance against the social studies standards Montoya is calling for would look like.

School districts are free to choose their textbooks and the overall content of their lessons. For example, the standards require students to evaluate "the role of race and racism in the acts of land redistribution" during European and U.S. conquests of the Southwest. But school districts decide how students learn those concepts.

Montoya, who is Hispanic, didn't elaborate in the letter and has not responded to a request for comment.

It's also unclear how the state would respond if school leaders found a way to reject the standards outright.

In a statement, education department spokeswoman Judy Robinson said that public schools are "charged with implementing the standards through specific, locally designed curriculum," but declined to comment on what would happen if they didn't do that.

School board leaders are elected locally but can be fired by the Public Education Department.

It removed one school board last August after it voted to make masks and social distancing optional, directly contradicting Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's health order at the time. It removed another board over alleged violations of ethics and transparency laws.

Lots of broadband money, but US expansion finds speed bumps - By Wilson Ring And Mark Gillispie Associated Press

In the remote Vermont community of Victory, Town Clerk Tracey Martel says she's regularly frustrated watching a spinning circle on her computer while she tries to complete even the most basic municipal chores online.

"Fast internet would be really good," said Martel, whose community of about 70 was one of the last in Vermont to receive electricity almost 60 years ago. The DSL service she has now works for basic internet, but it can be spotty and it doesn't allow users to access all the benefits of the interconnected world.

About 5 miles (8 kilometers) away as the bird flies in the neighboring community along Miles Pond in the town of Concord, a new fiber optic line is beginning to bring truly high-speed internet to residents of the remote area known as the Northeast Kingdom.

"I'm looking forward to high-speed internet, streaming TV," said Concord resident John Gilchrist, as a crew ran fiber optic cable to his home earlier this year.

The fiber optic cable that is beginning to serve the remote part of Concord and will one day serve Victory is being provided through NEK Broadband, a utility of nearly 50 Vermont towns working to bring high speed internet service to the most remote parts of the state.

NEK Broadband Executive Director Christa Shute said the group's business plan calls for offering services to all potential customers within five years, but given current supply constraints and the shortage of trained technicians, she's beginning to think that goal isn't achievable.

"I think our build will take seven to 10 years," she said.

Congress has appropriated tens of billions of dollars for a variety of programs to help fill the digital gap exposed by the pandemic when millions of people were locked down in their homes with no way to study, work or get online medical care.

The first of those funds are reaching municipalities, businesses and other groups involved in the effort, but some say supply chain issues, labor shortages and geographic constraints will slow the rollout.

The demand for fiber optic cable goes beyond wired broadband to homes and businesses. The cable will help provide the 5G technology now being rolled out by wireless communications providers.

But there's a bottleneck in the supply. Michael Bell, of Corning Optical Communications based in Charlotte, North Carolina, said the issue lies with supply of the protective jacket that surrounds the hair-thin strands of glass that carry information on beams of light.

Currently, some working to expand broadband say delays in getting the fiber optic cable they need can exceed a year.

"Based on the capacity we're adding, and the capacity we see our competitors adding, wait times will start going down dramatically as the year progresses and into next year," Bell said. "And I think as we get into next year, the lead time for most customers is going to be well under a year."

Meanwhile, there's a labor shortage for installing the cable. Many in the industry are setting up educational programs to train people to work with the fiber, said Jim Hayes, of the Santa Monica, California-based Fiber Optic Association.

"It needs to be done now," Hayes said. "We're going to need to train probably ten techs for every tech that we've got who's competent to lead them."

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill passed last fall, says areas that receive broadband speeds of less than 25-megabit downloads and 3 megabit uploads are considered unserved. To qualify for different federal grants through the infrastructure bill and other programs, most finished projects must offer speeds of at least 100 megabits per second for downloads. Upload speeds differ, but most federal grants have a minimum of 20-megabit uploads.

For comparison, it takes 80 seconds to download a 1 gigabyte video at the speed of 100 megabits per second. It takes four times as long — 320 seconds, or more than 5 minutes — at 25 megabits per second.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration — a part of the Agency of Commerce, which is funding broadband projects across the country through the infrastructure law — is neutral about how internet service providers reach the speed requirements. Many providers say the key to bringing true high-speed internet service to the entire country is to install fiber optic cable to every nook and cranny.

Deploying high-speed internet in tribal communities and rural areas across the western United States where distances dwarf those of rural northern New England will be even more challenging.

Broadband access on the Navajo Nation — the largest reservation in the U.S. at 27,000 square miles in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah — is a mix of dial-up, satellite service, wireless, fiber and mobile data.

The U.S. Department of the Interior, which has broad oversight of tribal affairs, said federal appraisals, rights-of-way permits, environment reviews and archaeological protection laws can delay progress.

The argument against the wireless options currently being used in some areas is they can't offer speeds needed to qualify for the federal grants.

Mike Wendy of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association said wireless technology is getting faster and more reliable, and wireless connections could be the only way to reach some of the most remote locations.

"The challenge of all this money is to make sure that the unserved are served," said Wendy, whose organization represents about 1,000 fixed wireless internet providers. "Our guys are in those markets right now and they're growing."

Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said $233 million in state dollars will be used in his state to expand broadband to over 43,000 households. Other internet service providers have agreed to expand broadband to another 51,000 households. Ohio is expected to receive an additional $268 million in federal funding to further broadband expansion in the state.

Husted said Ohio is focused on infrastructure while groups and organizations are needed to provide computers and to help people adapt to the fast-growing digital age.

"We're building the road," Husted said. "Access to broadband is like the highway system. That's where we're focused. It doesn't mean there are people who don't need cars or need driver's licenses."

There are still scattered locations across the country that rely on dialup and some people in remote locations use satellite internet services. Some people have no internet options whatsoever.

Martel, the Victory town clerk, said that when the people from NEK Broadband visited, they told residents it would be five to seven years before fiber optic cable would reach the community.

But Shute said her organization hopes to get a grant to connect the most rural areas, which could move the timeline for Victory up to three years.

Back in East Concord, after having the service for several weeks, Gilchrist said he and his daughter Emily, who is 19 and headed to college in a few months, no longer have to go to the local diner to use the internet. He canceled his expensive satellite TV service, his daughter and her friends have been using it to play online video games and in a few months she will be using the connection while doing college studies.

"It's been working great, as far as I'm concerned, all I do is check email," Gilchrist said. "I don't watch TV, but my daughter loves it."

In drought-stricken West, officials weigh emergency actions - By Felicia Fonseca Associated Press

Federal officials say it may be necessary to reduce water deliveries to users on the Colorado River to prevent the shutdown of a huge dam that supplies hydropower to some 5 million customers across the U.S. West.

Officials had hoped snowmelt would buoy Lake Powell on the Arizona-Utah border to ensure its dam could continue to supply power. But snow is already melting, and hotter-than-normal temperatures and prolonged drought are further shrinking the lake.

The Interior Department has proposed holding back water in the lake to maintain Glen Canyon Dam's ability to generate electricity amid what it said were the driest conditions in the region in more than 1,200 years.

"The best available science indicates that the effects of climate change will continue to adversely impact the basin," Tanya Trujillo, the Interior's assistant secretary for water and science wrote to seven states in the basin Friday.

Trujillo asked for feedback on the proposal to keep 480,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Powell — enough water to serve about 1 million U.S. households. She stressed that operating the dam below 3,490 feet, considered its minimum power pool, is uncharted territory and would lead to even more uncertainty for the western electrical grid and water deliveries to states and Mexico downstream.

In the Colorado River basin, Glen Canyon Dam is the mammoth of power production, delivering electricity to about 5 million customers in seven states — Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. As Lake Powell falls, the dam becomes less efficient. At 3,490 feet, it can't produce power.

If levels were to fall below that mark, the 7,500 residents in the city at the lake, Page, and the adjacent Navajo community of LeChee would have no access to drinking water.

The Pacific Northwest, and the Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico and Texas are facing similar strains on water supplies.

Lake Powell fell below 3,525 feet for the first time ever last month, a level that concerned worried water managers. Federal data shows it will dip even further, in the most probable scenario, before rebounding above the level next spring.

If power production ceases at Glen Canyon Dam, customers that include cities, rural electric cooperatives and tribal utilities would be forced to seek more expensive options. The loss also would complicate western grid operations since hydropower is a relatively flexible renewable energy source that can be easily turned up or down, experts say.

"We're in crisis management, and health and human safety issues, including production of hydropower, are taking precedence," said Jack Schmidt, director of the center for Colorado River Studies at Utah State University. "Concepts like, 'Are we going to get our water back' just may not even be relevant anymore."

The potential impacts to lower basin states that could see their water supplies reduced — California, Nevada and Arizona — aren't yet known. But the Interior's move is a display of the wide-ranging functions of Lake Powell and Glen Canyon Dam, and the need to quickly pivot to confront climate change.

Lake Powell serves as the barometer for the river's health in the upper basin, and Lake Mead has that job in the lower basin. Both were last full in the year 2000 but have declined to one-fourth and one-third of their capacity, respectively, as drought tightened its grip on the region.

Water managers in the basin states — Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico and Colorado — are evaluating the proposal. The Interior Department has set an April 22 deadline for feedback.