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KUNM News Update

MON: Crews in New Mexico scramble to corral wildfires, + More

Spring Wildfires
Cedar Attanasio/AP
/
AP
A sunset seen through a wall of wildfire smoke from the Amtrak train station in Las Vegas, N.M., on Saturday, May 7, 2022. The Castañeda Hotel, right, hosted meals for residents and firefighters this week with sponsorships from restaurants and other businesses. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)

Crews in New Mexico, Arizona scramble to corral wildfires - By Cedar Attanasio And Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

Firefighters in northern New Mexico worked Monday in rugged terrain ahead of a massive wildfire, feverishly trying to position crews to clear brush and stop the monster blaze from burning more homes in the Rocky Mountain foothills.

The wildfire has charred about 300 square miles of tinder-dry ponderosa forests, making it the largest blaze burning in the U.S. during what has been an early start to the fire season. Thousands of people have been evacuated.

Much of the Southwest has been in the grips of drought for decades and warmer temperatures have combined with spring winds to make for dangerous fire conditions.

Crews in Arizona were dealing with strong winds Monday as they battled a fire near the U.S.-Mexico border that forced several dozen people from their homes.

And another wildfire in northern New Mexico near the federal government's key facilities for nuclear research prompted Los Alamos National Laboratory and others in the area to begin preparing for evacuations, though officials stressed there was no immediate threat to the lab.

Strong, gusty winds continued to blow across the region after fanning the fires for weeks and often grounding essential aircraft used to drop water or fire retardant ahead of the flames, complicating efforts to contain them.

Fire officials were assessing weather conditions Monday and predicted part of the main New Mexico fire would push north into rugged terrain that is difficult for firefighters to access.

"This isn't a surprise to us. All the models showed this probably was going to happen," said fire operations section chief Todd Abel, adding that crews have spent days working to protect ranch homes scattered through the area.

Nearly 1,700 firefighters were battling the blaze burning northeast of Santa Fe. It was nearly 50% contained but has destroyed hundreds of homes and other structures.

The region's largest population center — Las Vegas, New Mexico, home to 13,000 people — remained largely safe from the flames after some area residents were allowed to return over the weekend. Schools were expected to return to in-person classes on Tuesday.

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Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, New Mexico, contributed to this report.

3 found dead in Albuquerque parking lot in murder-suicide - Associated Press

Albuquerque police say a man shot and killed two teenagers who were cousins before turning the gun on himself in what appears to be a murder-suicide.

Officers responded to reports of a man shooting himself in the head in the parking lot of a Party City store on Sunday around 12:30 p.m.

They discovered 53-year-old man and a boy and girl—both 16 years old and shot.

Despite administering CPR and other efforts, all three were pronounced dead at the scene.

Police identified the teens as Alexia Rael and her cousin, Mario Salgado-Rosales, while the man was identified as Bradley Wallin.

Homicide detectives learned during the preliminary investigation that Wallin had been in a past relationship with the mother of Alexia Rael.

They say the woman filed a temporarily restraining order against Wallin last month and a hearing for a permanent restraining order had been scheduled for later this month.

Appeals court sides with Carlsbad police in YouTuber lawsuit - Associated Press

A federal appeals court has rejected a YouTuber's claims that a Carlsbad police officer falsely arrested him and violated his civil rights.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday upheld a lower court ruling dismissing a lawsuit filed in 2020 by Albert Bustillos against the city of Carlsbad.

Bustillos records police encounters for his Stray Dog The Exposer YouTube channel. In October 2019, he filmed Carlsbad police officers handcuffing a woman experiencing an "altered mental status" and running into traffic.

Officer Daniel Vasquez ordered Bustillos to leave because his presence was agitating the woman, according to court documents. When Bustillos refused to leave or show his I.D., Vasquez handcuffed him. He was released a few minutes later when he displayed an I.D.

Vasquez, now a sergeant, was named in the lawsuit.

The appellate court ruled that Vasquez had probable cause to request Bustillos' I.D. and to arrest him. Bustillos' "desire to film from a particular location does not authorize him to break the law," the court wrote.

Bustillos also filed a similar lawsuit in 2020 against the Artesia Police Department.

Shooting death of Santa Fe officer's son under AG review - Associated Press

Almost six months after a Santa Fe police officer's 2-year-old son was accidentally shot and killed in his home, state prosecutors are conducting an investigation into possible charges.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported Sunday the New Mexico Attorney General's Office confirmed they're in the process of an independent review.

Jerri Mares, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, said they are following the process when asked if the involvement of a police officer was impacting the pace.

The Dec. 8 shooting in officer Jonathan Harmon's Rio Rancho home occurred while Harmon was still in bed and his wife was tending to their newborn in another bedroom.

Harmon's 4-year-old son climbed onto a kitchen counter to get to a cabinet, according to an incident report. He found Harmon's off-duty gun and accidently discharged it, striking 2-year-old Lincoln.

Harmon has not faced any charges and remains on administrative duty with Santa Fe police. Deputy Chief Ben Valdez says the department will conduct its own investigation after Rio Rancho police finish theirs.

Sandoval County District Attorney Barbara Romo requested the Attorney General's Office's assistance in March. She cited a conflict of interest because of Harmon's previous job with Bernalillo police. He often worked with her office.

The Attorney General's Office released records tied to the case that the city of Rio Rancho previously withheld. The New Mexican and the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government had sued in March to obtain police reports, 911 audio and other materials under public records law.

U.S. Forest Service defends prescribed burn that caused Hermit’s Peak fire – Patrick Lohmann, Source New Mexico 

A United States Forest Service spokesperson said the prescribed burn that got out of control to become the Hermit's Peak fire is a rare occurrence, and she defended prescribed burns as a necessary risk required to protect the nation’s forests.

The service is also conducting a “review” of the Las Dispensas prescribed burn April 6 south of Mora, New Mexico. Because of the “review,” the spokesperson said Friday, the service will not provide additional details about the decision to ignite the fire on a windy April day or provide Source New Mexico a copy of the “prescribed burn plan.” The plan is a document that must be prepared in advance of any prescribed burn that includes details about forecasted weather conditions, potential hazards, personnel needs and other information.

“As with most cases, the prescribed fire is currently under review,” Forest Service spokesperson Michelle Burnett told Source New Mexico. “So it would be premature to comment on the details or release any documents, including the prescribed burn plan, until after that is complete.”

The service has said that forecasted weather conditions were “within parameters of the prescribed burn,” but the agency has declined to specify what those parameters were.

A Santa Fe National Forest crew ignited what was supposed to be the 1,200-acre Las Dispensas prescribed burn April 6, and officials have since said “unexpected erratic winds” fanned embers beyond the perimeter of the burn site.

What became the Hermits Peak fire burned about 7,500 acres before joining forces with the Calf Canyon fire a couple weeks later. At the time it merged, the Hermits Peak fire was about 91% contained, according to the Southwest Coordination Center.

The combined Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon fire has now burned more than 175,000 acres in northern New Mexico, quickly becoming the second-biggest fire in state history. The megafire caused thousands to flee their homes and torched hundreds of structures. Unprecedented wind surges in the coming days could mean the fire spreads even further out of control. It was 21% contained on Sunday afternoon.

Last week, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called on the federal forest agency to rework its rules around prescribed burns in the Southwest, specifically when it comes to starting fires in the spring windy season. U.S. Rep. Theresa Leger Fernandez also wrote a letter last week to the USFS secretary demanding answers about how the prescribed burn was approved.

A New Mexico fire expert told Source New Mexico last week that it was “extremely risky” to have ignited the burn in early April.

The Las Dispensas burn was previously scheduled for mid-March, but officials called it off due to snow on the ground, according to a statement at the time.

Burnett said the Forest Service does about 100 prescribed fires each year, and just two others have escaped and become wildfires since 2011.

“Prescribed fire is one of the most efficient and low-cost ways of reducing wildfire risk,” Burnett told Source New Mexico in a statement. “Regularly conducting low-grade prescribed fires, which mimic nature, reduces and maintains the buildup of flammable vegetation and overgrowth. When wildfires come through an area after a prescribed burn, they are more likely to be smaller, easier to control and much less dangerous.”

In May 2000, the Forest Service ignited a prescribed burn near Los Alamos. Winds also spun that fire out of control, eventually destroying hundreds of Los Alamos homes and causing $1 billion in damage.

CALF CANYON CAUSE UNKNOWN

The cause of the Calf Canyon fire is still being determined, though some residents and an elected official from the area have wondered whether the Hermits Peak fire actually provided the spark.

For that to have happened, high winds April 19 would have had to have carried a live ember at least three miles from the western edge of the Hermits Peak fire west to the ignition site in Calf Canyon.

Dave Bales, incident commander in charge of the fighting the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon fire, told Source New Mexico on Friday that he did not think it’s possible for the Hermits Peak fire to have caused the Calf Canyon fire.

While it’s plausible lit embers could have traveled that far, he said, the winds were going in the wrong direction that day.

“It was just the way the winds were blowing and where the Calf Canyon fire started. It wasn’t possible to spot that way, from what I’ve seen,” he said.

The Forest Service has not provided an estimate about when a cause will officially be determined.

Meanwhile, more than 1,300 personnel have gathered in New Mexico in recent weeks to fight the nation’s biggest wildfire. Fire managers are warning of “unprecedented” winds that will surge up to 60 mph and not die down at night.

The winds, which Lujan Grisham said create the “worst possible” conditions, could mean the fire rapidly grows its footprint over the next several days. Bales also said containment — which has remained around 20% over the last week or so — could actually decrease during the wind surge.

He urged residents to stay safe and do their best not to spark a fire, one that could quickly become unmanageable and further tax resources in conditions like this.

“Any spark in these types of winds could create another start for us that we would have to focus on as well, on top of the main fire itself,” Bales said at a news briefing Friday in Las Vegas. “So we’re asking for a lot of support, please help us.”

Joshua Cohen and the late Winfred Rembert win arts Pulitzers - By Hillel Italie AP National Writer

Joshua Cohen's "The Netanyahus," a comic and rigorous campus novel based on the true story of the father of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeking a job in academia, has won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Benzion Netanyahu, who died in 2012, was a medieval historian and ultra-nationalist who taught at several American schools, including the University of Denver and Cornell University. "The Netanyahus" is set around 1959-60 and centers on a Jewish historian at a university loosely based on Cornell who is asked to help decide whether to hire the visiting Israeli scholar. The novel, subtitled "An Account of a Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family," has been highly praised for its blend of wit and intellectual debate about Zionism and Jewish identity.

"It is an infuriating, frustrating, pretentious piece of work — and also absorbing, delightful, hilarious, breathtaking and the best and most relevant novel I've read in what feels like forever," The New York Times' Taffy Brodesser-Akner wrote last June.

Many of the winners in the arts Monday were explorations of race and class, in the past and the present. Winners were also announced in several journalism categories.

James Ijames' "Fat Ham," an adaptation of Shakespeare's "Hamlet" set at a Black family's barbecue in the modern South, received the Pulitzer for drama. The late artist Winfred Rembert won in biography for "Chasing Me to My Grave: An Artist's Memoir of the Jim Crow South," as told to Erin I. Kelly. Rembert, who survived years in prison and a near-lynching in rural Georgia in the 1960s, died last year at age 75.

Andrea Elliott's "Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City," which builds upon her New York Times investigative series about a homeless Black girl from Brooklyn, received a Pulitzer for general nonfiction. Elliott's book has already won the Gotham Prize for outstanding work about New York City.

Two prizes were awarded Monday in history: Nicole Eustace's "Covered with Night: A Story of Murder and Indigenous Justice in Early America" and Ada Ferrer's "Cuba: An American History," which traces the centuries-long relationship between U.S. and its Southern neighbor.

Diane Seuss won in poetry for "frank: sonnets" and the music award was given to Raven Chacon for his composition for organ and ensemble, "Voiceless Mass." Chacon is a composer, performer and installation artist from the Navajo Nation. His art work, currently on display at the Whitney Biennial, is inspired by protestors at the Oceti Sakowin near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota.

His 2020 opera, "Sweet Land," co-composed with Du Yun, was performed outdoors at the Los Angeles State Historic Park earned critical praise for its revisionist telling of American history using different narratives simultaneously. The opera was awarded best opera by the Music Critics Association of North America for 2021.

Chacon also worked with the art collective Postcommodity from 2009 to 2018. He graduated from the University of New Mexico and the California Institute of the Arts and is scheduled to start a residency at the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage in Philadelphia in 2022.

His solo artworks have been displayed at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Smithsonian Institute's American Art Museum and National Museum of the American Indian and many more.

As a musician, he creates experimental and electronic music as a solo artist as well as in the duo Endlings with John Dieterich, who also performs with the band Deerhoof.

Drama finalists included "Selling Kabul" by Sylvia Khoury and "Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord" by Kristina Wong.

The drama award, which includes a $15,000 prize, is "for a distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life." Ijames is a Philadelphia-based playwright and Wilma Theater co-artistic director whose "Fat Ham" production was streamed last summer.

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AP Entertainment Writers Kristin M. Hall and Mark Kennedy contributed to this report.

Strong winds batter New Mexico, complicating wildfire fight - By Cedar Attanasio And Kathleen Ronayne Associated Press

Dangerous, gusty winds were expected to continue Monday across northeast New Mexico, complicating the fight against wildfires that threaten thousands of homes in mountainous rural communities.

The region's largest city — Las Vegas, New Mexico, home to 13,000 people — was largely safe from danger after firefighters mostly stopped a blaze there from moving east. But the northern and southern flanks of the wildfire proved trickier to contain as wind gusts topped 50 mph.

"It's been a challenging day. The winds have picked up; they haven't let up," fire spokesperson Todd Abel said Sunday night.

A so-called "red flag warning" that indicates high fire danger due to heat, low humidity and fast winds will remain in place through Monday night, nearly four days after it began.

More than 1,600 firefighters were out Sunday battling the two major blazes burning northeast of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Together they covered 275 square miles, an area more than twice the size of Philadelphia. Firefighters had contained nearly half of the blazes by Sunday night.

Still, the threat was far from over with the National Interagency Fire Center saying early Sunday that more than 20,000 structures remained threatened by the fire, which has destroyed about 300 residences over the past two weeks.

Fast winds are in many ways firefighters' worst nightmare, especially in conditions as hot and dry as those the crews have been battling in the Southwest since early April.

In addition to fanning and spreading the flames, these winds keep air tankers and light planes grounded. That left them unable to drop water directly on the fire or lay down retardant ahead of its path to allow bulldozers and ground crews to dig firebreaks in places where there are no highways or roads to help stop the progression.

In extreme conditions, like the ones in New Mexico, even the helicopters that can typically get up in the air — at least during the early morning hours before winds start to pick up in the afternoon — are grounded. That prevents them from gathering intelligence about overnight developments. Aircraft were able to fly early Sunday but were grounded by the afternoon.

"It's not good, obviously; it takes away a tool in our toolbox, but we're not stopping," said fire spokesperson Ryan Berlin.

Officials were concerned about winds that had whipped up more flames on the northern edge of the fire near some very small communities of several hundred people. Gusts had driven fire down into a canyon, making it difficult to get to, said Dave Bales, the incident commander.

He and other officials strongly urged people to be ready to evacuate or to leave immediately if they've been told to do so. Should the fire overwhelm a community, heavy smoke and congested roads could make it hard for people to flee and for firefighters to access the area, he said.

"It is so thick you can't see, you can't drive, you can't see the engine ahead of you," Bales said.

Those towns sit along a state highway that runs from Las Vegas, New Mexico, up to Taos, a popular place for skiing and other outdoor recreation. Taos, however, was not threatened, but people in some parts of the larger Taos County have been told to prepare for possible evacuations.

In the small community of Las Vegas, some residents began returning on Saturday and some local businesses reopened. Containment lines established by bulldozers as well as the direction of the wind helped keep the community safe over the weekend. But some fire officials warned people to remain aware of evacuation orders because conditions could change quickly.

"Just because the winds are coming from one direction doesn't mean they can't change direction, so it's better to be prepared and have residents ready to go," said Wendy Mason with the New Mexico Forestry Division.

Nationwide, close to 2,000 square miles have burned so far this year, with 2018 being the last time this much fire had been reported at this point, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. And predictions for the rest of the spring do not bode well for the West, where long-term drought and warmer temperatures brought on by climate change have combined to worsen the threat of wildfire.

Strong, swirling winds complicate New Mexico wildfire fight - By Cedar Attanasio And Scott Sonner Associated Press

Strong, fast winds complicated work for firefighters in northeast New Mexico on Sunday as they battled two major blazes, though the rural area's major population center appeared to finally be safe from the worst danger.

"It's been a challenging day. The winds have picked up; they haven't let up," fire spokesperson Todd Abel said Sunday evening.

The rural area's largest town — Las Vegas, New Mexico, population 13,000 — sits on the eastern edge of the fire area and appeared safe for now thanks to fire lines dug with bulldozers and other preparations over the past week. But the northern and southern edges of the blaze were still proving tricky for firefighters to contain, particularly given winds as fast as 50 miles per hour Abel said.

The fire's perimeter stretched more than 60 miles from Las Vegas, New Mexico, on the southeast flank to near Holbrook about 50 miles south of the Colorado line. The National Interagency Fire Center said early Sunday that more than 20,000 structures remained threatened by the fire, which has destroyed about 300 residences over the last two weeks. The fire center said full containment wasn't anticipated until the end of July.

The ferocious winds were expected to continue with little break Sunday night and at least into Monday. Strong, gusty winds are in many ways firefighters' worst nightmare, especially in conditions so hot and dry as the crews in the Southwest have been battling since early April.

In addition to fanning and spreading the flames, such winds ground airtankers and light planes that can drop water directly on the fire or lay down retardant ahead of its path to allow bulldozers and ground crews to dig firebreaks in places where there's no highways or roads that can help stop the progression of the flames.

In extreme conditions, like the ones in New Mexico, even the helicopters that typically can get up in the air — at least during the early morning hours before winds start to pick up in the afternoon — are grounded. That means they're unable to gather intelligence about the overnight developments critical to making new attack plans or placing new orders for firefighters, engines and more aircraft from across the region where demand grows exponentially as summer nears and the more traditional fire season begins.

Aircraft were able to fly early Sunday but were grounded by early afternoon, Abel said.

"It's not good, obviously; it takes away a tool in our toolbox, but we're not stopping," said fire spokesperson Ryan Berlin.

Firefighters prepared to protect homes if needed in several other rural communities along the state highway that connects Las Vegas to Taos, a small community popular for outdoor recreation activities like skiing. Officials repeatedly urged people to evacuate if they have been told to do so.

"It's a dogfight out there folks," fire spokesperson Bill Morse said Sunday evening.

As of early Sunday, the biggest blaze northeast of Santa Fe had grown to an area more than twice the size of Philadelphia. Thousands of residents have been forced to flee their homes.

For now, the city of Las Vegas appears to be safe, said Berlin. Some residents of the area were able to return to their homes on Saturday, and some shops and restaurants had reopened.

"We even started to repopulate a section of town already," he said. "Our concern right now is on the southwest portion of the fire which the wind is helping us out, sort of, because it's blowing the flames back into the fire."

But Wendy Mason with the New Mexico Forestry Division warned that "by no means" is anyone "out of potential danger."

"Just because the winds are coming from one direction doesn't mean they can't change direction so it's better to be prepared and have residents ready to go," she said.

Nationwide, close to 2,000 square miles have burned so far this year, with 2018 being the last time this much fire had been reported at this point, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. And predictions for the rest of the spring do not bode well for the West, where long-term drought and warmer temperatures brought on by climate change have combined to worsen the threat of wildfire.

Tribes credited with elevating vaccinations in rural Arizona - By Terry Tang Associated Press

Mary Francis had no qualms about being a poster child for COVID-19 vaccinations on the Navajo Nation, once a virus hot spot. The Navajo woman's face and words grace a digital flyer asking people on the Native American reservation to get vaccinated "to protect the shidine'e (my people)."

"I was happy to put the information out there and just building that awareness and in having folks feel comfortable enough, or curious enough, to read the material," said Francis, who lives in Page, near the Utah border, and manages care packages and vaccine drives for a Navajo and Hopi relief fund.

In a pandemic that has seen sharp divides between urban and rural vaccination rates nationwide, Arizona is the only state where rural vaccine rates outpaced more populated counties, according to a recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Public health experts believe the trend was mainly fueled by a group that lost a disproportionate number of lives to COVID-19: Native Americans.

Tribal communities were left more vulnerable to the virus because of underlying health issues like diabetes and heart disease, as well as multiple generations sharing a home. Cases and deaths piled on despite curfews, weekend lockdowns, mask mandates and business shutdowns. By April 2020, the Navajo Nation — which encompasses parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah — declared it had been hit harder by the coronavirus than any other tribe.

The devastating loss, particularly of elders, drove a push for vaccinations as an act of selflessness. Holly Van Lew, co-leader of a federal Indian Health Service taskforce rolling out vaccines nationwide, credits Navajo Nation officials with constantly emphasizing that message.

"It really comes from a different perspective. Instead of 'You should get your COVID-19 vaccines too,' (it's) 'We should all as community members protect each other,'" said Lew, a clinical pharmacist at the Phoenix Indian Medical Center.

Native Americans make up significant portions of five of the seven counties designated as rural in the CDC report. A 2020 Census survey shows they account for nearly three-fourths of the 71,000 people in Apache County and almost half of the 110,000 residents in Navajo County. They are an estimated 10% to 15% in three smaller counties, Gila, Graham and La Paz.

Arizona has 15 counties total. The CDC determined counties were rural if they either had no substantial "urban cluster" or one with a population between 10,000 and 50,000.

The overall percentage of people in those counties who were vaccine-eligible and got at least partly vaccinated between December 2020 and January this year was 86.1%. It was 69.3% in urban counties, the report said.

Nationally, urban counties outshone rural ones 75.4% to to 58.5%.

A different picture emerges from the state's data. Dr. Bob England, former Maricopa County Department of Public Health director, said state dashboard numbers lead to a calculation of an estimated 70% rate in urban counties and a 66% rate in rural counties.

However, Arizona's Department of Health Services doesn't receive vaccine data from the Indian Health Service, which provides health care to more than 2.5 million Native Americans and Alaska Natives on and off tribal land.

"If I adjust data that's included in the CDC report but not on the state dashboard, then you could 100% say with certainty that the only reason why those rural counties were ranked higher than urban is because of tribal participation in vaccination campaigns," said Will Humble, former department director. "There's no way it could be anything else."

The two rural counties in the CDC report where Native Americans have little presence were Santa Cruz, near the U.S.-Mexico border, and Greenlee, which touches the New Mexico state line.

Santa Cruz had an extremely high vaccination rate of 146% among a population of roughly 46,000. Officials say that figure is because of laborers from Mexico as well as visitors. Seasonal workers in produce warehouses, a major industry there, got the jab through the county and University of Arizona Health Sciences-run mobile health units in border communities, said Jeff Terrell, the county's health director.

"You look at the numbers that we've put out there," Terrell said. "If you think about the vaccination sites at the border as well. If you add that into the county — yes, I think that was a contributing factor."

For the counties with high Native populations, outreach included some unique strategies. The IHS taskforce collaborated with federal, state and local partners on vaccine clinics and radio and print ads in Native languages. They also met people where they lived. Public health nurses went door-to-door in tribal communities and vaccinated entire families, Van Lew said.

Organizations like the Navajo and Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund have hosted vaccine drives with T-shirts and gift cards. They created TikTok videos, newspaper ads and even "influencer" posters for social media. The influencers are trusted tribal members like professional golfer Notah Begay III, who is Navajo, said Wendy Atcitty, the fund's program manager for public health education.

"One of the most important steps of regaining the health of our communities is getting a COVID-19 vaccine!" reads a quote on a poster of a smiling Begay. "I received mine and I feel great!"

Tribal vaccine drives faced plenty of resistors. No one knows that more than Hector Begaye, who was hesitant to get vaccinated but had to so he could work for the Navajo and Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund.

Even with all the incentives, he can't convince everyone.

"All we can do is share our personal stories and encouragement and acceptance," Begaye said. "In this line of work, as much as we want people to be boosted, we can't force it down their throat."

Arizona nuclear plant seeking alternative source of water - By Ryan Randazzo, Associated Press, Arizona Republic

The largest nuclear power plant in the U.S. is still looking for an alternative water source after scuttling plans to pump brackish groundwater west of Phoenix, which it first pursued in 2019.

The Palo Verde Generating Station is the only nuclear plant in the world not adjacent to a large body of water to cool the plant. Instead, it uses reclaimed water piped more than 35 miles across the desert.

That water is getting more expensive, and to keep the plant economical, Arizona Public Service Co. is exploring ways to use it wiser, including a test project with Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, this summer, the Arizona Republic reported.

The plant uses about 65 million gallons of treated wastewater every day — more than 23 billion gallons a year — to generate electricity.

The contract with cities to sell the plant the treated wastewater runs through 2050 and gets more expensive after 2025.

"That's just a fact of what is in our water contracts and it is important to us to look for ways to operate more cost-effectively," said Brad Berles, general manager of Palo Verde water resources.

The water from the 91st Avenue Wastewater Treatment Plant cost $53 an acre-foot in 2010. It will cost $300 an acre-foot in 2025. Starting in 2026, water rates will be set using a tiered formula, rising with water use.

One acre-foot is approximately 326000 gallons, or enough water to supply three single-family households in Phoenix for a year.

APS is working with Sandia on a dry-cooling pilot project to be built at the New Mexico laboratory.

Nuclear fuel is used to heat water in the plant and make steam. After steam from the plant spins a turbine and makes electricity, it is sent to large cooling towers outside the plant where much of it evaporates away.

The Sandia project will study cooling the water before it goes to those towers.

"If we send cooler water to the towers ... we can reduce what we evaporate off," Berles said.

Cooling the water with fans or other mechanisms would of course use energy. The point of the research is to determine whether the cost of the equipment and energy to run it would save money by reducing water use.

"It's a balance just like everything we look at," Berles said. "You've got to evaluate the pros and cons of it."

Testing should begin in May or June, and gather data for four to six months.

"We are probably multiple years out from when we would do anything at the plant," he said.

Another option APS is reviewing is adding another water-treatment facility to the nuclear plant.

The wastewater that Palo Verde receives is treated before it's used at the plant. Water is usually cycled through the plant and cooling towers about 25 times before it becomes too saline for another use.

Once the chemistry of the water makes it unusable in the plant, it is pumped to massive evaporation ponds on the property where it simply dries up.

APS is evaluating whether it would be cost-effective to treat the water again, after it's used in the plant, to extend its useful life.

"There are different technologies that exist currently and new technologies being pursued by vendors in the water industry," Berles said. "There's a lot of ideas that people have out there."

In 2019 APS applied to pump low-quality groundwater from the Buckeye area and study whether that water would be cost-effective to treat and use at the plant in place of some of the treated wastewater it purchases.

But APS no longer is pursuing that plan, Berles said.

The utility was initially planning to pump as much as 10,000 acre-feet of water a year, and blend it with the treated effluent that is piped to the nuclear plant.

Buckeye Water Conservation and Drainage District and Buckeye Irrigation Co. opposed the APS plan.

The Arizona Department of Water Resources also rejected the idea, saying opponents of the plan showed the water APS planned to pump already was in use by others. The permit APS was seeking was for water that has no other beneficial use.

ADWR said that "despite generally poor water quality in the area, the water at issue in this application is and has been used for multiple purposes for a substantial period of time."

APS appealed the decision, but then withdrew the application.

"Just looking at overall societal benefits or impacts, and the financial impacts and benefits, we just took a big picture look at the whole thing, engaged with those stakeholders, and determined it wasn't worth going forward at this time for us," Berles said. "At Palo Verde, engaging with the community is a big deal for us."