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MON: Syed indicted for murder in deaths of 3 Muslim men, Las Vegas has 30 days of drinking water, + More

Hermit's Peak Tree Burn
Shaun Griswold
/
Source NM
Clumps of dead tress burned by the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak fire stand together; debris from the burn scars has contaminated the water supply for the city of Las Vegas.

Syed Indicted for murder of 3 muslim men KUNM News

Mohammad Syed was arrested earlier this month and charged with murder in the deaths of two Muslim men – Muhammad Afzaal Hussain and Aftab Hussein. Officials also named him as the prime suspect in two other deaths. Now, they say they have tied him to one of those.

A grand jury has indicted Syed for murder in the slayings of Muhammad Hussain and Aftab Hussein and in the death of Naeem Hussain.

A spokesperson for the Bernalillo County district attorney said additional evidence from cell phones allowed prosecutors to present the homicide of Naeem to the grand jury. He was shot to death August 5 in his car outside a refugee services agency.

The DA declined to elaborate on the evidence.

NM city, victim of government burn, now faces water shortage —  Susan Montoya Bryan, Brittany Peterson, Associated Press

In the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, buzzing chainsaws interrupt the serenity. Crews are hustling to remove charred trees and other debris that have been washing down the mountainsides in the wake of the largest wildfire in New Mexico's recorded history, choking rivers and streams.

Heavy equipment operators are moving boulders dislodged by the daily torrential summer rains that have followed the flames.

Workers have dug trenches and built barriers to help keep the flood of muddy, ash-laden runoff from causing more damage so it won't further contaminate the drinking water supply for the community of more than 10,000 that sits at the edge of the forest.

The clock is ticking for Las Vegas, a college town and economic hub for ranchers and farmers who have called this rural expanse of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range home for generations.

It has less than 30 days of drinking water left.

Events have been canceled in an effort to discourage more people from coming to town. Residents are showering with buckets in hopes of salvaging extra water for other uses. Restaurants are worried they may have to cut back on serving their signature red and green chile dishes. The three universities that call Las Vegas home are coming up with conservation plans as the school year kicks off.

"It is disheartening to our families and our children to not know that they may not have water in a month from now," said Leo Maestas, the city manager.

It was just months earlier that thousands of residents from Las Vegas and dozens of surrounding mountain villages were forced to pack up their belongings, load their livestock into trailers and flee as the wildfire raged, fueled by unprecedented hot, dry winds.

They watched from a distance as an area larger than Los Angeles was devoured by a conflagration sparked by the federal government when two planned burns meant to reduce the threat of wildfire went awry due to a combination of human error and outdated modeling that didn't account for extreme weather. Hundreds of homes were destroyed and livelihoods lost.

Amid an undercurrent of heartbreak and anger, residents are feeling the sting yet again as their water supply dwindles as a result and the pressures of climate change show no signs of letting up.

"I mean what else could possibly happen?" asked Las Vegas Mayor Louie Trujillo, not wanting to tempt fate.

Trujillo said the community is no stranger to watering restrictions as drought has long been part of life in northern New Mexico. He and other residents have become experts at using just half the water of the average American, or about 44 gallons.

"So asking the citizens to do even more is quite an imposition. It's very hard," said Trujillo, as he prepared for federal emergency managers to arrive with another truckload of bottled water for distribution to community members.

Utility managers have been unable to tap into their usual source — the Gallinas River — since it has been choked by ash and debris.

Trujillo declared an emergency in late July and New Mexico's governor followed with her own declaration, freeing up funding to help pay for the installation of a temporary treatment system that will allow for water from a nearby lake to be used to supplement supplies.

City officials expect that system to be installed next week. It will be capable of treating about 1.5 millions gallons (5.7 million litres) a day, about what the city consumes daily. But it's only a Band-Aid, Trujillo said.

Like other western cities, Las Vegas is in search of alternative sources of water as nearby rivers and reservoirs shrink amid hotter, drier conditions. The wildfire complicates matters.

New Mexico's largest city, for example, was forced to stop pulling water from the Rio Grande this year as it dried up within Albuquerque city limits for the first time in decades. And for the second year in a row, Arizona and Nevada will face cuts in the amount of water they can draw from the Colorado River as the western drought becomes more acute.

Las Vegas is hoping the temporary treatment system will slow down the ticking clock as crews continue work upstream to keep more ash, debris and sediment from clogging the Gallinas River that feeds the city's reservoirs.

Trujillo said a permanent treatment system on the river could cost more than $100 million, far beyond the city's means. There's no timetable for designing or building such a system.

What is heartbreaking for the mayor is that the region is experiencing one of the best monsoon seasons in several years. Had it not been for the fire and the contamination, the city would have been able to capture the storm runoff pulsing through the river and bolster its reservoirs for the future as drought persists.

For Trujillo, his neighbors, the governor and members of Congress, the blame for the current water crisis falls squarely on the federal government.

"We're going to continue to hold them responsible and expect them to pay for all of the improvements that we're going to have to make," the mayor said.

Daniel Patterson, a resource adviser with the U.S. Forest Service, called it an all-hands-on-deck approach as the agency works with local officials to protect the watershed that supplies Las Vegas. He acknowledged the Forest Service's responsibility to restore the watershed as well as people's access to their private property and traditional practices like gathering firewood from the forest.

"Those are all top priorities right now," he said. "But it's a heavy lift and it's a long haul."

President Joe Biden flew over the burn scar during a quick visit in June, promising the federal government would step up. Still, many residents feel abandoned.

Danny Lopez, who owns a ranch just outside of Las Vegas, called the past few months a nightmare. The fire charred nearly one square mile of land where he used to graze his cattle. His fences burned and the roof of his home was singed, damage now worsened by the summer rains.

His alfalfa fields have been compromised by the mud, ash and debris rolling off the surrounding hillsides. And with electricity cut off for months, he and his neighbors lost everything they had stockpiled in their fridges and freezers.

His request for aid from FEMA is tangled in red tape, with federal officials requiring something that simply does not exist for many rural properties — a street address.

"They don't understand the devastation," said Lopez, who has been forced to reduce his herd by half. "They don't know how the people live here and how they get by here."

Charlie Sandoval is the owner of Charlie's Bakery Café in downtown Las Vegas. It has served as a gathering spot for the community and travelers for decades, made famous by its homemade chile recipes, fresh tortillas and cinnamon rolls.

It takes as much as 13 gallons (49 litres) of water to make one big batch of chile. Then there's the water needed for the tortillas and the dough for the pastries.

"Everything that we do just takes water," Sandoval said. "And it just really scares me. What would happen if we run out of water, you know?"

The bakery is using more plastic and paper items to cut down on dishwashing. But supplies are expensive, and the bottom line is taking a hit.

If more restrictions are imposed, Sandoval worries about how long he can keep the bakery open and what that might mean for his employees.

At the end of July, the city implemented Stage 6 restrictions, meaning no more outdoor watering, no refilling of swimming pools, restaurants cannot serve water to customers unless requested, and no new water accounts can be activated.

For City Manager Maestas, it's been a sleepless month. More than once he's jumped into his pickup in the middle of the night and rushed down to check on a diversion point along the Gallinas River. Standing there, he stares down an impossible decision: If the contaminated river rises fast enough post-monsoon, will he direct the flow into town and flood homes? Or will he further pollute the city's back-up drinking water supply?

Fear, sadness and then anxiety set in. He wants to make the right decision.

"No city official or government official should ever be put in that predicament," he said.

Zion hiker lost, Dallas cars submerged as floods hit US — Sam Metz, Jesse Bedayn, Associated Press

An Arizona woman was still missing Monday after being swept away at Utah's Zion National Park three days earlier as flooding surged through the southwestern United States and imperiled tourists visiting the region's scenic parks.

Farther east, heavy rains pummeled the drought-stricken Dallas-Fort Worth area on Monday, causing streets to flood and submerging vehicles as officials warned motorists to stay off the roads.

Rangers at Zion National Park said Monday that they had expanded their search for Jetal Agnihotri, a 29-year-old from Tucson, Arizona, southward, to areas surrounding the Virgin River just outside the park. Her brother told a local television station she could not swim.

The park is among the United States' most visited recreation areas even though it frequently becomes hazardous as conditions can deteriorate quickly. Flash floods can create danger for experienced hikers and climbers as well as the many who have flocked to the park since the pandemic bolstered an outdoor recreation boom. Despite rangers' attempts at warnings, flash flooding routinely traps people in the park's slot canyons, which are as narrow as windows in some spots and hundreds of feet deep.

Scott Cundy, whose been guiding hiking trips in canyons for 17 years through his Arizona-based company Wildland Trekking, has experienced that firsthand.

He remembers turning to see a wall of water plunging toward him and a group he guided in 2011, as they rushed to reach high ground in the Grand Canyon, a two-hour drive from Zion. Until moments before, he hadn't seen one cloud in the sky. "It happens very fast," he said.

Cundy will cancel trips if there's even a hint of rain in the narrow canyons of Zion.

"Once you're in there, you're just kind of S.O.L. if (a flash flood) happens," he said.

Agnihotri was among a group of hikers who were swept away by floodwaters rushing through a popular hiking location in one of the park's many slot canyons. Both the National Weather Service and Washington County, Utah, had issued flood warnings for the area that day.

All of the hikers except Agnihotri were found on high ground and were rescued after water levels receded.

Flooding can transform canyons, slick rocks and normally dry washes into deadly channels of fast-moving water and debris in mere minutes. In previous years, walls of water as tall as buildings have engulfed vehicles, rolled boulders, torn out trees and opened sinkholes where solid ground once stood. In September 2015, a similar storm to this weekend's killed seven hikers who drowned in one of Zion's narrow canyons.

During that same storm, the bodies of another 12 people were found amid mud and debris miles away in the nearby town of Hildale, Utah, a community on the Utah-Arizona border. A group of women and children were returning from a park in two cars when a wall of water surged out of a canyon and swept them downstream and crashing into a flooded-out embankment, with one vehicle smashed beyond recognition. Three boys survived. The body of a 6-year-old boy was never found.

Elsewhere in the region, businesses and trails remained closed in the town of Moab, Utah, which was overwhelmed with floodwaters over the weekend. Nearly 200 hikers had to be rescued in New Mexico, where flooded roads left them stranded in Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

Though much of the region remains in a decades-long drought, climate change has made weather patterns more variable and left soils drier and less absorbent, creating conditions more prone to floods and monsoons.

Flooding has swept parts of southern Utah in and around Moab and Zion throughout the summer, causing streams of water to cascade down from the region's red rock cliffs and spill out from the sides of riverbanks.

In Balch Springs, a Dallas suburb where last month a grass fire that started in a tinder-dry open field damaged over two dozen homes, officials on Monday were rescuing people from flooded homes.

"The water has nowhere to go and the creeks are starting to kind of flood over some. We're just having them hunker in place until we can get to them by boat," said Fire Chief Eric Neal, who did not yet have a count of the number of rescues done.

___

Associated Press journalists Jamie Stengle, Terry Wallace and Jake Bleiberg in Dallas, Julie Walker in New York and Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.

Logging after NM wildfires could help forests but won’t likely happen for months, if at all - Megan Gleason, Source New Mexico 

There’s a potential boost for New Mexico’s economy and forests through logging, especially after the severe fire season the state endured this summer. But it’ll probably be months before any action could be taken, if at all, to cut and process the trees burned by historic fire destruction.

The two largest wildfires in the state’s history — the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire in the north and the Black Fire in the south — torched hundreds of thousands of acres in New Mexico this year. Crews are working on rehabilitation measures for both fires, but logging work isn’t happening yet.

James Youtz is a U.S. Forest Service silviculturist for the southwest region and makes plans about how to manage forests in a healthy way. He said crews are focused on emergency rehab for the forest and public safety measures right now, like reducing hazards from falling debris or areas overflowing with water.

Logging, if officials choose to do it, would probably happen closer to fall, he said. But the decision to do so depends on a number of factors, including environmental concerns and a diminished sawmill market in New Mexico.

WHAT’S THE PROCESS?

There are multiple federal laws in the process that the state and U.S. Forest Service has to adhere to around logging, many of which hold environmental protections. In addition, each national forest has management plans that limit how much timber can be harvested, Youtz said.

The National Environmental Policy Act is one such significant policy he brought up that officials have to go through in order to get logging projects approved. It’s a monthslong process where agencies evaluate the environmental consequences of proposed logging actions and allow public input.

But there’s a time constraint on harvesting trees after fires burn them. Dead trees are good for about three years before they’re economically worthless, Youtz said. It can vary depending on the timber’s intended use, he added, but the highest value is within the first year. However, the administrative processes make it unlikely to happen within a year, he said.

Collin Haffey, forest and watershed health coordinator with the N.M. Forestry Division, said factors like rain, insects, bacteria and fungus can cause timber to become useless. But in the aftermath of large blazes like the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire, he said, salvage logging can make room for native plants or restoration, preventing future fires from burning out of control.

Conversations about if logging will be done or not in the large New Mexico fires are ongoing, Haffey said.

CONTROVERSY AROUND CUTTING DOWN THE TREES

There’s a need for thinning trees in forests in general because they’re overly dense, Youtz said, which the Forest Service is trying to do. The forests are full of smaller trees, though, he said, and those aren’t historically as economically valuable for loggers.

But Andrew Ortiz, operations manager at Timber Tramp Logging in southern N.M., said newer lumber companies are working with trees of all sizes so the forests stay healthy. Removing only large trees can damage forest ecosystems since they absorb carbon dioxide and provide habitats for some animals.

“There’s a very negative connotation to logging. Really what it is is we’re pro-forest restoration. That’s what we want to do,” Ortiz said. “We’re not in this to do commercial setting the way we used to see it.”

Not everyone agrees, though, including John Horning, executive director of the nonprofit environmental organization WildEarth Guardians. Having been in New Mexico for 30 years, he said, he’s seen places like the Jemez Mountains and the Gila National forest transformed for the worse because trees have been cut down.

“It completely transformed the landscape from a wild, cool, lush place with a pretty little stream running through it to a hotter, drier landscape with lots of stumps,” Horning said.

He said the Forest Service doesn’t need to salvage log to prevent future fires because fire is largely a good thing for the forests, and the Forest Service should invest more money in adapting to it rather than preventing it. Even with the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire and Black Fire, a majority of the land wasn’t severely burned, he said, and low to moderate burning is “natural and normal.”

“We’re not going to fireproof our forests, so we need to learn to coexist with fire,” he said.

Horning said all logging, not just after fires, hurts ecosystems by allowing more noxious weeds and invasive plants to grow. He said it also destroys old-growth forests that some species live in, like the Mexican spotted owl or the Jemez Mountains salamander. Plus, he added, the mature trees help fight climate change with their carbon absorption.

Logging controversy stems from people wanting to make commercial or private gains from forests, Horning said, despite negative outcomes. “Whether that’s a political or personal agenda, yeah, there are those who want to profit from our national forests,” he said.

The issue has indeed made its way into politics across the country, with Republicans generally supporting it while Democrats veer in the opposite direction and are more concerned with the environmental dangers.

But Ortiz said the Forest Service needs to “get it together quickly” to allow logging, which he said is necessary to prevent catastrophic fire outcomes in the future. He called the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire a devastating wildfire that the U.S. Forest Service started in already risky conditions.

“Salvage logging needs to occur after a fire,” Ortiz said. “It has to happen. If it doesn’t, it’ll burn again.”

Ortiz also spoke to the economic benefits. Local businesses can sell the timber, he said, and New Mexicans still have cost-effective product choices, such as vegas for adobe houses.

“You go to Lowe’s or Home Depot and you’re going to spend an arm and a leg on lumber there,” he said. “You come to Timber Tramp and, you know, we try to keep our cost as low as possible, or we’ll refer them to the lumber yards that we sell to in Albuquerque because it is much more cost-effective.”

There’s a limited market for logging in New Mexico, though. Sawmills have been in decline for decades in the state, Haffey said, due to stricter laws around logging and fewer larger trees available. But there’s been a resurgence of local sawmills lately, he remarked, though many don’t have industrial capacities.

The process could also clean up roads that have been damaged by flooding in the forests since loggers need to clean up the pathways to get to the timber. This can help people living or working in the forests, but Haffey said the heavy equipment can also damage charred soil, which is vulnerable to erosion.

“Salvage logging can be a tool, a management tool, for keeping roads open, supporting local economies,” Haffey said, “and, you know, just getting some of that usable and valuable wood out before it falls in and just kind of rots away.”

5 New Mexico jails less than half staffed; 1 moving inmates - Associated Press

Five of New Mexico's 26 county jails and detention centers are suffering from staff shortages that have pushed vacancy rates among correctional officers above 50%.

At least one has resorted to transporting inmates to other facilities, including one in Texas 166 miles (267 kilometers) away, the Albuquerque Journal reports.

The Otero County Detention Center in Alamogordo, which is half staffed with 32 officers, reached a critical point two weeks ago when there weren't enough officers to walk the floor among the inmates, Otero County Attorney R.B. Nichols said.

That prompted the administration's request for help from other facilities. Five agreed to house more than 100 inmates between them, he said.

All are at least 60 miles (96 km) from the detention center, including the Otero County Prison Facility, the Lincoln County Detention Center and the Doña Ana County Detention Center.

The others are farther — 132 miles (212 km) to the Luna County Detention Center, and 166 miles (267 km) to the Hudspeth County Jail in Sierra Blanca, Texas.

The jail tried to keep inmates who are going to trial soon in Otero County, Nichols said. But inmates at other facilities have missed hearings, including ones held remotely.

"There was some kind of confusion on where they were and what the responsibilities were of the facilities that took them on," said Nichols. "There were a lot of logistics that come with it. It's not ideal. We're working through those difficulties trying to do the best we can."

While the Otero County Detention Center is the only jail that has had to take such drastic steps, the staffing situation has become dire in many other facilities around the state.

New Mexico Counties, an organization that represents counties in the state, reported in May 2021 nearly all the statewide detention positions were filled. A year later, 40% of the positions were vacant.

Joining the Otero County Detention Center with vacancy rates of more than 50% are jails in Bernalillo, Chaves and Curry counties, as well as the Bernalillo County juvenile detention center. Grace Philips, general counsel at New Mexico Counties, said the situation is unprecedented.

"We've had facilities in the past, on occasion, that have had staffing issues," she said. "But … this extreme vacancy level and so widespread is not something that we've seen before."

As of Aug. 1, there were 14 county jails that had staff vacancy rates above 20%.

"The problem with having high vacancy rates in a jail is it becomes much harder to recruit anybody because they're concerned about working in an understaffed secure facility," Philips said. "I think it's a problem that contributes to itself."

In Otero County, the supervising attorney with the Law Offices of the Public Defender, said the change has sparked confusion among her colleagues, their clients and clients' family members, who were given no warning that people would be moved.

Dayna Jones said the phones at her office are blowing up with people asking how they can contact their incarcerated relatives or how they can put money in their accounts. The move has also proven challenging for attorneys.

"We can't get hold of a lot of our clients," Jones said.

Watchdog groups call review at US nuclear lab 'sham' process - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

The U.S. government is planning to review the environmental effects of operations at one of the nation's prominent nuclear weapons laboratories, but its notice issued Friday leaves out federal goals to ramp up production of plutonium cores used in the nation's nuclear arsenal.

The National Nuclear Security Administration said the review — being done to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act — will look at the potential environmental effects of alternatives for operations at Los Alamos National Laboratory for the next 15 years.

That work includes preventing the spread and use of nuclear weapons worldwide and other projects related to national security and global stability, the notice said.

Watchdog groups contend that regardless of the review, the NNSA will march ahead with its production plans for plutonium cores at Los Alamos.

The northern New Mexico lab — part of the top secret Manhattan Project during World War II and the birthplace of the atomic bomb — is one of two sites tapped for the lucrative mission of manufacturing the plutonium cores. The other is the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

Democratic members of New Mexico's congressional delegation fought to ensure Los Alamos would be among the benefactors of the billions of dollars and thousands of jobs that will stem from the mission.

The U.S. Energy Department had set deadlines for 2026 and 2030 for ramping up production of the plutonium cores, but it's unclear whether those will be met given the billions of dollars in infrastructure improvements still needed.

Watchdog groups that have been critical of Los Alamos accused the NNSA of going through the motions rather than taking a hard look at the escalating costs of preparing for production, the future consequences to the federal budget and the potential environmental fallout for neighboring communities and Native American tribes.

"This is too little too late, a sham process designed to circumvent citizen enforcement of the National Environmental Policy Act," said Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico. "The key sentence in NNSA's announcement is that absent any new decisions in the site-wide environmental impact statement, the agency will continue to implement decisions it previously made behind closed doors."

The Los Alamos Study Group, another New Mexico-based organization that monitors lab activities, said there is no indication that NNSA will pause any preparations for the sake of complying with National Environmental Policy Act, which mandates some scrutiny before moving ahead with major federal projects.

The group pointed to more than $19 billion in new construction and operational costs for Los Alamos' new plutonium core production mission through fiscal year 2033. They say the price tag is expected to grow.

According to planning documents related to the sprawling Los Alamos campus, lab officials have indicated that they need more than 4 million square feet (371,612 square meters) of new construction to bolster one of its main technical areas and the area where the lab's plutonium operations are located. Several thousand new staff members also would be needed.

"This is a completely bogus process in which NNSA seeks to create a veneer of legitimacy and public acceptance for its reckless plans," said Greg Mello, director of the Los Alamos Study Group.

The NNSA noted that it conducted in 2020 a supplemental analysis of a 2008 sitewide environmental impact statement focused on infrastructure and capability increases needed for the lab to make 30 plutonium cores per year.

Toni Chiri, a spokeswoman with the NNSA's field office in Los Alamos, said it's time for a new review to cover alternative activities to meet what she described as the "full suite" of the lab's mission.

"NNSA looks forward to engaging the public, governments and other stakeholders and receiving their input on the process and outcome," she said in an email.

People have until Oct. 3 to comment on the scope of the planned review.

Employees at Santa Fe Starbucks store to pursue unionizing - Associated Press

Workers at a Santa Fe Starbucks are taking steps to unionize.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports employees at the location on St. Michael's Drive notified CEO Howard Schultz earlier this week that they filed a petition to unionize with the National Labor Relations Board.

In a letter to Schultz, workers say they "have been without proper support and management" and are often asked to do the work of two or more people in back-to-back shifts.

This is the first Starbucks in Santa Fe to initiate unionizing efforts. Only one other store in New Mexico has done it. An Albuquerque branch formally filed a petition in July.

More than 220 U.S. Starbucks stores that have voted to unionize since late last year. The coffee giant opposes the unionization effort.

A federal judge on Thursday ordered Starbucks to reinstate seven employees in Memphis who were fired earlier this year after leading an effort to unionize their store.

Starbucks, which claimed the staffers were fired for violating safety rules, said it will appeal.

Heavy rain forces road closures, flood watches in Arizona - Associated Press

Heavy rain closed roads in Tucson and triggered flood watches and warnings across much of Arizona on Saturday, with more in the forecast through the weekend.

More than 3 inches (7.62 centimeters) of rain fell Saturday in the mountains northeast of Tucson, the National Weather Service said.

There were no immediate reports of serious damage or injuries. But the service warned the heaviest rain was expected Saturday night into Sunday in parts of south-central and southern Arizona.

Most of southeast Arizona remained under a flood watch until 11 p.m. Saturday from Phoenix to the New Mexico state line and the Mexican border.

Up to 2 inches (5.1 centimeters) of rain had fallen in parts of Tucson by Saturday evening — 3.2 inches (8.1 cm) at Mount Lemmon northeast of town and 2.1 inches (5.3 cm) to the east in Cochise County near Cascabel.

Between 1 and 2 inches (2.5 and 5 cm) had fallen in Pinal County south of Phoenix, the service said. It said more than one-half inch (1.2 cm) of rain fell in just 11 minutes on the southeast outskirts of the city near Queen Creek.

In northern Arizona, the biggest concerns were around burn scars from recent wildfires, including the Telegraph Fire where up to 1 inch (2.5 cm) of rain had fallen Saturday south of Flagstaff in the area where more than 280 square miles (725 square kilometers) burned in 2021.

The weather service said late Saturday showers were likely and thunderstorms possible again after 8 a.m. Sunday in Phoenix.

"Although the threat of heavy downpours will diminish ... through the overnight hours tonight, elevated flows in normally dry washes, small streams and rivers will likely continue overnight into early Sunday," the service said.

On Friday, emergency crews rescued four hikers stranded in Sabino Canyon east of Tucson, and helped 41 students and staff from Marana off school buses that got stuck in high water when the monsoonal storms began to move in.

As inflation soars, access to Indigenous foods declines - By Claire Savage, Hannah Schoenbaum And Trisha Ahmed Associated Press/Report For America

Blueberry bison tamales, harvest salad with mixed greens, creamy carrot and wild rice soup, roasted turkey with squash. This contemporary Native American meal, crafted from the traditional foods of tribes across the United States and prepared with "Ketapanen" – a Menominee expression of love – cost caterer Jessica Pamonicutt $976 to feed a group of 50 people last November.

Today it costs her nearly double.

Pamonicutt is the executive chef of Chicago-based Native American catering business Ketapanen Kitchen. She is a citizen of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin but was raised in the Windy City, home to one of the largest urban Native populations in the country, according to the American Indian Center of Chicago.

Her business aims to offer health-conscious meals featuring Indigenous ingredients to the Chicago Native community and educate people about Indigenous contributions to everyday American fare.

One day, she aims to purchase all ingredients from Native suppliers and provide her community with affordable access to healthy Indigenous foods, "but this whole inflation thing has slowed that down," she said.

U.S. inflation surged to a new four-decade high in June, squeezing household budgets with painfully high prices for gas, food and rent.

Traditional Indigenous foods — like wild rice, bison, fresh vegetables and fruit in the Midwest — are often unavailable or too expensive for Native families in urban areas like Chicago, and the recent inflation spike has propelled these foods even further out of reach.

Risk of disease compounds the problem: healthy eating is key to battling diabetes, which afflicts Native Americans at the highest rate of any ethnic group in the United States.

"There are many benefits to eating traditional Native foods," said Jessica Thurin, a dietician at Native American Community Clinic in Minneapolis. "The body knows exactly how to process and use that food. These foods are natural to the Earth."

But many people the clinic serves are low-income and do not have the luxury of choosing where their food comes from. Food deserts – areas with limited access to a variety of healthy and affordable foods – are more likely to exist in places with higher rates of poverty and concentrations of minority populations.

"In these situations, there are limited healthy food options, not to mention limited traditional food options," Thurin said.

Aside from health benefits, traditional foods hold important cultural and emotional value.

"It's just comfort," said Danielle Lucas, a 39-year-old descendant of the Sicangu Lakota people from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota.

Lucas' mother, Evelyn Red Lodge, said she hasn't prepared traditional dishes of the Great Plains, like wojapi berry sauce or stew, since May because the prices of key ingredients – berries and meat – have soared.

Pamonicutt, too, is feeling the pinch. Between last winter and this spring, the price of bison jumped from $13.99 to $23.99 per pound.

Shipping costs are so high that the chef said it's often cheaper to drive hundreds of miles to buy ingredients, even with spiking gas prices. She's even had to create her own suppliers: the 45-year-old's parents are now growing crops for her business on their Wisconsin property near the Illinois border.

Gina Roxas, program coordinator at Trickster Cultural Center in Schaumburg, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, has also agreed to grow Native foods to help the chef minimize costs.

When a bag of wild rice costs $20, "you end up going to a fast food place instead to feed your family," Roxas said.

More than 70% of Native Americans reside in urban areas – the result of decades of federal policies pushing families to leave reservations and assimilate into American society.

Dorene Wiese, executive director of the Chicago-based American Indian Association of Illinois, said members of her community have to prioritize making rent payments over splurging on healthy, traditional foods.

Even though specialty chefs like Pamonicutt aim to feed their own communities, the cost of her premium catering service is out of the price range for many urban Natives. Her meals end up feeding majority non-Native audiences at museums or cultural events that can foot the bill, said Wiese, a citizen of the Minnesota White Earth Band of Ojibwe Indians.

"There really is a shortage of Native foods in the area," she said, But the problem isn't unique to Chicago.

Dana Thompson, co-owner of The Sioux Chef company and executive director of a Minneapolis Indigenous food nonprofit, is another Native businesswoman striving to expand her urban community's access to traditional local foods like lake fish, wild rice and wild greens amid the food price surge.

Thompson, of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate and Mdewakanton Dakota people, said inflation is "really impacting the food systems we have here," which include dozens of Indigenous, local and organic food producers.

At Owamni, an award-winning Indigenous restaurant under The Sioux Chef umbrella, ingredients like Labrador Tea – which grows wild in northern Minnesota – have been especially difficult to get this year, Thompson said.

When an ingredient is not consistently available or affordable, she changes the menu.

"Being fluid and resilient is what we're used to," Thompson said. "That's like the history of indigeneity in North America."

Inflation is similarly impeding the American Indian Center of Chicago's efforts to improve food security. Executive Director Melodi Serna, of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, said the current prices of food boxes they distribute – with traditional Midwestern foods like fish, bison, venison, dairy products and produce – are "astronomical."

"Where I could have been able to provide maybe 100 boxes, now we're only able to provide 50," Serna said.

For 57-year-old Emmie King, a Chicago resident and citizen of the Navajo Nation, getting the fresh ingredients she grew up with in New Mexico is much more difficult in the city, especially with inflation biting into her budget.

She finds ways to "stretch" the food she buys so it lasts longer, purchasing meat in bulk and freezing small portions to add to stews later on. "I get what I need, rather than what I want," she said.

But King was able to enjoy a taste of home at an Aug. 3 luncheon at the American Indian Center of Chicago, where twenty elders gathered to enjoy turkey tamales with cranberry-infused masa, Spanish rice with quinoa, elote pasta salad with chickpea noodles and glasses of cold lemonade.

The mastermind behind the meal was Pamonicutt herself, sharing her spin on Southwestern and Northern Indigeneous food traditions. Through volunteering at senior lunches and developing a food education program, the chef is continuing to increase access to healthy Indigenous foods in her community.

"I want kids to learn where these foods come from," the chef said. "That whole act of caring for your food … thanking it, understanding that it was grown to help us survive."

Roosevelt County woman, 82, fatally hit by neighbor's pickup - Associated Press

Mexico State Police say an elderly woman in Roosevelt County has died after she was hit by a vehicle driven by an elderly neighbor.

Authorities say the incident happened Thursday around noon as 82-year-old Virginia Poe was checking her mail at her home outside Portales.

Her 88-year-old neighbor was driving a GMC pickup truck with an empty flatbed trailer attached. Police say he stopped along the road to chat with Poe.

After they finished, the neighbor drove onto Poe's property to make a U-turn.

Investigators say the trailer hit Poe, who was still standing just off the road by her mailbox, as he entered the roadway.

Paramedics transported the woman to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

State Police say alcohol does not appear to be a factor. The investigation remains ongoing.

Hiker missing in Utah flooding as monsoon hits US Southwest - Associated Press

Authorities have been searching for days for an Arizona woman reported missing after being swept away by floodwaters in Utah's Zion National Park as strong seasonal rain storms hit parts of the U.S. Southwest.

National Park Service officials said rangers and members of the Zion Search and Rescue Team were in the Virgin River area Sunday looking for Jetal Agnihotri, 29, of Tucson.

They said Agnihotri was among several hikers who were swept off their feet Friday afternoon by rushing water in the popular Narrows area in the park, known for its spectacular red-rock cliffs and narrow canyons, in southern Utah near the Arizona border.

All of the hikers except Agnihotri were found on high ground and were stranded until water levels receded.

Rain can turn hiking in the park deadly when the moisture runs off the desert landscape and quickly fills canyons with water, rocks and debris, especially during the summer when seasonal afternoon thunderstorms develop. The storms can lead to flooding in normally dry washes and in areas stripped of vegetation by wildfires that have plagued the drought-stricken region. Vegetation normally slows and partially absorbs precipitation.

On Sunday, an approximately 20-mile (32-kilometer) stretch of Colorado's main east-west highway, Interstate 70, was temporarily closed because of the risk of flooding and mudslides from forecasted storms in Glenwood Canyon, where a wildfire burned in 2020.

Elsewhere in Utah, flooding in Moab, the gateway to Arches National Park, on Saturday night closed trails in the city on Sunday as crews assessed the damage. A video posted on the city's Twitter account showed a creek gushing under a downtown bridge.

Meanwhile, in New Mexico, officials at Carlsbad Caverns National Park said about 150 tourists were evacuated late Saturday night after being stranded by rising water.

Park officials told people at the visitor's center to wait there for hours because of flash flooding.

Authorities said several rivers and streams in New Mexico have nearly reached historic flood levels not seen since the 1960s due to recent heavy rainfall.

In Arizona, emergency crews rescued four hikers stranded in Sabino Canyon east of Tucson on Friday and helped 41 students and staff from Marana off school buses that got stuck in high water when the storms began to move in.

More than 3 inches (7.62 centimeters) of rain fell Saturday in the mountains northeast of Tucson, according to the National Weather Service.

The rain comes amid a drought that scientists say is the worst in the U.S. West in 1,200 years and aggravated by climate change. Colorado River reservoirs have fallen to historic lows as a result. Earlier this week, states that rely on the river missed a deadline for deciding how to cut the amount of water they use from the river.

For Nevada, recent storms have given the Las Vegas metro area its wettest monsoon season in 10 years.

"Most locales in Arizona, New Mexico, the California deserts, southern Nevada, and a few other scattered areas have measured at least 200 percent of normal (rainfall) over the past 2 months," the U.S. Drought Monitor said in a report issued on Aug. 11.