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MON: Dwindling Colorado River Basin key to New Mexico agriculture, Supreme court upholds habitual offender ruling, + More

Western Drought Colorado River
John Antczak/AP
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AP
FILE - An aerial view of Lake Powell on the Colorado River along the Arizona-Utah border on Sept. 11, 2019. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is expected to publish hydrology projections on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022, that will trigger agreed-upon cuts to states that rely on the river. (AP Photo/John Antczak, FIle )

Dwindling Colorado River Basin key to New Mexico agriculture - By Scott Wyland Santa Fe New Mexican

Glen Duggins, who grows chile, alfalfa and vegetables, found himself praying for rain in June and feeling grateful to receive some water from the Colorado River Basin.

A La Nina weather pattern had caused an exceptionally dry winter and spring, depleting the Rio Grande, the main water source for farmers to irrigate about 60,000 acres in this area of New Mexico.

The water that carried them through the last arid weeks before the rains came was diverted from the Colorado River Basin through a federal system of tunnels and dams known as the San Juan-Chama Project. This water merges with the Rio Grande to augment regional supply.

"It got us through the hump and got us into monsoon season," said Duggins, who owns a 400-acre farm in Lemitar, a hamlet in the Middle Rio Grande Valley.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: This is part of a collaborative series on the Colorado River as the 100th anniversary of the historic Colorado River Compact approaches. The Associated Press, The Colorado Sun, The Albuquerque Journal, The Salt Lake Tribune, The Arizona Daily Star, The Nevada Independent and The Santa Fe New Mexican are working together to explore the pressures on the river in 2022.

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San Juan-Chama accounts for the bulk of the water New Mexico gets from the Colorado River Basin. There are some historic users such as Navajo Nation farmers diverting water separately from the federal system.

Although the basin provides only about 10% of New Mexico's total water supplies, how this water is used is essential, causing concerns about how climate change and increased demand are diminishing the Colorado River and prompting calls for the seven states within the basin to further reduce consumption.

New Mexico taps 4 million acre feet of water yearly, half from various rivers and half from the ground — with about 400,000-acre feet of surface water coming from the basin, said Rolf Schmidt-Peterson, Interstate Stream Commission director.

An acre foot is about 326,000 gallons, enough to supply two or three households in a year.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation allocates San Juan-Chama water every year to Albuquerque, Santa Fe, middle valley irrigators and three Native users — Jicarilla Apache Nation, Taos Pueblo and Ohkay Owingeh.

New Mexico is one of four states in the upper basin and is allotted 11.25 percent of the available water per year within this group under a 1948 agreement.

New Mexico is required to send a certain amount of water downstream mostly in the San Juan River, which flows to the Navajo Reservoir and eventually into Lake Powell. The Reclamation Bureau diverts the leftover water upstream to cover New Mexico's allotment.

The state's share is unchanging despite increasing demand.

A pipeline is now being installed called the Navajo Gallup Water Supply Project. Slated to be completed in three years, it will divert about 37,000 acre feet from the San Juan to provide drinking water to parts of the Navajo and Jicarilla nations as well as Gallup.

At the same, the Pojoaque regional water system is being built that will supply 4,000 acre feet of San Juan-Chama water to four Native pueblos by the end of the decade.

As of August, New Mexico users have received little more than half of their maximum allocation. Reductions are evenly shared, so one user doesn't receive a higher percentage than another.

In the past decade, as the drought has dragged on, the bureau has only made a full allocation in the relatively wet years of 2013, 2017 and 2019. The trend is likely to continue as the climate grows warmer and drier, reducing snowpacks, increasing evaporation and parching soils that absorb runoff.

"Aridification will likely reduce inflow to the San Juan-Chama Project," said Carolyn Donnelly, the bureau's water operations supervisor. "This year we saw much higher rain inflow to the project, but it did not make up for lower than average snowpack."

The head of the regional irrigation district said although this water is a small part of what middle valley farmers use, it's crucial in dry periods during the growing season such as earlier this summer.

"We used every bit of that San Juan-Chama water before the rains happened," said Jason Casuga, CEO and chief engineer for the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District.

Receiving increasingly less of the water is a troublesome trend, Casuga said. Being shorted on the water can cause problems later in the season if the rains dissipate because there's no reserve to draw from, Casuga said.

Schmidt-Petersen said as haggling over Colorado River water continues, especially between states in the upper and lower basins, the priority is to be civil in finding strategies for ensuring future water supply for everyone.

"We recognize that there are differences within the basin, and as the strain on the supply increases, tensions rise and cooperation becomes even more challenging," Schmidt-Petersen said. "We are committed to protecting New Mexico's water supply while fulfilling compliance with interstate compacts and the law of the river generally."

Both Santa Fe and Albuquerque built treatment plants more than a decade ago to divert San Juan-Chama water from the Rio Grande and ease the strain on their wells — and now the cities have both river and groundwater to draw from, said Reed Benson, water law professor at University of New Mexico.

Both cities have made efforts to conserve water, with per-capita use decreasing as their populations have grown, Benson said. Albuquerque has established programs such as paying residents to remove their grass lawns, he said.

Schmidt-Petersen sees a similar trend among irrigators: the overall water use has gone down even as the number of farmers has risen.

The upper basin states have submitted a five-point water-saving plan to the bureau to help meet officials' demand for reduced consumption. It's not clear how much more water the upper basin states, including New Mexico, can give up, he said.

"A lot more? Probably not," he said. "But we'll try to do our part."

New Mexico Supreme Court upholds habitual offender ruling — Associated Press

Defendants must be informed about the possibility of facing additional prison time if their plea agreement involves multiple offenses and they violate probation, the New Mexico Supreme Court said.

The split ruling issued Monday came in the case of a woman who admitted to having prior felony convictions.

The court's majority affirmed a district judge's decision to lengthen the sentence of Christina Banghart-Portillo because of probation violations after her release from prison in 2016. She was a little over halfway through a three-year probationary period and had argued that the enhancement for being a habitual offender amounted to double jeopardy.

The Supreme Court's majority found that the district court had structured the defendant's probation as a cumulative amount of time for her two felony convictions rather than individual back-to-back segments of 18 months of probation for each conviction.

The court suggested that language outlining the terms of how a sentence is to be carried out should be specified in plea agreements or risk creating ambiguity.

The court's majority wrote that Banghart-Portillo's written plea agreement was silent about the possibility of enhancement of either count if she violated probation. However, the majority concluded that the district court during the defendant's sentencing hearing had resolved any ambiguities by informing her of the potential consequences if she violated probation.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice David K. Thomson wrote that allowing the district court to enhance the sentence on the first count violated concepts of double jeopardy. Justice Briana H. Zamora joined in the dissent.

Banghart-Portillo had pleaded no contest to counts of evidence tampering and conspiracy to commit evidence tampering. She and another man were arrested in 2014 on outstanding warrants. After being booked, a dispatcher saw her attempt to swallow a plastic bag of heroin handed to her by the man.

After multiple probation violations, the district court revoked Banghart-Portillo's probation and imposed six years of habitual offender time on her sentence.

Police: 4 randomly stabbed in Albuquerque, suspect arrested — Associated Press

Police on Monday released the name of a suspect who has been arrested after allegedly stabbing and wounding four people in Albuquerque in apparent random acts.

Albuquerque police said 33-year-old Leroy Lopez is facing several counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

It wasn't immediately clear Monday if Lopez has a lawyer yet who can speak on his behalf.

His initial court appearance is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

Police said Lopez was taken into custody Sunday and was identified by his distinctive pork pie hat.

They said the suspect also was in possession of a kitchen knife with a serrated blade that apparently was used in the four stabbings.

One of the wounded was a 16-year-old boy, but police said all four victims were being treated at hospitals and expected to survive.

Police said three of the stabbings occurred in downtown Albuquerque and it appears the suspect took a city bus to get to the scene of the fourth stabbing.

Investigators were reviewing footage from video cameras inside city buses as they gather more evidence in the case.

New Mexico man, cousin arrested in Kansas in a homicide case — Associated Press

A New Mexico man and his cousin have been arrested in Kansas in connection with the shooting death of a woman that is being investigated as a homicide, authorities said Monday.

Valencia County Sheriff's officials said 37-year-old Karla Aguilera of Tome was reported missing by family members on Sept. 6.

A body was found Wednesday in Torrance County and an autopsy confirmed it was Aguilera, authorities said.

According to a criminal complaint, the victim was shot four times.

An arrest warrant was issued for 50-year-old Rosalio Aguilera-Gamboa and authorities said he was arrested Saturday in Garden City, Kansas along with his cousin Maria Guadalupe Nevarez Aguilera.

Valencia County officials said Aguilera-Gamboa is facing multiple charges including an open count of murder and tampering with evidence.

Sheriff's officials didn't not disclose any information about Nevarez Aguilera's arrest or what charges she could be facing during Monday's news conference.

But they said Aguilera-Gamboa and his cousin would be extradited to New Mexico as soon as possible.

It was unclear Monday if the two suspects had lawyers yet who could speak on their behalf.

Judge tosses challenge over residency for GOP nominee for AG - Associated Press

The Republican candidate for attorney general will remain on the ballot after a state judge tossed a court challenge over whether the candidate meets the residency requirement.

The Democratic-backed lawsuit sought to prevent Jeremy Gay from appearing on the November general election ballot. First Judicial District Court Judge T. Glenn Ellington ruled Friday that the lawsuit wasn't timely, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

Ballots have already been certified for the Nov. 8 election. Ellington said removing Gay would disenfranchise Republican voters who supported him in the primary, and the GOP wouldn't have time to replace him.

The deadline to remove candidates from the general election ballot was Aug. 30, according to the Secretary of State's Office.

The lawsuit alleged Gay fell short of the requirement in the state Constitution to reside in New Mexico for five years prior to the election. Gay moved to Gallup in 2019 and previously was stationed in California with the U.S. Marine Corps, according to the lawsuit.

Attorney Ryan Harrigan, who filed the lawsuit, said Friday he's disappointed in the judge's ruling but was unsure whether he'd appeal it.

Gay, a former judge advocate in the U.S. Marine Corps, faces Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez, a Democrat, in the race for attorney general. The job pays $95,000 annually.

Gay's campaign had criticized the lawsuit as an attack on his military service, which Harrigan disputed.

New Mexico woman found dead, husband is arrested in Kansas - Associated Press

A missing New Mexico woman has been found dead and her husband has been arrested in Kansas in connection with the case, according to authorities.

Valencia County Sheriff's officials say 37-year-old Karla Aguilera of Tome was reported missing by family members on Sept. 6.

Torrance County officials said a body was found Wednesday near the Mountainair and Highway 60 area and an autopsy confirmed it was Aguilera.

An arrest warrant was issued for 50-year-old Rosalio Aguilera-Gamboa and authorities said he was arrested Saturday about 440 miles away in Garden City, Kansas.

It was unclear Sunday if Aguilera-Gamboa has a lawyer yet who can speak on his behalf.

Valencia County authorities were expected to release more information about the case at a news conference Monday.

Leaked report roils harassment probe of New Mexico senator - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

A standoff is escalating over accusations of sexual misconduct against an influential New Mexico state senator amid frustrations with the secretive vetting process, a free-speech lawsuit and a complaint to the FBI.

Democratic Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, a gatekeeper on election reforms and arbiter of partisan clashes over voting regulations since the 2020 election, announced this week that an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against him had been "indefinitely suspended, with no further action to be taken."

A document published Thursday by The Santa Fe Reporter shows, however, that a special counsel to the investigation concluded there was probable cause to indicate that Ivey-Soto violated anti-harassment policies.

Contacted Thursday, Ivey-Soto challenged the accuracy and diligence of research by the special counsel, citing other documents that remain confidential. He said the leak encourages a rush to judgement, undermining detailed investigations by a four-person Senate panel.

Ivey-Soto also said the legal memo was published after he received an ultimatum to resign as chairman of a Senate committee that vets major legislative initiatives and political appointments — or see the report leaked.

He said he filed an "extortion" complaint Thursday with the FBI. FBI spokesman Frank Fisher said the agency "can neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation."

Democratic state Sen. Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque said she helped inform Ivey-Soto through a "go-between" that other people might release investigation documents if he didn't step down from top committee posts.

"I thought this could help — he steps down and tries to rehabilitate himself," Stewart said. "I didn't want the report out, I thought the report was supposed to be confidential."

Fallout from allegations against Ivey-Soto are prompting calls for a revision to anti-harassment policies and training that were overhauled in 2018, amid complaints then by female lobbyists and elected officials that widespread sexual harassment at the Capitol was going unchecked.

Marianna Anaya, the lobbyist who filed the initial harassment complaint against Ivey-Soto, says current confidentiality provisions favor lawmakers over people who report sexual misconduct and confront an "open-ended gag order."

She filed a lawsuit Thursday, challenging a law that prohibits her from disclosing information related to the filing or investigation of a harassment complaint without a finding of "probably cause" first by a Senate panel.

Anaya's harassment complaint to the Legislature in February was accompanied by an open letter to the public that accused Ivey-Soto of groping her at a hotel reception in 2015 and of more recent aggressive and disrespectful behavior while discussing proposed legislation over drinks. She called on the lawmaker to resign.

Ivey-Soto said he has no recollection of touching Anaya during the encounter and that their encounters over the years were never sexual. The Associated Press generally does not identify people alleging sexual assault, but Anaya has been openly public about her allegations and prior advocacy against harassment.

Political lobbyists and advocates urged action on Anaya's complaint by publishing additional accusations against Ivey-Soto of groping, sexist comments, and yelling and cursing at women.

Stewart said Friday that a harassment policy review is overdue, while she searches for a resolution to the current crisis as the Senate's top ranked leader.

Representatives from dozens of advocacy groups have petitioned for Ivey-Soto's demotion or resignation. "It's just a huge drum beat," Stewart said.

Police: 3 killed in a fiery crash at a Roswell intersection - Associated Press

Three people are dead in Roswell after a fiery two-vehicle crash Sunday, authorities said

Roswell police said a 29-year-old woman and two men — ages 27 and 32 — were killed in the crash that occurred around 2:30 a.m.

The names of the three victims weren't immediately released.

The Roswell Daily Record reported that both vehicles caught fire after the vehicles collided on North Main Street.

Police said the cause of the crash was under investigation.

On the Colorado River, growing concern for trout and chub - By Brittany Peterson Associated Press

To guide fishing trips for a year or two, that's what brought Terry Gunn to the red canyons of northern Arizona. The chance to hike, raft and fly fish drew Wendy Hanvold, a retired ski bum, who took a job there waiting tables at an anglers lodge. She heard rumors of the intrepid fishing guide who had just returned from an Alaska trip, and one day when he came in approached his table to take his order.

"You fly fish, right?" she said. "I've always wanted to learn."

It was a match made in Marble Canyon.

Since then, the couple opened an anglers shop, guide service, purchased a lodge, and raised their son. They take pride in showing tourists the best spots to catch and release prized rainbow trout beneath craggy cliffs carved by the Colorado River.

But it could all soon change as warmer water temperatures threaten fish survival and the Gunn's livelihood.

Key Colorado River reservoirs Lake Powell and Lake Mead are both only about one-quarter full. The continued drop, due to overuse and an increasingly arid climate, is threatening the fish and the economies built around them.

"We're in totally uncharted territory," said Gunn, who began guiding in Marble Canyon in 1983. That year, Glen Canyon Dam began to release water on an emergency basis after record snowmelt produced a powerful spring runoff, resulting in near failure of the dam. In all these years, the river has usually been cold, with typical summer temperatures in the 50s.

But since late August, the water temperature at Lees Ferry — the site of a world-famous trout fishery — has risen above 70 degrees seven times. That might be idyllic for a summer dip under the blazing Arizona summer sun, Gunn said, but approaches peril for the beloved sport fish. A few degrees higher can be lethal.

To make matters worse, when temperatures rise, the amount of oxygen dissolved in the water falls, making it tough for fish to even breathe.

As the reservoir drops, it sends warmer water with less oxygen into the river below the dam. Should that water reach 73 degrees, Gunn said his family's guide service could start calling off afternoon trips.

Recently, a small reprieve of cooler temperatures has taken the edge off the fear at Lees Ferry, but uncertainty still taints the air.

"Mother Nature holds a handful of trump cards and if she decides to play one, there's not a damn thing you can do about it," Gunn said.

Seven states, Mexico, and tribal nations depend on the stressed Colorado River. They have undergone voluntary and mandatory cuts and are grappling with how to further reduce their reliance on the river by about 15 to 30 percent, per a recent mandate by the Department of the Interior.

Struggling aquatic life further complicates the already delicate river management and increases the cost.

Just a few miles north of Lees Ferry and its trout fishery there's another threat — nonnative predatory smallmouth bass. They're supposed to be contained in Lake Powell. But this summer they were found in the river below the dam. Smallmouth bass already wreaked havoc on native fish way upriver where the government spends millions of dollars each year to control the predators. They were held at bay in Lake Powell because Glen Canyon Dam has served as a barrier for them for years — until now. The reservoir's recent sharp decline is enabling these introduced fish to shoot through the dam and edge closer to the Grand Canyon, where the biggest groups of humpback chub, an ancient, threatened, native fish, remain.

The National Park Service is going so far as to apply chemicals Saturday to kill these predatory fish. The infested area is sealed off from the river with a vinyl barrier, desirable fish are moved to the main channel, and the substance is applied to just that area, said National Park Service fisheries biologist Jeff Arnold. A second treatment is likely later this fall. The Bureau of Reclamation has said it will contribute $30,000 for the second treatment, and is exploring additional funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act for longer-term solutions such as barriers that would prevent fish from even approaching the dam.

A mid-term solution could involve a technique that lets cold water from deeper in the lake flow into the river below. Although this would mean forgoing hydropower, the cool water would disrupt spawning of predatory fish. It's been successful in other rivers and could help protect both native fish and rainbow trout.

Several hundred miles downstream, at the site of another fish threat, one hatchery has completely shut down. Lake Mead Fish Hatchery, which used to breed endangered razorback sucker and bonytail chub, ceased operations earlier this year when the lake dipped below the point where the hatchery drew its water.

Last month, the state of Nevada and the Bureau of Reclamation announced they're kicking in nearly $12 million on a project to pull water from deeper in the lake into the hatchery. The new line will source water from a third straw that the Southern Nevada Water Authority built following a severe drop in lake levels in the early 2000s. As Lake Mead plummeted this year, the agency had to begin using it to rescue Las Vegas, and soon, the hatchery.

Walking into a silent hatchery, normally abuzz with flowing water and air compressors, is a challenge, said Nevada Department of Wildlife supervising fish biologist Brandon Singer.

"At first you feel kind of lost, your purpose is gone," Singer said. But it's been an opportunity for repair work and for his team to work on species in other parts of the state while they await their return to fish-rearing.

Maintaining native fish populations is a legal obligation the bureau has under the Endangered Species Act. It could face a lawsuit if it fails to meet that obligation, even as it juggles other pressing demands on the river.

Back upstream near Lake Powell, the introduced rainbow trout don't have the same protection. Losing them would be heartbreaking but feels inevitable, said Terry Gunn, who checks water temperature religiously. "It's like watching a family member grow old or die — it's gonna happen."

Wendy Gunn says if the trout fishery is lost and smallmouth bass take over, she could imagine Lees Ferry transitioning to a haven for warm water fish. It would be tragic in many ways, with the beloved rainbow trout gone and the likelihood that native fish downstream could be next, she said, but people would still come to cast lines.

"Everybody's just gonna have to adapt," Wendy said. "You either roll with it and change or you go away."

Weapons-grade plutonium secretly sent to Nevada removed - Associated Press

Weapons-grade plutonium that secretly was sent to Nevada over objections from the state has been removed ahead of schedule, federal officials said.

U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto said in a statement that she was notified by the National Nuclear Security Administration late Friday that the plutonium had been removed. The work that started last year had been expected to wrap up by the end of 2026.

The U.S. Energy Department under former President Donald Trump had planned to ship a full metric ton (2,204 pounds) of plutonium to Nevada from South Carolina, where a federal judge ordered the material be removed from a Savannah River site.

Nevada had argued in a lawsuit that the clandestine shipment of half a metric ton (1,100 pounds) of plutonium to the vast Nevada National Security Site — an area larger than the state of Rhode Island — in 2018 amounted to a "secret plutonium smuggling operation." The U.S. government argued it kept the shipment secret because of national security concerns.

The Nevada site was used to conduct nuclear weapons testing from 1945 to 1992.

The legal battle ended in mid-2020 after the federal government agreed to remove the highly radioactive material already trucked to Nevada and abandon any future plans to send more.

The material now is held at a site in New Mexico, a congressional aide told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

US judge in New Mexico remembered for work ethic, energy - Associated Press

U.S. District Court Judge James A. Parker, who served in New Mexico for more than three decades and a had a courtroom named after him, has died.

Parker died Friday at the age of 85, according to a statement from the U.S. District Court in New Mexico. A cause of death wasn't given.

Colleagues and friends remembered Parker for his work ethic, leadership, inspirational guidance and his ability to maintain a heavy case load.

"We were privileged to work with and know this exemplary man," said the court's chief judge, William Johnson.

Parker worked for an Albuquerque law firm for 25 years before former President Ronald Reagan nominated him to serve as a U.S. District Court judge in 1987.

Parker remained on the federal bench for 35 years, one of the longest tenures of any federal judge in New Mexico, the statement read. A courtroom on the 6th floor of the federal courthouse in downtown Albuquerque was renamed in January to honor Parker.

Parker was born and raised in Houston. He had a mechanical engineering degree from Rice University and a law degree from the University of Texas School of Law where he graduated first in his class.

As a federal judge, Parker advocated for resolving disputes outside the courtroom. He also served on national boards and committees.

Carolyn Wolf, president of the State Bar of New Mexico, called Parker a "brilliant jurist" who was courteous to everyone who appeared before him.