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FRI: Fed okays $73M for drinking water in northwestern NM + More

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Ken Lund via Flickr
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Officials say over a third of households in the San Juan River Basin still have to haul drinking water into their homes. As part of an ongoing project to bring water to those residents and to the Navajo Nation in general, the federal government awarded a $73 million contract to build new pumping plants near Sanostee in San Juan County.

US award $73M contract for Navajo-Gallup water project — Associated Press

The federal government has awarded a $73 million contract to construct pumping plants as part of an ongoing project to bring drinking water to parts of the Navajo Nation and to residents in northwestern New Mexico.

The Bureau of Reclamation announced Friday that an Arizona company earned the contract to build two pumping plants on the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project. The plants will be situated near the Navajo community of Sanostee in San Juan County.

They will be part of a network of pipelines and pumping stations that will deliver treated water from the San Juan River.

Biden administration officials touted the contract as a "significant milestone" that is a result of the $1 trillion infrastructure deal passed by Congress last year.

The Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project will use about 280 miles (450 kilometers) of pipeline, pumping stations, storage tanks and two treatment plants to deliver water to chapters on the Navajo Nation and the city of Gallup. It's expected to be completed by the Bureau of Reclamation in 2027.

The project is a major component of the nation's water rights settlement agreement on the San Juan River Basin in New Mexico, where officials said over a third of households still haul drinking water to their homes.

Construction was authorized in a federal measure passed by Congress and signed into law by then-President Barack Obama in 2009.

New Mexico allows funds for prosecutions in 'Rust' shooting — Associated Press

New Mexico has granted funds to pay for possible prosecutions connected to last year's fatal film-set shooting of a cinematographer by actor Alec Baldwin, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported Thursday.

The state Board of Finance greenlit more than $317,000 to cover the cost of investigating potential charges in the shooting on the set of "Rust" outside Santa Fe.

First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies made an emergency request for the funds to go toward a special prosecutor, special investigator, several experts and other personnel.

As many as four people could face charges, according to a copy of the request obtained by the newspaper, though Carmack-Altwies did not say anyone definitely would.

"One of the possible defendants is well known movie actor Alec Baldwin," she stated.

When reached for comment by the newspaper, she declined to say which crew members or cast could face charges. The possible charges her office is looking at range from homicide to violations of state gun statutes.

Carmack-Altwies said she is expecting to receive the final investigation report from the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office soon.

Baldwin was pointing a gun at cinematographer Halyna Hutchins when it went off on Oct. 21, killing her and wounding the director, Joel Souza. They had been inside a small church during setup for filming a scene.

Baldwin has said the gun went off accidentally and that he did not pull the trigger. But a recent FBI forensic report found the weapon could not not have fired unless someone pulled the trigger.

The film's armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, has been named in several lawsuits, including a wrongful death claim filed by Hutchins' family.

Families of missing and murdered Indigenous people call for help at Haaland event in Albuquerque — Shaun Griswold, Source New Mexico

Thursday night inside the UNM School of Law was a homecoming for Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who was warmly received by an audience of hundreds.

But, As Source New Mexico’s Shaun Griswold reports, outside, families representing 17 missing or murdered Indigenous people were crying in the rain, asking when their loved ones, or justice, will come to their homes.

Haaland, a 2006 graduate from the law school, arrived to give a lecture on civil rights as part of the U.S. Senator Dennis Chavez Endowed Symposium.

She spoke on environmental racism, climate change, why her Indigenous perspective is vital, and she shared the story about her grandmother forced onto a train near her home in Laguna Pueblo to a boarding school in Santa Fe.

Some of the families outside made their way into the law school foyer for the speech, and after it was over, they were offered a chance to ask: What is Haaland doing to push law enforcement to move on these cases involving their family?

The cabinet secretary highlighted the creation of the Missing and Murdered Unit at the Bureau of Indian Affairs that has hired 17 officers this year to track Indigenous cases.

She noted her work in Congress to strengthen the Violence Against Women Act that gives tribal law enforcement agencies greater reach in prosecuting cases.

Haaland even mentioned she was active in some of the very first MMIWR awareness events in Albuquerque, “where there would be like four people that would show up,” and elevated the matter during her time in Congress and in her capacity with Interior Department.

All of this is respectfully appreciated by Vangie Randall-Shorty, but she said it doesn’t do much to accelerate the investigation into the 2020 killing of her son.

“I’m disappointed,” she said about Haaland’s response to her question.

Zachariah Juwaun Shorty’s case is under investigation by the FBI, which has a $5,000 reward for information on his death. His mother said two members of the BIA unit Haaland created did visit her home in January to learn about the case and sort through photos, but she hasn’t heard anything since that interview.

“They came out to my house, and they gave me their time. They spoke with me, listened to the story. They went out to the location where he was found. They took pictures. And I was able to tell them about it,” she said tearfully, but still insistent on what’s next. “Like, it’s been two years now.”

She asked Haaland for an update on what the BIA unit is doing to make progress in Shorty’s case. The secretary offered sympathy but ultimately declined to answer, saying she did not have the case file to reference.

“Because I don’t have specific details and I don’t have the case in front of me — I haven’t particularly spoken to the Missing and Murdered Unit investigators that you spoke with — I don’t I don’t have that kind of information,” Haaland said. “I’m very sorry for your loss.”

Shorty (Diné) said her son’s case is also getting bogged down in the routine and well-known problem of jurisdiction. He lived in Kirtland N.M., was last seen in San Juan County, and his body was found on the Navajo Nation near the Nenahnezad Chapter House.

She entered the maze of law enforcement, contacting local police, the county sheriff and tribal police before being told the FBI took on the case. More than two years later, no arrests have been made.

“I need answers. I don’t want my son’s case closed,” Shorty told Haaland. “There’s many families here that are coming out to you for help. We don’t know where to go.”

Lela Mailman (Walker River Paiute) drove the roughly three hours to Albuquerque from Farmington to ask Haaland why police were so unhelpful when she first called for help in finding her daughter Melanie James, who went missing from the Four Corners community in 2014.

“Nobody seemed to have taken this seriously,” Mailman said. “We shouldn’t have to go by statistics. This is reality. And there are a lot of people out there who have the same reality. A lot of (police) will give us an attitude. They judge all these that are missing, all these that are murdered.”

While Haaland, again could not give a specific answer to Mailman’s question about police bias, she did stress the matter is important and will take time.

“It’s not an issue that’s been over the past couple of generations,” she said. “It’s a 500-year-old issue, and it will take more than one law, or two months.”

Haaland left the event to standing applause, while the families went back outside, hoping to get a one-on-one moment with the secretary to show them their loved ones’ photos or ask her questions. Haaland went out a backdoor and immediately left in an SUV while the families held signs and asked for help.

“These are your people,” a family member with the group shouted as Haaland left. “These are your relatives.”

Electric demand to outpace capacity for New Mexico utilities - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

New Mexico regulators are concerned about the ability of the state's largest electric providers to meet demands during peak seasons in 2023 and 2024.

The Public Regulation Commission convened a special meeting Thursday with utility executives to discuss supply chain issues that have delayed projects that were meant to fill the void as Public Service Co. of New Mexico shutters a major coal-fired power plant in northwestern New Mexico and as demand increases.

PNM executives said the utility will have "quite a hole" to fill next summer since solar and battery storage systems that were initially expected to be online to replace the San Juan Generating Station — which is closing next week — won't be operating as planned.

El Paso Electric, a utility that serves customers in southern New Mexico, also is expecting a capacity gap next summer. Like PNM, El Paso Electric will have to buy power from other producers to ensure adequate capacity when customers crank up their air conditioners during the hottest of days.

Utility executives told the regulators about skyrocketing prices for materials, escalating delivery costs and the inability of manufacturers to fill orders for items such as solar panels, transformers and other components needed to build new generating stations.

For those manufacturers who are still accepting orders, lead times can be as long as 72 months. Even the pieces needed to splice cables together before burying them are in short supply.

Still, the plan is to keep the lights on, said Mark Fenton, executive director of regulatory policy and case management for PNM.

Commissioner Stephen Fischmann told the executives to keep their priorities straight as they face what other commissioners acknowledged were unprecedented challenges.

"The lights going out is the worst case," he said. "I'm pretty sure we're going to avoid a crisis here but if we don't, we need to keep all options open."

Commissioner Joseph Maestas said New Mexico's low-income customers need to be considered as costs increase and utilities seek regulatory approval for replacement power.

In New Mexico's oil patch, officials with Southwestern Public Service Co. expect over 55 megawatts of demand from oil and gas coming online next year and nearly double that the following year. The utility said it can meet that demand in the coming years but noted there are planned retirements of natural gas power plants toward the end of the decade.

PNM officials said they have revamped their plans for alerting customers when it looks like demand will outpace capacity and rolling outages might ensue. The media blitz will include automated calls, television and radio commercials along with social media posts that urge customers to cut back on their use. A special website would go live for tracking outages.

"The first thing is to not put customers in that situation," said PNM spokesman Raymond Sandoval. "But we realize that we have to be prudent and have to plan for all sorts of contingencies."

New map shows where burn scar threatens historic acequias - Patrick Lohmann, Source New Mexico

After months of effort, contractors with the New Mexico Acequia Association have a clearer picture of the 200-year old acequias in the burn scar of the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire.

The irrigation ditches are carved through much of northern New Mexico, and there are about 80 in the 530-square-mile burn scar north of Las Vegas, N.M.

Association Director Paula Garcia said the first-ever mapping project was done to help document damage, and seek federal and state financial assistance. Until now, the Office of the State Engineer had only done rough outlines of acequias with the help of satellite data, and mappers there missed quite a few.

So association officials have walked every mile of the vast majority of the acequias in the burn scar. They found that almost all of them are damaged or full of silt due to the fire.

Garcia and some mayordomos recently told Source New Mexico that they’ve been frustrated by the lack of federal and state help in clearing the acequias. The waterways could help channel floods spilling off charred land, and help spur the return of farming and living along the ditches.

Federal and state programs are not well-designed for a systematic revival of the ditch system, Garcia said, and they’ve run into roadblocks in getting short-term debris removal and other help.

The map reveals that many of the headgates of acequias are near where floods have been reported over the last few months. High-severity burn areas, which are more prone to flooding, also surround many of the acequias, especially in the northern part of the burn scar.

The new map data, which is published below by Source New Mexico, is limited in some respects. It does not show the length of acequias, only the points at which they are diverted from other waterways.

And Garcia said that the association is still refining some of the data, including by removing a handful of private ditches on the map near Ledoux and adding acequias near Gascon.

Evaluations highlight concerns, harm at state health centers - Associated Press

A new evaluation of state-operated hospitals for veterans, the mentally ill and the elderly describes inadequate oversight that threatens the ability to provide quality care, including harmful conditions at a care facility for military veterans in Truth or Consequences.

Presented Thursday to legislators, the evaluation from the Legislature's accountability and budget office describes improvements in management of finances, marketing and tracking of clinical outcomes for patients.

But the quality of patient care and oversight at the New Mexico State Veterans' Home in Truth or Consequences in particular continues to be a point of concern.

Problems there were highlighted recently by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which found substandard care and examples of patients who were harmed.

That review found the State Veterans' Home failed to properly intervene to care for a patient who had fallen eight times and died after being found unresponsive after a fall. A diabetic patient was sent home with insulin but no glucose meter, and another patient was intubated despite a do-not-resuscitate order.

The home failed to ensure compliance with infection-control protocols and training, such as the use of face masks by staff and proper procedures for antibiotics — placing residents in jeopardy.

The facility risks losing funding agreements with Medicaid and Medicare programs if deficiencies are still unresolved in December. A medical director at the facility lost privileges as a result of the June federal inspection and resigned.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said state officials are confident that the facility will be back in compliance within the time allotted through reinspection.

In a statement Thursday, the governor recounted an impromptu visit to the veterans' home earlier in the week to personally check in on progress and meet with residents and staff.

"I reassured them all that I will continue to hold accountable those in charge of our veterans' care until every metric is met and every deficiency is corrected," Lujan Grisham said in the statement. "I also made several commitments to them based on their feedback, including increasing transportation options, improving their access to medical specialists and more flexibility for meal options and times."

The governor indicated that employment was recently terminated for five individuals at the veterans' home, while two nurses were reported for discipline and eight other staff were reprimanded or counseled. An expert team assessed the facility, and staff are now being trained in critical areas.

New Mexico has assigned at least $60 million to the Department of Health to build a new veteran's home buildings at Truth or Consequences that are scheduled for completion next year.

In all, New Mexico currently operates seven facilities that provide court-ordered psychiatric care, detox services for drugs and alcohol, nursing care for honorable-discharged military veterans, teenage boys with mental-health or violence problems, supportive living arrangements for people disabled since youth and more.

A 2021 evaluation of the facilities found a need for better governance, planning and oversight. Out of a dozen recommendations, four have been met and solutions to eight more are underway.

The release of the new report coincided with a visit by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to a new senior center in Wagon Mound.

The Department of Health has begun tracking daily occupancy at all its facilities. The results showed that only about half of licensed beds were occupied from March to July 2022.

Evaluators also found that the Turquoise Lodge detox center in Albuquerque doesn't allow walk-in admissions, requiring a multi-step admissions process over the phone. Federal guidelines say that makes it less likely that patients will seek treatment.

New Mexico candidate removes gun-for-$100 donations offer - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

New Mexico's Republican nominee for secretary of state has removed an online campaign flier that offered the chance to receive a firearm in return for $100 donations to her campaign.

The gun "giveaway" offer on a Facebook campaign website for candidate Audrey Trujillo appeared to run afoul of a state prohibition on the use of raffles to raise funds for an individual running for office.

Contacted Thursday by The Associated Press, Trujillo said that she was removing the gun giveaway flier out of concern it might be out of compliance. She said her campaign would offer refunds for any possible contributions linked to the gun offer.

Trujillo is challenging incumbent Democratic Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver in the November general election for the New Mexico's top elections regulation post that also oversees campaign finance and ethics provisions. The small business owner from Corrales is campaigning for large-scale changes to elections as part of the America First Secretary of State Coalition.

Trujillo said she was aware of restrictions on raffles for campaign purposes and had intended simply to give away a gun that was provided to her campaign in honor of the constitutional right to bear arms. She said the notice was posted without her review and that she took it down after seeing the wording.

"I know that for a fact that we're not supposed to do raffles or sell anything — it was being given away," Trujillo said. "We took it down immediately. We're not doing it because we want to make sure that we comply."

The campaign flier, with an image of Trujillo, announced an October gun giveaway and that "with each $100 donation, you will be entered for a ticket. Only 200 tickets will be sold ... winner is responsible for background check fee." A QR code was linked to a campaign contribution processing website.

The gun displayed on the flier was a 12-gauge, semi-automatic shotgun with a magazine for multiple shells.

Trujillo campaign manager Freddie Lopez said the campaign spoke with an official at the state Gaming Control Board to inform the agency that the gun offer had been removed.

"It was a mistake on our part, and we corrected it," he said.

Gaming Control Board staff representative Richard Kottenstette said the agency is satisfied for now by voluntary compliance after an enforcement agent contacted Trujillo's campaign manager to confirm that the campaign notices were removed, with no apparent campaign contributions received.

"It's been made public before that political campaigns should not be using raffles for fundraising," he said. "It's out there. It's not hard to find."

Governors races take on new prominence, with higher stakesSara Burnett, John Hanna, Associated Press

Governors' races often are overshadowed by the fight for control of Congress during midterm elections. But this fall, which candidate wins a state's top executive post could be pivotal for the nation's political future.

With abortion rights, immigration policies and democracy itself in the balance, both parties are entering the final weeks before the Nov. 8 election prepared to spend unprecedented amounts of money to win seats for governor. Those elected will be in power for the 2024 election, when they could influence voting laws as well as certification of the outcome. And their powers over abortion rights increased greatly when the U.S. Supreme Court in June left the question to states to decide.

"Governors races matter more than ever," said North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, chair of the Democratic Governors Association, the group working to elect Democrats to lead states.

For Democrats, Cooper said, governors "are often the last line of defense" on issues that have been turned over to states, including gun laws and voting rights in addition to abortion. That's been especially true in places with Democratic governors and Republican-controlled legislatures, such as Wisconsin and Kansas — states both parties have made top targets for victory in November. Democrats are leading Republican candidates in two important battleground states with GOP-led statehouses, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly is the only Democratic governor running for reelection in a state carried by former President Donald Trump in 2020. The former legislator won the office in 2018 against a fiery conservative after running as a moderate who promoted bipartisanship.

She now faces three-term state Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who has repeatedly tried to tie her to President Joe Biden and criticized her as too liberal for the red state. Schmidt's campaign has been hurt, however, by a third-party bid from a conservative state lawmaker.

During a debate at the Kansas State Fair this month, Schmidt portrayed Kelly's position on abortion as too extreme, telling a crowd she supports abortion without restrictions.

Kansas has been the unlikely site of Democratic hopes in regard to abortion rights. In August, Kansas voters overwhelmingly defeated a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have allowed the GOP-controlled Legislature to greatly restrict or ban abortion. Kelly opposed the measure, though she has tried to focus her campaign elsewhere.

Schmidt said he respects the outcome of the vote but that the abortion debate isn't over.

"What was not on the ballot was Governor Kelly's position," he said.

Throughout nearly two decades in elective politics, Kelly has opposed nearly every restriction on abortion now in Kansas law. But asked about Schmidt's characterization of her position on abortion, she said, "You know, I have never said that."

Kelly hasn't emphasized abortion as an issue, though many Democrats think it would help her. Instead, she has been touting the state's fiscal strength and her work to lure businesses and jobs.

"Maybe I'm not flashy, but I'm effective," she said at the end of the state fair debate.

In Wisconsin, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers warns voters that democracy is on the ballot this fall and notes he has vetoed more bills than any governor in modern state history, including measures Republicans pushed to change how elections are conducted.

Evers faces businessman Tim Michels, who was endorsed by Trump. Michels has claimed the 2020 presidential election was rigged — a lie Trump has pushed in an effort to overturn his loss to Biden — and supports changes to voting and election laws in the state, a perennial presidential battleground.

Michels is among several Trump-backed nominees who emerged from sometimes brutal GOP primaries. In some cases, more moderate or establishment Republicans warned that the far-right pick endorsed by Trump would struggle to win in a general election.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, chair of the Republican Governors Association, acknowledged the intraparty turmoil during a discussion at Georgetown University's Institute of Politics and Public Service last week.

"We're a divided nation right now, and it is very tribal. And much of that crept into this cycle," said Ducey, who is term-limited.

The RGA doesn't endorse in primaries. But as governor, Ducey endorsed businesswoman Karrin Taylor Robson for Arizona's GOP nomination for governor. She lost to former TV news anchor Kari Lake, who had Trump's backing.

Ducey and Trump have feuded over the governor's refusal to cede to Trump's wishes and overturn the 2020 election results in his state. Lake has said she would not have certified Biden's victory, even though it has been affirmed by multiple reviews.

Cooper said the DGA will be "leaning in hard" in Arizona as well as in a tight contest in Georgia, where GOP Gov. Brian Kemp is facing Democrat Stacey Abrams, a former state legislative leader who lost a close 2018 race to him. In the primary, Kemp easily defeated former Sen. David Perdue, who was endorsed by Trump.

Both the Democratic and Republican governors associations entered 2022 having raised record amounts of money — over $70 million each — in what they say is a sign that voters are increasingly focused on state races. Cooper attributed some of the increased interest to Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.

The RGA is bullish about defending Republican governorships in Arizona and Georgia, and is heavily focused on picking up a handful of blue states in the West, including Oregon and New Mexico.

At the top of the list is Nevada, where Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo is among Republicans' most prized recruits this election cycle and is challenging Gov. Steve Sisolak.

In Oregon, GOP hopes rest on an independent candidate siphoning enough support from the Democrat and allowing the Republican to pull out a victory.

Democrats, meanwhile, are confident they will take back governorships in Massachusetts and Maryland, two blue states currently led by moderate Republicans, after far-right Republicans won their party's nominations.

Pennsylvania, a top presidential battleground, is another state where the GOP nominee could hurt Republicans' chances in November. GOP voters chose Doug Mastriano from a crowded field, picking a Trump-backed candidate who opposes abortion rights without exceptions, spread conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and organized bus trips to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, the day of the violent insurrection. He faces Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

Asked about the race during the discussion at Georgetown, Ducey was blunt.

"Another axiom that we have at the RGA is that we don't fund lost causes, and we don't fund landslides," he said.

In Michigan, a swing state where Trump and his allies also tried unsuccessfully to overturn his 2020 loss, Trump-backed nominee Tudor Dixon won a chaotic GOP primary. Democrats have repeatedly criticized Dixon for her stance against abortion, including in cases of rape or incest. A measure to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution also will be on the November ballot, and Democrats are hoping it will help their candidates.

First-term Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has millions more in her campaign fund than Dixon, but said after an appearance at the Detroit Auto Show that she was taking nothing for granted.

"This is Michigan, and it's always tight in Michigan," she said.