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WED: State Supreme Court allows PNM to delay customer credits, Most candidates for top election posts say no to hand counts + More

San Juan Generating Station
Susan Montoya Bryan
/
AP
The coal-fired San Juan Generating Station is seen near Farmington, N.M., on Nov. 9, 2009.

Court allows New Mexico utility to delay customer credits - Associated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court has cleared the way for the state's largest electric utility to delay issuing rate credits related to the recent closure of a coal-fired power plant.

State regulators in June had ordered Public Service Co. of New Mexico to begin issuing the credits since the San Juan Generating Station was shutting down. The utility challenged the order and requested a stay.

The utility has said the cost of doing business has gone up and that delaying credits would mean smaller rate increases for customers in the future.

Utility spokesman Ray Sandoval told the Santa Fe New Mexican that the utility was pleased with the decision.

"All parties had the opportunity to fully present their views to the court, and the court fully considered those positions in deciding that the stay should remain in place," Sandoval wrote in an email.

Regulators and consumer advocates argued earlier this year that customers shouldn't be charged for a power plant that is no longer in operation.

"In exchange for a bailout, PNM promised the legislators, the court and the people that there would be customer savings when PNM abandoned San Juan," said Mariel Nanasi, executive director of New Energy Economy, a frequent critic of the utility. "PNM failed on its promise and customers are still being charged, which is particularly harmful during these inflationary times."

It's not clear how soon the state Supreme Court could make a decision on the merits of the case.

Lack of affordable solar energy options in Farmington, clean energy advocates say - Megan Gleason, Source New Mexico 

Thousands of New Mexicans could be missing out on the opportunity to get solar energy options at homes and businesses because their locally-run utility company is exempt from a new law requiring them to offer the incentive.

In 2021, the state Legislature passed a bill requiring state-regulated privately owned utility companies operating in New Mexico to adopt community solar, a way for multiple homes or businesses to get solar energy from one local facility and get credit for doing so.

Details in the legislation allow seven utility companies, run by a mix of local city councils and appointed energy commission boards, to skip the program altogether.

Farmington owns and operates a Farmington Electric Utility System, an energy utility that serves more than 46,000 customers. The company argues it provides lower rates and better reliability than privately owned companies, which is where most New Mexicans get their electricity from.

But advocates for solar energy say the companies are limiting New Mexicans from investing in new energy solutions, and the effort is being regulated by people with interests in the extractive industries, which are big businesses in these communities.

“They’re oil and gas folks, and they’re industry folks,” said Mariel Nanasi, executive director of New Energy Economy. “And it’s hurt their community. People are suffering.”

Farmington Electric Utility System, a nonprofit owned by the city, serves customers across San Juan County and east in Rio Arriba County.

Hank Adair is the utility director. He said, as of Monday, there were just under 300 customers who have installed or applied for solar power with Farmington Electric. About 100 of those applications came within the last year, he added. “For our small of a utility, that’s a large number,” he said.

Farmington resident David Fosdeck disagreed. Fosdeck is a solar user who previously worked in the solar industry. He said that’s not many solar installations in comparison to how many people the utility actually serves.

“This is not a friendly place to do solar,” he said.

Fosdeck has also had issues in the past with how much the utility wanted to charge solar users.

In 2019, Fosdeck and others filed a complaint against Farmington Electric with allegations that the utility had discriminatory electric rates through what was called the “standby service rider” for customers using solar power. Farmington Electric settled and removed those bill charges in July 2022.

“They’ll say they’re pro-solar, but the numbers of solar installed speaks for itself,” he said. “The attempt to discriminate against solar using the standby service rider speaks for itself.”

Rick Gilliam is a senior regulatory director with Vote Solar and worked on the Farmington settlement case. He said the utility company fights against solar because customers would pay less for the clean energy and the utility would lose money.

“Everything they’ve done with their customers has been to discourage the use of rooftop solar,” he said.

Still, Adair said solar energy is a great opportunity and there’s low cost in it. But being a municipal utility in a rural area doesn’t always make solar energy an affordable task, he remarked.

He said large-scale solar energy projects are difficult to do on the rural grid where people live further apart. In cities like Albuquerque, he said, more customers are covered in smaller areas, making it cheaper to pursue solar. It’s also difficult to do bigger projects in general because Farmington Electric is a small utility, he added.

Nanasi said these are just excuses to keep delaying the inevitable solar transition. And it goes back to who’s watching over the utility, she said.

WHO IS REGULATING THE UTILITY?

Farmington’s municipal utilities are overseen by the City Council and an appointed utility board. Gilliam said this is standard in most places with locally run utilities, and in many of these situations, he said, the regulators generally take the advice of the utility management.

“They’re really self-regulated with the theory being that they’re not going to do things that aren’t in the community’s own best interests,” Gilliam said.

Gilliam said the resistance to a solar energy transition likely has to do with the fact that the city is very politically conservative and many officials support the oil and gas industry.

Nanasi agreed. She said it comes down to officials who don’t want to divest from the fossil fuel industry, despite its limited supply. And those same officials are the ones regulating the utility.

There could also potentially be somewhat of a conflict of interest between the city and its utility, Gilliam said, since municipal utilities often generate money for the community. Adair said 7% of the utility’s revenues go back into the community, which has equaled an average of $6.84 million over the last three years.

“That can then get just kind of confusing and pretty far away from making decisions that are necessarily in the best interest of electric consumers, and it’s more taking into account revenue,” Gilliam said.

But Gilliam said he’s not sure if there’s a better way to regulate municipal utilities. Pushing it onto the state would add work to staff who are probably already overtasked and making a different utility commission would just match the current system and take more money.

“There’s not a great model that I’ve seen,” he said.

POTENTIAL SOLAR PROJECTS IN FARMINGTON

There aren’t currently any large-scale utility solar projects in Farmington, Adair said, but some are planned for the future, with solar ranging from 30 megawatts in the next few years to around 120 megawatts starting in 2037.

Another way that the utility could pursue a smaller clean energy project is through community solar. Gilliam, who worked on the legislation creating the program, said this is perfect for rural areas like Farmington, since it’s a “bite-sized project” a smaller utility could reasonably take on. And they have the land area for the solar facilities, he added.

But Adair said the utility came to the conclusion that something like that would cost too much in Farmington when officials debated similar projects in 2019. However, that might change, he added.

The state and federal governments offer tax credits to businesses that use or offer solar energy alternatives. That never applied to Farmington Electric since it’s a nonprofit, Adair said, but the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act is starting to incentivize renewable energy projects for tax-exempt organizations.

The bill offers direct pay instead of tax credits to municipalities like Farmington Electric. Adair said this has prompted the utility to start considering different clean energy options for the future.

“The utility’s really evaluating right now, as well as many of the utilities across the nation, what that looks like,” he said.

Most candidates for top election posts say no to hand counts - By Nicholas Riccardi Associated Press

The vast majority of candidates running to become their states' chief election officers oppose hand counting ballots, a laborious and error-prone process that has gained favor among some Republicans embracing conspiracy theories about voting machines.

An Associated Press survey of major-party secretary of state candidates in the 24 states found broad skepticism about hand counting among election professionals of all ideological stripes. Of 23 Republicans who responded to the survey, 13 clearly said they opposed implementing a statewide hand count of ballots instead of a machine count.

GOP candidates in Arizona and New Mexico have previously endorsed the idea of a hand count. But others cautioned it was a dangerous road to follow.

"Hand counting ballots is a process that requires time, manpower, and is prone to inaccuracies," Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab, a Republican who is seeking reelection this year, wrote in response to the AP survey.

The desire to hand count ballots stems from conspiracy theories spread by former President Donald Trump and his allies that the electronic machines that tabulated the results of the 2020 presidential election were rigged. Now some Republicans inspired by his election lies seek to expand or require hand counting of all ballots.

Counting by hand takes longer, requires large groups of people to examine ballots, and has been found by multiple studies to be less reliable than using voting machines.

"The reason the U.S. moved to counting machines is due to both human error and fraud with hand counts, so we looked for a better way to count the vote," said Kim Crockett, the Republican nominee for secretary of state in Minnesota, in an email. "The error rate for hand counts is higher than the error rate for ballot counters in most cases."

Crockett, who has called the 2020 election "rigged" and echoed some of Trump's other election falsehoods, also stressed that she thinks her state's voting machines still need further inspection.

The process came under scrutiny last week when rural Nye County in Nevada embarked on an unprecedented full hand count of this year's midterm votes, starting with mailed ballots and those cast early in-person. The process was painstakingly slow until it was halted by the state's supreme court over concerns that early vote tallies could be leaked publicly.

While the AP survey found most candidates strongly favor machine tabulators, two GOP secretary of state candidates in politically pivotal states — Arizona and New Mexico — want to shift to the unreliable method of counting ballots. A third in yet another swing state, Nevada, has backed Nye County's effort and voiced support for making that sort of procedure standard statewide.

In Arizona, Republican State Rep. Mark Finchem, who is running for secretary of state, joined his party's nominee for governor, Kari Lake, in filing a lawsuit seeking to outlaw the use of any machine to record or tabulate votes. The case was dismissed by a judge who levied sanctions against the Republicans.

In New Mexico, GOP secretary of state nominee Audrey Trujillo has said she wants widespread hand counting of votes.

"Hand count my ballot. We already have paper ballots," she said in an interview on the video platform Rumble. "If we had that, I guarantee you tons more people would go out and vote."

Neither Finchem nor Trujillo responded to the AP's survey.

Nevada's Republican secretary of state candidate has offered conflicting responses. A campaign spokesman for Republican nominee Jim Marchant told the AP that Marchant would be fine with a machine count as long as there also are paper ballots, which are universally used in Nevada. But the prior month, Marchant told the AP in a separate interview, "My goal is to go to a hand count paper ballot system."

Nevada's current secretary of state, Republican Barbara Cegavske, told interim Nye County Clerk Mark Kampf to halt the hand count of early arriving mailed ballots and early in-person votes until after polls close Nov. 8 following a ruling late last week from the state's high court. The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union had sought to halt the hand count over concerns that observers could hear the results as they were announced, risking a potential public leak of early returns.

The nascent hand-count had been riddled with problems on its first day, with repeated delays and errors among the volunteer staff of 12 teams of five split into two different shifts. They got through 900 of 1,950 ballots on the first day, with one volunteer lamenting the slow pace: "I can't believe it's two hours to get through 25."

An AP reporter observed two teams of five taking as long as three hours to count 50 ballots. When teams realized they had mismatched tallies for certain candidates, they would stop and recount the ballots for those candidates again. That effort followed a hand count in another rural Nevada county, Esmeralda, where election workers in June spent more than seven hours hand-tallying the 317 primary ballots.

Kampf said the teams improved during the second day.

Eleven candidates, mostly Republicans, did not respond to the AP's survey, including one of the most prominent election conspiracy theorists running for the position — Republican Kristina Karamo in Michigan, a community college instructor who has spread the lie that voting machines in 2020 were rigged.

"Election deniers are using the language of election integrity to dismantle the actual infrastructure of election integrity," said David Becker, the co-author of "The Big Truth," a book about the risks of Trump's voting lies, and executive director of the Center for Election Innovation & Research. "If you want inaccurate results that take a really long time and cost a lot, then hand counting is your solution."

Voting machines are routinely checked before and after voting to make sure they count accurately. The post-election test usually involves pulling a sample of random ballots and counting them by hand to see if the automated tally differs.

But repeated studies — in voting and other fields such as banking and retail — have shown that people make far more errors counting than do machines, especially when reaching larger and larger numbers. They're also vastly slower.

Jennifer Morrell, a former local election official in Colorado and Utah, noted that hand counts are enormously labor-intensive. The election consulting firm where she works estimated that in a typical-sized jurisdiction of 270,000 voters, it would take 1,300 people to count the ballots within seven days.

That's because the typical ballot has dozens of races on it, which machines tabulate automatically but humans would have to count line by line, page by page.

"Voting equipment is uniform and efficient in a way that humans will never be," Morrell said.

Crime opens political lane for GOP in Democratic New Mexico - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

Republicans are funneling resources and determination into a law-and-order campaign for governor of New Mexico led by a local TV celebrity with a hard-line message about criminal justice — hoping to dislodge an incumbent Democrat who staunchly defends abortion access.

New Mexico is one of a handful of Democratic-dominated states from New York to Oregon where Republicans hope to win the top statewide office by elevating concerns about household hardships of inflation along with rising crime and shifting attitudes about public safety.

Former TV meteorologist and GOP nominee Mark Ronchetti has relentlessly hammered incumbent Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for fostering a "catch-and-release" environment in the criminal justice system as the state's largest city, Albuquerque, sees a record-setting spate of homicides.

He's drawing support from a pack of ambitious GOP governors with little love for former President Donald Trump. Fundraising by Ronchetti's campaign has surged amid visits from incumbent Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, termed-out Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and purple-state Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia.

On Monday, Trump posted a social media endorsement of Ronchetti, who has steered clear of Trump's false election-fraud claims that sparked the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection and acknowledges that President Joe Biden won in 2020.

Biden is scheduled to visit New Mexico on Thursday to shore up Lujan Grisham's standing with voters in a state that Trump lost twice — and where Democrats hope to keep control of every statewide elected office, legislative majorities and the state Supreme Court.

Lujan Grisham has staked her reelection above all on abortion access as a cornerstone of women's rights — touting her collaboration with Democratic legislators in overturning a dormant state abortion ban last year ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court striking down Roe vs. Wade.

She later signed executive orders to ensure safe haven for local abortion doctors and visiting patients, while earmarking $10 million to help build an abortion and reproductive health clinic in Las Cruces.

If "women don't have equal rights, you cannot have a democracy," Lujan Grisham told news reporters last week. "It's perilous."

Biden's trip to New Mexico comes on the heels of visits and endorsements by prominent Democrats, from a video feed by Barack Obama to a moderated discussion on reproductive rights in Albuquerque last week between Lujan Grisham and Vice President Kamala Harris.

Ronchetti spokesman Ryan Sabel said Monday that the Biden visit would remind voters of reckless policies that "have led to higher gas prices, open borders, and drugs and violent crime taking over our neighborhoods."

Lonna Atkeson, a political scientist who directs the LeRoy Collins Institute at Florida State University, said Republicans have seized on the most visceral of political issues.

"Crime really affects people, and the economy is more important than crime," she said. "As long as you can keep these issues in the minds of voters, the GOP has a winning strategy."

Atkeson, a former professor at the University of New Mexico, said campaigning on abortion policy can activate voters across the political spectrum in a heavily Hispanic state with strong currents of Catholicism.

"We've got both right-to-life and pro-choice people on the other side. So it's not the clear winning issue," Atkeson said. "Abortion is in some ways an abstract issue for a lot of people that they're not going to face tomorrow."

The outcome of the governor's race in New Mexico holds other national implications.

A Ronchetti win would put Republicans back in the driver's seat on oilfield and climate regulations in the nation's No. 2 state for petroleum production. And Ronchetti has pledged to deploy troops and police to the U.S.-Mexico border, aligning enforcement with Republican-led initiatives in Texas and Arizona.

The winner also will oversee a windfall in state government income linked to oil production, in a state with persistently high rates of childhood poverty and low-marks for public school performance.

Lujan Grisham has urged voters to stay the course on increased public investments in education, health care and policing.

She recently signed cuts on sales taxes and social security benefits. Ronchetti says he would go farther, including a permanent annual rebate tied to oilfield income for every individual in the state of 2.1 million residents.

Republicans have spent heavily on turning the election into a referendum on crime and punishment.

The Republican Governors Association has invested in TV ads that provide a frightening narrative around the release of a convicted felon who went on to slay his estranged girlfriend last year.

Patty Lane, manager of a gallery of shops in Truth or Consequences, said Ronchetti's approach to crime, border security and the economy resonate in her community, and that she still resents aggressive pandemic health restrictions from Lujan Grisham that limited access to businesses while drawing down prison populations.

"Her handling of COVID, letting prisoners out that shouldn't be let out. … Ronchetti, he just seems more level-headed," Lane said.

Ronchetti, who ran unsuccessfully for Senate in 2020, said he'll appoint hard-nosed judges and has pledged to back police officers by restoring local immunity from prosecution to policing agencies, while railing against the state's pretrial release system. A voter-approved constitutional amendment in 2016 reduced the role of money-bail and made it harder to deny release while defendants await trial.

New Mexico has alternated between Democratic and Republican governors since the early 1980s. An incumbent governor last lost reelection in 1994.

The Democratic Party also seized on abortion access as a galvanizing issue in 2020 to oust several of the party's own incumbent state senators who had balked at overturning the state abortion ban — clearing the way for 2021 legislation to preserve access.

Since then, New Mexico has taken on an outsized roll in providing access to abortion for residents of neighboring states. Operators of the Mississippi clinic at the center of the court battle that overturned Roe v. Wade have opened a clinic in southern New Mexico.

Ronchetti supports a ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy with limited exceptions, while advocating for a statewide referendum on whether to impose new restrictions.

At the University of New Mexico, 19-year-old student Taylor Rittman said she was unlikely to support candidates who want to restrict access to abortion.

"It opens up the opportunity for the government to continue to take away freedoms" from women, Rittman said.

Tribe seeks to adapt as climate change alters ancestral home - By Tammy Webber And Martha Irvine Associated Press

Raymond Naranjo sings for rain, his voice rising and falling as he softly strikes his rawhide-covered drum.

The 99-year-old invites the cloud spirits, rain children, mist, thunder and lightning to join him at Santa Clara Pueblo, where Tewa people have lived for thousands of years on land they call Kha'p'o Owingeh, the Valley of the Wild Roses.

"Without water, you don't live," says Naranjo's son Gilbert, explaining the rain dance song his father, a World War II veteran, has sung for decades — and with increasing urgency as the tribe fights for the survival of its ancestral home.

With unsettling speed, climate change has taken a toll on the the pueblo's 89 square miles that climb from the gently rolling Rio Grande Valley to Santa Clara Canyon in the rugged Jemez Mountains of northern New Mexico.

Hotter temperatures and drier conditions, exacerbated by global warming, have made their forests a tinderbox, shrunk waterways and parched pastures and gardens, threatening a way of life tied to land, water and animals they pray for daily and celebrate through stories, songs and dances passed down through the ages.

Elders in the tribe of about 1,350 remember dense forests of fir, pine, spruce and aspen. A creek cascading through a series of ponds in the canyon. A valley of sage and juniper with shady cottonwood galleries and gardens along a creek and river.

They hunted deer and elk, gathered firewood and medicinal and ceremonial plants and dug clay to make the shiny black and redware pottery pueblo artisans are renowned for. Fields irrigated by the creek and the Rio Grande bore a bounty of corn, beans, squash and chiles.

But three large wildfires in 13 years burned more than 80% of the tribe's forested land. The last one, the 2011 Las Conchas fire — then the largest in New Mexico history — burned so hot it hardened the ground like concrete.

And in a cruel twist two months later, it took just a quarter-inch of rain to unleash the first of several devastating flash floods, scouring charred slopes and sending tree trunks, boulders and vast quantities of sediment surging through the pueblo. It buried sections of a Santa Clara Canyon road 50 feet deep, blew out earthen dams and drained ponds where the tribe planned to reintroduce native trout. It decimated habitat for beavers, bears, elk, mule deer and eagles.

In the valley, flash floods still fill irrigation ditches with sediment and ruin crops planted near the creek. And now tribal farmers who for centuries freely diverted water from the Rio Grande can only do so on designated days because the river has been critically low. Hotter temperatures and stronger winds dry the soil quickly, rain is unpredictable, snowfall is scarce.

People here in the high desert are familiar with drought. About 500 years ago, the tribe moved from the pueblo's cliff dwellings — called Puye, or "where the rabbits gather" — to the Rio Grande Valley after drought dried up a stream and made dryland farming difficult.

But the megadrought now gripping the West and Southwest, the worst in 1,200 years, makes the future less certain.

"How do you prepare ... with so many unknowns?" says Santa Clara Pueblo Gov. J. Michael Chavarria. "Where do we go? We have nowhere else to go."

So the people are trying to adapt by returning to their roots: embracing natural methods to restore their watershed and make the forests more resilient, growing trees and crops from native seeds that evolved to withstand drought. But they're also willing to embrace new ways if that helps them stay.

Their connection to this place and the future of their people is too important to do otherwise, Chavarria says. "We can't just pack up our bags and leave."

ROAD TO RESTORATION

Garrett Altmann peers into the woody debris, looking for conifer seedlings planted last fall along Santa Clara Creek. Only a third have survived.

But as he keeps walking, Altmann is surprised to find fir and spruce seedlings sprouting naturally in a previously burned area. Though just an inch high, they represent an ecological victory, says Altmann, a geographic information systems coordinator and project manager with the tribe's forestry department.

About 60% of the more than 2 million trees planted in the past 20 years, from seeds collected on the pueblo, have died. And some areas, especially unshaded south-facing slopes, may never again support trees in a hotter, drier world.

So to see some sprouting on their own is "like the apex of restoration,'' says Altmann, who has crews place logs and scatter tree branches to stop erosion and build up soil. "Knowing that you're doing something that nature will be able to propagate from, it just makes me happy."

The tribe hopes to restore and even reengineer the canyon by combining scientific and native knowledge and using natural materials: rocks to slow water, bend waterways and create ponds and floodwater diversions; tree roots and debris to create habitats, enrich the soil and shade seedlings and Santa Clara Creek.

"My goal for this watershed is to build it back better than it was before," says Altmann, who is not a tribal member.

That's a difficult but important target, tribal officials say — not just to protect the canyon and prevent runoff that could threaten the village, but also to ease the tribe's collective grief and restore some of what's been lost: family hunting and camping trips, pilgrimages to ancient sites so sacred they're kept secret from outsiders.

Some elders weep when they see treeless slopes, deeply eroded stream banks and burned out cabins, says Daniel Denipah, the tribe's forestry director.

"They say, 'This just doesn't look like the same place,'" he says. "It breaks your heart."

They also worry a generation of children — many who've never seen the canyon — will lose an important connection to their culture, including songs that identify special places and give thanks to the animals, plants and life itself.

So the forestry department enlists schoolkids to help plant trees and grass plugs and build rock dams to forge a bond with the land. That's what motivates Denipah, who says it could take more than 100 years for the tribe's beloved forests to regrow.

"I'm going to ... try my hardest to put things back the way they were and to keep this culture alive," says Denipah. "That's what's important to me – trying to give that back to the people."

HOPE AND FEAR

Signs of renewal are everywhere.

A carpet of green, including wild onions and currants, spreads beneath blackened trees. Bulrushes hug the streambanks. Young aspens are coloring an area where conifers burned. Bluebirds flit about a meadow of mullein and wild roses.

A bear and two cubs wade in Santa Clara Creek, disappearing into a thicket when Altmann stops his truck. A pair of eagles soars overhead as squirrels dart between logs. Deer, turkey and bobcats also are returning.

But there still is much to do — and much uncertainty — even after about $100 million in federal disaster aid and other funding was spent for emergency response and to rebuild a temporary canyon road, widen bridges, erect steel mesh barriers to catch debris sliding from ravines, and to dig ash and sediment from ponds and the creek.

It could cost almost $200 million more to rebuild a permanent road in the canyon and build dams to restore the ponds, where the tribe wants to reintroduce a pure strain of native cutthroat trout, pueblo officials say.

But they believe they can spend less and accomplish more with their nature-based approach to restoration, while recognizing limitations in a warmer climate.

For example, the tribe will be strategic about where it replants trees, choosing the most promising sites and leaving space between future forest stands. They'll revive prescribed burns — an ancient practice long discouraged by state and federal agencies — to keep forests from again becoming overgrown, which made them susceptible to drought, insects and disease.

Still, people here fear climate change could outpace recovery, that another large wildfire could undo years of progress.

"I want to be hopeful. But the way things are going now, I don't know," says Eugene "Hutch" Naranjo, 63, who had hoped to share his childhood experiences — hunting, fishing, camping — with his grandchildren.

He recalls his grandfather's advice from more than a half century ago: Remember how the canyon looks so you can tell your kids and grandkids, "because things are changing and I don't know if (they) will ever see things the way you see them now."

FEAST OR FAMINE

Hutch and Norma Naranjo bend over rows of chiles tucked among drying corn stalks, filling baskets to roast and preserve or mill into powder.

Normally they'd be harvesting the corn, but it ripened a month earlier, in August, after a long dry spell was quenched by unexpectedly heavy and prolonged rains. They scrambled to get the crop in before it rotted or became too hard, then roasted and dried the kernels, a staple of the Tewa diet.

Farming is now "a guessing game," says Hutch, lifting a load of chiles into his pickup truck. He and Norma also grow alfalfa, beans, squash, sweet peas and watermelon, raise cattle and pasture horses on Santa Clara land inherited from Hutch's grandfather.

Dozens of families once farmed on ancestral plots, enabling the pueblo to be so self-sufficient, they say, that they barely noticed the Great Depression, didn't worry about grocery shopping.

But sustaining that life is increasingly difficult.

"Fields just aren't producing like they used to," says Gilbert Naranjo — no relation to Hutch — who's in charge of plowing farmers' fields. He says some people now buy starter plants because it can be difficult to get seeds to germinate.

This year, many farmers — including him — didn't bother planting after losing much of last year's crop to winds and a late-summer frost. Of the 15 or so who did, some lost crops again when it didn't rain for more than 2 1/2 months, after unusually heavy monsoon rains in July and August, or when elk that used to stay in the canyon raided their fields.

"Man, this weather is strange," says Naranjo, who had someone else grow chiles for him this summer. "It has really changed."

Farmers say there are more days when the temperature surpasses 90 and 100 degrees including in typically mild autumn. The wind blows harder, drying soil and flattening crops. And mountain snowpack that once melted in spring, filling waterways and recharging aquifers, is increasingly scarce.

Norma Naranjo says their grandfathers used to tell them not to plant until the snow disappeared from the peaks. She tries to recall the last time it stayed all winter.

"Years. It's been years," Hutch says.

A recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration assessment for New Mexico projects there will be even less mountain snowpack in the future, along with more intense heat waves and droughts that could lead to more wildfires and dust storms.

The changes over the past 30 years already contribute to both drought and extreme weather events, says hydrologist Andrew Mangham, from the National Weather Service in Albuquerque.

The summer monsoons, for example, are more erratic. "It's becoming very, very feast or famine," Mangham says. "We either have no rain or we get 5 inches at once or 8 inches at once."

WATER WORRIES

Tribal members say rainfall can be bittersweet — they need it for their crops but it also can wreak havoc.

Former Santa Clara Gov. Walter Dasheno was hoping for a decent corn harvest after rains started. But in late July, sediment from the canyon destroyed his irrigation system, which connects to Santa Clara Creek, during a flash flood, then weeds grew so high and thick that he couldn't get to surviving crops.

But that same rain helped boost Hutch and Norma Naranjo's crops. They irrigate from the Rio Grande and had worried they might lose some crops because the river was low and irrigation sporadic.

Irrigation ditches now are only about a quarter full. The forestry department cuts down elm trees and invasive salt cedar and Russian olive trees because they compete for water. Meanwhile, stands of native cottonwoods that thrived along the Rio Grande are dying because they require periodic floods.

Still, water security feels precarious, and they worry whether groundwater, which supplies pueblo homes, will continue to recharge quickly enough amid drought and lack of snowfall.

Denipah, the forestry director, says the tribe is hoping to lower the banks of the Rio Grande in some places to recreate historical wetlands and help recharge surface and groundwater.

Dasheno, who's on a pueblo water rights committee, says he wants to make irrigation more reliable to encourage people to resume farming, perhaps by drilling a solar-powered well, rerouting a ditch to improve access to the creek or finding a way to store water from Santa Clara Creek.

All ideas are on the table, Gov. Chavarria says, because water "is going to be more valuable than gold."

"If you don't have good water to irrigate your crops ... what happens to them? They die off," he says. "So if we don't have a good water source, good quality of water, we may die off as well."

NATIVE WAYS

Hutch Naranjo believes he has another answer to drought. He pulls back a tarp to show wire racks of drying corn — a native variety passed down to him by his grandfather, who got the seeds from his own father.

This is one key, Naranjo believes, to his successful harvest when so many others failed.

"The seed over the years has learned how to grow even in times when we don't have any water; it still grows and it still produces," he says. "I think a lot has to do with the prayers that we have ... for our crops."

But Naranjo worries store-bought hybrid corn planted by others will cross pollinate with his, making it more difficult to pass on the native, hardy strains to his grandchildren.

He shares his seeds and harvest with others from the pueblo because his grandfather instilled in him, "Corn is life."

The dried kernels — chicos — are used in stews and puddings. It's ground into meal for bread. It's used in songs and dances, and is the basis of many Tewa prayers.

"One of the things that he would say (is) 'Don't be stingy with what you grow. Give it away so that people will be nourished,'" Naranjo says.

He also credits his success to other native growing traditions: rotating crops, planting sweet peas to restore soil nitrogen and putting cattle into his corn fields after harvest to help with fertilization.

He and Norma also are teaching their grandchildren to farm, and they're involved from sowing to roasting.

Pueblo elders say ancestral knowledge is key for future generations to develop a strong cultural and spiritual sense of self, a connection to this ancient place so they have a fighting chance to preserve their way of life.

"As caretakers of this world, of ... Mother Earth, we need to learn how to preserve, how to cherish, how to respect the mother, the water, the land, the mountains, the trees, the animals, everything in it," says Gilbert Naranjo, who calls his jar of native seeds "my wealth," and is teaching his 5-year-old grandson traditional Tewa customs and songs centered on nature.

"That's our mission. To take care of it, not to destroy it."

2 arrested after Santa Fe woman fatally stabbed with a sword - Associated Press

A woman and her boyfriend have been arrested in connection with a death in Santa Fe in which the victim was stabbed with a three-foot metal sword, according to authorities.

Police said 19-year-old Kiara McCulley and 25-year-old Isaac Apodaca were taken into custody Saturday and both remain jailed on open counts of murder.

It was unclear Tuesday if either suspect has a lawyer yet who can speak on their behalf.

According to a criminal complaint, McCulley is accused of fatally stabbing 19-year-old Grace Jennings and also may have tried to decapitate her after allegedly being encouraged to do so by Apodaca.

Police said they found text messages between Apodaca and McCully allegedly conspiring to kill Jennings.

McCully said she has multiple personality disorder and doesn't remember fatally stabbing the victim, according to authorities.

Police said Jennings' body was found Saturday afternoon in an detached garage at the home of McCulley's mother.

The criminal complaint said Jennings had "several injuries consistent of being cut or stabbed with a sharp object" and her body also appeared to have injuries "consistent with attempts to decapitate."

Police said officers recovered a bloody sword from inside the garage where Apodaca and McCulley live.

Police said McCulley told them she became upset after Apodaca invited Jennings, a former girlfriend, to spend Friday night with the couple.

Gethro Muscadin, ex-Kansas, New Mexico forward, dies at 22 - By Dave Skretta Ap Basketball Writer

Former Kansas and New Mexico forward Gethro Muscadin died late Monday from injuries he sustained in a single-car rollover crash in December, Jayhawks coach Bill Self announced Tuesday.

"Although only here one year," Self said, "Gethro was loved and liked by all and will always be remembered as a Jayhawk. We wish his family and loved ones the best going through this most difficult time."

Muscadin, 22, grew up in the seaside city of Gonaives, Haiti, and moved to the U.S. in 2006 to pursue basketball. He played at Sunrise Christian Academy and Life Prep Academy, both in Kansas, along with Aspire Academy in Kentucky, where he grew into a four-star prospect that had scholarship offers from a number of high-major programs.

The 6-foot-10 center chose the Jayhawks and appeared in 11 games during the 2020-21 season, including a loss to Southern California in the NCAA Tournament, and was teammates with many on last season's national championship team.

Muscadin transferred to New Mexico after the season, starting nine of 12 games and averaging 9.3 points before leaving the program last December. At the time, Lobos coach Richard Pitino called it a mutual decision to part ways.

Muscadin had returned to Kansas to watch the Jayhawks play Nevada and was traveling to Wichita afterward when the crash happened on a stretch of interstate. According to the Kansas Highway Patrol, Muscadin was not wearing a seatbelt when the vehicle "went off the road, rolled multiple times, and came to rest on the fence line" south of Topeka.

Self said Muscadin, who turned 22 in August, had been in a "non-responsive state" since the crash.

The driver, Alaceyia Howard, was hospitalized with minor injuries from the crash.

"The Lobo community is saddened today by the passing of former New Mexico basketball player Gethro Muscadin," the program tweeted Tuesday. "Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends during this time."

This story has been corrected to show that Muscadin was 22, not 20.