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FRI: Governor reins in tax relief proposal while boosting state spending, + More

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham discusses legislative accomplishments on Wednesday, April 5, 2023, in Santa Fe, N.M., with the signing of a bill to shield abortion providers from related prosecution, professional disciplinary action or extradition attempts by out-of-state interests. The governor has until April 7 to sign or veto bills recently approved by the Democratic-led Legislature. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)
Morgan Lee/AP
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham discusses legislative accomplishments on Wednesday, April 5, 2023, in Santa Fe, N.M. The governor had until noon Friday sign or veto bills recently approved by the Democratic-led Legislature.

Governor reins in tax relief proposal, boosts state spending - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

The governor of New Mexico scaled back a tax relief package on Friday based on concerns it could undermine future spending on public education, heath care and law enforcement while signing into law $500 individual tax rebates and the largest proposed spending plan in state history.

Vetoed items within the tax relief package included reduced tax rates on personal income, sales and business transactions as well as proposed credits toward the purchase of electric vehicles and related charging equipment.

Surging oil prices and output in southeastern New Mexico have produced a financial windfall. In a state with high rates of poverty and low workforce participation, officials estimate a $3.6 billion annual surplus over current spending obligations for the coming fiscal year.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham expressed "grave concerns about the sustainability" of tax changes proposed by the Democratic-led Legislature.

The Democratic governor endorsed one-time rebates, refundable credits of up to $600 per child, a tax break for health care providers and new incentives for the film industry estimated at $90 million a year, but vetoed an array of tax cuts and credits to blunt the impact of tax relief on state finances.

"Tax cuts will impact our ability to fund important services and programs that our citizens depend on, such as education, health care, public safety, and infrastructure," the governor warned in a written message to legislators about her line-item changes to the tax bill sponsored by Democratic Rep. Derrick Lente, of Sandia Pueblo.

The state would forgo about $247 million annually by 2027 under the tax bill after the governor's changes. Without changes, tax relief would have soon exceeded $1 billion annually.

At the same time, Lujan Grisham signed into law with few exceptions a $9.6 billion annual spending plan from the Legislature that shores up rural health care networks while underwriting tuition-free college, no-pay day care and new business incentives. The unmodified proposal represented a roughly 14% spending increase for the fiscal year that runs from July 2023 through June 2024.

The governor signed off on 5% average salary increases for state employees and public education workers. She approved about $1 billion in direct spending on infrastructure projects, vetoing just a handful of construction projects.

The governor highlighted new state spending initiatives aimed at providing healthy, no-pay meals to all students of public schools after federal funding was scaled back, as well as an expansion of public funding for professional and vocational training.

She also noted a $146 million permanent annual allocation toward tuition-free college, and an $80 million reserve to support newly constructed hospitals in rural areas.

Environmental advocacy groups including the Sierra Club criticized the governor's veto of tax credits designed to rein in climate change and reduce fossil fuel consumption. Lujan Grisham vetoed consumer tax credits toward the purchase of heat pumps that can lower home energy consumption and rejected a credit of up to $4,000 toward the purchase of an electric vehicle. She also struck incentives for large-scale geothermal production of electricity.

"Climate tax credits would have amounted to a drop in the bucket of New Mexico's budget," the Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter said in a statement.

Other vetoes on Friday included a bill to create a civil rights division at the attorney general's office to safeguard the rights of children in state custody amid allegations of inadequate care and protection. The governor rejected a proposal to reduce and modify high school graduation requirements, saying it would have weakened standards.

A bill to increase salaries for state justices and judges, and benchmark pay to rates for federal judges, was vetoed. The governor said judges got a 17% pay raise last year and that she would rather consider the addition of more judges to alleviate backlogged cases that delay justice.

In all, 34 bills were vetoed explicitly or by ignoring the initiatives as a signing deadline passed on Friday.

Other bills signed on Friday seek to bolster the state's health care workforce and make medical care more accessible, including changes to medical malpractice regulations aimed at easing financial pressures on independent clinics.

Individual tax rebates of $500 are scheduled for delivery in June. Rebates of $1,000 will go to married couples, single heads of family households, as well as widows and widowers.

New Mexico State chancellor leaving amid tumultuous tenure - Associated Press

New Mexico State University's embattled chancellor, who has been facing a climate of deep distrust and frustration with school leadership, is leaving.

The NMSU Board of Regents announced Friday that they and Chancellor Dan Arvizu have mutually agreed that he will step down.

"The Board of Regents appreciates all Chancellor Arvizu has done for our university," Ammu Devasthali, chair of the NMSU Board of Regents, said in a statement.

Former NMSU President Jay Gogue will take over as an interim chancellor effective immediately.

Arvizu said it was for the best that the university be able to start a search for a permanent chancellor as soon as possible.

"For the past five years, my only motivation has been to do what I believe is in the best interest of NMSU, and transitioning now will allow the university to devote the time and effort needed over the next several months for a successful search," Arvizu said in the same statement.

Arvizu drew concerns and frustration in the NMSU community after police body cam video came out from a dispute at his home. The $500,000-a-year chancellor was accused by his wife, Sheryl, of having an affair with a NMSU staff member.

He denied the affair.

It's among other troubles the state's second-biggest university has faced in recent months. The once-treasured men's basketball program has been suspended for the season due to a fatal shooting and there's also been gruesome allegation of locker-room hazing.

There have been seven different presidents, interim presidents and chancellors at the school over the past 15 years.

US judge orders man held in case of missing Navajo woman - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

The family of a Native American woman who went missing from her home on the Navajo Nation pleaded with the man accused of assaulting her and taking her pickup truck, asking during a court hearing Friday that he tell them where he left Ella Mae Begay so they could bring her home and find closure.

The tearful messages of family members resonated through a courtroom in Flagstaff, Arizona, as they told the judge about what they have endured since Begay disappeared nearly two years ago.

"There's nothing that's coming out of this whole situation except all the pain that he's caused, the anger, the frustration," her son Gerald Begay said. "I mean, this is a mother, an aunt, a grandma, a sister, you know, that doesn't deserve this type of assault."

A soft-spoken woman who was known as a master weaver, Begay was always cautious and never drove around at night. So her family knew immediately that something was wrong when they saw her gray pickup truck leaving her home in the remote community of Sweetwater, Arizona, that June night in 2021.

Prosecutors outlined the allegations against Preston Henry Tolth, 23, after he entered not guilty pleas to assault and carjacking charges that stemmed from Begay's disappearance. The indictment naming Tolth had been under seal until earlier this week.

Tolth was ordered to remain in custody pending trial after U.S. Magistrate Judge Camille Bibles determined that he was dangerous and that no conditions of release would guarantee the community's safety.

"The proffered facts of the case are extremely concerning," the judge said. "They involve senseless acts of extreme violence against a victim who was defenseless."

Luke Mulligan, a federal public defender for Tolth, did not argue with the prosecution's request that Tolth remain in custody.

Begay was 62 at the time she disappeared. Her case has garnered national attention as tribal leaders, state legislators and law enforcement agencies across the country have been working to establish special commissions and task forces aimed at investigating missing person cases and unsolved slayings in Indian Country.

A year after Begay disappeared, her niece Seraphine Warren began walking from the Navajo Nation to Washington, D.C., to bring attention to the decades-long epidemic of violence that has disproportionately affected Indigenous people.

Begay's family members also have met with U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who recently joined Justice Department officials in hosting the first in-person session of the Not Invisible Act Commission in Washington. The commission is developing recommendations for preventing and responding to violence affecting tribal communities.

Warren addressed Tolth directly during Friday's hearing.

"Will you please just tell us where my aunt is? You know exactly what you did to her," Warren said before breaking down in tears.

Federal prosecutors said the indictment naming Tolth marked an important step in determining the truth about what happened to Begay.

They told the judge that Begay's daughter had called authorities the night of the disappearance to report that someone was breaking into her home. She hid while the suspect rummaged around and took some drinks before leaving and walking down the road in the direction of her mother's home.

The daughter called police again after they did not respond to the first call and told them that she saw her mother's truck leaving the home and that she could not reach her. Police arrived about 20 minutes later and the search began.

Navajo Nation authorities previously identified Tolth as a person of interest, and federal prosecutors confirmed Friday that shoe prints found between the two homes matched shoes belonging to Tolth. Investigators also found bloody clothing that belonged to Tolth at a relative's home.

Authorities said Tolth admitted to taking the truck so he could drive to New Mexico, where ultimately he ended up selling the vehicle for $200 and methamphetamines.

Authorities determined through multiple interviews that Tolth had been drinking that night and got into a fight with his father, resulting in him being left on the side of the road. The spot where he was dropped off was about 11 miles (18 kilometers) from Begay's home.

Tolth told federal agents during a series of interviews that he "snapped" and struck Begay in the face multiple times, causing her to bleed from the nose and mouth. He told authorities that he wasn't sure if she was dead when he drove away and that he regretted hitting her since all he wanted was the truck.

Tolth has a criminal history including charges of aggravated battery, resisting arrest, residential burglary and drug possession dating back to 2019, according to New Mexico court records.

Santa Fe judge facing DWI charges now suspended without pay - Associated Press

A Santa Fe County magistrate judge who was arrested over a month ago for DWI has been suspended.

The state Supreme Court issued an order Friday temporarily suspending Magistrate Judge Dev Atma Khalsa without pay. Initially, he was put on indefinite administrative leave with pay pending an investigation by the Judicial Standards Commission.

The court also unsealed filings related to Khalsa's disciplinary case.

Khalsa's attorney, Kitren Fischer, declined to immediately comment since she had not spoken with him yet.

In February, Santa Fe police responded to a rollover car crash on Interstate 25. Officers found Khalsa standing outside his car. His breath also emitted the smell of alcohol and his speech was slurred, according to authorities.

Khalsa was transported to a hospital but was uncooperative and refused to submit to a blood or chemical test.

He was booked on suspicion of aggravated driving while intoxicated and driving with an expired license and then released the same day.

He pleaded not guilty to the charges in March.

Khalsa began his first term last year and previously worked as prosecutor in the First Judicial District Attorney's Office. Police said Khalsa didn't appear to have any other DWI charges on his record.

Officers kill homeowner after responding to wrong address - Associated Press

Officers with the Farmington Police Department in northwestern New Mexico shot and killed a homeowner when they showed up at the wrong address in response to a domestic violence call, state police investigators said.

The shooting happened around 11:30 p.m. Wednesday. New Mexico State Police released more details late Thursday, and Farmington police confirmed Friday that the three officers involved are on paid administrative leave pending a review of the case.

The officers were not immediately identified, and it wasn't clear what administrative action could be taken.

Body camera footage reviewed by state police shows the homeowner opening the screen door armed with a handgun and that's when officers retreated and fired. Not knowing who was outside, the man's wife returned fire from the doorway and officers fired again.

State police said the woman put down her gun after realizing the individuals outside her home were police officers.

Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe said in a social media post that it was a chaotic scene and that more information will be released in the coming week. He called it a dark day for the police force and for the family of homeowner, who was identified as Robert Dotson.

"What I will tell you as the chief is that this is an extremely traumatic event and that I am just heartbroken by the circumstances surrounding this," he said. "... This ending is just unbelievably tragic. I am extremely sorry that we are in this position."

The case comes amid an ongoing reckoning across the country over use of force by law enforcement officers. Most recently, the U.S. Justice Department opened a civil rights investigation after a U.S. Park Police officer in Washington fatally shot a 17-year-old who drove off with an officer in the back seat after being found asleep in a suspected stolen car.

In Farmington, the officers had initially knocked on the front door of the wrong home and announced themselves as police officers. When there was no answer, they asked dispatchers to call the reporting party back and have them come to the front door.

Dotson, 52, was pronounced dead at the scene.

When asked about the initial report of domestic violence that came from a home across the street, Farmington police spokesperson Shanice Gonzales said no action was taken against any of the parties in that case and that no one was armed at that address.

The shooting remains under investigation. The State Police Investigations Bureau said any findings will be shared with the district attorney for further review.

Faith guides Catholic pilgrims to historic New Mexico sites - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

Thousands of Catholics are making the trek to a historic adobe church in the hills of northern New Mexico as part of a Holy Week tradition that spans generations, carrying heavy wooden crosses and praying as they make their way through the high desert landscape.

El Santuario de Chimayó just north of Santa Fe is one of the most important Catholic pilgrimage centers in the U.S. Some travelers are drawn to the holy dirt, believed to have healing powers. Others come to see Nuestro Señor de Esquipulas, a crucifix that, according to legend, was discovered at the site in the early 1800s.

Most pilgrims begin the journey on Good Friday, with state transportation workers, law enforcement agencies and other volunteers stationed along the roadways to ensure safety.

In an Easter message, Santa Fe Archbishop John Wester reflected Thursday on the season and urged the faithful to be mindful of how they can promote peace and help their neighbors.

"We are called to promote the sanctity of human life, to defend the rights of the oppressed, to search out the lost, and to offer prayers for the good of our church and the world," he wrote.

The Santa Fe Archdiocese is one of the oldest in the U.S. and is made up of many missions that date back centuries, to when Spanish conquistadors and the priests who traveled with them sought to convert to Christianity the pueblo people who lived throughout the Rio Grande Valley and surrounding areas.

Pueblo people who inhabited the Chimayó area long before the Spanish conquest believed that healing spirits were to be found in the form of hot springs. Those springs ultimately dried up, leaving behind earth many still believe to have healing powers.

A National Historic Landmark, El Santuario de Chimayó is decorated with original examples of 19th century Hispanic religious folk art, including santos and religious frescoes. The walls of one room are covered with notes of thanks from those who say they had ailments cured, while discarded canes and braces are meant to serve as proof that miracles happen at El Santuario.

In central New Mexico, pilgrims also make the trek to El Cerro de Tomé, a small hill that rises up from the Rio Grande floodplain. Three crosses sit at the top of the hill and hundreds of petroglyphs on the basalt rocks that make up the landmark serve as evidence that the spot has been a focus of ceremonies and prayers for centuries.

New Mexico adds special penalties for organized retail crime - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

New Mexico's governor signed anti-crime bills Thursday that aim to curtail coordinated theft at retail stores and block the sale of stolen catalytic converters that can be sawed out of unattended cars and pickups.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham also helped enact felony penalties for straw purchases of firearms, in which a weapon is bought legally in order to sell it to someone who can't lawfully possess a gun.

Federal law already prohibits straw gun purchase, and new legislation in New Mexico would enable local prosecutors to pursue separate sanctions. The bill was sponsored by Republican House Minority Leader Ryan Lane in a rare example of bipartisan support for restrictions on guns.

State and local business associations lobbied legislators to create a new category of "organized retail crime" and stiffen penalties for organized theft of store merchandize as retailers struggle to contain losses from coordinated pilfering.

In a statement, Democratic House Speaker Javier Martínez of Albuquerque praised the new legislation and said that organized retail crime also affects the safety retail workers and families as they shop.

Newly signed environmental legislation will devise a clean-up plan for underground pollution from coal ash at a recently shutter coal-fired power plant in northwestern New Mexico at the San Juan Generating Station.

Nariel Nanasi, executive director of the New Energy Economy environmental advocacy group for utility customers, said the legislation will help ensure that that toxic metal contaminants don't leach into the ground or leak into waterways.

In economic development efforts, the governor has signed a bill to support creative artists and entrepreneurs through public investments in shared facilities such as foundries, galleries, high-tech tool shops and manufacturing centers. Sponsors included Democratic state Rep. Reena Szczepanski of Santa Fe.

Another recently signed bill from Democratic state Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena of La Mesilla eliminates a variety of court fees that can have a disproportionate effect on the poor. Fines imposed as punishment are not eliminated.

Advocates for the legislation say fees are not supposed to be punitive but that court debts have often led to bench warrants that are coupled with additional fees and can prompt or prolong incarceration.

Tribe, US officials reach deal to save Colorado River water - By Ken Ritter And Terry Tang Associated Press

A Native American tribe in Arizona reached a deal Thursday with the U.S. government not to use some of its Colorado River water rights in return for $150 million and funding for a pipeline project.

The $233 million pact with the Gila River Indian Community, announced in Phoenix, was hailed as an example of the kind of cooperation needed to rescue a river crucial to a massive agricultural industry and essential to more than 40 million people in seven Western U.S. states and Mexico. Officials termed it "compensated conservation."

It's part of a broader effort to get states that rely on the Colorado River to substantially lessen their water use amid an ongoing drought that has dramatically dried up reservoirs including Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam.

"Today's announcements and our partnerships with tribes like the Gila River Indian Community prove that tribes are a key part of the solutions," Deputy U.S. Secretary of the Interior Tommy Beaudreau said. "We don't have any more important partners in this effort than in Indian Country."

The federal government previously promised to use some $4 billion for drought relief, and Colorado River users have submitted proposals to get some of that money through actions like leaving fields unplanted. Some cities are ripping up thirsty decorative grass, and tribes and major water agencies have left some water in key reservoirs — either voluntarily or by mandate.

Beyond the Gila River announcement, the Interior Department has shared few details about how it plans to divvy up the rest of the $4 billion, including how much will go to agricultural interests in the mammoth Imperial Irrigation District in California.

In total, the Biden administration plans to spend about $15.4 billion approved by Congress for infrastructure improvements and inflation reductions for drought-related projects across the West, according to a government fact sheet released with Thursday's announcement.

The Gila River tribe will get $83 million for the pipeline project to reuse about 20,000 acre-feet (25 million cubic meters) of water per year, and $50 million per year over three years not to use 125,000 acre-feet (154 million cubic meters) per year of water currently stored at Lake Mead. The latter is part of a broader effort to get Colorado River water users to substantially lower their water use.

An acre-foot of water is enough to cover an acre of land 1 foot deep (1,233 cubic meters), or about enough to serve two average households per year.

Gila River Indian Community Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis also pointed in a statement to a third pact providing a federal grant for a solar-covered canal project.

"These three agreements, taken together, represent a future of how we can work together to confront the urgency of this moment," Lewis said, "... to find, foster and fund innovative solutions that will have a long-term impact for the Colorado River."

Thursday's announcement comes days before the Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that controls water flows on the river, is expected to outline plans for all seven Colorado River basin states — Arizona, California, Nevada, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming — to use less water.

The states, together, are allocated 15 million acre-feet (18.5 billion cubic meters) per year, and Mexico is allocated another 1.5 million acre-feet (1.9 billion cubic meters). U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton called on the states last year to collectively cut up to 4 million acre-feet (4.9 billion cubic meters) of use, but the number has proven elusive.

The Gila River tribe, by comparison, is allocated 653,000 acre-feet (805 million cubic meters) per year. It committed to give up about one-fifth of its allocation until 2025.

In all, 22 of 30 federally recognized tribes in the Colorado River basin have recognized rights to 3.2 million acre-feet (3.9 billion cubic meters) annually, or up to 26% of the basin's current annual flow, according to a 2021 policy paper by the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment at the University of Colorado.

Data shows the river flow was overestimated 100 years ago, and has decreased due to drought since 2000, to about 12.4 million acre-feet (15.3 billion cubic meters) per year, the center's study said.

Officials said an exceptional series of wet winter storms that have swept from the Pacific Ocean into California and the West this year will not be enough to break a megadrought that scientists call the worst in 1,200 years. The dry spell has led to concerns that hydropower plants could go dry and water deliveries could stop for farms that grow crops for the rest of the nation.

"Despite recent heavy rain and snow, the historic 23-year drought has led to record low water levels at Lake Powell and Lake Mead," the Interior Department said in its fact sheet.

The announcement in Phoenix was part of a series of appearances by Biden administration officials, including one on Wednesday outlining plans to spend $585 million for 83 projects including dams, canals and water systems in 11 states. That announcement was made at the Imperial Dam in Yuma, Arizona, which is slated to receive more than $8 million.

Officials also said $36 million promised under Reclamation's Lower Colorado River Basin System Conservation and Efficiency Program will go to California's Coachella Valley. The main water district in that region promised to conserve 30,000 acre-feet (37 million cubic meters) of water in Lake Mead.

Another $20 million was pledged toward water storage projects in Utah and California, including at the Salton Sea, a drying inland lake formed when the Colorado River flooded in 1905.

Combined, Lake Mead on the Nevada-Arizona state line and Lake Powell formed by Glen Canyon Dam on the Arizona-Utah line were at 92% capacity in 1999. Today, they are at less than 30%.

State disaster aid for southern acequias is taking so long that some might not need it anymore - By Megan Gleason,Source New Mexico

It’s been nearly eight months since flooding disasters wrecked acequias in southern New Mexico. Since then, irrigation stewards straining to get disaster aid from the state have come to rely on donations and local county funding to get work done ahead of spring.

Acequias are able to irrigate now with all the help that didn’t come from the state emergency accounts, and some might not even need the state aid anymore.

Last summer, the Black Fire tore through the Gila National Forest, blackening trees and charring up soil. Then, when heavy rains hit the burn scar shortly after, floods ran through communities set up around the forest.

Acequia systems in Grant County took heavy damage in August 2022. The uncontrollable waters flipped headgates, silted over ditches and changed the river’s flow — destruction that remained when farmers and ranchers needed to start irrigation work last month.

Stewards, whose acequia bank accounts normally consist of minimal funding and rely on mostly volunteers to fix natural wear and tear, suddenly needed hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix up all the disaster damage.

The same situation was happening in northern New Mexico when the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire rendered many acequia systems useless around the same time last year. The difference is that blaze was started by the federal government, which has committed billions of dollars in aid to take responsibility for the destruction.

The cause of the Black Fire is still being investigated. It was human-caused.

Around the Gila National Forest, acequia stewards originally thought the county could fix up their ditches and then get reimbursed by the state. Those dollars would come from a $750,000 pot New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham made available in September 2022 for Grant County.

That route wasn’t as clear as it seemed.

Justin Gojkovich is the emergency manager of Grant County. He said local officials weren’t so sure the county would actually get money back from the state if dollars were used to repair acequias. So acequia stewards needed to apply for state help individually.

They started submitting paperwork to the state in December 2022. The Mimbres and Gila Valley ditch associations asked for over $1 million in recovery funds for work such as debris removal and fixing up infrastructure like dams or headgates. That exceeds the amount of emergency dollars Lujan Grisham set aside.

The Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management approved debris removal work in the requests submitted, said spokesperson David Lienemann. That makes 20 acequias eligible for these state reimbursement funds.

The issue is that some of those months-old applications describe the need to fund work that’s since been completed.

Danny Roybal is a mayordomo of an affected acequia system in Mimbres, N.M. He said a lot of debris removal has already been done with the help of work from the N.M. Department of Transportation and financial aid from non-state organizations or individuals.

He said he’s not completely sure what the state emergency money would even be used for now. The Mimbres systems have even gotten water flowing again in nearly all of the ditches, he remarked.

“If we’ve got water running in here, this money from the state would be for what?” he asked.

Roybal said he asked DHSEM but didn’t get a clear answer. He said if the funds could be used for flood mitigation efforts, that would be helpful instead now.

DHSEM still has to send out project worksheets to the stewards in Grant County that were approved to have their work reimbursed from the $750,000 state aid.

That hasn’t happened yet.

Lienemann said it’s in the process of getting done.

Roybal said the state did send out some project worksheets but had to take them back to fix incorrect details.

He said there have been consistent communication issues with DHSEM.

“It’s the same kind of stuff that we’ve been fighting with DHSEM the whole time. They’re very uncoordinated,” Roybal said.

The first disaster recovery dollars to arrive for the Grant County acequias didn’t come from the state.

Instead, funds came in the form of donations in February. Mimbres irrigation systems got a $50,000 check from a private donor, and Gila Valley systems got $100,000 from the mining company Freeport-McMoRan Inc.

And while stewards were getting those dollars, Grant County decided to hand over $600,000 to aid with repairs.

“With the help that we got thanks to the county and also that private donor, they have all been able to get water running back into ditches again,” Roybal said. “So it’s been pretty amazing.”

Some state work got started around then, too. In late February, the Department of Transportation started cleaning up debris and sediment that floods had swept into acequias.

Roybal said the transportation department got work done a lot quicker than anticipated. The work was scheduled to take six to eight weeks, but Roybal said it was done in about two weeks.

He said that finished up in March.

What’s preventing water from flowing in all the Mimbres ditches right now is the river itself, Roybal said, which is running high. He said stewards should all have water in their ditches in a month or so when the water calms down.

Destre Shelley is a steward in the Gila Valley. She said some of those systems are also having the same issue with the Gila River running high. It’s preventing recovery work from being done over there, she said.

“There’s been too much flow in the river to be able to get in and repair the diversions,” she said.

Roybal said more floods will come in the future. Fire season is getting started now, and monsoon season is just around the corner, too. Water will keep running easily off the Black Fire burn scar for years to come with the potential for more natural disasters.

That means repairs now could get torn apart again later on. Roybal said with that in mind, fix-ups have been just enough to get irrigation going.

“We’re trying to do just the bare minimum to protect what we do have,” he said.

Some of the acequias’ requests for state help also included mitigation measures to prevent damage from future disasters.

US authorities charge man in case of missing Navajo woman - Associated Press

A New Mexico man is scheduled to be arraigned Friday on assault and carjacking charges in connection with the 2021 disappearance of a Native American woman, whose case has garnered national attention as tribal leaders and law enforcement address an epidemic of missing person cases and unsolved slayings in Indian Country.

Preston Henry Tolth, 23, has been accused of assaulting Ella Mae Begay and taking her pickup truck. It will be up to a federal magistrate to decide whether Tolth will remain in custody pending trial.

Federal prosecutors said the indictment naming Tolth marked an important step in determining the truth about what happened to Begay, a Navajo woman who was 62 when she disappeared. Her truck was seen on the morning of June 15, 2021, leaving her home in the remote community of Sweetwater in the Navajo Nation, not far from the meeting point of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado.

The investigation is ongoing, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Arizona said.

Navajo Nation authorities previously identified Tolth as a person of interest in Begay's case. Tolth has a criminal history including charges of aggravated battery, resisting arrest, residential burglary and drug possession dating back to 2019, according to New Mexico court records.

Tolth was already in custody pending the outcome of a 2022 case in which he was accused of stealing a man's wallet while armed with some kind of sharp weapon, court records show.

Begay's family has remained committed to finding her and bringing her home. A year after Begay disappeared, her niece began walking from the Navajo Nation to Washington, D.C., to bring attention to a decades-long epidemic of violence disproportionately affecting Indigenous people.

The investigation into Begay's disappearance is part of the U.S. Department of Justice's efforts to address cases involving missing and slain Native Americans.

Begay's family members also have met with U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who recently joined Justice Department officials in hosting the first in-person session of the Not Invisible Act Commission in Washington. The commission is developing recommendations for preventing and responding to violence affecting tribal communities.

Judge weighs request to toss Chasing Horse's sex abuse case - By Rio Yamat Associated Press

A former "Dances With Wolves" actor accused of sexually abusing Indigenous women and girls in the U.S. and Canada for two decades has asked a judge in Nevada to toss out a sweeping indictment against him in state court.

Nathan Chasing Horse, 46, claims the sexual encounters with two women identified as victims in the Nevada case were consensual. One of them was younger than 16 — the age of consent in Nevada — when she says the sexual abuse began.

Clark County District Court Judge Carli Kierny said Wednesday that she would issue her decision before the end of the week. She could deny Chasing Horse's request or dismiss some or all of the charges, although she didn't offer any indication as to how she might rule during her questioning of state prosecutors and Chasing Horse's public defender.

A Clark County jury indicted Chasing Horse, 46, in February on charges of sexual assault of a minor, kidnapping, child abuse, lewdness and drug trafficking. He has been in custody at a county jail since Jan. 31, when he was arrested by SWAT officers near the home he shared with his five wives in North Las Vegas.

He also faces sexual abuse charges in Canada and the U.S. District Court in Nevada, as well as on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana.

Prosecutors and police say Chasing Horse, who is known for his portrayal of Smiles a Lot in Kevin Costner's Oscar-winning film, marketed himself to tribes nationwide as a self-proclaimed medicine man who possessed healing powers and could communicate with higher beings. They accuse of him using his position to lead a cult known as The Circle, gain access to vulnerable girls and women and take underage wives.

The alleged crimes, according to court documents, date to the early 2000s and occurred in Canada and multiple U.S. states, including Nevada, Montana and South Dakota.

Clark County prosecutor Stacey Kollins told the judge Wednesday that Chasing Horse's claims were offensive, pointing to the age that one of the victims says the abuse began.

"She's taken at 14 because her mom is ill, and she's told that her virginity is the only pure part of her left and she has to sacrifice this to maintain her mom's health," Kollins said. "And to gloss over that by calling it transactional and saying there's no proof of non-consent, that's taking a lot of license to meet with the facts."

As Kollins spoke, the mother of one of the victims cried in the courtroom gallery, which was packed with Chasing Horse's supporters.

Public defender Kristy Holston argued the 19-count indictment was an overreach by the Clark County district attorney's office and that some evidence presented to the grand jury — including a definition of grooming — had tainted the state's case.

"It's not the same as a lack of consent," she said, adding that "a sex worker, for instance, doesn't desire sex with the client. But their motive for doing it is for something other than desire."

Outside the courtroom, Holston declined to further comment, while Kollins did not immediately respond to an email from The Associated Press seeking additional comment.

Chasing Horse is currently scheduled to stand trial May 1 in the state case. He has pleaded not guilty and invoked his right to a trial within 60 days of his indictment.

He is due back in state court Monday morning for a hearing on another motion asking the judge to grant him three trials. Chasing Horse and his attorneys have argued that the sexual assault allegations and the drug trafficking charge contained in the state's indictment are unrelated.