FRI: Farmers Face Tough Decisions As Another Dry Year Takes Shape, + More

Apr 2, 2021

Western Rivers Face Pinch As Another Dry Year Takes Shape - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

As several states in the American West face intense drought, it's shaping up to be a very difficult year for New Mexico farmers because of limited irrigation supplies, with some saying conditions haven't been this dire since the 1950s.

Snowpack and precipitation are below average, spring runoff is trailing, and New Mexico comes in last among nearly a dozen Western states for dismal reservoir storage levels. Along the Rio Grande, New Mexico's largest reservoir stands at less than 11% capacity, meaning the irrigation season for farmers in the southern part of the state will likely start late and include only small allotments.

Further north, managers with the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District are in a position not seen in decades. There's no extra water in the reservoirs and interstate water-sharing agreements are restricting both storage and releases from upstream reservoirs since New Mexico has fallen short of what it owes Texas.

The district was forced to wait a month — until April 1 — to start its irrigation season due to the meager supplies. Farmers were encouraged to consider resting their fields given that demand will surely outpace supply, but many are used to the risk that comes with planting each season so just a fraction of the acres throughout the Middle Rio Grande valley have been fallowed.

Feast or famine — it's the way of life in the Rio Grande basin.

The lack of water is the culmination of a sequence of unfortunate spring runoffs over recent years, not just a single year, said David Gensler, water operations manager for the conservancy district.

"We continue to be dealt losing hands, hydrologically speaking. We've played them for all they were worth, but we just continue to draw bad cards," he said, noting that water managers could not have done anything differently to get a positive outcome.

Statewide, more than half of New Mexico is dealing with exceptional drought — the worst category. A year ago, there was no exceptional or even extreme drought in the state.

Utah and Arizona are worse off in terms of drought severity, and Nevada is not far behind. California also appears to be in the midst of another drought.

In New Mexico's largest city, utility officials have issued a drought declaration. Outdoor watering in Albuquerque is limited to twice a week, and fines for wasting water have doubled. Watering restrictions also went into effect Thursday in Las Cruces.

Water managers are warning that it will be a struggle to meet irrigation demands if spring and summer rains do not develop, leaving the Rio Grande to potentially go dry through Albuquerque. The threat of drying this far north isn't new, but officials do not have any extra water to move around like they did in previous years.

In southeastern New Mexico, on the Pecos River, irrigation allotments haven't been this low in a century. Meanwhile, officials with the Elephant Butte Irrigation District recently told farmers to plan for a short year, "recognizing that we will all need to make difficult decisions."

That district went through a similar season in 2013, when farmers were allotted less than a few inches and water was released from a dam for only 47 days. This year, district managers anticipate running for one month.

But the hydrology of the Rio Grande can be volatile and turn on a dime, Gensler said. One well-positioned spring storm could change things or monsoons could develop just in time to keep the river flowing.

"As the saying goes, hope is not a plan," he said. "It is entirely possible we will hit the wall later this spring, have no water, and the Rio Grande will stop flowing. But until it does, we will manage every drop as carefully as humanly possible for the benefit of farmers, fish, the bosque, the cities, downstream water users, and this fascinating river we all love so much."

New Mexico Reports 218 More COVID-19 Cases, 7 More DeathsAssociated Press

New Mexico health officials reported 218 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday and seven additional deaths.

The state's has reported a total of 192,152 known COVID-19 cases and 3,949 related deaths since the pandemic began.

Bernalillo County, the state's largest that includes metro Albuquerque, had 70 of the new cases Friday—more than any other county. Doña Ana County reported 29 new cases and Sandoval County reported 22 new cases.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher than reported because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

New Mexico Group Offers $10K Reward In Case Of Dead HorsesAssociated Press

An animal advocacy group is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of those responsible for the deaths of five horses found in southern New Mexico.

Animal Protection New Mexico announced Friday that the horses appeared to have been shot and their bodies left in March in and around the mountainous community of Cloudcroft.

The New Mexico Livestock Board responded after getting reports about the dead animals. Officer Skylar Davis said the investigation was ongoing and asked the public to contact the agency right away if they find any more dead horses in the area.

"Intentionally injuring or maliciously killing an animal is felony animal cruelty," Davis said.

Alan Edmonds, cruelty case manager with Animal Protection New Mexico, said it was extremely concerning that someone may be intentionally seeking out and shooting horses.

City, State To Curb Confusion Over Alien Events In RoswellRoswell Daily Record, Associated Press

Tourism officials in New Mexico have raised concerns about people confusing a UFO Festival with downtown alien-related events because of similar domain names searched online.

The Roswell Daily Record reported that the Roswell UFO Festival will get a marketing boost from a state pilot program intended to help cultural events recover from the pandemic.

However, the state expressed concerns about the messaging since Roswell is also hosting its Alien Fest.

City Manager Joe Neeb said the confusion is caused in part by online search results for the UFO Festival that frequently yield a website for Mainstreet Roswell's Alien Fest.

In Ghostly Border Video, Dangers For Migrant Kids Revealed - By Peter Prengaman, Associated Press

A short, grainy video recently released by U.S. authorities captures the dangers for migrant children at the southern border.

In it, a man straddles a 14-foot barrier near Santa Teresa, New Mexico. He dangles one toddler before letting her drop, then does the same to a second, slightly larger child. Then the smuggler and another man run off into the desert.

Border authorities say the children are sisters, ages 3 and 5, and from Ecuador. They were found alert, taken to a hospital and cleared of any physical injuries.

Thousands of children have come to the U.S. border in recent months. In February it was the largest number in nearly two years.

The simple scene caught by a remote camera is an extreme case. But it embodies so much of the saga playing out on the border amid a spike in migrant arrivals, particularly children.

There is implied desperation — a family willing to subject their children to such risks in hopes of changing their future. There is the callousness of the smugglers handling kids like rag dolls.

And there is that barrier over which so many have fought — a symbol of American strength for some, a decidedly un-American thing altogether for others. A fence that, despite its height, is relatively easily overcome.

For immigrant advocates, scenes like this underscore why immigration laws need to be overhauled with a focus on unifying families and making legal immigration easier. For many opponents of such reform, scenes like this are confirmation that the nation's rule of law isn't being respected, that a reform of immigration policies could never even be contemplated while such things are happening. And Americans of all political stripes may debate what circumstances, if any, justify parents taking such actions.

While such debates happen, thousands of migrants from Mexico, Central America, and countries further south are arriving every day to the Mexico-U.S. border. Many are fleeing violence or other hardships in their home countries. Others are simply looking for better economic opportunities. They arrive by boat or wade through the Rio Grande River in Texas, or come on land into California, Arizona and New Mexico.

Many are children traveling alone. Border authorities encountered more than 9,000 children without a parent in February, the highest single month since May 2019, when more than 11,000 unaccompanied minors came to the border.

Unlike their parents in many situations, all unaccompanied minors are allowed to stay in the U.S. That dynamic has prompted many parents to either send kids on the journey to America alone, or get to the border and let them go the rest of the way. Most end up at least temporarily in shelters that are currently way beyond capacity.

Border authorities said the children caught on video were sisters, ages 3 and 5, and from Ecuador. They were found alert, taken to a hospital and cleared of any physical injuries. As of Thursday, they remained at a Border Patrol temporary holding facility pending placement by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.

The girls' mother is in the United States and authorities are in contact with her, Roger Maier, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, told The Associated Press on Thursday. Maier couldn't provide more details.

Many children arriving alone have relatives in the United States. If they are too young to remember names or phone numbers, as these girls likely were, they may come with contact information written down on paper or directly on their bodies. After being processed by the Border Patrol, they are transferred to Health and Human Services. Eventually they will be released to a sponsor, usually a parent or close relative.

The hope of those who send the children is that they will eventually be reunited with family in the U.S. But the risks to get to that point are enormous.

They can come from traveling without parents. They can come from the actual crossing, whether by river, crammed into a vehicle or on foot through the desert and traversing a wall; last year, a woman died after falling from a barrier in the Santa Teresa area where the girls were found. Finally, the risks can come from unscrupulous smugglers.

"People considering using the services of smugglers need to know that smugglers don't have the kids' best interest at heart. It's entirely too dangerous," said Maier, who added this about the girls being dropped: "Had it not been an area that was monitored, these children would have been fending for themselves."

Man Says His 7-Year-Old Daughter Died In Albuquerque CrashKRQE-TV, Associated Press

A grieving father has come forward to say his 7-year-old daughter was one of the two children killed in a crash along Interstate 25 on Tuesday morning.

Friends and family gathered at a South Valley park Wednesday night to remember Amariah Moya.

Joseph Moya told Albuquerque TV station KRQE that he was supposed to come into town from Utah this weekend to celebrate Easter with his daughter, but now he has to plan her funeral instead.

He said he got a call from his daughter's aunt saying there was an emergency.

Moya said his daughter was in the car with her mother, her mother's friend and three other children. Police said the driver was speeding when the car went airborne and crashed into a concrete barrier.

Amariah Moya and an infant boy died.

Her father has set up a GoFundMe to help pay for funeral arrangements for his daughter.

Police said criminal charges are pending for the driver, who remains hospitalized in critical condition.

They said another child passenger who was taken to the hospital after the crash also remains in critical condition.

Things To Know About Recreational Pot In New Mexico – Morgan Lee, Associated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has promised to sign legislation that legalizes recreational marijuana use and sales in New Mexico for adults 21 and over.

The changes approved Wednesday by the Legislature mean almost any adult can grow marijuana at home for personal use — or for profit under a micro-license agreement. The reforms also usher in a new era for marijuana as big business and make fundamental changes in law enforcement.

Many past pot convictions will be wiped off the books, and the smell of weed is no longer grounds for police searches. Here are a few things to know:

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CONSUMER RULES

The start of recreational cannabis sales is set for April 1, 2022 — no fooling.

Adults 21 and up can buy and carry outside the home up to 2 ounces (57 grams) of cannabis, with separate limits for extracts and edible products.

An ounce of marijuana fills a sandwich bag and can typically be rolled into nearly 30 joints or cigarettes.

Hobbyists can grow up to six marijuana plants for personal use, or 12 per household.

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PUBLIC CONSUMPTION

New indoor and outdoor venues for consuming marijuana are coming soon that might resemble bars or lounges. Those “cannabis consumption areas” will be licensed by the state for a fee.

Pot consumption will be allowed in designated hotel rooms, casinos, cigar bars and tobacco stores. In other public places, marijuana consumption will be treated much like alcohol or cigarettes.

Local governments can't ban pot businesses but they can set zoning requirements for business locations and hours. Existing medical marijuana dispensaries can't be easily dislodged.

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RETAIL PRICES

Advocates for medical cannabis patients say current pot prices in New Mexico are among the highest in the country, straining personal finances for some consumers. That should change as new legislation waives retail taxes on medical marijuana.

Chad Lozano, a former advocate for medical patients and future commercial cannabis producer, says prices for recreational marijuana in New Mexico will be relatively high at first compared with other states and should decline as the market matures.

He says state regulators have the authority to limit mass production and charge special licensing fees of up to $50 per plant annually. Those decisions could drive up retail prices.

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SOCIAL JUSTICE

New Mexico will set up an automated system for reviewing and expunging criminal records for past marijuana activities that are now legal. Lawmakers set aside a half-million dollars for courts to begin the process.

Those past offenses can no longer be used to bar a person from professional licenses or obtaining a job. Rough estimates show about 100 prison inmates might be pardoned.

New expungement and pardon procedures don't apply to convictions for trafficking large quantities of illicit marijuana.

Past drug convictions won't bar individuals from starting a licensed marijuana business, though it is a consideration. In the interest of equitable opportunity, the state will issue “micro-licenses" for a small fee for cultivation of up to 200 plants. Those businesses might come to resemble small craft breweries.

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TAXES, FEES

The state will levy a 12% excise tax on the sale of marijuana that eventually increases to 18%. That's before standard taxes on sales of 5-9%.

By conservative estimates, state and local tax income from recreational cannabis will surpass $45 million annually within three years. One-third of revenues goes toward local government.

Lawmakers haven't decided yet how to spend the money.

Democratic state Rep. Javier Martínez — lead architect of the state's legalization effort — wants to create a “rural equity fund” to provide support and possibly subsidies to growers from marginalized communities.

Republican state Sen. Cliff Pirtle has proposed using a share of marijuana excise tax dollars to help protect roadways from pot-impaired drivers, including research on drug-sobriety tests.

Democratic state Sen. Jacob Candelaria, an attorney with marijuana-industry clients, suggests directing half of the state income to New Mexico's multibillion-dollar trust funds for public education and infrastructure.

New Mexico Oil, Gas Production Up By 10% Despite Pandemic - Associated Press 

New Mexico has reported that oil and gas production increased by more than 10% last year compared to the year before even as demands for fuel dropped during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Carlsbad Current-Argus reported Tuesday that data from the state's oil conservation division showed the state produced about 370 million barrels of oil in 2020 compared to about 330 million barrels of oil produced in 2019.

New Mexico also produced about 1.9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, surpassing the 2001 record of 1.6 trillion cubic feet, according to data.

However, natural gas production growth also declined, increasing about 7% between 2019 and last year compared to 19% between 2018 and 2019.

An annual report by the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association on revenue for the state by the industry said $2.8 billion was generated last year, including $1.4 billion for public education. The amount was second to the record $3.1 billion of state revenue generated in 2019.

Advocates Sue To Protect Monarchs, Northern Spotted Owls – Associated Press

Wildlife advocates sued federal officials Thursday in a bid for greater protections for monarch butterflies, northern spotted owls and eight other species inching toward possible extinction.

The move comes after federal officials have said the species named in the lawsuit need protections, but that other imperiled plants and animals have higher priority.

The Center for Biological Diversity asked a U.S. District Court in Washington to order the Fish and Wildlife Service to move immediately to grant the species protections under the Endangered Species Act.

Federal officials declared the monarch butterfly a candidate for protections in December, but said no action would be taken for several years because of the many other species needing protection.

Also included in the lawsuit were the spotted owl of the Pacific Northwest, the eastern gopher tortoise of the Southeast, the Penasco least chipmunk of New Mexico, a North Carolina snail known as magnificent ramshorn, the twistflower plant of south Texas and three mussel species -- Texas fatmucket, Texas fawnsfoot and Texas pimpleback.

New Mexico Court Rules On Military Pensions In Divorce Cases – Associated Press

New Mexico courts can't order a veteran to reimburse a former spouse for a share of the veteran's military pension under a divorce agreement that ended when the veteran opted to receive disability benefits instead, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

However, the justices' unanimous decision said trial judges can consider other legal options for adjusting the financial support the veteran provides his or her former spouse.

The New Mexico high court partly hinged its ruling on a 2017 U.S. Supreme Court decision preventing states from treating waived military retirement benefits as community property that can be divided in a divorce.

The state court's ruling said the 2017 decision applies retroactively to a New Mexico couple in the case decided Thursday.

The former spouse of Jeffery Russ had asked a trial judge to order Russ to reimburse her for reduced alimony after his military retirement pay ended.

The ruling Thursday sent the case back to trial court for further consideration and noted that military disability benefits can be considered a source of income for family support.

New Mexico Camp Pauses Plan To House Migrant Children – Cedar Attanasio, Associated Press

A private Christian camp in northern New Mexico says it won’t be sheltering immigrant children for the foreseeable future.

A spokesman for the Glorieta Camp’s parent company says the federal government is putting a pause on contract negotiations to house up to 2,400 migrants.

Earlier this week, a page on the camp’s website had stated that the organization was asked by the White House and U.S. Health and Human Services Department to house and feed potentially 2,400 unaccompanied children at its property near Santa Fe.

Glorieta Camps officials had said Wednesday that the organization was prepared to take children this week but only for around 60 days to avoid curtailing its summer programs.

The camp had been looking for volunteers and staff to help host children from the U.S.-Mexico border as federal holding facilities become more crowded.

The crowding is part of the latest uptick in unauthorized border crossings in which thousands of children and families have been arriving at the border.

New Mexico Tribes Sue US Over Federal Clean Water Rule – Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Two Indigenous communities in New Mexico are suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over a revised federal rule that lifts protections for many streams, creeks and wetlands across the nation, saying the federal government is violating its trust responsibility to Native American tribes.

The pueblos of Jemez and Laguna are the latest to raise concerns over inadequate protections for local water sources in the desert Southwest. The challenge filed last week in federal court follows a similar case brought in 2020 by the Navajo Nation, the nation’s largest Native American tribe, and several environmental groups.

Like other Indigenous communities, the Laguna and Jemez pueblos said in the court filing that waters flowing through their lands are used for domestic and agricultural purposes and are essential for cultural and ceremonial practices.

The tribes argue that water holds a special value because of its scarcity in the arid Southwest.

Navajo Nation Reports 5 More COVID-19 Cases, 5 More Deaths – Associated Press

The Navajo Nation on Thursday reported five new COVID-19 cases and five deaths.

The tribe had reported no deaths in three of the previous four days and six of the last 11 days.

Tribal health officials said the latest figures bring the total number of cases since the pandemic started to 30,108 with the known death toll at 1,252.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher than reported because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

The Navajo Nation covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

“Our health care experts constantly caution the public and encourage our people to stay home as much as possible, wear masks, avoid large in-person gatherings, and to practice social distancing,” tribal President Jonathan Nez said in a statement. “But if our people choose to do otherwise, then it’s more likely that we will have a spike in new infections. Please adhere to the advice and of our public health experts.”

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