MON: Police Identify 2 Men Who Died In Albuquerque Flooding, + More

Jul 26, 2021

Police Identify 2 Men Who Died In Albuquerque Flooding – Associated Press

Albuquerque police have identified two people who were swept through flood channels during a monsoon storm and died.

They are Steven Camp, 32, and Alexander Corrie, 31. Officials with the police department and Albuquerque Fire Rescue weren't sure Monday whether the two knew each other or had permanent residences in Albuquerque.

A third person whose body also was recovered from the flood channel last week hasn't been identified. The three fatalities mark the deadliest flooding event at least in recent memory in Albuquerque, said Lt. Tom Ruiz, a spokesman for Albuquerque Fire Rescue.

A monsoon storm sent water rushing through city flood channels that measured 6 feet (1.8) meters deep in the region's North Diversion Channel, Ruiz said. Multiple 911 callers reported seeing at least two people in the water.

"If you're in the water and you're unable to get yourself in a situation where you're head up, feet first through the arroyo system, it's not designed for survival, unfortunately," Ruiz said.

Western and central New Mexico have the greatest chances of getting heavy rainfall this week that could result in flash flooding, the National Weather Service in Albuquerque said Monday.

Air Force Takes Next Step In Fuel Cleanup At New Mexico Base -- By Felicia Fonseca Associated Press

The U.S. Air Force has spent years trying to keep a jet fuel leak from reaching Albuquerque's drinking water supply and now says it has enough information to outline its work, paving the way to wrapping up the cleanup efforts.

Officials from Kirtland Air Force Base say they will spend the next several months to a year writing a report that they will submit to the New Mexico Environment Department. Once the state reviews and approves it, the base can make recommendations for a final cleanup.

"I do understand how long it looks to everyone else," Kathryn Lynnes, who is overseeing the cleanup for the Air Force, said Monday. "We went after the thing that had the potential to get into the city wells and we grabbed it, and we're working on the rest."

The Air Force has spent $125 million cleaning up soil and water around the base that borders Albuquerque. The fuel leak — believed to have been seeping into the ground for decades — was detected in 1999 and attributed to a supply line break.

The Air Force's assertion that there's no risk to communities nearby hasn't eased everyone's concerns. A group of lawmakers, residents and nonprofit organizations asked a federal judge last year to enforce deadlines for the cleanup.

The judge dismissed the complaint in March, saying the court didn't have jurisdiction over the matter. And even if it did, he would defer to state regulators overseeing the Air Force's actions.

A state Environment Department spokeswoman did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.

The Air Force installed a pump-and-treat system in 2015 to keep the contamination from spreading toward drinking water wells. Of particular concern was the additive ethylene dibromide, or EDB, that was in the fuel. The effects on people haven't been well documented, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says animal studies indicate that chronic exposure may result in toxic effects to the liver, kidneys and reproductive organs.

Lynnes said the equivalent of 775,000 gallons (2,933 cubic meters) of fuel has been removed from the water over the years, along with 5,000 tons (18,927 liters) of contaminated soil.

The state has up to nine months to review the report submitted by the Air Force. Once it's approved, the military will start crafting recommendations on final cleanup plans, which again are subject to public comment and approval from the state.

Lynnes said the fix won't be instantaneous and that the Air Force will continue monitoring more than 170 groundwater wells and some 270 soil vapor points.

"This is a super high priority for the Air Force," she said. "I'm really confident we're not going to have any funding issues."

Cannabis Industry In New Mexico Faces Big Challenge Of Water -- Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

Where some see desert, Cid and Medina Isbell see opportunity.

Standing on a plot on their 30-acre property just north of Madrid, they envision a greenhouse full of cannabis plants where brush, sunflowers and cactuses now grow.

They are among many hopeful entrepreneurs who see New Mexico's upcoming legal market for cannabis production and sales — set to launch by April 1 — as a way to break into a new business with a potential windfall. The Isbells already have raised $200,000 toward their initial budget of $800,000, and they've hired a lawyer to help sort out legal issues.

They own the land, and they're ready to install the security fences and cameras required to get a cannabis production license from the state. But they have one big challenge remaining.

Water.

Like all prospective cannabis producers in New Mexico, the Isbells must prove they have rights to water and an adequate supply before they can apply for a license, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.

That can be a problem, especially for rural growers, in a state with complicated laws divvying up a limited supply of water rights and in the throes of a 20-year megadrought that threatens to contribute to a serious water shortage. While cannabis growers who plan to operate in facilities within a city can tap into the municipal water supply as commercial customers, those growing outside city limits must purchase or lease commercial or agricultural water rights from someone else who owns them — a difficult and time-consuming process.

A domestic well on private property does not satisfy the requirement.

As the Isbells began preparing to open a company that produces, manufactures and sells cannabis, they thought they had their water needs covered by a domestic well. They were surprised to discover it wasn't sufficient.

"It's definitely discouraging," said Medina Isbell, 47, a professional photographer who has worked in the retail and restaurant industries.

"Water becomes a huge factor in our profitability," her husband said.

The couple plans to build a 10,000-gallon water tank for their first greenhouse. They estimate they will need 30,000 gallons a year as they expand.

If they can't pump water in from a local source, they'll haul it in, they said. They've been talking to local water transport companies. One has offered a 6-cents-a-gallon deal, delivery included. That will increase their monthly water budget, initially set at $200 a month, to $1,000 a month.

Cid Isbell, a career information technology worker in his mid-50s, is eager to jump into a new industry, hire up to 20 workers and build a nest egg for his eventual retirement.

"It's going to be difficult, especially with all the rules we need to follow to get licensed," he said. "But we're determined."

John Romero, director of the Water Resource Allocation Program of the State Engineer's Office, said people often don't understand how complex water rights can be in New Mexico. His agency is drafting a fact sheet to help people who plan to apply for cannabis producer licenses navigate the system.

In the meantime, his staff is fielding calls — 25 to 50 per day — about water requirements for cannabis.

"We're doing the best we can," Romero said.

He cautions it will take time for any cannabis producer to secure water rights. First, the state has to finalize rules for producers by a Sept. 1 deadline. Then producers must submit their paperwork to the State Engineer's Office for approval.

The office so far has a backlog of 500 water permit applications, including requests for water rights transfers, he said, adding it is likely to take eight to 10 months for each one to get approval. And the number is likely to surge as applications from cannabis producers start to come in.

The development of a new industry that will further tax the state's limited water supply is what most concerns Paula Garcia, executive director of the New Mexico Acequia Association. She cited a recent study by the Cannabis Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley that predicted nationwide water use by legal cannabis markets will increase by 86% by 2025.

Garcia said there just isn't enough water in New Mexico for the new industry.

"There are already tensions in communities over the distribution of water," she said. "Water use due to cannabis adds a new demand to an already limited supply."

Studies of states where cannabis producers have been legally operating for some time don't paint a clear picture of how much water the industry could demand in New Mexico. Much depends on the size of the plants, whether growers are cultivating cannabis indoors or outdoors, and the watering process they use — drip irrigation system versus a garden hose.

A recent report in the journal BioScience says a single cannabis plant requires about 22 liters of water per day — not quite 6 gallons. Cannabis plants require less water than alfalfa, corn, potatoes and some fruit trees, the report says, but more water than grapes and melons.

Tony Martinez, CEO of Lava Leaf Organics in Aztec, which provides medical cannabis to Urban Wellness dispensaries, said his business uses 90 gallons of water per plant for a growing season.

For his 400 plants, that's a total of about 36,000 gallons, which comes from a local water users association.

Lava Leaf plans to expand into recreational cannabis, which will allow it to increase its footprint to 8,000 plants. Even then, Martinez said, it would be using less than 12% of its allotted water.

An October 2020 report by the National Cannabis Industry Association on environmental impacts says many water-use studies focus on the effects of outdoor illicit markets, particularly in California.

"Considering that a large amount of cannabis farming nationwide is indoors and far from watercourses vulnerable to flow reductions, the initial alarms of cannabis as a threat to water availability are not broadly applicable beyond the original context of illicit cannabis farming in Northern California," the report says.

Still, the report says indoor growing can put a heightened demand on municipal water systems.

Linda Trujillo, superintendent of the state Regulation and Licensing Department, which oversees the cannabis industry, said she hopes climate conditions do not create a barrier for prospective growers.

The state will gauge water use among cannabis businesses for the first two years of the legal industry's operation.

Toner Mitchell, New Mexico water and habitat program manager for Trout Unlimited, said he remains concerned, nevertheless. He spoke briefly about the potential adverse effects of the cannabis industry on wildlife during a recent cannabis conference in Albuquerque.

If the state determines too much water is being used to grow cannabis, Mitchell said, "I think it's going to be very hard to scale back production."

Man Accused Of Killing 5 In New Mexico In 2017 Set For Trial - Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A New Mexico man accused of fatally shooting five people in 2017, including three family members, is set to go on trial this week for four of the killings.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday in 1st Judicial District Court in Santa Fe. 

Damian Herrera is charged with four counts of first-degree murder, unlawful taking of a motor vehicle and other charges. 

Prosecutors say the trial is expected to last through Aug. 20.

Authorities believe the 25-year-old Herrera killed a man a gas station at random after fatally shooting his mother, stepfather and brother in June 2017 at the family home in La Madera in Rio Arriba County.

Police arrested Herrera after he crashed during a police chase on U.S. 84 north of Española the night of the killings.

Herrera's trial has been delayed several times over questions of his mental competency and COVID-19 concerns.

He will be tried separately in connection with the fatal shooting of a Taos County man, but no trial date has been scheduled yet.

5 Firefighters Injured In Montana Blaze In Stable Condition - Associated Press

Five federal firefighters remained hospitalized Sunday in stable condition after sustaining burn injuries when swirling winds blew a lightning-caused wildfire back on them in eastern Montana on Thursday.

The five were building a defensive line at the Devil's Creek Fire in Garfield County when the weather shifted, said Bureau of Land Management spokesman Mark Jacobsen.

Two USDA Forest Service firefighters who are engine crew members based at the Quemado Ranger District at New Mexico's Gila National Forest were in stable condition and recovering at an undisclosed location, said Forest Service spokeswoman Punky Moore.

Three U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service crew members also were in stable condition and recovering at an undisclosed burn center, said Forest Service spokeswoman Kari Cobb. The three USFS employees are based at the Eastern North Dakota Wetland Management District Complex, Cobb said.

Neither Cobb nor Moore released any additional details.

Fire crews hoped to keep the wildfire, which had grown to 3,500 acres Sunday, from approaching the nearby Fort Peck Reservoir on the Missouri River, Jacobsen said.

Former State Police Officer Convicted Of Drug Charges - Associated Press

A former New Mexico State Police Officer has been convicted of distributing marijuana intended for a 16-year-old girl he pulled over and a separate drugs-for-sex scheme. 

U.S. District Court records show 36-year-old Daniel Capehart of Bloomfield was convicted Thursday of two counts of distributing marijuana and a third count of distributing methamphetamine. He faces between five and 40 years in prison, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

Prosecutors say Capehart pulled over the teen and a friend in Farmington on June 15, 2018. He obtained the girl's phone number and birthday and began texting her about an hour later. One text said told the girl she was "the most beautiful woman" he had ever met.

The girl and her father reported the texts to a San Juan County sheriff's detective, who used the girl's phone to text the officer. Authorities say Capehart twice left marijuana intended for the girl at drop locations, once near a high school. 

That same month, the FBI made contact with a female who said she'd been texting with Capehart for about nine months. The agent began texting with her, and authorities say Capehart proposed a scheme in which he would arrest someone for transporting marijuana and give the woman some of the drugs in exchange for sex. The next day, he pulled over and arrested an undercover FBI agent and left the drugs at a pre-arranged location near an elementary school. 

Two Sites Identified For Possible Soccer StadiumAlbuquerque Journal

A consultant to the city of Albuquerque has identified two potential sites for a soccer stadium to house the New Mexico United Team.

The Albuquerque Journal reported in a copyrighted story that CAA ICON named areas near Coal and Broadway, as well as Second Street and Iron as “preferred sites” for a stadium seating up to 12,000 people.

The cost of the project is estimated at $65 million to $70 million, although that does not include the cost of acquiring the land. The city owns part of each preferred site.

City officials told the Journal no decisions have been made and the analysis offers an opportunity for public conversation.

United’s president and owner Peter Trevisani said the club wants to be Downtown and said it could help boost the economy in that part of the city.

United currently shares Isotopes Park with the Albuquerque Isotopes baseball team. That park is owned by the city.

The consultant’s report estimated a stadium could generate new net direct spending of $10.3 million a year. It does not make any recommendations on how the city would pay for the new venue.

Trevisani said the club would likely contribute through ongoing rental payments or nearby development.

Navajo Nation Reports 6 New COVID-19 Cases And 4 More Deaths - Associated Press

The Navajo Nation on Sunday reported six new COVID-19 cases and four additional deaths. 

The latest numbers released brought the total number of coronavirus-related cases on the vast reservation to 31,297 since the pandemic began more than a year ago. 

The number of known deaths rose to 1,372. 

On Saturday, the tribe had reported four new cases and no deaths for the sixth time in seven days.

The Navajo Nation recently relaxed restrictions to allow visitors to travel on the reservation and visit popular attractions like Canyon de Chelly and Monument Valley. 

The reservation is the country's largest at 27,000 square miles and it covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

While cases are down, Navajo leaders are urging residents to continue wearing masks and get vaccinated.

"The Delta variant is the dominant strain in every part of the country and it continues to spread in our communities as well," tribal President Jonathan Nez said in a statement. "Reports indicate that the Delta variant is 60-percent more transmissible and can lead to more severe symptoms and death."

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