WED: New Mexico Joins Western States Blasting Utah Plan For Colorado River, + More

Sep 9, 2020

6 Western States Blast Utah Plan To Tap Colorado River Water - By Sam Metz, Associated Press/Report For America

Six states in the U.S. West that rely on the Colorado River have rebuked a plan to build an underground pipeline to transport billions of gallons of water to Utah.

In a joint letter Tuesday, water officials from Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming urged the federal government to halt the approval process for the pipeline until the states could resolve concerns about the potential effect on future water supplies.

Utah has the right to use additional river water under agreements between the states. But critics argue that diverting more water will jeopardize the river as it faces threats from persistent drought and climate change.

If the approval moves forward, state water leaders wrote, "multiyear litigation" would likely be inevitable and could complicate negotiations over the future of the Colorado River, which serves 40 million people but faces threats from persistent drought and climate change that are dwindling the supply of water.

If water levels in either Lake Powell or the other reservoir — Lake Mead — fall farther, states could be forced to limit the amount of water they can send to growing cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas and farmers throughout the region that help stock supermarkets.

Under the agreements between the seven states, cuts would hit Arizona, California and Nevada before affecting Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

Comments on an environmental impact report for the proposed pipeline were due Tuesday, and the Interior Department is expected to issue a final report after its review, which would bring the project a step closer to approval.

Free Lunches Continue For New Mexico Students - By Cedar Attanasio AP/Report For America

School is still virtual for most students across New Mexico but school lunches are available in person.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture decided this week that summer lunch programs will continue for all students, even those who haven't qualified for free lunch.

Most of the state's 89 school districts have no in-person learning, though a few elementary schools started Tuesday.

Instead of serving meals in cafeterias, schools are distributing meals using empty buses. The governor's office says 13 million meals have been distributed since March.

Funds remaining from summer food programs can be used until they run out.

State health officials reported 92 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday and six additional deaths, bring the total death toll to 813.

There have been 26,268 COVID-19 cases in New Mexico since the pandemic began.

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

County Commissioners Appoint State House RepresentativeAssociated Press

Bernalillo County commissioners have appointed Art De La Cruz as the representative for the state House's 12th District. The commissioners voted 3-2 Tuesday to appoint De La Cruz to the vacant seat over Brittney Barreras, the only other applicant for the position.

The seat was vacant after the resignation of Patricio Ruiloba in August, but voters will pick their representative in the Nov. 3 election.

De La Cruz, a Democrat, is a former county commissioner and one-time county parks director. Barreras, an independent, is a longtime retail worker. Both are currently campaigning in the lead-up to the November election, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

Drought Prompts Water Shortage Advisory For New Mexico CityAssociated Press

One northwestern New Mexico city is trying to curb water use as the region deals with persistent drought.

The Farmington City Council passed a resolution Tuesday enacting a water shortage advisory that calls for residents to cut their use by 10%. The advisory will remain in place until further notice.

Lake Farmington supplies the city with drinking water. It's fed by the Animas and San Juan rivers. Officials say low stream flows and the likelihood of continued dryness will prevent supplies from being replenished.

The latest map shows severe to extreme drought centered over the area.

The city of Farmington is urging residents to take shorter showers and not let the water run when brushing teeth or shaving. They're also asking people to limit outdoor watering to certain hours, repair any leaks immediately and refrain from washing vehicles at home.

New Mexico Agency Seeks Opinion On Spaceport Policies, Taxes - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

The state's top economic development officials are asking the New Mexico attorney general to review policies and procedures that govern spending and contracts at Spaceport America.

Economic Development Secretary Alicia J. Keyes made the request in an email sent Tuesday to Attorney General Hector Balderas.

The request is a result of her agency's investigation into the conduct of spaceport chief executive officer Dan Hicks. He was placed on administrative leave earlier this summer after a whistleblower complaint accused him of circumventing internal financial controls and accounting procedures.

Hicks has declined to comment on the allegations, citing the ongoing investigation.

Balderas confirmed Wednesday that his office will be looking at whether state law requires the New Mexico Spaceport Authority to approve all procurement and requests for proposals and whether tax revenues meant to support the launch facility are limited to specific projects.

The state Economic Development Department hired an outside accounting firm to review procurement procedures as well as agreements governing the use of gross receipts tax revenues.

The state auditor's office is reviewing financial aspects related to the spaceport, and the spaceport's interim chief executive told lawmakers last week that all capital projects at Spaceport America also are being assessed because of the open investigation.

New Mexico Teachers Safe From Legal Liability Amid Virus - By Cedar Attanasio AP/Report For America

New Mexico officials are reassuring teachers that they can't be sued by students who get the coronavirus as some of them head back to the classroom.

Like most public servants, teachers are protected by insurance that covers court costs. Officials with the state's school insurance authority say it's too soon to say how great the risk of lawsuits against schools will be.

Many large districts have opted to stay online for now. But Tuesday marked the first day of in-person learning for some younger students in 20 districts and charter schools around the state. 

New Mexico health officials have reported 26,181 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began. More than 800 deaths in the state have been linked to the virus.

Case counts have been going down, and the state is hitting targets for testing levels and hospital bed space. Only 44 additional confirmed cases were reported Tuesday and there were no additional deaths.

State Announces 44 New COVID-19 Cases And No DeathsKUNM

For the first time in many weeks, there were no additional deaths in New Mexico from COVID-19.

State health officials announced Tuesday there were 44 new virus cases, but no deaths.

New Mexico has now had a total of 26,181 COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic and 807 people have died.

Last week, citing progress in controlling the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham eased some travel restrictions and raised occupancy limits in hotels to 75% after they complete certification for safe practices.

There are 68 people hospitalized. This may include people tested positive for COVID-19 out of state but are currently hospitalized in New Mexico. It does not include New Mexicans who tested positive but were transferred to a hospital outside the state.

The Department of Health has designated 13,701 cases as having recovered.

GOP Hits Torres Small On Green New Deal She Says She Opposes - By Russell Contreras Associated Press

Republicans have released another attack ad on Democratic U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small in New Mexico's southern district even as she earns support from a traditionally conservative-leaning group. 

The National Republican Congressional Committee this week unveiled a new commercial blasting the Las Cruces Democrat's pledge to "work with anyone" while taking campaign contributions from environmental organizations. 

The GOP group says those environmentalists support the Green New Deal – something Torres Small says she opposes. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last week endorsed Torres Small over Republican challenger Yvette Herrell in the closely watched race. The chamber gave Torres Small high ratings for bipartisanship.

Navajo Nation Reports No New Coronavirus Cases, But 4 DeathsAssociated Press

Navajo Nation health officials report no new confirmed cases of coronavirus but four additional deaths.

The latest numbers released Tuesday increase the total number of people infected to 9,903 with 527 known deaths.

Tribal health officials say the case total includes two previously unreported positive cases from July. 

They say 97,644 people have been tested for COVID-19 and 7,157 have recovered. 

Officials reported one new coronavirus case Monday and no additional deaths. 

Art Dealer Whose Treasure Sent Hunters Scouring US West DiesAssociated Press

An antiquities dealer and author who gained fame after hiding a treasure chest that drove hundreds of thousands of people to search the American West has died at age 90.

Police confirmed Forrest Fenn died Monday of natural causes at his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Only recently, Fenn announced the bronze chest filled with gold, jewels and other valuables had been found in Wyoming by someone he didn't name. He hid it a decade ago and dropped clues in a poem published in his 2010 autobiography.

He had always said he hid the treasure as a way to tempt people to get into the wilderness and give them a chance to launch an old-fashioned adventure and expedition for riches.

The treasure spurred an almost cult-like following, and some people died searching for it.

Law enforcement officers in New Mexico and elsewhere had asked Fenn to call off the hunt, saying people were putting themselves in danger to find the valuable haul.

Fenn rebuffed those requests, saying it wouldn't be fair to those who spent time and money looking for the treasure chest.

Fenn was raised in Temple, Texas, where his father was a school principal. His family spent the summers in Yellowstone National Park, where he and his brother honed their sense for adventure.

Fenn spent nearly two decades in the Air Force, including his decorated service as a fighter pilot in Vietnam.

After returning to Texas, he, his wife and two daughters moved to Santa Fe, where, over time, he became one of this artistic enclave's best-known and most successful gallery owners.

As an art dealer, he hosted a virtual who's who of the rich and famous at his gallery and guest house, including Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Sam Shepard, Jessica Lange and Michael Douglas, to name a few.

Even in his 80s, he was known for throwing parties.

Battered By The Virus, Tribes Race To Boost Census Count - By Matthew Brown, Iris Samuels and Lindsay Whitehurst, Associated Press

Millions of federal dollars for Native American communities are on the line in the U.S. census, and tribes are racing to avoid being undercounted again.

Almost all of the nation's more than 300 reservations trail significantly behind the rest of the country in the count. There have long been challenges counting people on Native lands amid language barriers and distrust of the federal government.

But the pandemic has dealt a devastating new setback, with lockdowns keeping census takers away as Indian Country has struggled with disproportionate numbers of infections.

Reaching a full count on most reservations now looks nearly impossible.

Native Americans are far from the only U.S. community of color facing a potential undercount, and a group of cities, counties, civil rights groups and the Navajo Nation are suing to extend the deadline.

A judge in California over the weekend issued a restraining order  that stops the Census Bureau from winding down its operations until a federal court hearing next week.