Before the end of the year New Mexico officials will have to make a decision about water development in the state—they’ll decide what will happen to the Gila River. It’s a decision that’s been ten years in the making. But as details emerge, some lawmakers and scientists are worried about the future of New Mexico’s last free flowing river.
We’re standing on the banks of the northern Rio Grande, about forty miles downstream of Colorado. We’re next to a small diversion which waters some pasture and a garden in the village of Pilar, N.M.
In Socorro County this week, the Festival of the Cranes draws thousands of tourists. Sandhill cranes and snow geese draw the big crowds, but the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge hosts more than just migrating birds.
Six sandhill cranes swirl above us, deciding whether or not they’re going to land. We’re standing at a pullout along Highway 1, south of San Antonio, New Mexico.
For decades, the IPCC has collected information about changes in the climate over time and improved models predicting future changes. One of the scientists who worked on the Fifth Assessment Report is the University of New Mexico’s David Gutzler.
Editor's Note: This piece originally aired in April, 2013 on KUNM.
The muddy waters of the Rio Grande are still flowing through Albuquerque. But New Mexico is in the grip of long-term drought and there’s little water left in upstream reservoirs. That means this summer will probably be like last year—when 52 miles of the Rio Grande dried up south of Albuquerque.
Laura Paskus headed out to take a look with one of the world’s leading experts on desert rivers and sent us this audio postcard.
Earlier this month, the New Mexico Environment Department gave the federal government the green light to ship “hot,” remote handled waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in a new type of container.
Since 1999, transuranic waste from nuclear weapons manufacturing has been stored in salt caverns a half-mile below the surface of the earth at WIPP in southern New Mexico.
The Rio Grande ran low and dry this year. That was bad news for fish and for farmers. And it’s unlikely that relief is in sight: Reservoirs are low and climate change is here.
In the second of this two part series, KUNM takes a look at the Rio Grande—which one advocate worries might someday be a “ghost river.”
Janet Jarratt runs a dairy in Valencia County, south of Albuquerque. Farmers work harder than anyone she knows. And making a living is even tougher during dry years, she says, when farmers don’t know if they’ll get their water.
Just before nine o clock this morning, people living or working near the Santa Teresa Industrial Park received a call from authorities. They were told to remain indoors and seal windows and vents.
By noon, 200 people had been evacuated to the local high school. People were having a hard time breathing, were feeling light-headed, nauseous and dizzy. And they were treated for exposure to an "unknown substance." About that time, hazmat teams began moving into the area to test air quality.
It’s a sunny Saturday morning at the Randall Davey Audubon Center—way up Canyon Road in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristos. Jays, chickadees, and nuthatches are all keeping a noisy watch on the feeders—and the festivities.
Audubon New Mexico is honoring Rachel Carson, whose book, Silent Spring, was published 50 years ago.
In her book, Carson wrote of how the pesticide DDT was killing wildlife and endangering humans. In particular, birds exposed to DDT were laying eggs with shells so thin they broke before hatching time.
This week, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish announced it’s keeping a closer eye on southern New Mexico, where some deer are infected with chronic wasting disease. That disease attacks the brain and spinal column of deer and elk, causing them to become emaciated and eventually die.
Chronic wasting disease isn’t widespread in New Mexico, but there are some hot zones near Cloudcroft and Alamogordo.
Head north of Albuquerque and look over toward the Rio Grande and its forest, or bosque. Within that green ribbon of trees, you’ll also spot leaves that are reddish brown. Even from the Interstate, the dying trees are obvious.
Those leaves belong to tamarisk, or salt cedar. More than a century ago, the trees were introduced to control erosion and act as windbreaks. But they have overtaken riverbanks across the southwestern United States, sucking up water and choking out native species like cottonwoods and willows.
Here, where the Alameda Bridge crosses the Rio Grande on the north side of Albuquerque, you can see what New Mexico’s weak monsoon season looks like on the ground.
The water is braided around sandbars and islands. It’s so shallow that even where the river is flowing, sand is visible just a few inches below the surface. Two Canada Geese honk beneath the bridge, then take off. When they land again, their feet are barely covered by the water.
On Tuesday in Las Cruces, New Mexico State University hosted the 57th annual New Mexico Water Conference. This year’s conference was titled “Hard Choices” and its participants were trying to figure out how New Mexicans can adapt to water scarcity.
At the conference, there were federal and state water managers, scientists, activists, farmers—anyone with an interest in understanding how New Mexico’s water is managed and how it’s going to be managed in the future, as water becomes increasingly scarce.
Additional rains have reconnected flows within the stretch of the Pecos River that includes habitat for the Pecos bluntnose shiner. Biologists do not plan to conduct salvage work this week. About 30 miles of the river still remain dry.
New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman, D, was in Santa Fe today, listening to testimony about the impacts of climate change. During a field hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, the senator heard what’s happening on the ground in New Mexico.
In his testimony, Governor Walter Dasheno of Santa Clara Pueblo pointed out that climate change contributed to last year’s Las Conchas fire. That fire burned more than 150,000 acres in the Jemez Mountains.
Although the wind energy industry in the United States is below the peak it hit three years ago, 2011 was still a pretty good year.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s annual market report, last year, wind power accounted for about one-third of the nation’s new sources of electricity. And much of the equipment installed at U.S. wind farms last year came from domestic factories.
Almost three-quarters of the wind turbines, towers, blades, and generators were made within the U.S. That number is double what it was in 2005.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has rescinded its lethal removal order for AF1188. The agency has agreed to allow the Arizona-based Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center to provide permanent sanctuary to the female wolf.
Earlier this week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in Albuquerque ordered the killing of a Mexican Gray Wolf whose pack is responsible for the killing of four head of cattle within the past year.
Dr. Ed Smith and Smokey Bear in 1950. Briefly named “Hotfoot Teddy” this five-pound bear with burned paws was found clinging to a charred tree during a fire in the Lincoln National Forest. He became the "living symbol" of Smokey Bear.
Credit New Mexico State Forestry Division / NMEMRD
This week, an American icon celebrates his birthday: Smokey Bear is turning 68.
He’s still a spry old guy, kept alive by the Ad Council and the US Forest Service. It’s New Mexico’s forests that have been taking a hammering. In 2011, the Las Conchas Fire was the largest in state history. Then this year, the Whitewater-Baldy Fire in the Gila National Forest doubled its record. This summer also saw the state’s most destructive wildfire, the Little Bear Fire near Ruidoso.
A legal battle over water in the lower Rio Grande has New Mexico accusing the federal government of trying to take control of the state’s groundwater.
In a filing in the Third District Court in Las Cruces recently, the Bureau of Reclamation said it should be able to pump groundwater when it needs to deliver water in the Rio Grande to downstream users, such as farmers.
That raised the hackles of New Mexico state legislators, and others, including the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer. That office controls the state’s groundwater.
The Albuquerque Journal reports that the drilling of monitoring wells at Kirtland Air Force Base has been delayed until later this year. The monitoring wells are being drilled in order to determine the extent of contamination from a leak of about 24 million gallons of jet fuel.
One of the two contractors drilling the wells has gone out of business.
Even after the flames have died down, the impacts of a wildfire persist. Without tree and grass roots to absorb rainfall and hold soil in place, flooding can be a big problem.
In the wake of the Whitewater-Baldy Fire—which burned almost 300,000 acres in southwestern New Mexico—officials in the Gila National Forest have been working to get ahead of the summer rains and next year’s snowmelt.
At the hot springs signing ceremony, from the left: Laureano B. Romero, Governor of Taos Pueblo; Christopher Smith, President of the Taos Land Trust Board of Directors; and Benito M. Sandoval, Warchief of Taos Pueblo.
In northern New Mexico, a sacred site has been returned to its indigenous community.
On July 14, the Taos Land Trust officially transferred the Ponce de León Hot Springs to the Pueblo of Taos.
Now, the springs will be protected from any future development and also remain open to the general public. “This kind of partnership is very rare in the conservation community,” says Patricia Quintana, executive director of Taos Land Trust.
The land trust had purchased the 44-acre parcel in 1997 to save the springs from private development and create a public park.
Drought and climate change are causing extensive forest dieback in the U.S. West as well as worldwide. This photo shows dead ponderosa pines in the Jemez Mountains killed by a combination of drought stress and attacks by bark beetles on weakened trees.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has added a New Mexico county to its list of primary natural disaster areas due to drought and excessive heat.
Cibola County joins 39 counties in eight states in the latest designation Wednesday.
In all, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has declared nearly 1,300 counties in 29 states as disaster areas during the current crop year. Much of New Mexico and the Southwest is already on the list.
The monsoon rains arrived this month, but it’s still hot and dry in New Mexico.
The ongoing drought is placing stress on the state’s rivers and streams, including the Rio Grande. And while cities and farmers still receive their shares of water, each summer, one user gets left out—the Rio Grande itself. Like it has every summer for the past decade, the Rio Grande downstream of Albuquerque is drying.