Monday Morning Roundup
USDA Includes 2 NM Counties In Drought Aid Areas - Associated Press
Two northern New Mexico counties are included in new federal government designations of primary disaster areas due to damages and losses caused by the ongoing drought.
The USDA says farmers and ranchers in Rio Arriba and Taos counties are eligible to apply for low-interest emergency loans.
The USDA's announcement also includes 14 Colorado counties along four in Utah and three in Wyoming.
Group Says NM Ranks 25th In Per-Student Spending - Associated Press and The Albuquerque Journal
New Mexico finds itself in the middle of the pack in a recent ranking of per-student education spending by states.
The Albuquerque Journal reports that the National Education Association, the nation's largest teacher union, placed New Mexico at 25th in such spending for the 2011-12 school year.
That report, released in December, shows New Mexico spending $10,203 per student.
State spending comparisons vary, depending on the group doing the analysis and their sources of data.
The U.S. Census Bureau offers a different set of data, released in May, that places New Mexico in 37th place for per-student spending, at $9,070 per student in fiscal 2011.
State education chief Hanna Skandera says the disparity between New Mexico's spending and sluggish test scores shows that funding without accountability doesn't deliver results.
Fire In Pecos Wilderness Hasn't Grown In Days - Associated Press
Rain has helped prevent a 17-square-mile wildfire burning in the steep canyons of the Pecos Wilderness from growing in size over the last several days.
But the Jaroso fire within the Santa Fe National Forest was still at zero percent containment on Sunday afternoon.
The rugged territory where the lightning-sparked fire was burning has prevented crews from directly attacking the flames.
No homes are threatened by the smoldering fire.
Signatures Thrown Out In Recall Bid In Las Vegas - Associated Press and the Las Vegas Optic
The city clerk in the northern New Mexico city of Las Vegas has invalidated more than half of the petition signatures collected in an effort to force a recall election against Mayor Alfonso Ortiz.
The Las Vegas Optic reports that the City Clerk Casandra Fresquez's decision on Thursday to invalidate the signatures stops the recall effort in its tracks.
Proponents of the recall effort filed a petition on June 21 and issued a statement announcing that they had collected 1,557 signatures from recall supporters.
Nine hundred thirty-seven signatures were needed to force a recall election.
Of the 1,490 signatures submitted, 733 were found to be valid, while another 757 were invalidated.
Ortiz says he was pleased with the outcome.
Wildfire Ash Poses Risks For Some NM Farmers - Associated Press
Recent rains have given some relief to farmers in the Middle Rio Grande Valley of north-central New Mexico, but thunderstorms also have washed wildfire ash into the upper end of the Elephant Butte Irrigation District system in southern New Mexico.
The Albuquerque Journal reports flash floods from the area burned by the Silver Fire in the Gila National Forest washed ash into the Rio Grande. Water managers issued a warning to downstream water users because of the risk the ash could clog farmers' drip irrigation systems and municipal treatment plants. Farmers installed drip irrigation to conserve water during the drought.
The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, which serves farmers from Cochiti to Socorro County, released the last of its irrigation water from storage in El Vado Reservoir at midday June 30. With that water gone, the only water in the Rio Grande downstream from Cochiti Dam is federal water to meet Endangered Species Act requirements for the Rio Grande silvery minnow and water earmarked for Pueblo irrigators, who have earlier and higher-priority water rights.
The conservancy district notified farmers Tuesday that it was cutting off deliveries to non-Indian farmers after July 4.
The only way that will change, according to the district's announcement to its farmers, is if enough rain falls to raise river flows to allow irrigation with natural flows. While the week of afternoon and evening storms has helped slow the river's decline, there has not yet been enough water for the district to resume deliveries to non-Indian farmers.
While some middle valley farmers have supplemental groundwater pumps to help them through the drought, most depend on river water from the conservancy district, said Chris Sichler, a Socorro County farmer and member of the conservancy district's board.
Alfalfa farmers can get by on limited irrigation, but farmers without wells who planted chile or corn will have problems without rain, Sichler said Friday.
"I guess they're going to take a gamble and hope it rains," Sichler said.
So far, the rain has been playing along, with storms somewhere over the valley every day since the last weekend in June.
The rain has slowed but not reversed a decline in the Rio Grande through Albuquerque that began Tuesday as irrigation supplies ran out.
Downstream, the Elephant Butte Irrigation District continues to release the last of its irrigation water from Elephant Butte Reservoir. That is currently expected to end Saturday, according to Phil King, water management consultant to the irrigation district.
Releases of Elephant Butte water for New Mexico and Texas farmers and cities since June 1 has drained Elephant Butte Reservoir to its lowest levels since the summer of 1972, according to Bureau of Reclamation records. The nearly depleted reservoir stands at 3 percent of its total capacity. The last time the reservoir was full was in 1995.