Conservation Beat

Laura Paskus/KUNM

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.

Laura Paskus/KUNM

At the end of October, the Rio Grande in Los Lunas is crunchy.

Except for a few crows and one sandhill crane flying high above, the skies are quiet. There’s no water here, and no reason for cranes or ducks to land. Up and down the riverbed, there’s only sand.

This time of year, Mike Hatch is still getting out of bed at about two in the morning. Since mid-June, he’s been tracking the drying as part of the government’s River Eyes program.

A developer is suing Rio Rancho for $5.6 million. At issue are credits it earned for infrastructure it built at a large planned community in the city and a new ordinance that slashes or eliminates impact fees.


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.

Nicholas Suhor

New Mexico has a long history of leading solar development. This continues to be true, despite the closure of Schott Solar earlier this summer. A new company hopes to start manufacturing again at the Schott plant. It faces significant challenges from offshore competitors. But there are many other companies in the solar industry here that are finding success.

Brandon Bickel, US Forest Service Gila National Forest.

Western wildfires have gotten bigger—and the wildfire season is getting longer. That’s according to a new report from the nonprofit organization Climate Central.

Since the 1970’s the average number of large fires each year has doubled in many western states, including  New Mexico.

The bigger fires are due in part to how forests have been managed.  For much of the 20th century, forest fires were suppressed—and dry timber and vegetation built up to dangerous levels.

But climate scientists say warmer temperatures are also responsible.

Photo by craigCloutier - Creative Commons License

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.

We're used to putting the blame for climate change on industrial plants and gas-guzzling cars and trucks. But Santa Fe architect Edward Mazria says it's actually the buildings we live in that are the worst offenders.  

Mazria is the author of the Passive Solar Energy Book used by builders worldwide.  He'll  be speaking tonight in Albuquerque.  KUNM's Conservation Beat reporter Megan Kamerick caught up with Mazria for a sneak preview of his talk.

USDA, Agricultural Research Service

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.

KUNM/Laura Paskus

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.


After more than two weeks, the Fox Mountain Pack alpha female wolf is still on the loose, foiling The Fish and Wildlife Service’s best efforts to trap and move her to an Arizona Sanctuary. For wolf advocates this is good news, because it's another day she can spend raising her pups. But for ranchers, it means a habitual livestock killer is still an active threat to their cattle. The Mexican Gray Wolf reintroduction program has been controversial since its inception, but a new coexistence plan seeks to fix that...through compromise.

Laura Paskus/KUNM

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.

Flcelloguy, via Wikimedia Commons

Hearings resume on Aug. 28 on drilling wastes generated by the oil and gas industry. At issue are rules put in place under the previous administration governing thousands of waste pits and underground storage tanks.

By Randy Son of Robert, via Flickr

A new water treatment facility opened in Las Cruces on Aug. 23 and is supposed to clean up water from a toxic Superfund site. The pollution was detected in the city’s water wells years ago, but a specific source for the contaminants remains elusive.

Federal, state and local officials were on hand to open the new facility, which will remove the chemical perchloroethylene from groundwater. PCE is a widely used in dry cleaning fabrics and for metal degreasing operations.

US Bureau of Reclamation

UPDATED 08-22-12, 8:00 PM:

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.


This has been a dry year in New Mexico. Statewide, we’ve received only half the precipitation of average, and most of eastern New Mexico is experiencing what the National Weather Service calls “extreme drought.” 

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

In 1979, a dam at a uranium mine collapsed. More than 90 million gallons of radioactive waste shot down the Rio Puerco.

It was the largest release of radioactive material in United States history. And it happened in Church Rock, on the Navajo reservation in northwestern New Mexico.

No comprehensive health studies were done to learn how the spill might have affected people living nearby.

Now, Reps. Ben Ray Luján, Edward J. Markey, Henry A. Waxman, and Frank Pallone are asking for a formal update on a study that Congress authorized four years ago.


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.

Truth or Consequences/Sierra Co. Chamber of Commerce

TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES, N.M. (AP) — City commissioners in the southeastern New Mexico town of Truth or Consequences have approved a year-long moratorium on well drilling while experts study whether an increase in wells is causing the town's famed hot springs to dry up.

Sandia National Laboratories

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 Economics of Water Conservation

Aug 14, 2012
Randy Son Of Robert

The land of enchantment is rich in many natural resources. Water, however, isn't one of them. And while higher prices have a way of persuading people to consume less, would raising water rates cause New Mexicans to turn off their spigots? 

US Fish and Wildlife Service

UPDATED 8/12/12. 3:15 pm

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.

The Valles Caldera National Preserve is one of the most iconic sites in New Mexico. It’s a sweeping landscape of meadows and forests that sits in the massive crater of a collapsed volcano. Congress bought the former ranch in 2000 and created the preserve with a special mandate:  Become financially self-sufficient by 2015.

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.

But believe it or not, there’s good news.

EcoFlight /

On Thursday, 33 organizations asked the state’s Public Regulation Commission (PRC) to create a new "clean energy standard" to reduce carbon emissions in New Mexico.

The groups include the American Lung Association, Physicians for Social Responsibility  and a number of environmental organizations.

Under the standard, utilities could choose to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by three percent each year.

US Bureau of Reclamation

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.

Michael Hess

This year at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, a federation of silk weavers made thousands from sales of its scarves.

That’s good news for the impoverished women of the Sahalandy Federation of Madagascar. But it’s also good for the island nation’s forests, home to the wild Malagasy silkworm.

Greg Lundeen / NOAA/CreativeCommons

The journal Science has just published a new study from scientists at Harvard University showing how a rise in global temperatures is helping to destroy the ozone layer.

Drilling delayed at Kirtland

Jul 29, 2012
U.S. Air Force photo by Todd Berenger

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.

According to the story, available online:

Courtesy U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

Climate change is a threat to New Mexico’s natural environment and a new study argues that makes it a serious economic threat as well.

Tourism, the creative arts, agriculture, ranching, and the dairy industry all stand to lose millions of dollars, according to Demos, the public policy group that published “New Mexico’s Rising Economic Risks from Climate Change.” The report is authored by Robert Repetto, author of the 2011 book, "America’s Climate Problem: The Way Forward." He is a senior fellow in the United Nations Foundation’s climate and energy program.

USDA, Gila National Forest

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.