New wildfire defense grant program at a snail’s pace as fire season looms 

Kim Wright has spent hundreds of hours on the phone with neighbors.Wright, a retired nurse, volunteers with the Cimarron Watershed Alliance, a nonprofit focused on watershed and forest health on the eastern edge of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The 2022 Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon fire made the fears of a catastrophic fire feel all the more real. So when she learned a year ago that the federal government was awarding more than $8 million to the alliance to help nine northern New Mexico communities better defend themselves against wildfire, she said, “We couldn’t believe it. We were so excited.”Creating defensible space around a house and structures, thinning nearby forests, and hauling away wood can cost up to $4,000, Wright said, “So this is a huge opportunity for everybody in these communities.”But people needed to know about the opportunity. She found and reserved places for three community meetings that later drew between 40 and 90 attendees each.

Regional water planning shortchanged in state budget, advocates say 

There’s a tale of two cities unfolding in eastern New Mexico: Clovis and Portales both rely on a single source of potable water, the Ogallala Aquifer. That aquifer is finite and rapidly depleting. Five years ago, New Mexico Tech offered both communities aquifer mapping research to predict how long their reserves might last. That research guided Clovis to shutting off 51 irrigation wells and saving 4 billion gallons of water. Portales didn’t choose to use it.

Oil in, water out: Lawmakers timid about tackling booming oil and gas industry

New Mexico legislators’ latest run at regulating the oil and gas industry by updating the 90-year-old Oil and Gas Act illuminated the continuing struggles faced with trying to craft rules for an industry that produces nearly half the state’s revenue. Their efforts at finding a balance continue to leave environmentalists frustrated with the ripple effects, including costs, that they see reaching frontline communities and ecosystems.

Before its first hearing Thursday, lawmakers struck a requirement that oil and gas infrastructure be more than a third of a mile from schools, health facilities, multifamily housing, occupied homes, and at least 300 feet from waterways from a bill heard by the House Energy, Environment & Natural Resources committee. “I know there’s a lot of disappointment about that, and I share that disappointment,” said Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, chairman of the committee and a co-sponsor of the bill. McQueen presented a “substitute” bill during Thursday’s committee meeting. Substitute bills often come together following behind-closed-doors negotiations among lawmakers, lobbyists and various other parties.“The setback requirements were a sticking point,” McQueen said.

State loses millions in federal dollars meant for outdoor recreation projects

New Mexico has forfeited more than $5 million in federal funding for outdoor recreation projects over the last three years because employees at New Mexico’s State Parks Division missed deadlines to distribute the money to projects around the state. 

The money is the state’s share of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a five decade-old federal program that funnels revenue largely from offshore oil and gas leases to outdoor recreation and land conservation efforts. The fund supports several programs, including one in which communities and tribes around the nation can apply for up to $250,000 each. Roadblocks to distributing the funds, state staff say, included lack of staffing, a maze of bureaucratic requirements, and simple missteps, like neglecting to update an email address online. Grant applications for those funds filed by New Mexico communities two years ago still await submission for federal approval. “Money is just flying out of our hands,” Rep. Kristina Ortez, D-Taos, said at a Water and Natural Resources Committee in November when state lawmakers were briefed on the lost funds.

Farmers weigh tough choices as uncertain water future looms

Sitting at his booth at the Bosque Farms Growers Market, George Torres greeted customers all morning one Saturday last year. Many he knew by name and asked about their harvest, the weather, the water. All around him, vendors sold vegetables, milk, eggs, cookies, cut flowers, and seedlings. One farmer dropped off a bundle of radishes, saying, “That’s all I have yet.” 

As the July day temperature climbed, another asked Torres to “Turn off the furnace.”  He asked how things were going, and she made a dismissive “Pfffttt.” None of the beets or spinach germinated. It was too hot. 

Torres’ wife, Loretta, was the gardener, not George.

Amid a withering drought, New Mexico leaders struggle to plan for life with less water

Though the Rio Grande runs through the heart of New Mexico’s biggest city, you can easily miss it. Even from places where you’d expect to see water — designated parking areas near the river or paths along which you carry a boat to cast off from the nearest bank — it’s often invisible behind a screen of cottonwoods. Through much of the city, it hides behind businesses, warehouses, and strip malls. 

From the riverbank or on the river itself, these curtains create a rare reprieve, a place in an urban area that can be mistaken for a pocket of wild. City noise infrequently penetrates the cottonwoods that beat back the heat and hum with insects and birdsong on summer days. The river often runs a murky, reddish beige that matches its muddy banks.

Diverting the Rio Grande into a grown-over, decades-old canal could cut New Mexico’s water debt

Decades ago, Norm Gaume, a water advocate, paddler, and former director of the Interstate Stream Commission, hauled a canoe to central New Mexico, thinking he’d float down the Rio Grande through the Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. But when he arrived, he found no water in the river. “None,” he said. “Because it was all in the Low-Flow Conveyance Channel.”

The channel is an obscure chapter in New Mexico’s water history that harkens to the 1950s, when New Mexico faced a growing water debt to Texas and needed to move water downstream more efficiently. The best way, they determined, was to route the water away from the riverbed into a 70-mile, rock-lined, narrow channel that would speed it downstream.

‘Like a demon that’s always behind us’, the Jackpile Mine toxic legacy continues

The Jackpile mine after groundcover was planted and sidewalls of the pit were contoured to prevent erosion. Image/National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. In the village of Paguate as June Lorenzo’s grandmother knew it growing up, orchards and fields of wheat and corn carpeted nearby hillsides. Streams traversed a verdant valley where people hunted and grazed sheep near the small farming community in Laguna Pueblo. This was before a massive mine cratered the nearby land and altered the skyline.

Navajo-Gallup water delay spurs problem solving in arid Southwest

Early this year, five of Gallup, New Mexico’s 16 water wells stopped producing water, including two of its biggest. After a few days of maintenance, two worked. The other three were out of commission for more than a month. Had it happened in summer, the city might have asked residents to dramatically reduce use. “I’m not in crisis mode,” said Dennis Romero, Water and Sanitation Director for the City of Gallup, but “it could go to crisis mode very quickly.”

The shortage isn’t wholly surprising — 20 years ago, the city decided it could limp along on aging groundwater wells with dropping water levels until a new water project began delivering San Juan River water in late 2024.

A century of federal indifference left generations of Navajo homes without running water

When Julie Badonie was growing up in the small Navajo community of Tohatchi in the 1940s, her father drove a horse-drawn wagon early each morning to a nearby spring. There, he filled wooden barrels with water the family would use that day to drink, cook, and wash. 

Badonie, the youngest of seven children, including brothers who fought in World War II and the Korean War, or one of her siblings would go along. She remembers it as fun. At home, a hose siphoned the water into buckets to bring into the house. Badonie left for boarding school in kindergarten, first just a few miles across town, then several days’ travel away in Crownpoint, where an older sister worked as a cook, and eventually, all the way to Albuquerque for high school.