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TUES: Experts Warn Of Waning Water Supplies, Branson Flight Sparks Optimism In New Mexico, + More

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TUES: Experts Warn Of Waning Water Supplies, Branson Flight Sparks Optimism In New Mexico, + More

  

New Mexico Lawmakers Warned About Shrinking Water SuppliesBy Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

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Some of New Mexico top climate and water experts warned state lawmakers Tuesday that the effects of the current drought on water supplies have been worsened by climate change, specifically an ongoing, long-term warming trend.

They told members of a legislative committee during a meeting that the drought is a harbinger of still drier conditions to come as temperatures continue to climb.

“We’re seeing in New Mexico as bad a situation with regard to water supply as anywhere in the West, if not worse,” said Rolf Schmidt-Petersen, director of the Interstate Stream Commission, noting that drought persists across the state and reservoirs remain empty despite the start of summer rains.

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Schmidt-Petersen shared slides that showed conditions getting drier and drier over the last 20 years. He described the conditions this year as the most severe drought in two decades of dryness.

Retired professor David Gutzler issued a plea to the legislators, asking that they take New Mexico’s long-term water challenge seriously and provide cities, farmers and other users with guidance and ground rules for managing shrinking supplies.

Some of the discussion focused on developing a statewide system for building partnerships among local districts so water can be shared when shortages arise. Such arrangements already are in place in some parts of New Mexico, including Jemez and Zia pueblos and nearby acequias, which are traditional irrigation systems that deliver water to farmers. Officials say the agreements have been working well.

Southern New Mexico Highway Reopens After Mudslide, FloodingAssociated Press

Crews have cleared debris from flooding and a mudslide that closed a 7-mile stretch of U.S. 70 across San Augustine Pass east of Las Cruces for 24 hours, officials said Tuesday.

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The flooding and slide occurred Sunday night and the highway was reopened Monday night after crews cleared all four lanes of mud, rocks and trees, the state Department of Transportation said.

Crews on Tuesday continued to remove remaining debris and to reopen on-off ramps for an entrance into White Sands Missile range, the department said.

U.S. 70 is a major travel route across southern New Mexico.

New Mexico Eyes Higher Plant Limit For Marijuana ProducersSanta Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

A New Mexico regulatory agency hopes to avoid a possible shortage by raising the number of marijuana plants that licensed producers could produce.

The Cannabis Control Division of the state Regulation and Licensing Department last week raised the previously planned per-grower limit of 4,500 plants to 8,000, and producers also would be able to apply for incremental increases of 500 with a total cap of 10,000, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.

The change responds to concerns that the 4,500-plant limit would lead to a supply shortage, especially among patients in the state’s medical marijuana program.

New Mexico’s legalization of possession and growth of small amounts of recreational marijuana took effect June 29, and the legal market for recreational marijuana is expected to launch in early 2022.

The department has scheduled an Aug. 6 hearing on the program’s revised draft rules.

The department has until Sept. 1 to finalize the rules for producers. Draft rules for manufacturing, testing and selling cannabis products have yet to be released.

Navajo Nation Reports 6 New COVID-19 Cases, But No DeathsAssociated Press, Santa Fe New Mexican

The Navajo Nation on Tuesday reported six new COVID-19 cases, but no additional deaths.

The figures released by the Navajo Department of Health brought the total number of cases on the vast reservation to 31,107 since the pandemic began. The death toll remains at 1,361.

The Navajo Nation recently relaxed restrictions to allow visitors to travel on the reservation and visit popular attractions like Canyon de Chelly and Monument Valley.

The reservation is the country’s largest at 27,000 square miles and it covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

While cases are down, Navajo leaders are urging residents to continue wearing masks and get vaccinated.

“As of today, we have 11 confirmed cases of the Delta variant on the Navajo Nation along with several other variants,” tribal President Jonathan Nez said in a statement Tuesday. “Our contact tracers are doing their best to mitigate and isolate those cases to prevent any further spread.”

New Mexico reported 116 new cases today and one additional death, a woman in her 60s in Otero County. That brings the total number of deaths in the state related to COVID-19 to 4,359 since the pandemic began.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported hospitalizations continue to inch upward with 83 people in New Mexico hospitals. Sixty-three percent of eligible residents have been fully vaccinated and nearly 72% have at least one shot.

US Says Order Coming This Week On Border Asylum RestrictionsBy Jake Bleiberg and Elliot Spagat, Associated Press

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will issue an order this week about how migrant children are treated under a public health order that has prevented people from seeking asylum at the nation’s borders, a Justice Department attorney said Tuesday.

The comment by Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Stoltz at a court hearing in Fort Worth, Texas, comes as the Biden administration faces pressure from pro-immigration allies to lift the last major Trump-era restrictions on asylum at the border.

Stoltz told a federal judge that the CDC will release “a new order on the subject of the children” by the end of the week. It will revise a Biden administration policy announced in February that exempts children crossing alone from the ban on asylum.

Stoltz did not offer additional details on the changes during a hearing on a lawsuit that Texas brought to compel enforcement of the public health order that former President Donald Trump’s administration used to quickly expel people from the country during the coronavirus pandemic.

The government attorney said the CDC order this week will largely render Texas’ arguments moot. He did not elaborate, and CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said the agency had “nothing more to add right now.”

The CDC, in a three-paragraph order signed by its director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, on Feb. 11, exempted unaccompanied children from being expelled to Mexico until “a forthcoming public health reassessment,” which has yet to be published. Texas argues in its lawsuit that the administration’s justification was insufficient.

Higher COVID-19 vaccination rates have brought increasing pressure on the Biden administration to lift the public health order that was always intended as a temporary measure during the pandemic. While the administration has exempted unaccompanied children, some families and nearly all adults traveling alone are expelled from the United States — often to Mexico within two hours — without a chance to seek asylum.

The Associated Press reported last year that then-Vice President Mike Pence directed the CDC to use emergency powers to effectively seal America’s borders, overruling agency scientists who said there was no evidence the action would slow COVID-19.

Lifting the ban could encourage more people to come to the border to seek asylum at a time when the U.S. is under mounting strain. The U.N. refugee agency reported last month that the U.S. was once again the top destination for asylum-seekers in 2020, with about 250,000 new claims filed, more than twice as high as second-place Germany.

Texas, which has the busiest corridor for illegal border crossings, is seeking a court order forcing the federal government to cease what state Deputy Attorney General Aaron Reitz called “de facto non-enforcement” of the asylum ban. Reitz argued that the Biden administration’s posture “threatens the health and safety of all Texans.”

U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman, a Trump appointee, questioned Stoltz about the timing of the new order and asked that the government inform him as soon as it is issued. Pittman did not rule on the request for an injunction but said he will put out a decision “as quickly as I can.”

Richard Branson’s Flight Sparks New Optimism In New Mexico – By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

With Virgin Galactic making its highest profile test flight to date with boss Richard Branson aboard, it’s only a matter of time before paying customers get their chance and New Mexico realizes a dream that has been decades in the making. 

Former Gov. Bill Richardson is among those who have been watching the progress of the space tourism company, ever since he and his team recruited the British billionaire to New Mexico. The two shook hands on a promise — Branson would build the world’s first commercial spaceline for tourists, and New Mexico would build the spaceport. 

To naysayers who thought it was a boondoggle and a waste of taxpayer money, Richardson said: “You were dead wrong. You have to have a vision for the future, and it’s going to happen, and it’s going to be great.”

The two-term governor was among those who were elated to see Branson and his crewmates rocket to the edge of space on Sunday. About 500 guests — including celebrities, Virgin Galactic customers, politicians and a group of students — watched from just outside the terminal at Spaceport America, while others across New Mexico held watch parties and people around the world tuned in to a livestream.

Rick Homans, the state economic development secretary who led early negotiations with Virgin Galactic, was among those in attendance. He acknowledged it has been a long and difficult road that started with many unknowns for both the state and the space tourism company.

Was it worth it? Undoubtedly, he said.

“Look around here,” he said Sunday. “The attention of the entire globe is on Spaceport America now and on the industry that could grow here. And I think where we are right now is at the very beginning of something so much bigger, and so that investment is going to pay off in the decades to come.”

Residents of Truth or Consequences, an eclectic desert community about 30 miles away, are excited to be on the map again. The city first gained notary in 1950 when it agreed to change its name from Hot Springs to Truth or Consequences as part of a publicity stunt put on by a radio show of the same name.

Still, many residents are tempering their optimism as the space tourism venture has taken nearly two decades to get off the ground and it’s unclear how often Virgin Galactic will be flying paying customers to the edge of space and whether any spending related to those brief up-and-down trips will trickle down to shopkeepers and other businesses in town. 

They also questioned how many space fans and other spectators would be drawn to the area since security is high at the spaceport and guided tours are considered pricy by some.

Others have mixed feelings about having paid extra taxes to help bankroll the spaceport, saying their community is still in dire need of infrastructure improvements, namely a better drinking water system. There’s also a lack of housing for residents, much less adequate accommodations for tourists. 

“Our tax dollars are paying for the roads to go out there and everything so it would be nice if we could actually benefit from that,” said Patty Lane, who helps run a gift shop in the town of roughly 5,900 people. “We’re a small community. We need that.”

Lane said it’s clear that developing a viable commercial spaceline has become a competition, and she’s hopeful that will drive more innovation and more aerospace companies to consider moving to the state. Only then, with more private investment, can the industry really take off in New Mexico, she said.

Top state officials are looking for the same thing. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Economic Development Secretary Alicia J. Keyes said the next step will be a push to get Virgin Galactic to relocate its manufacturing operations to New Mexico as more rocket planes will be needed for the future.

While Sunday’s flight helped to promote Virgin Galactic, state officials said it also gave millions of people around the world a look at New Mexico.

Lujan Grisham claimed there are potentially billions of dollars at stake as the space industry grows — from science and technology investments to tourism spending.

“We absolutely want more companies identifying New Mexico as their corporate headquarters,” she said, adding that the space industry could help to stabilize the state’s economy. 

That’s a battle many governors have faced in states where the oil and gas industry is a key economic driver and makes up a significant source of revenue for education and other government programs. Richardson said one of his objectives during his term was to create another industry, and that’s why he went after Branson and Virgin Galactic.

LaRene Miller was busy Monday getting visitors to sign the guest book at the T or C visitor center, where a wing of the building is dedicated to Spaceport America. About half of the 15 visitors over the last day included those who were passing through town to see the spaceport or catch a glimpse of Branson’s flight.

One group bought souvenirs. Another woman asked about the drive to the site.

They all had either watched the launch via the livestream or stepped outside to see the contrails.

Jeffre Dukatt, who runs a T-shirt shop in Truth or Consequences, is among the many residents who have been waiting years for the promise of the spaceport. 

“I got to see it in real life,” he said, describing his view from town of the ascending rocket plane. “It was like the moon walk to me.”

With two test flights remaining, Dukatt and others are hopeful they won’t have to wait as long for the next step.

New Mexico Sees 301 New COVID Cases Over The Weekend KUNM News

New Mexico health officials Monday reported 301 additional COVID-19 cases since Saturday, and four additional deaths. 

The three-day total included just under 100 cases in Bernalillo County, far and away the highest in the state, with the next highest case count in neighboring Sandoval County, which saw 33.  

State officials say 77 people are now hospitalized for COVID-19 in the state. That’s up from 62 hospitalizations reported last Monday.

Navajo Nation Reports 4 New COVID-19 Cases, But No Deaths – Associated Press

The Navajo Nation reported four new cases of the coronavirus on Monday, but no additional deaths.

The figures released by the Navajo Department of Health bring the total number of cases on the reservation to 31,100 since the pandemic began. The death toll remains at 1,361.

Tribal health officials on Sunday reported two new COVID-19 cases and three deaths.

The Navajo Nation recently relaxed restrictions to allow visitors to travel on the reservation and visit popular attractions like Canyon de Chelly and Monument Valley. 

The reservation is the country’s largest at 27,000 square miles in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

While cases are down, Navajo leaders are urging residents to continue wearing masks and get vaccinated.

“The Delta variant continues to spread across the country, mainly among people who are not fully vaccinated for COVID-19,” said tribal President Jonathan Nez. “Please continue to wear a mask in public and continue to pray for our people.”

US Drilling Approvals Increase Despite Biden Climate PledgeBy Matthew Brown, Associated Press

Approvals for companies to drill for oil and gas on U.S. public lands are on pace this year to reach their highest level since George W. Bush was president, underscoring President Joe Biden’s reluctance to more forcefully curb petroleum production in the face of industry and Republican resistance.

The Interior Department approved about 2,500 permits to drill on public and tribal lands in the first six months of the year, according to an Associated Press analysis of government data. That includes more than 2,100 drilling approvals since Biden took office January 20.

New Mexico and Wyoming had the largest number of approvals. Montana, Colorado and Utah had hundreds each.

Biden campaigned last year on pledges to end new drilling on federal lands  to rein in climate-changing emissions. His pick to oversee those lands, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, adamantly opposed drilling on federal lands while in Congress and co-sponsored the liberal Green New Deal.

But the steps taken by the administration to date on fossil fuels are more modest, including a temporary suspension on new oil and gas leases on federal lands that a judge blocked last month, blocked petroleum sales in  the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and cancellation of the Keystone XL oil pipeline  from Canada.

Because vast fossil fuel reserves already are under lease, those actions did nothing to slow drilling on public lands and waters that account for about a quarter of U.S. oil production.

Further complicating Biden’s climate agenda is a recent rise in gasoline prices to $ 3 a gallon or more in many parts of the country. Any attempt to limit petroleum production could push gasoline prices even higher and risk souring economic recovery from the pandemic.

“He’s walking the tightrope,” said energy industry analyst Parker Fawcett with S&P Global Platts, noting that Keystone and ANWR came without huge political costs because they were aimed at future projects.

“Those easy wins don’t necessarily have huge impacts on the market today,” Fawcett said. “He is definitely backing off taking drastic action that would rock the market. … What you’re going to see is U.S. oil production is going to continue to rebound.”

Haaland has sought to tamp down Republican concern over potential constraints on the industry. She said during a House Natural Resources Committee hearing last month that there was no “plan right now for a permanent ban.”

“Gas and oil production will continue well into the future and we believe that is the reality of our economy and the world we’re living in,” Haaland told Colorado Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn.

Interior officials declined further comment on permits issued under Biden.

Under former President Donald Trump, a staunch industry supporter, the Interior Department reduced the time it takes to review drilling applications from a year or more in some cases, to just a few months.

Companies rushed to  lock in drilling rights before the new administration. And in December, Trump’s last full month in office, agency officials approved more than 800 permits — far more than any prior month during his presidency.

The pace dropped when Biden first took office, under a temporary order that elevated permit reviews to senior administration officials. Approvals have since rebounded to a level that exceeds monthly numbers seen through most of Trump’s presidency.

The data obtained by AP from a government database is subject to change because of delays in transmitting data from Interior field offices to headquarters.

If the recent trends continue, the Interior Department could issue close to 6,000 permits by the end of the year. The last time so many were issued was fiscal year 2008, amid an oil boom driven by crude prices that reached an all-time high of $ 140 per barrel that June.

Decisions on about 4,700 drilling applications remained pending as of June 1, which means approvals are likely to continue at a heavy pace as officials work through a backlog left over from the Trump administration, said Fawcett, the industry analyst.

Environmentalists who share the administration’s goals on climate have expressed growing frustration as prospects for a ban on drilling fade. They contend the administration could take executive action that would stop further permits but has caved to Republican pressure.

“Every indication is they have no plans of actually fulfilling their campaign promise,” said Mitch Jones, policy director for the environmental group Food & Water Watch. “The result of that will be continued and increasing development of fossil fuels on public lands, which means more climate change.”

Economists and other experts have been skeptical about how much impact a permit ban would have. Companies simply could shift onto private and state lands and keep drilling, said University of Chicago deputy dean Ryan Kellogg.

The administration’s defenders say it’s being pragmatic in the face of a Senate split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans and questions over whether the government could legally stop drilling on leases already sold to companies.

That’s meant forgoing a drilling ban in hopes of getting bipartisan support for a huge infrastructure package that includes clean energy incentives and other measures to address global warming.

“It’s the long game. … You’ve got to appease some of those oil and gas state senators,” said Jim Lyons, who was deputy assistant Interior secretary under Barack Obama and is now an environmental consultant. “It means jobs back home for thousands of workers. You can’t just pull the plug overnight.”

Las Cruces Area In Clean-Up Mode Day After Powerful StormsAssociated Press

Residents in Las Cruces were picking up the pieces Monday, a day after a powerful storm left a trail of toppled trees, washed out roads and downed power lines.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports crews around the city are hauling away massive trees and other debris.

The Sunday storm originated in the Roswell and Clovis areas but then picked up steam over the Sacramento Mountains, according to the National Weather Service. The result was a massive storm system that brought powerful winds and rain. It walloped Las Cruces sometime after 7 p.m. before moving on to Texas.

Winds around southern New Mexico, from Las Cruces to Santa Teresa, were as high as 80-90 miles per hour.

The weather has also led the New Mexico Department of Transportation to shut down US 70 at San Augustin Pass. The stretch from NASA Road to the entrance of White Sands Missile Range is expected to stay closed most of the day.

It wasn’t just rain and wind wreaking havoc in places. A dust storm also hit east of Lordsburg Sunday night, causing a pile-up on I-10. Hail was reported south of Cloudcroft, Alamogordo and in west El Paso.

 

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This post originally posted here usnews

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TUES: Experts Warn Of Waning Water Supplies, Branson Flight Sparks Optimism In New Mexico, + More
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