December 2015

Newsbites – December 2015


Risk to New Mexico’s Water Supplies

A peer-reviewed journal, Environmental Research Letters, has published a study that looked at more than 400 river basins in the Northern Hemisphere and how they may or may not meet future water demands. The Río Grande and Colorado River basins, which supply water to farmers, water managers and wildlife in New Mexico, were identified as among the most vulnerable as a result of the risk of decreasing snowfall and rainfall in the coming century.

The study’s authors looked at population, how water demands are currently being met, and multiple climate models that project future warming.

Two uncertainties the study didn’t take into account are natural climate variations that can sometimes mask trends scientists expect from human-influenced climate change and potential human intervention such as conservation, efficiency or other technological initiatives. However, lead author Justin Mankin, in a New Mexico In Depth article, said that cultural, social and management practices that revolve around the supply of water “take a lot of effort, foresight and planning. But there’s clear evidence, from the California drought, that we’re not optimally adapted to the climate we have presently.” Mankin pointed out that the implications for each basin will depend on local realities, the adaptive capacity of water managers and each area’s political and social systems.

The study, “The Potential for Snow to Supply Human Water Demand in the Present and Future,” may be accessed online at



Judge Upholds Denial of Water Mining Application

7th District Court Judge Matthew Reynolds has ruled that his denial of an application to mine water from 18,000 acres in Catron and Socorro counties stands.

Augustin Plains Ranch LLC has sought to appropriate groundwater – 54,000 acre-feet per year – for “municipal, industrial, commercial offset of surface water depletions, replacement, sale and/or leasing purposes.” The company had filed an appeal, asking Reynolds to reconsider his decision to support the state engineer’s denial of the application.

The fight has been going on for years, with many of the area’s residents in opposition. New Mexico Speaker of the House, 49th District Rep. Don Tripp, a member of the Water and Natural Resources Committee, said, “I’m sure there will be many more attempts to gain access to unappropriated water on the plains. We will need to be vigilant in our efforts to oppose the water grab.”



Pueblo of Sandia Donates Water for Conservation

In a first of its kind donation, the pueblo of Sandia has volunteered to donate water to be used for the benefit of river flows and riparian habitat. The pueblo’s Tribal Council has offered 100 acre-feet of water for Audubon New Mexico’s conservation work to supplement streamflow in the Middle Río Grande.

“The Río Grande is sacred to the people of Sandia Pueblo, as is the environment it provides,” said Gov. Isaac Lujan. “Sandia hopes this donation can be used as an example of what can be done for the health of the river and the community when stakeholders work together.”

The donation by the pueblo is the first environmental use of a large volume of water not being directed by federal or state agencies. Instead, the water will be managed by Audubon and allocated to instream purposes, to assist flows needed by birds, fish and wildlife. One hundred percent of Río Grande water is allocated, and, as a result, large stretches go dry for weeks—or even months—during the summer. Putting water back into the river also supports pueblos, cities and New Mexico’s outdoor recreation and tourism economy.

Audubon’s conservation project took root in May 2015 when, funded by grants from Toyota’s TogetherGreen initiative and the Thornburg Foundation, the organization hosted a roundtable of federal, state and local agencies, experts and stakeholders to discuss ways to restore flows to help abate the declining health of the Middle Río Grande. Already, the pueblo of Isleta has followed suit, contributing a share of its stored water for next year.



New Mexico’s Largest Solar Farms Line Up Utility Customer

Southwestern Public Service (SPS), an Excel Energy affiliate, has been given Public Regulation Commission (PRC) approval to buy the power generated by two giant yet-to-be-built solar-power facilities near Roswell. NextEra Energy Resources is building the facilities on about 1,500 acres of private grassland. That power will bring SPS’s renewable energy to 18 percent of its total supply by the end of 2016. At 3.5 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2017, the electricity will be cheaper than some of Xcel’s natural gas-fueled plants in New Mexico and Texas, which the company says will allow it to pass savings on to consumers. The new system will also help Xcel achieve an 18 percent reduction in carbon emissions in those states by 2020, compared to 2005 levels. In a news release, SPS also touts the facilities’ lack of emissions and not using fossil fuels or water.

Xcel Energy is the nation’s No. 1 provider of wind energy, as ranked by the American Wind Energy Association, and is among the top-10 U.S. utilities for the amount of solar power on its systems, according to the Solar Electric Power Association.



Picuris Pueblo Dedicates First Tribal Net-Zero-Energy Fire Station

A dedication for the first fully solar-powered fire station in New Mexico Indian Country took place in October. When planning began, Picuris Pueblo’s leadership expressed that they wanted a facility that was energy-efficient and would not use electricity created by carbon fuels. And so, the net-zero-energy building’s solar panels now supply the electricity and radiant heat for the pueblo’s fire engine, power equipment and fire team offices.

Following the ceremony, which ended with the Fire Department spraying the new building with a stream of water, Odes Armijo-Caster, cofounder and managing partner of Sacred Power, the project contractor, gave a demonstration of the solar system. Pueblo of Picuris Governor Gary Pyne acknowledged a group of project partners that helped make the project possible. A partial list includes the Northern Pueblos Housing Authority, Weller Architects, Avanyu Construction, Native Home Capital, USDA Rural Development, HUD Office of Native American Programs and Kit Carson Electric. The governor also thanked Congressman Ben Ray Luján, Senator Martin Heinrich and Senator Tom Udall.

The pueblo is also planning a 1 MW solar-power array, to be completed by the end of 2016, a lump-charcoal enterprise and a $3-million travel center.



Forbes Magazine’s Favorite Solar-Powered Gadget

Forbes has named the SunPortTM its No. 1 new “solar-powered gadget.” The Albuquerque company, PlugSolar, which conducted a successful Kickstarter campaign this summer to fund its development and marketing, created the $80 gadget. The device makes solar power accessible to people who aren’t able to install rooftop panels.

On your next business trip or vacation, or for your home or office, by plugging the SunPort into a wall outlet, you can offset some of the carbon emissions you contribute. When an appliance or device is plugged into it, the SunPort can track its energy usage. The solar equivalent of that amount of energy is created through the use of renewable-energy certificates. Each S-REC is equal to a megawatt of solar energy that is put into the grid. S-RECs can be obtained through utility companies. SunPort has partnered with the nonprofit ReChoice to purchase certificates and give users solar credits. ReChoice also matches dollars to installation of new solar panels.





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