Running Dry: The Southwest’s Drift into a Drier Climate
A new study has concluded that, despite a significant increase in precipitation in New Mexico over the past year and a possible benefit through May from the moisture-inducing weather pattern known as El Niño, the southwestern United States has begun a shift into a drier climate. The three weather patterns that typically bring moisture are becoming more rare—an indication that human-caused climate change is pushing the region to become drier, a trend long predicted by global models.
What is now considered a normal year of rain and snow in the Southwest is one-quarter drier than it was before the 1970s, according to the study. Andreas Prein, a postdoctoral researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), who led the study, said, “If you have a drought nowadays, it will be more severe because our base state is drier.”
Record temperatures in February melted some of the mountain snowpack that New Mexico’s farmers and water resource managers depend on. Soil moisture tests indicate that some lands are already dry, raising concerns about grass fires.
The study was funded in part by the National Science Foundation. It was posted online in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. It also found an opposite, though smaller, effect in the Northeast, where some of the weather patterns that typically bring moisture to the region are increasing.
Proposed Methane Rules Receive Diverse Support
Methane is the major constituent of natural gas. When oil and gas companies on public land allow methane to be leaked, burned or vented, it can not only negatively impact air quality, climate and public health; it also represents an economic loss to taxpayers.
Robert M. Bernstein, M.D., president of the New Mexico Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, says that New Mexico is at particular risk from the health effects of methane due to the 2,500-square-mile cloud of the gas over the Four Corners region. That plume causes as much greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution in a year as seven coal-fired power plants or as much as 14 times the annual emissions of New Mexico’s 700,000 cars. The methane well leak in Southern California, first detected on Oct. 23, was finally plugged in mid-February after sickening scores of people and prompting relocation of 6,600 households. It has been called the largest known accidental methane release in U.S. history, equaling the annual GHG emissions of nearly 600,000 cars.
The Obama administration has proposed cutting methane emissions from all U.S. oil and gas production by nearly half over the next decade. In February, the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) kicked off its public comment process for important new rules designed to reduce methane waste on federal and tribal lands. The new standards would complement the safeguards proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which apply to new sources of emissions on private lands. The BLM held hearings in Farmington, New Mexico and Oklahoma City. Despite the fact that both are in the heart of oil and gas country, more than twice as many concerned citizens in Farmington and three times as many in Oklahoma City testified in support of BLM taking action on methane than those who voiced opposition. At those hearings, Latino and tribal voices joined public-health professionals, veterans, taxpayer groups and environmental advocates in voicing support for the proposal.
After the hearings, 40 current and former elected officials—19 Democratic state lawmakers, county commissioners and mayors from around New Mexico, representing diverse constituencies—issued a letter to the BLM in support of the agency’s methane rules. The proposal would also allow local governments to recoup what would otherwise be lost revenue from flared gas that could have gone to improve schools, roads and other needed infrastructure.
Grant Funding to Expand New Mexico Agriculture
NMDA hosts workshops March 18 and 22
The New Mexico Department of Agriculture (NMDA) is inviting New Mexicans involved in agricultural production to apply for funding through one of two grant programs. Both programs aim to develop new markets and/or expand existing ones for agricultural products grown in New Mexico.
The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). “Chile, onions, pecans, honey, greenhouse/nursery crops and lavender are examples of specialty crops, which means marketing and promotion projects built around them could be considered for this funding,” said Felicia Frost, the NMDA marketing specialist who administers New Mexico’s share of these federal funds. The USDA’s definition and list of eligible specialty crops is online at http://www.usda.gov/documents/SPECIALTY_CROPS.pdf. Project length varies from one to three years. The deadline to apply is 5 p.m. MDT on April 20. The funding becomes available Oct. 1.
The second program, the New Mexico Agricultural Development and Promotion Funds Program (ADPFP), places no restrictions on the type of agricultural commodity that can benefit. The deadline to apply for funding for this program is 5 p.m. MDT on April 29. The funding becomes available July 1. Under ADPFP, project length cannot exceed one year.
For both grant programs, projects are given greater consideration when they have what it takes to succeed beyond the life of the grant; in other words, if they make good business sense over the long term. Both programs prohibit the use of grant funds to purchase land, buildings, equipment or any other type of capital improvement. Funds are released only after the grantee has submitted a progress report, as well as an invoice and corresponding receipts.
The same project cannot be funded through both programs.
NMDA staff is hosting two free workshops for potential applicants to understand the programs and how to apply for them:
• Santa Fe: March 18, from 1 to 3 p.m. at Hotel Santa Fe, 1501 Paseo de Peralta
• Las Cruces: March 22, from 1 to 3 p.m. at the NMDA, 3190 South Espina St.
For more information, call 575.646.4929 or visit www.nmda.nmsu.edu
The Art of Seed Stewardship
March 29, 6:30–8:30 p.m., Santa Fe Farmers’ Market Pavilion
Kenneth Greene and his partners from the Hudson Valley Seed Library have created innovative, cooperative partnerships among consumers, seed farmers and artists to both tell the story of the seeds they steward and save the diversity of heirloom seeds, many of which are disappearing rapidly.
On March 29 in Santa Fe, Greene will discuss the community seed library movement, in the United States and around the world, and efforts to put seed growing and stewarding back into the hands of farmers and small gardeners to save the seed-collecting legacy. Greene will also have artist-designed seed packets and other materials for sale.
This event will take place at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market Pavilion, 1607 Paseo de Peralta. It is being presented by the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market Institute. Admission is $10. For more information, call 505.983.7726.
Horses Reconnect Veterans to Communities
Horses for Heroes–New Mexico offers a horsemanship, wellness and skill-set restructuring initiative in the high desert of Santa Fe called “Cowboy Up!” that is offered at no charge to post-9-11 veterans and active military. HfH’s director, Nancy De Santis, says that she is particularly interested in offering the program to those who have sustained post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to help them reintegrate into their community.
De Santis refers to PTSD as “post-traumatic spiritual dissonance” because she sees the affliction as a wound to the spirit. For others, she says, “It may be someone whose active combat survival skills worked well in the field, but at home those skills aren’t serving them well. The veteran may feel disconnected, dishonored or depleted.”
HfH’s “Cowboy Up!” program is designed to help veterans develop new skills, resharpen others and reshape attitudes needed to transition into civilian life. “Standing in the presence of a majestic 1,200-pound horse makes one be aware of the now and not be lost in a past memory or worry,” De Santis says. “Many of our warriors have been numbed by their experience of war. Horses can give energetic infusions that help reestablish a veteran’s connection to self, loved ones and the community.”
For more information on the nonprofit program, visit www.HorsesForHeroes.org