Blame it on New Mexico

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From the Washington Post:

South Carolina’s Republican Party will move its 2008 presidential primary forward to Jan. 19, sources said yesterday, a decision almost certain to spark a cascade of calendar changes that could push the start of voting to New Year’s Day or even to before Christmas.

The move, set to be announced today, is likely to cause the New Hampshire primary and Iowa caucuses to be shifted at least to early January, and other states are actively angling to stake out spots earlier in the process. The maneuvering has injected a new note of uncertainty into what is already the earliest-starting presidential campaign in history, and top strategists for the candidates said it would force them to revise their carefully worked out plans.

New Mexico is to partly blame, and, in part, so is Gov. Bill Richardson. He’s been pushing for a Western state to move its primary up for a couple of years, and, indeed, for a unified Western Primary. I’ve been following the issue for a while, since I’ve long held that issues Westerners face (peak water, more dangerous fire seasons, rapid growth, energy development, the environment, etc) are important ones to an ever-growing number of people:

Tradition should stand for something, but at the end of the day, our country’s leaders should not be chosen based solely on their knowledge of corn. A Western primary, early in the schedule, will force more candidates to focus on issues important to us Westerners. As growth (itself an issue) continues to skyrocket in parts of Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah, our prominence on the national scene should increase apace.

Granted, if I had known it would domino like this (Nevada’s adoption of an early caucus is one of the factors leading to South Carolina’s decision) I might have been more hesitant in supporting an early Western primary.

Gila River Watershed Improvement Plan and Strategy

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I haven’t had time to even start poring over this document, but the New Mexico Environment Department in conjunction with Northern Arizona University recently released this report. Why?

This Watershed Improvement Plan and Strategy (WIPS) is an inventory and data resource in support of a science-based approach to watershed resource planning. Watershed remediation work to improve deteriorated conditions is often supported by federal funds made available through Section (§)319 provisions of the Clean Water Act (CWA). This WIPS is a required component in New Mexico to securing §319 non-point source pollutant grant funding through the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and New Mexico Environment Department (NMED; 2006b).

The file is huge — 276 MB (!) — and you’ll need to download the latest Acrobat Reader (version 8) just to open it, but the table of contents looks like there’s a lot of great information (including sections on watershed geography and conditions) and maps for you technophiles:

Gila Watershed

Don’t all of you download it at once — I like my server up and running.

Friday Flickr Dump: Rainy Day Edition

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Drain PipeWell, as I alluded yesterday, I had an article about the upcoming fire season in the Daily Press last night ((Of course, being the banner story and all, it’s not included on our Web site)). The article (June Fire Update — PDF) talked about the fuel and weather conditions in the Southwest, and about some of the recent fire activity we’ve had in the area.

One of the things that stuck out while writing the story was the realization of the dependent relationships that make fire season what it is, particularly here in southwest New Mexico and especially after a wet winter or spring.

As the grass and brush that sprouted as a result of those wet months dries out in the early summer heat, the threat of wildfire jumps because there’s more fuel on the ground. The heat, however, plays another role in increasing the danger. The high temperatures mean less moisture is required for convection, so thunderstorms build up and move into the area. However, there’s not quite enough moisture to result in rain.

Thunderstorms – rain = dry lightning. Voila: wildfire!

Of course, the story appeared the same afternoon that we had our first good rain of the summer, and all our newspapers were wrapped up in plastic bags to protect them. Such is the life of a reporter.

Anyhoo, the weather did provide an awesome opportunity for photography (gotta love the overcast light). Below, a few of the images from yesterday, including this shot of a pigeon that let me get within a foot with my macro lens and never flew away:

Bird's Eye View

Green Bug Pink Daisy

Look At Me

Reporter’s Notebook: Fire Season

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I’ll have more on this in today’s edition of the Daily Press, but wanted to include two maps I found while doing research for a story yesterday (click for larger versions):

Southwest Fire Weather Outlook

Southwest Fire Behavior Outlook

Both maps come to us from the Southwest Coordination Center. You can find updated (looks like daily) versions of these maps at the Center’s Predictive Outlook page.

I wanted to highlight these maps, as they give a good overall sense of what’s happening in the region. Dry lightning is a huge concern right now for fire officials (right up there with fireworks) and the first map does a great job of showing how thunderstorms are behaving.

Checking the second map, you can see Silver City is just on the cusp of “Active” fire behavior, with the western third of Grant County firmly in the yellow. That second map shows what fire might do in a particular region. Wind conditions, temperature, fuel levels and other criteria determine a fire’s course and behavior, and that changes on a daily basis. Nonetheless, the overall picture is an important one to study.

Like I said, more in the Daily Press this evening.

Arizona mining impacts on New Mexico

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I bring this up in the concept of peak water, in that communities across the West are dealing with drought, in addition to the question of water supplies. The effects are actually being felt throughout the southern half of the U.S. Take, for example, this article in USA Today:

Severe dryness across California and Arizona has spread into other Western states. On the Colorado River, the water supply for 30 million people in seven states and Mexico, the Lake Powell and Lake Mead reservoirs are only half-full and unlikely to recover for years. In Los Angeles County, on track for a record dry year with 21% of normal rain downtown since last summer, fire officials are threatening to cancel Fourth of July fireworks if conditions worsen. On Wednesday, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa urged residents to voluntarily cut water use 10%, the city’s first such call since the 1990s.

What does that have to do with Arizona, or, for that matter, New Mexico? According to the Arizona Republic:

After a long decline punctuated by mine closures and layoffs, Arizona’s copper industry is making an unprecedented comeback.

Soaring metals prices have companies scrambling to open mines and expand existing ones to take advantage of the boom.

But mines consume huge amounts of water and could put tremendous pressure on the state’s limited water supply.

Water regulators, county planners and environmentalists are increasingly worried about the effect on aquifers, already suffering from decades of overpumping.

At least seven new mining projects are being planned around the state, and that doesn’t count the ongoing expansion of existing mines. The new projects will require 40,000 acre-feet of water annually. That’s enough to support a city larger than Tempe.

That’s enough water for 200,000 people each year, and, in an area already plagued by water shortages, will be a tough pill to swallow.

But, we still haven’t answered the question of New Mexico’s involvement. Well, the answer is simple, really: the Gila River.

If you recall, at the end of the last legislative session Gov. Bill Richardson line-item-vetoed a provision to fund a study of the Gila and San Francisco rivers. The study was tied to the Arizona Water Settlements Act, which provides New Mexico with 14,000 acre-feet of water per year from the Gila River. Right now, that water goes to Arizona.

At Silver City’s Town Council meeting on Tuesday, Mayor James Marshall reiterated a desire to see the studies move forward.

“The only way to protect that river is to study it and argue with facts that are grounded in science,” Marshall said.

He also told the council that the Interstate Stream Commission is still working to develop support for the studies, and that the Sandia Modeling team is also making additional progress on that front.

14,000 acre-feet of water is 1/3 of what the seven Arizona mines will be using, and I imagine Arizonans would be happy to keep getting that water. That threat has always been present, but the thought that Arizona cities will now be 40,000 acre-feet drier than before makes the threat that much more real.

Bonus: check out this Alibi story on Albuquerque’s shift away from aquifer water for drinking and other household use to San Juan/Chama River water ((Hat tip to John for the link)). The story is especially interesting in the context of last year’s news that the Mangas aquifer, which supplies the drinking water for much of Grant County, has a huge amount of water in it, and is continuously replenished by the Gila River. Turns out people used to say the same thing about Albuquerque’s aquifer:

This boundless body of water was going to support our city for generations to come. And it would be another decade before the dream was proven false.

The catalyst for our shift in understanding came in 1992 with a study published by hydrologists J.W. Hawley and C.S. Haase entitled A Hydrological Framework of the Northern Albuquerque Basin . The study showed that the reservoir beneath Albuquerque was not, after all, one giant pod filled with water, but a fractured network of water-filled vessels, some easier to reach than others, some with impure water.

Additionally, prior to the study the Rio Grande and the aquifer were thought to be directly linked. The city purchased San Juan-Chama water in 1963 with the intention of using the river water as an offset to Albuquerque’s groundwater pumping. The San Juan-Chama water was diverted to the Rio Grande, and the theory went that the extra water from the river would seep back into the aquifer, replenishing much of what the city pumped out every year. The Hawley and Haase study, however, showed the aquifer-river connection was somewhat weak. Although the river still replenished the aquifer, it did so at a much slower rate than previously thought.