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A water balancing act

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An Associated Press interview with Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board James Eklund caused a stir earlier this year when he said, “If anybody thought we were going to roll over and say, ‘OK, California, you’re in a really bad drought, you get to use the water that we were going to use,’ they’re mistaken.”

After several colleagues said they were somewhat shocked by the statement, Eklund, who spearheads state water policy and is senior deputy legal counsel to the governor, scaled back his comments in an interview with Fox News saying Colorado is not trying to “flex its muscle” when it comes to water between the two states.

The Colorado River, which starts in the Rockies and runs through Colorado’s Western Slope, is at the center of many worries in both California and Colorado, and other regional states, because it supplies water to 40 million people in the driest part of the nation.

PuebloDam

After the authorization of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, the Pueblo Dam was constructed between 1970 and 1975. Photo courtesy of the Pueblo City-County Library District

Currently, how much water is sent downstream is according to the 1922 Colorado River Compact – which was established in a particularly wet period. The amount is predetermined, but because Colorado gets more the share than it usually needs, Colorado has allowed California to take extra water. Eklund is working, reworking and speaking with people around the state for a plan that would keep the water that belongs to Colorado here for future use.

In 2013, Gov. John Hickenlooper issued an executive order to water officials around the state to devise and present a plan by Dec. 2014 for meeting water needs for the next 40 years. This has become the “Colorado Water Plan.” It’s only a draft right now. Hickenlooper’s goal is to have a concrete plan by December. This is what Eklund has been working on.

With so much focus on drought in California, a state that has depleted water tables and is now considering transforming ocean water into drinkable water, and a lot of talk in Colorado about how to better manage water many people wonder what that means for their own region.

Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said it is almost impossible the 1922 compact will ever be amended, updated or changed in any way. It’s a contract between each of the states the river supplies water to, and it’d have to be done through the Supreme Court.

The plan offers “collaborative solutions” such as efforts to conserve water, reusing and recycling and options to prevent farming land from drying up like it has in California.

So, why a plan now?

In short, drought. Since 2002, the state has been studying water and it’s apparent now more than ever that there is a growing gap between the finite resource and its need.

“In a single year, we have experienced severe drought followed by severe flooding,” the Department of Natural Resources wrote in a June update. “This climactic variability in our water supply emphasizes the need to strategically plan for the future, now more than ever.”

If the Colorado River is managed differently it would possibly mean change for portions of the state, such as Colorado’s eastern slope and communities along the Arkansas River in Southeastern Colorado.

“Upper and lower basins are working to see if there are areas where they can help each other, and that can be done by a litany of things from following what (California) Gov. Brown has done with conservation to the lower basin not taking as much,” Broderick said.

Managing water in the state differently means getting better at the balancing act.

“Whenever you have a catastrophic event like this (California’s drought) people start thinking differently.” – Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southern Colorado Water Conservancy District

Citizens, farms and towns along the Arkansas River heading east rely on the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project for water. The project, approved by John F. Kennedy in 1962, is a series of tunnels and piping that also brings water from the Colorado River into the Arkansas Basin. However, most of the water that makes its way downstream and out east is snowfall that would naturally flow east.

Getting approval for the project was tough and highly political more than 50 years ago.

“The project drew heavy fire in the House–from those who ridiculed the idea of a trans-mountain tunnel as a “Rube Goldberg Project” and those who asserted the $170 million will simply be money thrown away,” said former-Rep. Morris Udall in a 1962 report. “One of the principal critics of the tunnel idea was a Long Beach Congressman whose people turn on their taps to draw water which has come 200 miles across the desert from the Colorado River through many mountain tunnels.”

The sentiment is as relevant today as it was in 1962. Water is a tough business and when one aspect is changed it leads to a domino effect. Only so much water exists, everybody is in need and demand is increasing.

Broderick said managing water is just like completing a puzzle. Water rights and physical restrictions, such as a reservoir being at full capacity, make the job tedious and technical. There’s also politics, which is always closely tied to weather and climate.

Broderick said it is, for the most part, tough to say what could happen for Southeastern Colorado on a broad scale with the plan. Does it mean the Southeastern region of the state will see less water? Most likely not. That’s water the region is entitled to.

Right now, it still takes a great deal of studying and planning.

Around March, when the snowpack begins to melt, he can tell from historic patterns whether agriculture will have a tough growing season. If the trend is looking bleak in March, farmers will make arrangements to their crop plans. Plant less, or something different entirely.

For municipalities, reservoirs serve as storage. So, in a dry year there the effects of a drought aren’t always felt as harshly. The Pueblo Reservoir, which holds a lot more than just Pueblo’s water, stores three years worth of water for the city.

“The problem is not drought years, it’s the wet years because that water is gone the next year,” Broderick said.

John F Kennedy in Pueblo

John Carroll presents John F. Kennedy an engraved frying pan at Dutch Clark Stadium upon the appropriation of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project in 1962. Photo courtesy of Pueblo City-County Library District

Meaning, there is no rollover. If there isn’t a place to store the water, the owner doesn’t get to claim it once there’s room. So, really, a major piece becomes storage.

At the beginning of April, snowpack in Colorado was at 65 percent of average. But the state is doing better than average on storage. Reservoirs are at 108 percent of average. So, even with less water it doesn’t necessarily feel like it to average citizens.

“Whenever you have a catastrophic event like this (California’s drought) people start thinking differently,” Broderick said. So, the Colorado Water Plan isn’t much of a surprise. It’s tweaking to get the most out of the state’s water.

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Push to legalize marijuana upends governor’s race in New Mexico

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jeff Apodaca on Thursday called for the expansion of New Mexico’s medical marijuana program and for legalization of recreational use, saying the poverty-stricken state is missing out on millions of dollars in tax revenues and jobs that could be spurred by the industry.

Apodaca released his plan solidifying his position as a supporter of legalization as the race for governor heats up.

Apodaca pointed to New Mexico’s history as the first state to allow for research and experimentation with marijuana as a therapeutic drug. It was his father, then-Gov. Jerry Apodaca, who signed that legislation in 1978.

The research program stalled and it wasn’t until 2008 that New Mexico rolled out its medical cannabis program.

“Why are we shooting for being the last to legalize cannabis for adult use?” Apodaca said.

The push for legalization comes as New Mexico’s medical marijuana program has grown exponentially in just the last two years. Producers licensed under the program reported record sales of more than $86 million in 2017 and the number of patients enrolled now tops 50,000.

“We know the medical benefits of it. And we also know the opportunities of legalization for adult use,” Apodaca said, suggesting expansion of the long-standing medical marijuana program along with legalization could result in an estimated $200 million of additional tax revenues for the state.

The state’s largest producer, Ultra Health, announced that it has acquired farmland in southern New Mexico and has plans for what the industry says could be the largest cultivation facility in North America.

The property spans nearly one-third of a square mile (81 hectares) in Otero County. It will include 20 acres (8 hectares) of indoor cultivation, 80 acres (32 hectares) of outdoor cannabis fields and another 100 acres (40 hectares) of outdoor hemp fields.

Ultra Health president and CEO Duke Rodriguez said the company is preparing for a future in which New Mexico stands to benefit from expanded medical use and possibly recreational use.

Apodaca’s plan calls for lifting the current limits on the number of plants producers can grow and reducing costly licensing fees.

Other Democratic candidates have been more cautious.

U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she would work with state lawmakers to ensure there are adequate health, safety and enforcement measures in place. She called for a “thorough analysis” of recreational pot programs in other states as part of that effort.

Lujan Grisham was in charge of the state Health Department when the medical marijuana program began. Aside from the legalization debate, she said supporting producers to create the latest medicines and methods to help patients would help create jobs and expand the industry.

State Sen. Joseph Cervantes, another Democratic candidate, has sponsored unsuccessful legislation to decriminalize possession of small quantities of pot but has said the state is lacking infrastructure and isn’t ready yet to legalize.

Cervantes recently lauded efforts at the local level by the state’s largest city — Albuquerque — to decriminalize possession of small amounts. He said he would do the same as governor and that it would mark a first step.

Republican congressman and gubernatorial candidate Steve Pearce expressed reservations about legalization at a forum earlier this month. He said it might create a stumbling block for people trying to climb out of poverty and addiction to other drugs.

“I just don’t see how it fits that we’re going to deal with addiction and yet we’re going to tell people, ‘This one is OK.’ I’ve watched it for a lifetime. I just am very nervous with recreational marijuana,” he said.

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‘For fun’ killing reveals vulnerability for homeless Native Americans in New Mexico

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The morning a homeless man was shot and killed in Albuquerque, police say surveillance videos showed him running down a street before sunrise, and then gunfire flash in the dark.

Native Americans make up only 4 percent of the population, but account for 44 percent of people living on the streets, raising the likelihood they will be victimized when there is an attack on the homeless.

Ronnie Ross, a 50-year-old from the Navajo Nation town of Shiprock, had been shot a dozen times, including once in the forehead and temple, and four times in the back, according to a criminal complaint. Police say the two teenage suspects charged with murder this week apparently shot him “for fun” as they came and went from a hotel party nearby.

The homicide marked the latest in a series of brazen killings and assaults of homeless Native Americans in the city. In Albuquerque, Native Americans make up only 4 percent of the population, but account for 44 percent of people living on the streets, raising the likelihood they will be victimized when there is an attack on the homeless.

A 2014 survey showed 75 percent of homeless Native Americans in Albuquerque had been physically assaulted.

“Just being harassed is part of everyday life, but it’s not as much harassment as it is overgrown bullying,” said Gordon Yawakia, who works at the Albuquerque Indian Center and was once homeless himself. “What do you do when people are against you and then the authorities are against you and you’ve got nobody, you know?”

In 2014, Allison Gorman and Kee Thompson, both Navajo, were beaten to death as they slept in a vacant lot. While authorities did not say the men were targeted because they were Native American, activists disagreed and the deaths spurred the creation of a city task force to address Native American homelessness that now-former Mayor Richard Berry said could set the stage for changes for the population across the Southwest.

Now, Ross’ death is underscoring how difficult it may be to protect and find solutions for the city’s Native American homeless population.

“When I hear a story like this it adds fuel to the fire,” said Dawn Begay, who is the city’s tribal liaison, and works with the homeless through a local nonprofit. “Where we’re headed is a good direction but it has to happen faster.”

Ross’ killing in March came three months after the body of Audra Willis was found decapitated in an area not far from the Sandia Mountains that line the city’s east side. The 39-year-old had come from To’hajiilee, a tiny Navajo community west of Albuquerque, and records show she had multiple addresses during her time in the city, including at the Albuquerque Indian Center.

Willis’ especially grisly death sent shockwaves through Albuquerque, just as the beatings of Thompson and Gorman had three years earlier.

The two men had been killed on a July 2014 night when authorities say three boys — ages 15, 16 and 18_returned home from a night of drinking and decided to attack them as they slept on a mattress. The men were beaten with a wooden table leg, cinder blocks, and other objects, police said. One young suspect later told authorities that the teens had beaten dozens of homeless people, though apparently none others fatally.

In Ross’ death, the complaint filed against the 15- and 17-year-old suspects does not identify a motive, but says the two teenagers bragged to friends about the shooting.

According to police, friends and acquaintances of the boys — whom The Associated Press is not naming because of their ages — said the suspects had been showing off a gun at the party, and had said to others that they had shot a man. At one point, the younger boy also said to a close friend at the party that he shot a “hobo” in the back.

The boys made one more stop at the scene to find Ross still alive, prompting the older boy to shoot him multiple times, according to the complaint.

“It’s completely disturbing,” said Officer Simon Drobik, an Albuquerque police spokesman, said Tuesday. “They just shot this guy for fun.”

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The Last Castro; Raul retires as Cuban president

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Raul Castro turned over Cuba’s presidency Thursday to a 57-year-old successor he said would hold power until 2031, a plan that would place the state the Castro brothers founded and ruled for 60 years in the hands of a Communist Party official little known to most on the island.

Castro’s 90-minute valedictory speech offered his first clear vision for the nation’s future power structure under new President Miguel Mario Diaz-Canel Bermudez. Castro said he foresees the white-haired electronics engineer serving two five-year terms as leader of the Cuban government, and taking the helm of the Communist Party, the country’s ultimate authority, when Castro leaves the powerful position in 2021.

“From that point on, I will be just another soldier defending this revolution,” Castro said. The 86-year-old general broke frequently from his prepared remarks to joke and banter with officials on the dais in the National Assembly, saying he looked forward to having more time to travel the country.

In his own half-hour speech to the nation, Diaz-Canel pledged to preserve Cuba’s communist system while gradually reforming the economy and making the government more responsive to the people.

“There’s no space here for a transition that ignores or destroys the legacy of so many years of struggle,” Diaz-Canel said. “For us, it’s totally clear that only the Communist Party of Cuba, the guiding force of society and the state, guarantees the unity of the nation of Cuba.”

Diaz-Canel said he would work to implement a long-term plan laid out by the National Assembly and communist party that would continue allowing the limited growth of private enterprises like restaurants and taxis, while leaving the economy’s most important sectors such as energy, mining, telecommunications, medical services and rum- and cigar-production in the hands of the state.

“The people have given this assembly the mandate to provide continuity to the Cuban Revolution during a crucial, historic moment that will be defined by all that we achieve in the advance of the modernization of our social and economic model,” Diaz-Canel said.

Cubans said they expected their new president to deliver improvements to the island’s economy, which remains stagnant and dominated by inefficient, unproductive state-run enterprises that are unable to provide salaries high enough to cover basic needs. The average monthly pay for state workers is roughly $30 a month, forcing many to steal from their workplaces and depend on remittances from relatives abroad.

“I hope that Diaz-Canel brings prosperity,” said Richard Perez, a souvenir salesman in Old Havana. “I want to see changes, above all economic changes allowing people to have their own businesses, without the state in charge of so many things.”

But in Miami, Cuban-Americans said they didn’t expect much from Diaz-Canel.

“It’s a cosmetic change,” said Wilfredo Allen, a 66-year-old lawyer who left Cuba two years after the Castros’ 1959 revolution. “The reality is that Raul Castro is still controlling the Communist Party. We are very far from having a democratic Cuba.”

After formally taking over from his older brother Fidel in 2008, Raul Castro launched a series of reforms that led to a rapid expansion of Cuba’s private sector and burgeoning use of cellphones and the internet. Cuba today has a vibrant real estate market and one of the world’s fastest-growing airports. Tourism numbers have more than doubled since Castro and President Barack Obama re-established diplomatic relations in 2015, making Cuba a destination for nearly 5 million visitors a year, despite a plunge in relations under the Trump administration.

Castro’s moves to open the economy even further have largely been frozen or reversed as soon as they began to generate conspicuous displays of wealth by the new entrepreneurial class in a country officially dedicated to equality among its citizens. Foreign investment remains anemic and the island’s infrastructure is falling deeper into disrepair. The election of President Donald Trump dashed dreams of detente with the U.S., and after two decades of getting Venezuelan subsidies totaling more than $6 billion a year, Cuba’s patron has collapsed economically, with no replacement in the wings.

Castro’s inability or unwillingness to fix Cuba’s structural problems with deep and wide-ranging reforms has many wondering how a successor without Castro’s founding-father credentials will manage the country over the next five or 10 years.

“I want the country to advance,” said Susel Calzado, a 61-year-old economics professor. “We already have a plan laid out.”

Most Cubans have known their new president as an uncharismatic figure who until recently maintained a public profile so low it was virtually nonexistent. Castro’s declaration Thursday that he saw Diaz-Canel in power for more than a decade was likely to resolve much of the uncertainty about the power the new president would wield inside the Cuban system.

“The same thing we’re doing with him, he’ll have to do with his successor,” Castro said. “When his 10 years of service as president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers are over, he’ll have three years as first secretary in order to facilitate the transition. This will help us avoid mistakes by his successor, until (Diaz-Canel) retires to take care of the grandchildren he will have then, if he doesn’t have them already, or his great-grandchildren.”

Cuban state media said Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Diaz-Canel and thanked Castro for the many years of cooperation between the two countries, while Chinese President Xi Jinping also reaffirmed his country’s friendship with Cuba and expressed interest in deeper ties.

At the U.S. State Department, spokeswoman Heather Nauert expressed disappointment at the handover, saying Cuban citizens “had no real power to affect the outcome” of what she called the “undemocratic transition” that brought Diaz-Canal to the presidency.

Vice President Mike Pence tweeted at Castro that the U.S. won’t rest until Cuba “has free & fair elections, political prisoners are released & the people of Cuba are finally free!”

Diaz-Canel said his government would be willing to talk with the United States but rejected all demands for changes in the Cuban system.

With Castro watching from the audience, Diaz-Canel made clear that for the moment he would defer to the man who founded the Cuban communist system along with his brother Fidel. He said he would retain Castro’s cabinet through at least July, when the National Assembly meets again.

“I confirm to this assembly that Raul Castro, as first secretary of the Communist Party, will lead the decisions about the future of the country,” Diaz-Canel said. “Cuba needs him, providing ideas and proposals for the revolutionary cause, orienting and alerting us about any error or deficiency, teaching us, and always ready to confront imperialism.”

Diaz-Canel first gained prominence in central Villa Clara province as the top Communist Party official, a post equivalent to governor. People there describe him as a hard-working, modest-living technocrat dedicated to improving public services. He became higher education minister in 2009 before moving into the vice presidency.

In a video of a Communist Party meeting that inexplicably leaked to the public last year, Diaz-Canel expressed a series of orthodox positions that included somberly pledging to shutter some independent media and labeling some European embassies as outposts of foreign subversion.

But he has also defended academics and bloggers who became targets of hard-liners, leading some to describe him a potential advocate for greater openness in a system intolerant of virtually any criticism or dissent. International observers and Cubans alike will be scrutinizing every move he makes in coming days and weeks.

As in Cuba’s legislative elections, all of the leaders selected Wednesday were picked by a government-appointed commission. Ballots offered only the option of approval or disapproval and candidates generally receive more than 95 percent of the votes in their favor. Diaz-Canel was approved by 604 votes in the 605-member assembly. It was unclear if he had abstained or someone else had declined to endorse him.

The assembly also approved another six vice presidents of the Council of State, Cuba’s highest government body. Only one, 85-year-old Ramiro Valdes, was among the revolutionaries who fought with the Castros in the late 1950s in the eastern Sierra Maestra mountains.

___

Associated Press writer Ben Fox contributed to this report.

 

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