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Local and State News

Latest New Mexico news, sports, business and entertainment at 3:20 a.m. MDT

  • First water cuts in US West supply to hammer Arizona farmers

CASA GRANDE, Ariz. (AP) — The Colorado River has been a go-to source of water for cities, tribes and farmers in the U.S. West for decades. But climate change, drought and increased demand are taking a toll. Next week, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is expected to declare the first-ever mandatory cuts from the river for 2022 as key reservoirs fall to historic lows. The projection will hit farmers in central Arizona the hardest because of longstanding priority systems. Pinal County is Arizona's top producer of cotton, barley and livestock. Farmers there have been finding ways to use water more efficiently but increasingly will turn to pumping groundwater. 

  • Navajo Nation reports 49 new cases as COVID-19 spreads again

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. (AP) — The Navajo Nation on Wednesday reported 49 new COVID-19 cases and two additional deaths. The latest numbers pushed the tribe's pandemic totals to 31,715 cases and 1,386 known deaths. Health officials reported no deaths and only a handful of cases from Aug. 1-8 on the reservation that is the country's largest at 27,000 square miles and covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. But on Monday, the Navajo Department of Health issued a health advisory notice for 19 communities due to uncontrolled spread of the coronavirus. The health department plans to issue a new public health emergency order this week to transition the Navajo Nation back to "Orange Status" due to the recent rise in coronavirus infections.  

  • New Mexico shrinks reliance on for-profit prison operators

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico is on the cusp of finalizing prison takeovers that will reduce private prison operations to 25% of inmate beds, amid a plunge in prison population numbers statewide. Corrections Secretary Alisha Tafoya Lucero briefed a panel of state lawmakers Wednesday on negotiations by her agency to take over day-to-day prison operations in Grants and Sant Rosa from for-profit companies. Private operators oversaw nearly 50% of available prison beds in early 2019. At the same time, New Mexico's prison population has undergone a precipitous decline since the outset of the coronavirus pandemic. But Tafoya Lucero cautioned against further prison closures.

  • School starts in New Mexico with many masked, few vaccinated

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico education officials launched the start of school in Albuquerque with a pep rally at Highland High School. Incoming state Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus led 1,000 teens in a chant of "Show up, it matters." Getting kids to show up amid the ongoing pandemic will be a major challenge for Steinhaus as he replaces outgoing Secretary Ryan Stewart next week. Enrollment in New Mexico public schools has dropped about 4%, mostly due to growth in homeschooling. State health officials said Wednesday that New Mexico could see as many as 1,000 new infections a day by the end of the month and urged people to take precautions to limit spread.

  • Energy giant promises more perks in New Mexico utility case

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A top executive with global energy giant Iberdrola is promising more perks if local governments and others in New Mexico clear the way for a proposed multibillion-dollar utility merger. Iberdrola's chief development officer was the first to take questions Wednesday during a hearing on the proposed acquisition of Public Service Co. of New Mexico by Iberdrola subsidiary Avangrid. Supporters say the deal could boost renewable energy development. Critics are concerned about Connecticut-based Avangrid's track record of poor customer service and power outages among the utilities it operates on the East Coast. It will likely be fall before the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission makes a final decision on the merger.

  • Hospital physicians seek to unionize amid pandemic turmoil

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Physicians at Rehoboth McKinley Christian hospital in Gallup have taken the first major step toward unionizing to pursue collective bargaining on employment provisions. Union of American Physicians and Dentists spokeswoman Sue Wilson said Tuesday that a majority of the roughly 30 physicians at the hospital have signed and submitted union authorization cards to the National Labor Relations Board. The push to unionize follows both financial turmoil and harrowing encounters with COVID-19 at the hospital on the edge of the Navajo Nation. Hospital spokeswoman Ina Burmeister said notice of union organization was received late Tuesday and is being evaluated.

  • New Mexico diocese to sell off properties in online auction

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The Archdiocese of Santa Fe will be auctioning nearly 140 parcels of property next month as it seeks to settle a raft of sex abuse claims. Church officials announced Tuesday that an online auction will begin Sept. 21. Opening bids will start as low as $500. The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy reorganization in 2018 to deal with a surge of claims. A U.S. bankruptcy judge ruled last October that lawyers for survivors could file lawsuits alleging that the archdiocese fraudulently transferred millions of dollars in property and other assets to avoid bigger payouts. That decision opened the door to what could result in a massive payout by the archdiocese.

  • Navajo Nation reports 16 new COVID-19 cases, 1 more death

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. (AP) — The Navajo Nation on Tuesday reported 16 new COVID-19 cases and one additional death. The latest numbers pushed the tribe's pandemic totals to 31,666 cases and 1,384 known deaths. Based on cases from July 23 to Aug. 5, the Navajo Department of Health has issued a health advisory notice for 19 communities due to uncontrolled spread of COVID-19. The Navajo Nation reservation is the country's largest at 27,000 square miles (70,000 square kilometers) and it covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.