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

Expanding drought leaves western US scrambling for water

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Federal water managers are scheduled to host a virtual meeting to share their annual operating plan for the Rio Grande, one of North America's longest rivers. Irrigation districts from the Pacific Northwest to the Colorado River Basin already are warning farmers to expect less this year despite growing demands fueled by ever-drying conditions. Climate experts say March marked the third straight month of below-average precipitation across the U.S., and areas of record dryness are expanding in the West. The forecast for the next three months is no better. Along the Rio Grande, some farmers are being encouraged to forego irrigating their lands this season.

Destructive wildfires rage in New Mexico, Colorado

A wind-driven blaze that has burned at least 150 homes, barns and other structures in a mountain community continues to rage in drought-stricken New Mexico. The blaze on the northeastern side of Ruidoso was fueled by winds between 50 and 90 mph when it sparked Tuesday. Close to 4,000 residents were displaced by evacuations. Some airtankers resumed an aerial attack late Wednesday after high winds kept them grounded much of the day. Authorities said late Wednesday that two people have died. Their identities will not be released until the Office of the Medical Examiner can positively identify them. Meanwhile, crews in Colorado were fighting two grass fires that forced temporary evacuations.

In drought-stricken West, officials weigh emergency actions

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Federal officials say it may be necessary to reduce water deliveries to Colorado River users to prevent the shutdown of a huge dam on the Arizona-Utah border. Glen Canyon Dam supplies hydropower to some 5 million customers across the U.S. West. Officials had hoped snowmelt would buoy Lake Powell to ensure continued operation of the dam. But snow already is melting, and hotter-than-normal temperatures and prolonged drought are further shrinking the lake. The Interior Department has proposed holding back water in the lake to maintain power production. The agency is asking for feedback from the seven states that rely on the river by April 22.

New Mexico GOP tells schools to reject social studies change

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico lawmaker is urging K-12 school leaders to reject new social studies standards approved by the state's education department. Republican House Whip Rod Montoya argues that the new standards are racially divisive. He says local school officials "are morally obligated to reject" the education standards. It's unclear what that would look like. School districts, not the state, ultimately choose which books to buy and how lessons are crafted. It's also rare that school districts defy the state. But when a school board did so last year by rejecting mask mandates, the education department simply dismissed all members.

New Mexico swears in Shannon Bacon as chief justice

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico Supreme Court has a new chief justice who will oversee the administration of the judiciary and act as an advocate for state courts at the legislature on budgetary and other matters. Shannon Bacon was sworn in Wednesday to a two-year term as chief justice, a post that also involves coordination with the State Bar that sets professional standards for attorneys. Bacon was appointed by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in 2019 and won statewide election in 2020. She previously served nine years as a state district judge in the Albuquerque-based 2nd Judicial District.

New Mexico boosts its free college program, at least for now

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Flush with tax revenues and federal aid, many U.S. states are increasing support for free college programs. Experts say the expansion of a program in New Mexico could serve as a model, with flexible attendance requirements and generous financial aid. It covers tuition and fees for all students. Paired with federal grants, it can pay gas or rent for low-income students. The program allows adults to pursue a four-year degree, even if they haven't been in school for a while. The $75 million program is funded mostly with one-time federal aid, leaving supporters concerned about how long the state can sustain the program.

Texas keeping most truck inspections despite border gridlock

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott says he will continue truck inspections that have gridlocked the U.S.-Mexico border for days. The two-term Republican governor said Wednesday he would not repeal his new policy at all bridges until there are more assurances of security. Abbott did lift inspections at one international bridge after announcing what he said was an agreement for more enhanced security with Nuevo Leon, Mexico. But the most dramatic backups of commercial trucks along Texas' 1,200-mile border have occurred at other bridges that do not share a border with Nuevo Leon.

New Mexico challenges effort to post voter rolls online

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico election regulators are resisting efforts by a conservative-backed foundation to post statewide voter registration information on a public website where it can be searched by names or addresses to view whether people voted in past elections and sometimes their party affiliations. The website does not list details of how people voted in any election. The Voter Reference Foundation hopes to add registered New Mexico voters to its website database that spans 20 states. New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said in an interview that the foundation's efforts violate New Mexico restrictions the use of voter registration data and worries about voter intimidation.