Feds decide against flooding Grand Canyon amid drought
LAS VEGAS — The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation decided not to send water rushing through the Grand Canyon this month to rebuild beaches for campers and sandbars for fish because of persistent drought, officials said.
An abundance of sand in the Colorado River system gives the agency an opportunity to flood the waterway to spread the sediment throughout the canyon. Despite favorable conditions after a remarkable monsoon, the November flood is a no-go.
Officials determined opening the bypass tubes at the Glen Canyon Dam would have reduced the elevation of Lake Powell on the Utah-Arizona border by about 2 feet — contrary to actions taken over the summer to boost the lake by releasing water upstream and ensure the dam can generate power.
Any more time spent below 3,525 feet above sea level is considered risky, Lee Traynham, a program manager for the Bureau of Reclamation, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
The agency also cited the potential effects of releasing warmer water, the risk of non-native fish moving below the dam and projected losses in hydropower. The Western Area Power Administration already has been struggling to keep up with demand.
Controlled floods have been called off before. In 2015, the Bureau of Reclamation decided against one because it was trying to stop the spread of invasive fish.
Controlled floods are supposed to mimic the natural flow of the river before it was dammed to create Lake Powell in the 1960s. The floods have worked as intended, but the results are short-lived.
The most recent controlled flood occurred in the fall of 2018.
Canada lynx to keep species protections under legal deal
BILLINGS — U.S. wildlife officials have agreed to keep federal protections in place for the snow-loving Canada lynx, under a court settlement approved Nov. 1 by a judge in Montana.
The settlement by the U.S. Interior Department comes after wildlife advocates sued to retain protections for the rare and elusive wild cats, which have been listed as a threatened species since 2000.
Under the Trump administration, officials said lynx had recovered in some areas and protections were no longer needed.
Independent scientists and wildlife advocates warned climate change could undo that progress by reducing lynx habitat and the availability of a key food source — snowshoe hares.
Canada lynx are about the size of bobcats, but with huge paws to help them navigate deep snow. There is no reliable estimate of their population. That has left officials to rely on information about lynx habitat and hare populations to gauge the species’ status.
Their protected status has interrupted numerous logging and road-building projects on federal lands, frustrating industry groups and Western lawmakers.
The animals also are found in Colorado, Maine, Montana, Minnesota, Idaho, Washington state and occasionally Michigan.
A new recovery plan for lynx is due by 2024 under the terms of the deal approved Monday by U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula, Montana.
GOP leader pushing to protect Kansas workers refusing shots
TOPEKA — A top Republican lawmaker pushed on Nov. 9 to protect Kansas workers’ ability to claim religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccine mandates and to provide unemployment benefits if they won’t get inoculated.
Senate President Ty Masterson outlined his proposals during a meeting of a joint legislative committee looking for ways for Kansas to resist COVID-19 vaccine mandates imposed by President Joe Biden. The committee was expected to take up Masterson’s proposals.
Masterson told reporters that he’s more seriously considering having lawmakers call themselves into special session to consider such proposals. The full GOP-controlled legislature isn’t scheduled to reconvene until January.
Masterson, an Andover Republican, said he wants to make sure that employers can’t second-guess the beliefs of workers seeking religious exemptions to vaccine mandates.
Other Republicans have raised the issue of unemployment benefits for people who get fired for refusing to get vaccinated. State law is not clear, and Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly has said decisions will be made case by case.
Kelly first expressed her opposition to the Democratic president’s mandates in early November but hasn’t yet advocated specific state policies.
State considers hourly $15 minimum for state workers
SANTA FE — Momentum appears to be building behind proposals to lift minimum pay in New Mexico state government to $15 an hour for at least 1,200 public workers who make less than that, amid a state budget surplus and national trends toward higher wages.
State Personnel Office Director Ricky Serna confirmed on Nov. 5 that efforts are underway to increase bottom-tier salaries and boost overall state government payroll for rank-and-file employees at executive agencies. His agency oversees compensation guidelines for nearly 17,000 employees at executive agencies, with an $870 million annual payroll.
At a legislative hearing in late October, Serna outlined preliminary targets, including a $15-per-hour minimum and a 7% increase in annual payroll. Those estimates are for pay at executive agencies overseen by the governor and other elected officials such as the state attorney general, auditor and treasurer.
The $10.50 statewide minimum wage for all sectors of the economy steps up to $11.50 on Jan. 1, 2022.
Salaries have surged among many political appointees in the upper echelons of state government since Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham took office in 2019. At the same time, legislators have scaled back annual pay increases for rank-and-file workers in permanent state jobs since the outset of the coronavirus pandemic.
Democratic state Rep. Patricia Lundstrom of Gallup, chairwoman of the Legislature’s lead budget writing committee, said New Mexico is having trouble recruiting and retaining public workers on the low end of the pay scale — wasting resources in the process.
New Mexico government salaries lost ground to private-sector competition in the decade following the mortgage lending crisis and Great Recession, from 2008-2017, according to the Legislature’s budget and accountability office.
UNM disenrolling 256 students for shirking vaccine mandate
ALBUQUERQUE — The University of New Mexico is disenrolling 256 students from classes for not complying with university’s requirement for vaccination against COVID-19.
University spokeswoman Cinnamon Blair said the students being disenrolled took no action to comply with the requirement by the Nov. 5 deadline despite receiving daily messages for more than a month, the Albuquerque Journal reported.
Under the requirement, students must show proof of vaccination or acquire an exemption for medical or religious reasons or only take remote-study classes off campus.
Exempted students on campus are required to submit weekly COVID-19 tests to the UNM vaccine verification site. For the fall semester only, students who have not been vaccinated or exempted are permitted to remain at UNM if they submit weekly COVID-19 tests results.
UNM’s online vaccination site shows 92.2% of students on the Albuquerque campus have been vaccinated and that 91.8% of students throughout the university system are vaccinated.
Blair said disenrolled students do not have to return financial aid received during the fall term, but disenrollment may affect their chances to get aid in the future.
In another development, the Las Cruces school district has seen a big spike in COVID-19 cases among students and staff after several weeks of steady increases, totaling over 900 cases since classes began on Aug. 9, the Las Cruces Sun-News reported.
The district had 194 new cases in the week ending Nov. 4, almost four time the weekly numbers through early October.