‘The government is 100% responsible’: Mayor of New Mexico town with less than 50 days of water left speaks out

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‘The government is 100% responsible’: Mayor of New Mexico town with less than 50 days of water left speaks out
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The city of Las Vegas, New Mexico is facing a severe water crisis, with less than 50 days of water left.

The city’s water sources have become contaminated with detritus and dirt from the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak fire, which raged perilously close to the community in May. Las Vegas Mayor Louie Trujillo says the federal government is to blame.

"The government is 100% responsible for this disaster,” Mr Trujillo told ABC News on Monday.

The Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire stemmed from two prescribed burns set by the US Forest Service, an agency of the federal government, and that got out of control. Ideally, prescribed burns can help reduce wildfire risk by thinning out vegetation that could ignite larger wildfires.

However these two prescribed burns exploded, and destroyed 340,000 acres — larger than the city of Los Angeles and became the biggest fire on record in New Mexico. The blaze is now 98 per cent contained.

Areas that have recently burned can be especially susceptible to erosion and flooding. Floods in the area burned by the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire have washed contaminants into the Gallinas River watershed, where the city of Las Vegas gets their drinking water.

The city now has less than a 50-day supply of water from their usual sources, ABC News reports.

Mayor Trujillo told ABC that Las Vegas will make the federal government “pay for every expense and discomfort that the citizens are suffering right now”.

Last week, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham declared a state of emergency in response to the water shortage, opening up $2.25million to help the city.

“The destruction that continues to befall New Mexico communities affected by the U.S. Forest Service planned burns from earlier this year is unfathomable,” Governor Lujan Grisham said in a press release announcing the emergency declaration.

While these two prescribed burns got out of hand, many wildfire experts believe they are necessary to prevent even more destructive wildfires. Many landscapes, including forests in the western US, naturally burn every so often, keeping wildfires at a steady but moderate presence.

But decades of fire suppression have led to a massive build-up of potential wildfire fuel like downed trees and low vegetation in many US forests. Now, when flames do spark, they can quickly rage out of control.

These conditions are catalysed by the intense drought and heat brought on by the climate crisis. The western US is currently in the midst of a decades-long “megadrought” fuelled by the warming planet — leaving forests dry and primed to burn.

US Forest Service Chief Randy Moore even noted the impact of the climate crisis in a June statement on the Hermits Peak fire.

“Drought, extreme weather, wind conditions and unpredictable weather changes are challenging our ability to use prescribed fire as a tool to combat destructive fires,” Mr Moore wrote.

Despite the heavy “monsoon season” rains that have caused the flooding and erosion around Las Vegas, the region is still facing punishing drought.

Over 75 per cent of New Mexico is currently experiencing “severe” drought conditions, according to the US government’s drought monitor.

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