eNews June 2017

Second Successful Gold King Mine Conference Hosted by NM WRRI (continued)

A poster session was also part of the conference program and included 13 posters. The conference concluded with a panel session on making the community whole again in which the public was invited to attend free of charge. Panel discussion was influenced by questions and remarks that came from the audience.

Following the conference was a one-day field trip that explored various topics and issues in the Animas and San Juan watersheds of northern New Mexico and southwestern Colorado. Wonderful weather, beautiful vistas, and a wealth of information provided by experts on topics such as water quality, agriculture, history, mining, and Gold King Mine site remediation contributed to a successful and educational experience.

The conference planning committee consists of a collaboration of people from the following entities: NM Water Resources Research Institute, NM Environment Dept., U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, University of New Mexico, New Mexico State University, NM Tech, NM Office of Natural Resources Trustee, San Juan Soil & Water Conservation District, NM Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, City of Farmington, and San Juan Generating Station (PNM).

The 3rd annual Animas conference will take place in May or June of 2018.

Click here ( for speaker presentations.

eNews June 2017

UNM Student Studies Effects of Las Conchas Fire on Soil Chemistry

By Catherine Ortega Klett, NM WRRI Program Manager

The 2011 Las Conchas fire in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico has had lingering effects on nearby surface water and waterways, primarily due to the leaching of burnt soils. Such effects of wildfires are typically exacerbated by the fact that the monsoon season follows after the wildfire season. Amanda Otieno, an NM WRRI 2017 student grant recipient who is completing her master’s degree studies in Water Resource Management at UNM, has just published her final report on a field and laboratory study of the chemistry of soils exposed in varying degree to the wildfire. Her faculty advisor for this research is Professor Rebecca Bixby, of the UNM Biology Department. Additional assistance has come from UNM Professor Ali of the Earth and Planetary Science Department and Professor Cerrato of the Civil Engineering Department.

For this study, thirty-two soil samples were collected from the Sierra de los Valles dome within the Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP) in Jemez, New Mexico. Eight samples were collected from each of four different areas classified in terms of burn severity, labeled respectively as high, moderate, low, and unburned areas. The top three inches of soil were collected, and the soil texture type was found to be mostly loamy, containing roughly equal proportions of sand, clay, and silt, although six sandy loam samples, containing less clay, were collected from the unburned area. Equal numbers of samples were taken in winter and spring to capture some seasonal influences.

Soil samples were analyzed chemically by first partially dissolving them in strong acids to produce positively charged molecular fragments in solution (metal cations), and negatively charged counterparts (anions). Dissolved metal concentrations were then determined by inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometry. In this technique, small samples are sprayed into an extremely hot plasma flame, which produces highly energized metal ions which, in turn, emit light with a spectrum of wavelengths that is different for each element and can, therefore, serve as a means of identification. Since anions are often small molecular groups that would be destroyed by intense heat, a different approach, called ion chromatography, was used to determine their concentration. Chromatography involves the migration of charged molecules in a controlled chemical environment.

The research shows that the Las Conchas fire has had long lasting impacts on the chemical composition of soil in the VCNP. Twenty-two metals were analyzed and sixteen were found to be significantly different among the burn severity categories. The majority of differences were between the high/moderate and low/unburned groups for elements: Al, As, Ba, Co, Cr, Cu, Fe, K, Li, Mg, Mn, Na, Ni, Pb, Si, Sr, and V. Cobalt and vanadium were the only two metals showing a significant mean difference among sites for both December and April samples. Lead was one of the few elements to show differences between the high and moderate burns. Concentrations of magnesium and nickel in the low burn severity sites differed from those in the remaining three categories. The presence of heavy metals in particular is of concern for their influence on plant and animal life in these environments. Wildfires simultaneously mobilize heavy metals in the soil that are typically inert and restrained, and introduce metals from the overlying vegetation as ash deposits. Burn severity influenced the mean concentrations of metals but there was no trend indicating higher or lower mean concentrations by burn severity, whereas mean anion concentrations appeared to vary collectively with burn severity. The overall distribution of anions was higher in high/moderate burn areas; however, statistical tests showed that this outcome may have been due to chance. The only anions having a significant difference among the four burn categories were bromine in December and nitrite in April.

Soil is a medium for metals and anions to collect, but may also be a transporter of these substances when a disturbance is introduced into a system. A wildfire will disrupt the aggregate capacity of soils, making them more susceptible to erosion during precipitation events. Thus, burnt soils have a high potential for entering and affecting waterways in areas like the VCNP. Continuous inputs of these constituents may possibly affect the aquatic and/or terrestrial environment. It is therefore important to understand the distribution of metals and anions in surface soils of different burn severities, as well as their interaction with nearby surface water. This study helps to describe some of the long-term changes expected for soils exposed to wildfire, which may therefore provide additional insight into achieving better management practices. The New Mexico Environment Department, the Valles Caldera National Preserve, and the Forest Service are examples of agencies that may benefit from such analyses.

The final report for the project entitled: Characterization of Metals in Soil Contributions to Runoff Events Following Wildfires, contains many tables and graphical displays of metal and anion concentrations for the different circumstances considered in the study. These results can be viewed online by clicking here.

eNews June 2017

NM WRRI Hosts Conference to Prompt Discussion about Evapotranspiration in New Mexico (continued)

Sam Fernald (left), Director of the NM Water Resources Research Institute moderates panel.

The conference program began with a review of NM ET information needs before moving on to an overview of currently available ET measurement processes and modeling techniques. The program concluded with a discussion about specific New Mexico ET modeling efforts. Along with speakers from New Mexico, the program was fortunate to have ET experts from Idaho, Arizona, Alabama, Maryland, Colorado, and New York.

Twenty-five ET conference registrants participated in a field trip immediately following the day-and-a-half conference. The first stop was the NMSU Leyendecker Plant Science Center to view the climate station that is collecting data to be used for calculating reference ET. Dr. Salim Bawazir explained the uses and benefits of the weather station before taking the participants over to his alfalfa study site where his eddy covariance system is located. A local farmer has generously allowed Dr. Bawazir and his students to measure evapotranspiration on his alfalfa field. The data collected from this system will be used to calibrate remote sensing model-parameters to improve ET estimates.

Thomas Schmugge, Sam Fernald, Jesslyn Ratliff, NM WRRI; Jan Hendrickx and Dan Cadol, NM Tech; Zohrab Samani and Hatim Geli, NMSU, coordinated the conference and field trip.

To view conference proceedings, click here

eNews June 2017

Meet the Researcher: Dr. Alex Rinehart, New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources

To date, he and his team at the Bureau have completed estimates for most of the Rio Grande and neighboring closed extensional basins, the upper Pecos watershed, the Rio Puerco and tributary watersheds, the Ogallala Formation aquifers underlying the Southern High Plains, and the Pecos Slope and Pecos valley from Roswell to Artesia. The primary results of this work highlight the importance of balancing groundwater use with recharge. Much of New Mexico has seen large (millions of acre-feet) storage declines in the last 60 years, with some decades seeing storage declines by as much as three million acre-feet, leading to immediate water supply and/or legal concerns. However, in regions where the groundwater resources have been managed at the basin-scale, or where use is balanced by recharge from rivers or mountain blocks, some large aquifers, like the Albuquerque basin, have stabilized or even slightly rebounded.

Alex recently said, “This work highlights the importance of historical and current monitoring of our groundwater resources. Many regions of the state have lost groundwater level monitoring coverage due to funding constraints, and much of the state simply does not have the historical well coverage to perform the analysis. To know where we are and where we are going with groundwater in New Mexico, it is vital to support long-term groundwater level monitoring efforts.”