eNews November 2017

Meet the Researcher: Esther Xu, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (continued)

Esther started her graduate student life working with her faculty advisors on estimating groundwater recharge for the entire state of New Mexico as part of the SWA. She followed the methodology developed by David Ketchum (a recent NMT hydrology MS graduate and NM WRRI-supported student) who initiated the development of the EvapoTranspiration and Recharge Model (ETRM). Esther has been expanding the ETRM beyond the estimates of diffuse groundwater recharge (i.e., rainwater percolating down through the soil where it fell) that it currently produces by incorporating focused groundwater recharge estimates (i.e., water that runs off the landscape and accumulates in washes or depressions where it then percolates down toward the aquifer).

This year, as part of the Transboundary Aquifer Assessment Program (TAAP), Esther is focusing on modifying and applying the ETRM model to the Mesilla Bolson. By mapping soil physical properties such as texture she has optimized estimates of saturated hydraulic conductivity, which is a key input to the model. As an intermediate step, she is now applying the model to a very densely instrumented watershed, Walnut Gulch Experimental Watershed in Arizona, to further calibrate and validate the model output. Once validated, Esther will then apply the model to the Mesilla Bolson. The model output can then be compared with a limited, but extremely valuable data set of discharge from ephemeral washes collected by Elephant Butte Irrigation District in order to estimate channel bed infiltration and the resultant focused aquifer recharge. These improvements to ETRM will greatly improve the applicability of its output for water planning in the face of future population and climate change.

Esther received a BS in geology from NMT in 2016, and a BEng in resources exploration from Yangtze University in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, in 2017. Her interest in statistics led her to pursue and receive a minor in mathematics in her BS degree from NMT, and as part of her MS she is again including a mathematics minor.

Having adapted well to New Mexico, in spite of the cultural and environmental differences, Esther said, “I come from a big city, so the wild nature of NM brings me so many fresh views and enchants me. I particularly enjoy a walk on the streets of Santa Fe, the gloaming view of Bosque del Apache, the sky in NM, and seasons of M mountain.” Esther says that she also enjoys facing the unknown, and tries to live by the motto “Never be ordinary.” She is still mulling her options for the future. “I haven’t decided my future career path – I would either go for a PhD for satisfying my desire of exploring more in my favorite field or find a job to solve interesting problems.”

eNews November 2017

ENMU Graduate Student Monitors Water Quality on the Black River in New Mexico (continued)

The focus of his thesis research is the dietary habits of the Rio Grande Cooter (Pseudemys gorzugi). According to Andrew, water quality along the river may help to explain some of the dietary habits observed, which can help to design and implement plans to conserve this New Mexico state-threatened species.

Andrew says being involved with the water-quality project allowed him to observe and work in a new environment. Coming to New Mexico from growing up in Florida was “an interesting and exciting experience for me, filled with new environments and animals to learn about.”

His first trip to Black River was last fall when his group camped a short drive away from their study sites at a campground in Whites City, New Mexico. Conducting the water-quality research along the Black River allowed him to understand the river system better and to work with other graduate and undergraduate students who assisted.

Andrew says working with Dr. Mali and receiving the NM WRRI student grant opened up many opportunities and learning experiences. Under her guidance, he hopes to apply what he learned in his future career.

“Through the grant, our research project was funded and we were able to purchase equipment to test for different parameters along the river at our study sites,” Andrew said. “I learned about the equipment and tools needed to monitor water quality, which was a new subject field to me.

“Previously, I had no experience with water quality research, but through this project I was able to gain a new skill-set related to freshwater research. This project is long-term and will give future undergraduate and graduate researchers the opportunity to conduct side projects to better help understand Black River.”

Andrew says the grant from NM WRRI and his academic studies at ENMU have given him the opportunity to conduct research and present on different topics including water quality, differences in population demographics in Texas and New Mexico, the Rio Grande Cooter (Pseudemys gorzugi), and his thesis research regarding the diet of P. gorzugi.

“I have improved my presentation skills, field skills, and how to communicate science to others through my coursework, teaching laboratories as a graduate teaching assistant, and from the research opportunities I have led or assisted with,” Andrew said.

“I plan to take a year off after completion of my master’s and get an internship where I can further hone my skills as a researcher before pursuing a PhD in either landscape ecology or wildlife management. I would like to thank the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute for providing the funding for this opportunity, Dr. Mali for guiding me and helping to answer my questions, and the assistants who helped with field work.”

Andrew presented the project at NM WRRI’s 62nd Annual New Mexico Water Conference.

eNews November 2017

NMSU Researchers to Receive National Water and Energy Conservation Award (continued)

“The microirrigation project was self-organized in 1972 under the USDA multistate project umbrella to share the science that advances the development, use, and practical application of microirrigation in agriculture,” Loring said.

The focus of their research was “the wide range of interlocking water-related issues, from plant physiology to soil physics, modeling, irrigation scheduling and irrigation technology,” according to the Irrigation Association website.

In the announcement of their award, the Irrigation Association said, “The group made research directors and USDA professionals aware of the advances in and importance of irrigation technology and application as it influences so many different areas of our economy and the ability to sustainably manage our water resources.”

Manoj Shukla, a soil physics professor from NMSU’s Plant and Environmental Sciences department, is in the research group.

“The award clearly shows that research conducted by NMSU scientists is of high quality and important for the sustainable use of water in water-scarce areas,” Shukla said.

Loring is the administrative adviser of the research group. “It gives me great pleasure to see them recognized again for their achievements. For NMSU, it means that we continue to have faculty working at a high level and cooperating on projects with practical applications and impacts for the people of New Mexico,” he said.

Other members of the group from the past include Mick O’Neill, Dan Smeal and Ted Sammis, all of the PES department. Loring will accept the award on behalf of the group at the Irrigation Association’s 2017 Irrigation Show and Education Conference in Orlando, Florida, on Nov. 9.

eNews November 2017

NM WRRI Hosts Workshop on Powersim Studio Software (continued)

During the three-day workshop, Jake and Len shared their passion and expertise for Powersim and system dynamics in general with the thirteen participants. The highly interactive and hands-on structure of the workshop led participants to an improved understanding of the software and highlighted the use of some of the powerful functions within it.

In response to the enthusiasm shared by the instructors and participants, an online working group between Mindseye Computing and NM WRRI will be arranged to assist in ongoing and future modeling efforts. One of the workshop attendees, Yining Bai, a Ph.D. candidate with the WSM program and who is currently using Powersim to build a physics-based hydrological and water resources management model for the Lower Rio Grande said, “The workshop helped me realize when to use a conceptual model that uses endogenous data to characterize a generic system, and when to use a geographically specific model with exogenous data to address different problems. I am also looking forward to having an online working group where we can communicate our system dynamics learning experiences and ideas with others who share our interest in modeling the water supply.”

eNews November 2017

Researchers Address Water Scarcity: NMSU Joins Others to Study Alternatives (continued)

Produced water is underground water brought to the surface during the drilling process. Treating and disposing of produced water create an additional expense for oil companies.

One of the most relevant findings from the study is that the most feasible use of produced water generated from the oil and gas industry is for that industry to reuse its own produced water, as opposed to using fresh water.

Robert Sabie Jr., a geographic information systems analyst for NM WRRI, said this cost-effective solution would allow freshwater to be reserved for drinking water. “The focus of the project was to understand the opportunities for reusing treated produced water, both in and out of the oil and gas industry, in order to preserve the freshwater aquifers. Different water uses require different levels of treatment to attain an appropriate water quality. If the produced water is reused within the oil and gas industry, or for other uses with lower water quality standards, then we can use the cleaner, fresh aquifer water for drinking,” Sabie said.

Kenneth “KC” Carroll, an associate professor of water resource management in the NMSU Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, said the oil and gas industry in West Texas and Southeastern New Mexico produces large amounts of water.

“One of the things we found is that the water produced with oil and gas can be up to 10 times the volume of oil and gas,” Carroll said. “It could be one-to-one, and sometimes no water is produced, but sometimes it’s a lot more.”

With water shortages in the southeastern part of the state, it’s important that researchers identify alternatives to purchasing fresh water from farmers and to reinjecting produced water into the subsurface as a wastewater.

“Southeastern New Mexico is an area that has water shortage issues and a threatened viability of agriculture,” Carroll said. “Although produced water is a wastewater, it is a large source of available water in a region where water scarcity is impacting agriculture.”

Sabie said treatment technology is improving and it is becoming more common for the oil and gas industry to reuse its produced water. It behooves the industry to do so, as there are high costs associated with transporting, treating, and injecting the water into designated injection wells. By reusing their own produced water, companies are able to use less costly and semi-mobile regulated treatment plants closer to the oil and gas extraction areas.

Sabie was the project manager for the feasibility study, and NM WRRI Director Sam Fernald was the principal investigator. NMSU collaborators included Carroll, as well as Pei Xu, an associate professor of environmental engineering in the NMSU Department of Civil Engineering.

“I’m interested in the environmental engineering aspects of produced water,” Xu said. “We need to find an engineering solution to solve the problem. Produced water is such an important topic for the industry, engineering, municipalities, and regulatory agencies. The goal is to treat the water.”

Xu said the feasibility study was made up of a large team, with each person working on a different aspect of the research.

“My job was to investigate the treatment technologies and the cost to treat the water,” she said. “This is an ongoing project. Right now I’m working with Dr. Yanyan Zhang, and we are evaluating the environmental toxicity of the produced water and the level of treatment needed to reduce the toxicity of that water. Our goal is to ensure the safe reuse of that produced water.”

Carroll’s contributions included looking into how the hydrogeologic or geologic formations vary – how deep and which rocks the water comes from – will affect the produced water quality. He also researched the spatial variability of the produced water quality.

“We mapped the salinity of the produced water across most of the Permian Basin at various depths,” Carroll said. “We found that not all produced waters are the same. Water in some areas can have salinity as low as approximately 10 grams per liter, but produced water salinity in some areas can be higher than 350 grams per liter. And seawater average salinity is approximately 35 grams per liter.”

Carroll took the lead on studying the produced water geochemistry, which is the chemical composition of water in the Permian Basin formations that is being pumped to the surface.

“In addition to salinity variations, we found quite a bit of variability in the type of salts dissolved in the waters,” he said. “We also discovered that a significant amount of water migrated deep into the Basin from the land surface, which enhances our understanding of the water flow behavior in deep subsurface basins like the Permian.”

“Our biggest accomplishment was establishing a clearer picture on the regulatory framework,” Sabie said. “There are three state agencies in charge of regulating water – the Office of the State Engineer, the New Mexico Environment Department, and the Oil Conservation Division. So, we got those agencies together and developed hypothetical use cases for produced water to characterize the ownership, jurisdiction agency for New Mexico, holder of liability, and permitting requirements.”

eNews November 2017

NM WRRI Welcomes PhD Student from the China Agricultural University (continued)

Xiaojie received an undergraduate degree in irrigation and drainage engineering from China Agricultural University in Beijing, and is now working on a postgraduate program in agricultural water and soil engineering. Her focus is on the effects of elevated CO2 concentrations on stomatal conductance, the impact of climate change on agricultural water demand, and the impact of climate change on crop growth and planting areas.

“I’m really very lucky and excited to have the chance to join the NM WRRI team and begin my new joint-training PhD program here. Even though this is my first time to go abroad to the US, everyone in this excellent team is so smart, so polite, so friendly, and helps me a lot so that I don’t feel alone here. NMSU life is wonderful and full of vitality. I will explore the surface and groundwater of New Mexico. I’d love to discover all the challenges and adventures here, and make a worthwhile contribution to NMSU-CAU Water Science and Engineering Joint Research program.”