April 2019 eNews

Two Nations One Water Summit 2019 Held in Las Cruces, NM

By Will Keener, NM WRRI contributing writer

Water is life. Water is for fighting.

Mindful of these two old adages in the water community, U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small suggested a newer refrain Wednesday, April 24, 2019 at the second annual Two Nations One Water Summit in Las Cruces. Her idea: “Water is about working together.”

Congresswoman Xochitl Torres Small, New Mexico 2nd District, gave the welcome to those gathered for the Two Nations One Water US-Mexico Border Water Summit, 2019, at the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Museum, Wednesday, April 24, 2019.

Torres Small, a water attorney elected to represent New Mexico’s 2nd District in November, told audience members they needed to accept the available science but also be open to new challenges in negotiating solutions. “The best parts come when we work together,” she said. Torres Small cited the recent restructuring of an agreement among the Colorado River basin states to cope with an ongoing drought, as an example of the cooperation possible. “All participating states endorsed the agreement, Congress passed it, and the president signed it,” she said, proving that water entities can cooperate.

Her remarks appeared to resonate with other speakers throughout the day. “We’ve seen how crucial it is to have strong partnerships,” said Ed Archuleta, director of Water Initiatives at University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP,) a 50-year veteran in the water and wastewater field, and event co-chair. “What we are doing here is about collaboration.”

The conference, hosted by the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute, UTEP, New Mexico State University (NMSU), and Texas A&M, began Tuesday with tours at the Bureau of Reclamation’s Brackish Groundwater National Desalination Research Facility in Alamogordo. Another tour was scheduled Friday at NMSU. Wednesday and Thursday presentations and discussions were held at the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum in Las Cruces.

Among the nearly 250 attendees – predominantly from Texas, New Mexico, and Chihuahua, Mexico — are academics, officials from local, federal and international agencies, interested consultants, and border community members. Engineers, water planners, researchers, and private industry representatives also attended. “There has been a clear shift among those interested in water issues,” said Sam Fernald, WRRI director. Emphasis is no longer on whether climate change will occur, but on how to deal with impacts already happening, he said. “That’s the reason we are happy to host this group.”

April 2019 eNews

UNM Researcher Studies Ecological Responses in a River with More and Less Water: Chama River unrepresentative system for natural water flow

By Steve Carr, University of New Mexico Communication & Marketing

University of New Mexico graduate student Monika “Mo” Hobbs has been conducting research along the Chama River and El Vado Dam in northern New Mexico to attempt to learn how the flow of water affects invertebrates and their environment.

Last year, Hobbs received $6,000 to help fund her research titled Ecological responses in a river with more and less water: a case study of highly-managed Chama River, New Mexico as a part of the Student Water Research Grants program through the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute.

The Rio Chama has several reservoirs and dams, including Heron Reservoir, El Vado Reservoir, and Abiquiu Lake that are essential for storing water for agriculture and residents of New Mexico, while also providing flood control services. Hobbs’ research focuses on the Chama River and the El Vado Dam and how that dam affects the physical and biological structure of a stream including the timing, magnitude, and frequency of stream discharge.

“My research integrates elements of biology, hydrology, and geomorphology,” said Hobbs, who is currently working on her Masters’ in Water Resources in UNM’s Water Resources Program. “In New Mexico, the water is more spoken for than it is present. The use of water must be allocated amongst multiple users while also trying to maintain a life for aquatic organisms and habitats.”

Usually, the amount of water released from the El Vado Reservoir is determined by the needs of downstream users, which causes the Chama River to be unrepresentative of the natural flow of water the aquatic invertebrates are used to. For example, decreased water flow can limit the diversity of aquatic organisms. Additionally, certain organisms cannot adjust well to quick and dramatic changes in water flow.

Hobbs’ research project intends to assess the responses of macroinvertebrates in a river with more and less water with the objective of informing water managers about the optimal timing of water releases to benefit both the ecosystem and downstream users. Aquatic invertebrates are a practical and effective means for measuring stream resiliency due to their essential role in aquatic ecosystems and because their community tells of ecosystem disturbance.

“The objective of my research is to consider the potential effects of variable flows on macroinvertebrate communities in the highly managed reach of the Rio Chama by gathering site-specific ecological data to help stakeholders design flow optimization targets and measure the success of their modified flow releases,” said Hobbs. “This research will involve sampling macroinvertebrates and various physical and chemical parameters that may influence the community, and performing a statistical analysis to assist in determining which parameters are most important in driving the community, and ideally what role the current managed flow regime plays.”

Operation of these hydraulic structures often leads to diminished spring peak flows, relative to pre-infrastructure. However, there is actually more water in the Rio Chama overall due to the San Juan Chama Project, where water is conveyed through the continental divide from the San Juan River to the Rio Chama, and eventually to the Rio Grande.

Hobbs’ initial interest in intentional management of water resources to increase benefits to wildlife began while doing field work in Nevada. She participated on a small mammal survey team and could see how a stream diversion, which greatly reduced streamflow, negatively impacted the community of small mammals in the area. About a year into the Water Resources Program, Hobbs was introduced to the unique streamflow patterns on the Rio Chama and the interest of stakeholders to optimize flows for the benefit of the surrounding ecosystem.

The NM WRRI provides support for water-related research through its Faculty and Student Water Research Grant Programs. Funds for the Student Water Research Grant Program are made available through the institute’s state appropriations. The funded projects allow New Mexico university faculty and students to pursue critical areas of water resources research while providing training opportunities for their students.

NM WRRI Student Water Research Grants are intended to help students initiate research projects or to supplement existing student research projects in water resources research. The research grants usually fund expenditures for student salaries, supplies, sample analysis costs, field equipment, travel to field sites, and travel to present results at professional meetings.

“The most exciting part about receiving the grant was knowing that I could actually implement my research project,” said Hobbs. “I was absolutely ecstatic when I found out I received the grant. I cannot thank the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute enough for supporting my research and allowing me to gather data and perform analyses that contribute to an expansion of knowledge about New Mexico’s ecological resources.”

April 2019 eNews

U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission Hosts Binational Conference on Groundwater

By Ashley Page, NM WRRI Research Specialist

The U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission (US IBWC) hosted the Binational Summit on Transboundary Groundwater at the US-Mexico Border on April 10 and 11, 2019. The meeting took place in El Paso, TX at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Desalination Plant’s (KBHDP) TecH20 Center. Attendees were able to participate in a tour of the KBHDP.

The summit-planning group consisted of members from IBWC, United States Geological Survey, University of Arizona Water Resources Research Center, Texas Water Resources Institute, and New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI). NM WRRI assisted IBWC with event logistics by creating the website, running registration and payment, and helping with planning and day-of coordination.

Approximately 100 attendees participated in the event. They represented government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and academic institutions from the United States and Mexico, as well as other transboundary regions.

U.S. Section IBWC Commissioner Jane Harkins and Mexican Section Comisión Internacional de Límites y Aguas (CILA) Commissioner Roberto Salmón gave the welcome addresses and closing remarks for the summit. Presenters shared their perspectives and research related to the following themes: Groundwater Resources: Status and Challenges; Hydrogeologic Assessment; Cooperative Strategies for Groundwater; Data Sharing and Understanding Groundwater: What is working? What is missing?; Watershed Restoration, Improvements, and Sustainability; Hydrogeologic Modeling; and Stakeholder Engagement.

The two-day summit provided an informative summary of the transboundary groundwater work conducted along the US-Mexico border, as well as future opportunities and challenges.

April 2019 eNews

NMSU Graduate Student Studies Optimization of Nitrogen Application and Leaching in Pecan Orchards

By Catherine Ortega Klett, NM WRRI Program Manager

New Mexico now produces over 20 percent of the U.S. pecan crop, and most of that comes from the Mesilla Valley. Pecans need ample nitrogen during the nut enlargement and filling stages, along with lots of water. Since the latter is getting increasingly scarce, there is growing use of brackish groundwater for irrigation. But the salinity of such water reduces the effectiveness of the nitrogen fertilizers, so that higher application rates are needed. This increases the risk that some nitrogen and brackish water will quickly move below the root zone and eventually leach into the groundwater as contaminants. Of course, this risk depends also on the irrigation system and soil composition, stratification and texture, as well as the meteorological conditions of the growing season.

The implied overall need to construct a decision support system for proper management of orchards to ensure sustainable good yields while at the same time maintaining soil and groundwater quality is the subject of the research project of Esmaiil Mokari, PhD student of environmental soil physics in the NMSU Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences. In partial support of this goal, Esmaiil received a 2018 NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant entitled: Optimizing fertilizer application and leaching under abiotic stresses within and below the Root Zone of Pecan Orchards. In this effort, Esmaiil is working in collaboration with his faculty advisor in the same department, Dr. Manoj Shukla.

The approach taken in this study is to combine a limited set of field measurements of water and nitrogen at various depths and times after fertilization, and then to use this information to calibrate model simulations that can extend and generalize the observed trends to gain a deeper understanding of nitrogen balance in irrigated pecan orchards. The model uses the computer software package, HYDRUS, which simulates the movement of water and multiple solutes through soil and includes nitrification and denitrification reactions.

For the current application, the orchard is under flood irrigation, so that the variation of properties occurs essentially just in one dimension, namely the vertical. If needed, such simulations can be generalized to represent variations in two or three dimensions as well. The parameter chosen to track nitrogen is its concentration in the form of the nitrate ion. Although the fertilizers used for the field measurements were urea and ammonium sulfate, neither of which are nitrate compounds, soil bacteria oxidize the nitrogen in the fertilizer to nitrate. Other bacteria can do the opposite and reduce it to elemental nitrogen, which plants cannot use because it is too unreactive. These competing rates of nitrification and denitrification can be estimated and included as parameters in the model simulations.

A specific objective of the research conducted to date has been to demonstrate that an optimized set of solute transport/reaction parameters can, in fact, be found that are consistent with the field measurements of nitrogen transport and transformations in the pecan orchard. Other objectives include determining soil water and nitrate dynamics within and below the root zone, the estimation of effects of water and nitrate variations on nitrate uptake by roots, and the overall level of nitrate as a function of fertilization over two growing seasons in a pecan orchard.  Qualitatively, the investigation also supports the idea that to reduce nitrate leaching, more frequent but lighter applications of nitrogeneous fertilizers are recommended for flood-irrigated orchards.

Esmaiil is in the second year of his PhD program, and he expects to graduate in August 2021.  He is originally from Iran, and graduated with a BS in water engineering from the University of Bu-Ali Sina, Hamedan, Iran; and with an MS in irrigation and drainage engineering from the University of Tehran, Iran. This research by Esmaiil is already accepted for publication in the Soil Science Society of America Journal, which is a very prestigious journal in soil physics and hydrology. Esmaiil has also published other articles in peer-reviewed journals, and he says he’s enjoyed the experience of becoming adept at solute transport modeling. He hopes eventually to obtain an academic position as a scientist where he can continue to carry on with his scholarly research.