eNews May 2019

Balancing Point: Renewable Resources and Impacts on Ecological Sustainability – Study assesses impacts of water flow management through El Vado Dam

By Rachel Whitt, UNM Communications & Marketing

New research from a University of New Mexico graduate student looks at the tenuous relationship between preserving one of New Mexico’s most scenic waterways, while also providing continuous access to alternative energy sources.

Suzanne Stradling, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Economics, is conducting a study through a partnership between UNM and the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute, titled Hydroelectric management on the Rio Chama: examining costs and benefits from nonconsumptive flow management between the El Vado and Abiquiu reservoirs. She initiated the research following an internship with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, after which she began looking for ways to make renewable energy more reliable. Stradling says since solar and wind energy are intermittent, hydroelectricity could be the bridge to sustainable renewable energy use.

“Hydropower is the only zero-carbon generation that has the ability to flex to support intermittent renewables,” she said.

The Rio Chama is a tributary of the Rio Grande, and flows from its source in Colorado through the El Vado and Abiquiu Dams in Rio Arriba County to its confluence just north of Espanola. The 50-mile stretch between the two dams is a popular recreation spot for boaters, fishers, and bird watchers who rely on the water flow out of the dam to fuel their hobbies. Releasing more water out of the dam could fuel a more sustainable source of renewable energy, but at what cost to the environment?

“There are serious ecological impacts to flowing a lot of water out of dams in the evening and little water at other times,” Stradling said. “It wipes out beaches and hurts insect and animal populations.”

The study develops a cost-benefit framework by incorporating six dimensions of value associated with the Rio Chama: the recreational value of the reservoirs, the recreational value of the river reach below El Vado Dam, the services and values associated with the ecosystem of the area, the value of hydropower produced by the dam, the impact of recreational visits on the local economy, and the indirect impacts of hydropower generation on availability of intermittent renewable electricity.

“This research looks at our decision-making around the Rio Chama, but it also speaks to the big-picture tradeoffs we’re making any time we make ecological changes,” she explained. “We can’t evaluate policies on their own: we have to look at their impacts on the entire system, and we have to bring in all the stakeholders.”

Using a combination of historical data, statistical figures, surveys and technology, Stradling is creating a one-year simulation that predicts likelihoods based on rainfall, waterflow, evaporation, and electricity prices. She says the modeling process is difficult because it involves assessing river activities and trying to put an economic value to them. That is why she is working with ecologists, economists, and engineers in order to create a survey to better understand New Mexican’s values and priorities.

“I realized that we really couldn’t come to any meaningful conclusions about the value to assign to the Rio Chama’s ecosystem services,” she said. “The data just wasn’t available. So the survey was a natural offshoot of the attempt to understand the value associated with the river. I look forward to sending it out this summer, and seeing what the results show.”

“This work exemplifies research in resources at The University of New Mexico – especially, the real world problems on which students and faculty are focused,” said Janie Chermak, a UNM Economics professor and Stradling’s faculty advisor. “The work is interdisciplinary in nature and considers the social and physical sciences, which is probably the only way that we move forward with our water and energy issues.”

The study is being funded by the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute Student Water Research Grant program, which supports projects aimed at training future water experts in New Mexico. Stradling is one of four UNM students to receive a 2018 student grant. In addition, she received an interdisciplinary research grant from the Bureau of Reclamation, as well as NSF CREST funding though the Center for Water and the Environment, which is housed in the UNM School of Engineering.

“The collaborative nature of UNM’s research community to work across discipline and college boundaries provides our students with the foundations to be leaders in applied research to address the challenges facings New Mexico and the West,” Chermak concluded. “Given that the focus is strongly on New Mexico’s water, this also enhances the student’s ability to focus on regional research and, in many cases, to develop interdisciplinary research that provides an improved understanding of our water resources and of potential policy impacts.”

Community Water

NM WRRI Announces 2019 Student Water Research Grants

NM WRRI received 24 proposals in response to the 2019 Student Water Research Grant Request for Proposals ‒ 20 from New Mexico State University, two from New Mexico Tech, one from the University of New Mexico, and one from New Mexico Highlands University. Funding for 13 grants were made with state appropriations and three grants were made with Bureau of Reclamation-New Mexico State University Cooperative Agreement funding.

Johnson Adio, Natural Resources Management, NMHU, MS; (Dr. Jennifer Lindline)
Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment of the Rio Mora at the Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge, Mora County, NM

Isuru Sachitra Abeysiriwardana Arachchige, Civil Engineering, NMSU, PhD; (Dr. Nirmalakhandan)
Domestic Wastewater Treatment Using Algal Systems in Winter Climate

Alireza Bandegi, Chemical & Materials Engineering, NMSU, PhD; (Dr. Reza Foudazi)
Electrochemical-Assisted Ultrafiltration Membranes for Simultaneous Removal of As, Cd and Cr

Hengameh Bayat, Chemical & Materials Engineering, NMSU, PhD; (Dr. Umakanta Jena)
Wastewater Treatment Using Food Waste Char Obtained from Hydrothermal Liquefaction as a Low-Cost Adsorbent Material

Victoria Blumenberg, Animal & Range Sciences, NMSU, PhD; (Dr. Amy Ganguli)
Stable Isotope Analysis to Determine the Usefulness of Surface Water as a Proxy for Precipitation in a Semi-Arid, Mountainous Environment

Moticha M. Franklin, Chemistry & Biochemistry, NMSU, BS; (Dr. Antonio S. Lara)
Surface Area of a Local Clay Material to Elucidate Uranium Abatement for Potable New Mexico Water Management

Alyssa Latuchie, Economics, UNM, PhD; (Dr. Janie Chermak)
A Survey: New Mexicans’ Willingness to Pay for Produced Water Treatment for Beneficial Re-Use

Kimberly McNair, Biology, NM Tech, MS; (Dr. Linda DeVeaux)
Tracking CRE in the Rio Grande: Determining Correlation Between the Appearance of Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria in Surface Waters and Local Infection Rates

Esmaiil Mokari, Plant & Environmental Sciences, NMSU, PhD; (Dr. Manoj Shukla)
Developing a 2/3D Model for Improving Fertigation Scheduling Under Salinity Stress for Pecan

Srimali Preethika Munasinghe-Arachchige, Civil Engineering, NMSU, PhD; (Dr. Nirmalakhandan)
Assessment of Disinfection Byproducts (DBPs) Formation in Algae-Treated Wastewater for Safer Reuse in Unrestricted Applications

Juliano Penteado de Almeida, Civil Engineering, NMSU, PhD; (Dr. Pei Xu)
Enhanced Water Recovery and Membrane Scaling Mitigation for Desalination Using Innovative Electromagnetic Field (EMF) and 3D Printed Open Flow Channel Membranes

Jackson Powers, Plant & Environmental Sciences, NMSU, MS; (Dr. Ryan Goss)
Herbicide Phytotoxicity Under Drought Conditions in Warm and Cool Season Turfgrass

Madeline Richards, Earth & Environmental Sciences, NM Tech, MS; (Dr. Daniel Cadol)
Modeling Rainfall-Runoff Relationships in Conjunction with Sediment Transport Measurements in Ephemeral Channels

Michael Whiting (Gaurav Jha, student mentor), Geology, NMSU, MS; (Dr. April Ulery)
Monitoring Toxic Metal Uptake by Corn Grown in Agricultural Fields Across Animas and San Juan Rivers

Jiuling Yu, Chemical & Materials Engineering, NMSU, PhD; (Dr. Hongmei Luo)
Wasterwater-Treatment Algae-Derived Hydrochar for Heavy Metal Adsorption and Recycling

Muchu Zhou, Chemical & Materials Engineering, NMSU, PhD; (Dr. Reza Foudazi)
Design of Optimized Produced Water Treatment Units for the Agricultural Irrigation

eNews May 2019

Two Nations One Water: U.S.-Mexico experts work together for water

By Martha C. Koester, El Paso Water

Though the elephant in the room (Texas v. New Mexico court case) loomed large, hundreds of water researchers and experts who converged for the second annual Two Nations One Water summit April 24-25 in Las Cruces, New Mexico, quickly went to work to explore water strategies for managing shared water resources amidst drought, climate uncertainties and population growth.

U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (NM), U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (NM) and U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar (TX) kicked off the conference by thanking the diverse group for collaborating on the real challenges of the U.S.-Mexico border region that include strategies on water management.

“This cooperation is an example of the type of work and good faith negotiations that will be required from all sides to help find solutions in other conflicts,” said Torres Small, who is also a water attorney. “Everyone in this room is here today because you know the future of the West largely depends on one thing – water.”

Referencing a recent agreement on managing the Colorado River, Torres Small said the pact showed that “even when our nation may seem its most divided, water is for working together.”

New Mexico State University’s Water Resources Research Institute hosted the event in collaboration with the University of Texas at El Paso and Texas A&M University.  Ed Archuleta, Director of Water Initiatives for the University of Texas at El Paso, welcomed the diverse audience to the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum.

“This conference is first and foremost about starting conversations – conversations about research and innovation, about management and policy, and about our interdependence, and the need to work not in competition but in cooperation,” Archuleta said.

The unofficial theme was collaboration, and participants jumped onboard. Speakers and audience members engaged on topics such as technologies for alternative water supplies, salinity management and experiences along the border with transboundary aquifers.

The Two Nations One Water Conference drew hundreds to the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum. (Photo credit: Josh Bachman / New Mexico State University)


Context of uncertainty

An important part of the conversation is to accept that there is no new normal during prolonged drought cycles, said Dagmar Llewellyn of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

“We have to start thinking differently about how we plan our water management,” Llewellyn said, encouraging participants to play a game of “what if” scenarios to move discussions forward. “We also need to plan for failure, we need to fund science and we need to act now to build trust.”

University of New Mexico Professor David Gutzler shared that New Mexico is 3 degrees warmer since the 1970s and the state has seen a 25% decline in snowpack, yet stream flows feeding the Rio Grande are not necessarily down.

“There is no discernable trend in precipitation except for high variability,” he said.

With the backdrop of uncertainty, common themes emerged on the needs for improved forecasting and monitoring and incentivized innovation.

Urban sustainability strides

Wendy Jepson, professor of geography at Texas A&M University, urged that water-stressed cities take a proactive engagement to embark on a journey to a sustainable urban water transition.

“The pathway will involve experimentation, technological, financial and institutional operating at a city level in a coordinated way,” Jepson said. “It prioritizes equity and sustainability. We know we have to do this.”

“Conservation has to be key to sustainability,” said John Balliew, El Paso Water President and CEO. “Utilities can be very successful in conservation,” he said, highlighting EPWater’s successful strategies such as rate structure, leak detection and repair, public education programs, and partnerships to improve commercial and institutional water efficiency.

Jeff Biggs, administrator of strategic initiatives for Tucson Water said water supply diversification is essential in the arid Southwest. Tucson, Arizona, once relied almost entirely on groundwater and saw steep declines in aquifers before 2000. Over the past two decades, the city transitioned away from groundwater usage and has seen a remarkable recovery in water levels.

Tucson now relies on a combination of water from the Colorado River, banked water from aquifer recharge and reclaimed water.

Reusing water

Chief among the most buzzworthy of topics was water reuse.

In Ciudad Juárez in Chihuahua, Mexico, the water utility uses reclaimed water to irrigate the city’s parks and gardens as well as crops in the Juárez Valley.

Manuel Herrera, Chief Engineer and Technical Director for the Joint Municipal Water & Sewer Authority in Ciudad Juárez, said Juarenses initially struggled with their bias toward reclaimed water and are now more accepting of “purple pipe” water for irrigation.

Sanaan Villalobos of Carollo Engineers spoke about designs underway for EPWater’s Advanced Water Purification Facility, which will transform treated wastewater into fresh drinking water. When operational in 2024, It will be the first project of its kind in the U.S. to reuse and treat water for direct distribution to customers. The innovative treatment campus will a water treatment plant, a wastewater treatment plant and the Advanced Water Purification Facility.

Salinity and desalination

Several researchers reported on increasing salinity of the Mesilla aquifer, which stretches across New Mexico, Texas and Chihuahua, Mexico. Andrew Teeple of the U.S. Geological Survey attributed the phenomenon to an upwelling of deep ancient marine groundwater.

Plentiful brackish groundwater has spurred interest and progress in desalination as a water source for the region.

An hour from the border, Alamogordo, New Mexico, is home to a brand-new desalination plant that is currently in operational testing. The small plant – part of a drought contingency strategy – will produce one million gallons a day of drinking water.

Some of the Two Nations One Water participants took a tour of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Brackish Groundwater National Desalination Research Facility (BGNDRF) in Alamogordo, NM. (Photo credit: Josh Bachman / New Mexico State University)


Another project generating interest from participants was a proposed desalination plant near Santa Teresa, New Mexico, which has been a bright spot for economic development because of exporting businesses.

Several NMSU engineering faculty members are directly involved in designing the pilot plant, which is envisioned to support communities on both sides of the border.

“There’s a binational potential for water supply both to Santa Teresa and across the border in Mexico to San Jerónimo,” said J. Phillip King, a professor and associate department Head in the Civil Engineering Department at NMSU. However, he notes the political and legal framework may be the most challenging part of the project.

Murky legal system

Gabriel Eckstein, professor of law and director of the Program in Natural Resources Systems of Texas A&M University, Fort Worth, agreed that laws concerning water and governance can be problematic.

“What we have especially in the U.S. is an extremely fragmented legal system in water,” Eckstein said. “It’s very decentralized, and it creates a lot of space for conflicts.”

John D’ Antonio, State Engineer for New Mexico, agreed that the states should get out of litigation.

“New Mexico and Texas are spending millions on litigation, and they are bringing the decision to a special master,” D’Antonio said. “I think there are ways to optimize the system and reach a settlement to manage our water so it’s fairly distributed.”

The state engineer also noted that as New Mexico’s water chief, his scope extends to tribal nations.

“This is a Two Nations One Water conference, but we have 23 other sovereign nations in the state of New Mexico, and we have to deal with their water rights and water issues too,” he said.

Engagement and next steps

The summit drew more than 50 college students from the region. Aside from the panel discussions and presentations, students showcased their research in a poster session, and participants had the opportunity to vote on favorites.  Of 38 posters submitted. J. Ramos-Hernandez of the Universidad Autónoma de Chihuahua received the most votes for his poster on improving water quality.

One of the new features – breakout group discussions – generated additional dialogue and kudos from participants on water themes such as sharing transboundary data, salinity issues in water and soil, and barriers on implementation of new technologies.

“The summit first and foremost brings people together to talk about the common issue, which is water,” said Archuleta at the end of the conference. “Congresswoman Torres Small mentioned that water is basically something we must cooperate on. It’s not something to fight over; we work together. That’s what this conference was about.”

D’Antonio issued a challenge to those gathered: “We now have the tools in place,” D’Antonio said. “The drought continues to open our eyes, and we have to execute.”

– Martha C. Koester is a writer with El Paso Water and former journalist for the El Paso Times, (Salem, Oregon) Statesman Journal, San Diego Union-Tribune and the U.S. Army’s NCO Journal.

eNews May 2019

NMSU Graduate Student Studying Herbicide Phytotoxicity in Turfgrass Under Drought Conditions

By Catherine Ortega Klett, NM WRRI Senior Program Manager

Water management is one of the most pressing issues turfgrass managers face in the arid regions of the world. In response to reduced water supplies, governments routinely enact policies that restrict the use of potable water for non-essential uses. In New Mexico, regional and local climate change impacts may result in increased evaporation, reduced irrigation flows, and decreased soil moisture available for turfgrass growth.

Ornamental crops like turfgrass provide many environmental benefits like soil erosion reduction, increased oxygen production, ambient temperature reduction, and esthetically pleasing and low-cost ground cover for recreational purposes. Herbicides are the primary management tool used to reduce difficult-to-control weeds in turfgrass stands. Therefore, it is important to investigate how to optimize herbicide applications under drought conditions, given that drought-stressed plants may be more vulnerable to herbicide toxicity, and that the efficacy of herbicides may be reduced under such conditions.

This is the subject of a research project being conducted by Jackson Powers, a master’s degree student in horticulture in the NMSU Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences. In partial support of his research, last year Jackson received an NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant entitled: Herbicide Phytotoxicity Under Drought Conditions in Warm and Cool Season Turfgrass. Jackson has been working in collaboration with his faculty advisor, Dr. Ryan Goss, an associate professor in the same department.

The approach taken in this study has been to perform field and greenhouse experiments under controlled conditions. The still ongoing field experiments are being conducted at the Fabian Garcia Research Science Center (FGRSC) in Las Cruces, NM. A linear gradient irrigation system (LGIS) ‒ in which a single row of sprinkler heads is arranged to provide an irrigation continuum varying linearly from none to excessive water with length along a grass plot ‒ is used to differentially irrigate a plot that is also exposed uniformly to one herbicide treatment. For the field experiment, irrigation is scheduled twice weekly to replace the evapotranspiration (ET) losses that occur within 1.5 meters of the LGIS linear array, by making use of local weather data obtained from a nearby NMSU weather station. Five experimental areas have been established, each with its own independent LGIS.

Grasses investigated include bermudagrass, perennial ryegrass, Kentucky bluegrass, and a mixture of the latter two along with tall fescue. In addition, four weed species have been introduced into each plot after establishment; these include green foxtail, annual bluegrass, dandelion, and white clover, based on the high economic impact these weeds have on turfgrass systems in the Las Cruces area. Also, all plots are maintained at a height of 5 cm, which would be appropriate for golf course rough or a residential lawn. The photo below shows an example of a field plot system.

Calibration of cool season LGIS research plots


After each plot is differentially irrigated for two weeks, it also receives a combination of herbicide applications involving a combination of two rates for a set of 14 herbicides. Plots are visually rated for turfgrass and weed quality and phytotoxicity, as well as percent turfgrass green cover along the irrigation gradient up to 60 days after treatment.

The greenhouse experiment is being conducted at the research greenhouses at FGRSC. Bermudagrass and Kentucky bluegrass are being grown to 5 cm height in 1gallon pots with uniform irrigation. After maturity, plants are exposed to four decreasing water contents (80, 60, 40, 20% ET) for two weeks, and then sprayed with herbicide applications for eight herbicides at two different rates. Pots are visually rated for turfgrass phytotoxicity, quality, and density for up to 60 days after treatment. The first trial of the greenhouse experiment was completed in summer 2018, and the second trial was initiated as of April 2019.

The data and results of the first trial were presented at the NM WRRI annual water conference in October 2018. After completion of the trial, it was concluded that two herbicide label rates (maximum label rate and twice that rate) were needed both in the field and greenhouse experiments to determine adequately the interaction between turfgrass water status and herbicide phytotoxicity and efficacy. The second trial of the greenhouse experiment is underway, and data will be available in July 2019. The field experiments will take place in May-June 2019 and August-September 2019.

The methodology used in this experiment can also be used to evaluate certified organic herbicides’ performance under differing water statuses, which can be important for Las Cruces, given the recent outcry from citizens over the use of conventional herbicides. Determining the minimum water status needed for effective use of each mode-of-action herbicide will benefit turfgrass managers in New Mexico and other regions that experience periodic drought conditions. These results can also be used as a management tool by athletic field managers, golf course superintendents, and other landscape managers to determine whether herbicide applications will be effective and appropriate for preserving turfgrass quality by controlling weeds during drought. Local governments can use this kind of decision-making tool to manage their public turfgrass sites like parks and athletic fields under reduced water conditions, and in a way that minimizes the use of wasteful or damaging herbicides. It may also preclude the need for water use to reestablish turfgrass that would otherwise be damaged due to a poor herbicide application. Ultimately, this research should help ensure that the environmental benefits provided by turfgrass will be preserved under the drought conditions seen in New Mexico.

Jackson is originally from Portales, NM and received an undergraduate degree from NMSU in 2017. His tentative graduation date for an MS degree is in the spring of 2020. After graduation, Jackson hopes to pursue a career in the turfgrass industry, either through research or commercial turfgrass management, so he can help ensure that ornamental crops like turfgrass will still be able to provide their environmental benefits under drought conditions in his native state.