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eNews March 2020

Reclamation Selects Proposal from the Stormwater Coalition with NM WRRI to Develop a Hatch and Mesilla Valley Watershed Plan

By Connie Maxwell, NM WRRI Graduate Research Assistant

The South Central New Mexico Stormwater Management Coalition (Stormwater Coalition) has identified watershed restoration as the critical underlying strategy to address flooding and sediment transport issues in the Hatch and Mesilla Valleys. Vegetation loss in upland watersheds is leading to floods that scour soils and transport sediment, which in turn clogs downstream riparian areas, agricultural infrastructure, and overwhelms downstream flood control infrastructure. Higher flow energies and decreased infiltration are diminishing water storage and supplies across the landscape, negatively impacting agriculture, communities, and ecosystems.

The Stormwater Coalition’s proposal was selected for funding by the Bureau of Reclamation through its WaterSMART Cooperative Watershed Management Program. The goal of the two-year project is to develop a community-based comprehensive watershed plan and prioritize project designs for the region. The group proposed project goals to increase collaboration to improve watershed health by keeping the water and the soil on the watershed through developing local solutions which can be implemented across the region. The planning and project design objectives are to reduce sediment transport, prevent flooding, increase upland vegetation productivity, increase upland flood flow infiltration, and increase water supply through shallow groundwater aquifer recharge from flood flows and stormwater in valleys. The group also proposes to extend its organizational development, increase collaborator development and community outreach, and assemble a diverse technical and stakeholder task force to develop the plans. The proposed project management team includes NM WRRI as project manager and planner, the Doña Ana County Flood Commission, the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, the Alamosa Land Institute, and the Jornada Resource Conservation & Development Council as fiscal agent.

The Stormwater Coalition identified five main issues to address in the watershed planning and priority project design process: 1) degraded upper watersheds as indicated by increasing erosion and sediment transport is the critical underlying issue; 2) water supply: increased variability, shortfalls, and aquifer depletion; 3) urban development expansion from the El Paso/Juarez metropolitan district towards Las Cruces; 4) a need to increase watershed-scale coordination to achieve goals and reduce conflict; and 5) a need for coordinated watershed planning efforts in the newly created Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. The Stormwater Coalition is a grass-roots, non-regulatory group that was established in 2010 to develop cross-agency regional watershed management collaboration with diverse stakeholders for stormwater management and to identify the watershed dynamics that affect its management. The Stormwater Coalition states on their website that because stormwater does not respect political boundaries, it has become apparent that the needs of the region would best be served by a regional watershed management approach. The partners include the regional flood commissions, soil and water conservation districts, and counties within the watershed; the Elephant Butte Irrigation District – the largest irrigation district in New Mexico; the Village of Hatch; and the City of Anthony. Collaborators extend throughout the watershed and includes farmers and ranchers; federal and state agencies; universities and associated organizations, such as the NM WRRI; watershed groups, such as the Paso del Norte Watershed Council; and municipalities.

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eNews March 2020

NMSU Student Receives Student Water Research Grant

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

Isuru Sachitra Abeysiriwardana Arachchige is a doctoral candidate at New Mexico State University’s (NMSU) Civil Engineering Department who is hoping to graduate next year with a PhD in Environmental Engineering. In 2019, Isuru was awarded an NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant for his project entitled, Anaerobic Digester Supernatant Treatment Using Algal Systems. Isuru’s research focuses on enhancing the performance of an integrated algal system that can recover energy, water, and nutrients from wastewater.

Publicly owned sewage treatment plants use technologies designed to breakdown pollutants in wastewater, and therefore maintain the public health and quality of surface water across the United States. However, the treatment technologies used at many of these plants require huge amounts of energy. Over the last few decades, algal-based technologies began emerging as a sustainable alternative to current wastewater treatment.

Typical domestic wastewater treatment plants use a process, called aerobic activated sludge, for removing dissolved organics from wastewater up to the water quality standard required for discharging. As a way of offsetting a portion of this high energy process, a practice used in medium to large-sized plants called anaerobic digestion of waste sludge could help recover about a quarter to half of the energy spent on the activated sludge process.

Currently, the nitrogen-rich supernatant resulting from anaerobic digestion is returned to the headworks of the treatment plant. This practice, however, increases the nitrogen load to the plant, thereby increasing the overall cost of treatment and limiting plant capacity. In response to this issue, researchers have proposed systems such as anammox-based processes to treat anaerobic digestion supernatant prior to recycling it to the headwork. However, most of these novel processes dissipate the valuable forms of nitrogen in the anaerobic digestion supernatant as gaseous nitrogen without any recovery.

Faculty and graduate students at NMSU have developed a novel algal wastewater treatment system which uses a species of algae that can remove and recover organic carbon and nutrients from domestic wastewater for beneficial reuse. With support from the NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant, Isuru, and the team of NMSU faculty and graduate students working on the project, intend to utilize these algal systems to treat the anaerobic digestion supernatant.

Isuru and his colleagues hypothesize that discharge-ready effluent can be produced by feeding anaerobic digestion supernatant blended with primary effluent to the algal system while generating biomass for nutrient and energy recovery. As Isuru explains, “If this technology can be proven for anaerobic digestion supernatant treatment through long-term studies, wastewater treatment plants in cities like Las Cruces with anaerobic digestion will have the opportunity to lower their operational cost by using this algal system while also generating an extra income through nutrient recovery.”

Isuru’s background in wastewater treatment started when he earned a degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Peradeniya in his home country of Sri Lanka in 2016. During his undergraduate program, he studied using sequencing batch reactors for dairy wastewater treatment. In 2017, he enrolled in the Environmental Engineering program at NMSU where he started his work on algal wastewater treatment systems. After he earned his Master of Science degree in 2018, Isuru started his PhD program at NMSU under the guidance of his faculty advisor, Dr. Nagamany Nirmalakhandan. In the future, Isuru hopes to work in industry or academia as a water and wastewater expert.

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eNews March 2020

Meet the Researcher Jesse Filbrun, Assistant Professor, Eastern New Mexico University

By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

This month for meet the researcher, we are profiling Jesse Filbrun, who is currently a third-year, tenure-track Assistant Professor of Biology at Eastern New Mexico University (ENMU) in Portales, New Mexico. He is the instructor of numerous courses including Fisheries Management and Conservation, Ichthyology, and the Principles of Biology: Biodiversity, Ecology, and Evolution. Filbrun is currently mentoring two graduate students and two undergraduate students at ENMU, and has supervised ten other students over the course of his career. While traditional instruction in the classroom can be rewarding, Filbrun believes most students fully grasp how the process of science works through hands-on experiences in the field and lab.

Jesse received his BS in Biology with university honors from Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, in 2008. His thesis was entitled, Quantifying Microcystis spp. in Western Lake Erie and Maumee Bay using Gravimetric Separation and Microscopy, 2002–2006, and his research advisor was Dr. Thomas Bridgeman. In 2013, Jesse earned his PhD in Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology from The Ohio State University (OSU) in Columbus, Ohio. His dissertation was under the guidance of Drs. David Culver and Stuart Ludsin, and was entitled, An ecological approach to feed management in fish rearing ponds.

Filbrun began his research career in 2008 as a graduate research associate and teaching assistant for the Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology at OSU. After graduating with his PhD, Jesse transferred to Ocean Springs, Mississippi, where he became a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Coastal Sciences at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) in the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory from 2013 to 2014. He maintains services at USM as a summer field program instructor for the Division of Coastal Sciences. Between 2014 and 2017, Filbrun was an Assistant Professor of Biology at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia, Arkansas, where he also acted as the department chair for one year. He has been in his current position at ENMU since 2017.

Filbrun has been a part of twenty-four specialized presentations, with his most recent lecture focusing on the Effects of human disturbance on the early life stages of fishes. He is a proactive member in six professional organizations related to American Fisheries Societies, and is actively involved in several university and departmental committees such as ENMU’s internal grants and research magazine committees, and is the Chair of the Biology Department’s scholarship committee. He serves his community by speaking to elementary students during invited classroom visits, judging regional and local science fairs, and by participating in essential outreach activities.

Currently, Filbrun is researching New Mexico’s aquatic ecosystems and the impact climate change and human disturbance has on native fishes that inhabit the river systems. Due to bony fishes having high mortality rates during their early life stages, Jesse has dedicated a large portion of his research to egg and larval production in order to study the future impacts this can have on adult population sizes. According to Filbrun, he has established a long-term drifting fish egg and larvae survey in the Pecos River near Fort Sumner in De Baca and Guadalupe counties. The short-term goal of the survey is to establish a baseline of seasonal spawning activities by native and nonnative fishes relative to environmental variation, and the long-term goal is to monitor climate impacts on regional fish assemblages. To date, he has collected over 3,500 larvae, and hundreds of eggs for his research.

Filbrun’s latest project entitled, Investigating the effects of reservoir water releases on spawning activities of fishes in the Pecos River, has been funded through the Research Grant between US Geological Survey and New Mexico State University, 104B State Water Resources Research Institute Program. Filbrun wishes to express his excitement that his proposal was selected to receive funding, and when asked for further project details, he stated, “there is limited information regarding the timing of reproductive events by native and nonnative fishes in the Pecos River relative to environmental conditions. Thus, water managers are uninformed regarding potential impacts of the timing and magnitude of reservoir water releases on fish assemblages.” He asserts that his study will fill critical knowledge gaps by quantifying adult spawning movements, drifting egg and larval densities, and juvenile survival relative to environmental variation and reservoir water releases. Filbrun ultimately hopes his research will be considered by water managers to select dates and magnitudes of water releases to inflict minimal impacts on reproductive effort of native fishes. He anticipates field work for this project will commence in April through September when fishes actively spawn in the river. Filbrun is additionally supported in his complementary activities in the Pecos River by the Western Division and Arizona/New Mexico Chapter of the American Fisheries Society, and by internal faculty grants awarded by ENMU. His project will span from March 2020 through February 2021.

Throughout his career, Jesse has contributed to thirteen publications with eight being refereed. His most recent work, Quantifying the contribution of zooplankton to channel catfish and hybrid catfish growth in nursery ponds, was published last year in Aquaculture. Filbrun and colleagues published four datasets in 2016 on abundance estimates and morphometric measurements of fish larvae in the northern Gulf of Mexico. He has peer-reviewed articles for the Journal of the World Aquaculture Society, Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, and the North American Journal of Fisheries Management.

Filbrun’s long-term research goals are to make meaningful contributions to the understanding of 1) the role of early life processes in fisheries management, and 2) the resilience of aquatic and marine ecosystems to human disturbances. His main service goals are to contribute training to the next generation of fisheries scientists and managers through instruction in the classroom, professional mentorship, and hands-on training in the field and lab. When asked about upcoming accomplishments, Filbrun stated, “My favorite aspects of my job are watching my students develop as scientists and succeed in their professional careers. I love spending time mentoring students who are excited about science and eager to learn. At the end of my career, I imagine I will measure my success according to my students’ accomplishments, and not by the number of my publications or grant awards.”

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eNews March 2020

NM Bureau of Geology Lands Grant To Study Induced Seismicity

By Kristin Pearthree, NM Tech Staff Scientist

The New Mexico Bureau of Geology, in partnership with faculty at New Mexico Tech and the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, received a grant from the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI) to study induced seismicity in the Permian Basin likely related to injection of produced waters.

Three to seven times as much water as oil and gas is produced in the Permian Basin. Although the reuse or recycling of this poor-quality water is increasing within the petroleum industry, much of it currently is injected back into brackish or brine water aquifers in the subsurface.

“When you increase pressure, you’re changing the stress state within the subsurface which has the potential to induce seismicity,” Bureau petroleum geologist Joseph Grigg said. “That is what the basic physics of pore pressure indicate. We are just trying to understand how injection in New Mexico is affecting the subsurface.”

NM WRRI is funding this project for $24,950 over six months. This is the first phase of a project expected to be an extensive five-year project. This research will integrate seismic monitoring, surface deformation monitoring, and detailed geologic and hydrogeologic models to understand the association between injection of produced waters and seismicity. Dr. Mairi Litherland, manager of the NMT Seismological Observatory, will oversee the seismic monitoring. Dr. Ronni Grapenthin at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks will conduct the surface deformation monitoring using interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR).

“This will be the first integrated monitoring work in the Permian Basin in New Mexico,” said Dr. Alex Rinehart, NMT associate professor of hydrology and lead scientist on the project. “Just simply cataloguing and coming up with relatively simple numerical models and having the seismic and the surface deformation, having all that together – it’s going to be the first synoptic look.”

This grant is part of a larger collaborative project directed by NM WRRI involving New Mexico Tech, the N.M. Bureau of Geology, the Petroleum Recovery Research Center, faculty at NMSU, the Utton Law Center, and faculty at the University of New Mexico. The project is designed to help the state develop the monitoring and legal framework necessary for permitting produced water disposal in the Permian Basin. The project will help companies extract oil and gas and reinject produced waters safely.

The data used in this study is largely publicly available and developed independent from industry. The results of this study will be made publicly available as well.

“We’re providing a neutral look,” Rinehart said, “And so, long term, that means that the regulators will have a base data set that they can use, and there will be reliable information for decision makers that isn’t completely reliant on oil and gas.”