April 2020 eNews

New Mexico Universities Produced Water Synthesis Project

By Robert Sabie, Jr., NM WRRI Research Scientist and Sam Fernald NM WRRI Director

In January of this year, NM WRRI coordinated the launch of a project with researchers at New Mexico State University (NMSU), New Mexico Tech (NMT), and the University of New Mexico (UNM) to synthesize information on produced water science and management. This collaborative New Mexico Universities Produced Water Synthesis Project (NMUPWSP) is funded through state appropriations for a statewide water assessment. The overall goal of the project is to bring together experts in the areas of treatment technology, geochemistry, seismology, hydrogeology, policy, data management and analysis, stakeholder engagement, and system science to provide an independent understanding of the broad implications of produced water management decisions. The project is expected to continue for four years, contingent upon funding.

Oil and gas production yields the byproduct produced water, which often contains numerous chemicals both from the weathering of the geologic formation the water is in contact with and from the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. For every barrel of oil extracted, between 2 and 10 barrels of produced water also are extracted. Historically, the water was pumped back into deep saltwater disposal wells, but in recent years, advancements in treatment technologies are providing opportunities for reusing the produced water.

The currently funded projects of the NMUPWSP will further examine: treatment technologies used for economically treating produced water; toxicity of produced water in New Mexico; current trends in volumes of produced water; surface deformation and increasing seismicity related to injection well disposal; the legal and regulatory implications of the recent Produced Water Act; assessment of current available data; and, the use of a hybrid spatial system dynamics model to understand the interconnections within produced water management. NMUPWSP will work hand in hand with the New Mexico Produced Water Research Consortium, an effort led by NMSU and the NM Environment Department that is focused on produced water reuse outside of the oilfields and that will include funding from public and private sources. The oil and gas industry changes rapidly. NMUPWSP will consider fluctuations in the industry as part of our efforts to understand the complex nature of produced water management.

The March eNews from NM WRRI featured an article about the NM Tech work on induced seismicity.  This month’s eNews includes a meet the researcher piece on Stephanie Russo Baca who is involved in the legal assessment of the Produced Water Act.  We will continue to profile the NMUPWSP projects in future issues of eNews.

April 2020 eNews

Meet the Researcher, Stephanie Russo Baca, Staff Attorney & Ombudsman Program Director, Utton Transboundary Resources Center

By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

Stephanie Russo Baca is currently the staff attorney and Ombudsman Program Director at the Utton Transboundary Resources Center located at the University of New Mexico (UNM) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In both of the roles that Russo Baca fulfills, her mission is to support and represent her constituents in a fair and unbiased manner. As the Ombudsman Program Director, Stephanie guides the activities of the Joe M. Stell Ombudsman Program, which is a statewide program that provides impartial adjudication information and procedural guidance to unrepresented water right claimants in the State of New Mexico. Stephanie specified that because the Utton Center is a neutral research and public service program funded through the State of New Mexico, she is able to engage and collaborate freely with both rural and urban communities including acequia associations, county and municipal governments, non-profits, federal and state governmental entities, non-governmental organizations, and New Mexico State Legislature. Russo Baca partners with local community leaders in order to provide the best guidance and research education possible to New Mexico citizens. This approach allows her to gauge community need, and help them to evaluate their own unique situation.

Stephanie earned her BA in Environmental Studies with an emphasis in Agroecology in 2007 from Prescott College in Prescott, Arizona. She received her JD in 2017 from UNM’s School of Law in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and upon graduation received the Dean’s Award for her outstanding academic performance. She takes great pride in holding both Indian Law, and Natural Resources and Environmental Law Certificates from UNM.

During the early years of her working career, Stephanie held many distinguished positions including outreach coordinator and educator for Hawks Aloft, Inc. (2008), constituent liaison and district intern coordinator for New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District of the U.S. House of Representatives (2009), and constituent services and field representative/statewide intern coordinator for U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (2013). She then became a research assistant for the Utton Center in 2015 where she had the opportunity to study abroad and explore Europe with UNM’s Madrid Summer Law Institute Program. Along with her research assistant duties, Stephanie also held a legal extern position for the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions (2015) and then transitioned to a judicial clerk for the Pueblo of Isleta Appellate Court (2016). In 2017, she was given a paralegal position at the Utton Center, which led to a position with Barncastle Law Firm as an Associate Attorney from 2017 to 2018. Stephanie rejoined the staff in her current roles at the Utton Center in the fall of 2018, filling a position that was vacant for many years after the previous ombudsman retired. As a relatively new hire, she has been working to establish herself among the Utton Center staff as a knowledgeable resource by performing extensive outreach around New Mexico and gaining a positive reputation throughout local communities.

Recently, the Utton Center received a grant from the McCune Charitable Foundation for a duration of five to six months to assist in discovering new information regarding the Taos Pueblo Water Rights Settlement. According to Russo Baca, this settlement was developed through multi-party negotiations beginning in 1989 between the vast majority of water users in the Taos Valley. These members consist of the Taos Pueblo, the State of New Mexico, the Taos Valley Acequia Association (made up of 55-member acequias), the Town of Taos, El Prado Water and Sanitation District, and the 12 Taos-area Mutual Domestic Water Consumer Associations to settle Taos Pueblo’s water rights claims to the Rio Hondo and Rio Pueblo de Taos stream systems. The funds received by the Utton Center through this grant will be used to develop an educational outreach program regarding the settlement process and provide community members with related resources, including but not limited to upgrading the rural water system as a cohesive community for conservation and water protection.

At the moment, Stephanie is working with her two research assistants, Sarah McLain and Ambrose Kupfer, on a research project funded by the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI) on the HB 546 Fluid Oil & Gas Waste Act commonly known as the “Produced Water Act.” Stephanie states that their project entitled, Analysis of the Relationship between Current Regulatory and Legal Frameworks and the “Produced Water Act”, will analyze the current legal and regulatory frameworks of produced water management in the State of New Mexico, and focus on multifaceted regulation, including current federal laws and programs. The main objectives of their research will discuss the legal and regulatory aspects of produced water, such as ownership, water rights, liability, standard practices, and how the Produced Water Act affects current regulations. Russo Baca and her colleagues are also anticipating to include a review of what additional regulatory clarity may be required in order to beneficially reuse produced water.

Although the produced water research project initiates Stephanie’s involvement with NM WRRI, she wanted to recognize the established relationship between the Utton Center and the Institute. NM WRRI, through its Faculty Water Research Grant Program, has supported several water-related research projects led by Adrian Oglesby, who is the current director at the Utton Center. His final report was entitled, Water Resilience in a time of uncertainty. How Can Our Water Laws and Policies Better Support Water Resilience?, which identified law and policy options for best water management practices.

Russo Baca has contributed to UNM’S Tribal Law Journal as a credited staff member and editor, and has written articles for the Utton Center’s publication, Water Matters!. She also participates in several educational seminars to provide fundamental research information to the communities of New Mexico. She has presented on water law issues for Continuing Legal Education courses, and strives to provide exceptional services and instruction to all the people of New Mexico. Stephanie is an involved member of the Natural Resource and Environmental Law Program Committee at the UNM School of Law, and an active participant in the Rios Unidos Coalition provided through the Utton Center. She was additionally elected to the board of directors for the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District (MRGCD) in June 2019 as Director Position No.5 for Valencia County. The MRGCD has been considered to be the sister agency to the Elephant Butte Irrigation district, and is responsible for river flood control in the middle Rio Grande Valley. They encourage responsible water management, environment and wildlife protection, and cooperation opportunities with other local, state, and federal agencies. As a director, Stephanie actively makes policy decisions for the district and meets with her committee on a monthly basis.

When asked about upcoming goals, Stephanie states that she “would like to have a strong working relationship with all of the universities in New Mexico… [and] would like to be one of the go-to water law attorneys in the state to offer impartial legal information.”

April 2020 eNews

NMSU Student Receives NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant to Study Turfgrass Under Drought Conditions

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

Jackson Powers is a graduate student in the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences at New Mexico State University (NMSU). In FY2020, Powers was awarded an NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant for project entitled, Herbicide Phytotoxicity Under Drought Conditions in Warm and Cool Season Turfgrass. Under the guidance of his faculty advisor, Dr. Ryan Goss, the objectives of the project are to (1) determine the severity of herbicide turfgrass phytotoxicity at differing water statuses, and (2) investigate whether these differing turfgrass water statuses effect herbicide efficacy.

In the southwest, drought is a pressing issue for turfgrass managers. Local and state governments often restrict water for non-essential uses like golf courses and athletic fields. This can result in drought stressed turfgrass on golf courses, home lawns, and other public turfgrass systems. Drought stressed turfgrass is not able to provide the common benefits of turfgrass such as increased oxygen production, ambient temperature reduction, and providing low-cost surfaces for activities that greatly improve quality of life in the southwest. Also, under drought conditions, herbicide efficacy can be reduced in turfgrass stands because the plants are not able to perform normal physiological functions. Herbicides are the primary management practice to reduce difficult weeds in turfgrass stands. As a result, it is important to determine the interaction between decreasing water applications, severity of herbicide turfgrass phytotoxicity, and identify the effect of decreasing water applications on herbicide efficacy.

Providing a decision-making tool that turfgrass managers can use when deciding on an herbicide application during periods of drought will benefit New Mexico and regions that experience periodic drought conditions. The information from this tool can be used in determining if herbicide applications will be effective in preserving turfgrass quality by controlling weeds during periods of drought. Local governments, athletic field managers, golf course superintendents, and other landscape managers can use this decision-making tool to effectively manage their turfgrass sites like parks and athletic fields under reduced water conditions. In addition, water use for turfgrass reestablishment or turfgrass recovery can be avoided if the turfgrass stand does not receive damage due to a poor herbicide application decision.

Two experiments were conducted in order to determine the results of the project, both at the NMSU Fabian Garcia Research Science Center in Las Cruces, New Mexico. One experiment was conducted outdoors in the research fields, and the other experiment conducted in the research greenhouses.

One of the experiments conducted in the research field used a Linear Gradient Irrigation System (LGIS) to determine the interaction of precise water use and herbicide application responses. Two warm season experimental areas were established with Bermudagrass. Three unique cool-season experimental areas were established with perennial ryegrass, Kentucky bluegrass, and a mixture of perennial ryegrass with Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue. Four weed species were inter-seeded into each experimental area after establishment, including Green foxtail, annual bluegrass, dandelion, and white clover. Each plot was irrigated on a gradient of applied water through LGIS for two weeks and received a combination of herbicide applications. Plots were then visually rated for turfgrass and weed phytotoxicity, turfgrass and weed quality, and percent turfgrass green cover.

In the greenhouse experiment, Bermudagrass and Kentucky bluegrass were grown in pots with uniform irrigation. After maturity, plants were exposed to four decreasing water contents for two weeks and then sprayed with a combination of herbicide applications. Each pot was then visually rated for turfgrass phytotoxicity, quality, and density.

Initial results show that some herbicides like fluazifop-p require different irrigation amounts in order to maintain acceptable turfgrass quality after application. The results also revealed that one herbicide could require different irrigation amounts depending on what species of turfgrass it is applied to. As Powers explains, “Initial findings from our research have shown that certain herbicides require turfgrass be well-watered in order to maintain turfgrass quality. Ultimately this research will ensure that the environmental benefits turfgrass provides will not diminish under the drought conditions seen in New Mexico.”

Powers plans to graduate in May 2020 with a Master of Science in Horticulture focusing on Turfgrass Science and Management with a minor in Applied Statistics. After graduating, Powers plans on moving to Kansas City, Kansas, to work for a major lawn care company. Powers, originally from Portales, New Mexico, also received his Bachelor of Science in Agriculture from NMSU, focusing on Turfgrass Science and Management with a minor in Business Management.

April 2020 eNews

Student Receives Grant to Study Removal of Lead from Water Supplies

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

In New Mexico, heavy metals such as lead are being released into waterways and groundwater from over 15,000 abandoned mines. Excess lead in groundwater can be harmful to humans, making heavy metals water contamination a serious environmental issue in New Mexico. Therefore, it is important to explore effective techniques to remove lead from groundwater. This is the focus of Jiuling Yu’s research.

Jiuling Yu is a PhD candidate at New Mexico State University’s (NMSU) Chemical & Materials Engineering Department. This year, Yu received an NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant entitled, Wastewater-Treatment Algae-Derived Hydrochar for Heavy Metal Adsorption and Recycling. The objectives of the project are to (1) investigate the effects of pretreatments (oil extraction and CO2 activation) on the adsorption capacity of lead, (2) explore the adsorption capacity on lead Pb(Ⅱ) for waste hydrochar derived from hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL)-algae, and (3) evaluate the feasibility of recycling lead-adsorbed hydrochar as anode materials in lithium-ion batteries.

Adsorption is an attractive strategy for removal of Pb(Ⅱ) due to its low-cost and simple operation condition. Recently, carbon derived from abundant and renewable biomass has been considered as a high-efficiency adsorbent to remove Pb(Ⅱ) in the treatment process. Algae is an ideal renewable resource due to its high-rate growth, strong CO2-mitigation potential, good adaptability in variable climatic conditions, and vast possibility of large-scale artificial cultivation. However, it remains challenging to dispose of Pb-adsorbed hydrochar in a sustainable way. One potential solution is for Pb-adsorbed hydrochar to be further developed as the anode material in lithium-ion batteries.

Hydrochar was provided by Dr. Catherine Brewer’s group at NMSU. Two types of pretreatments (oil-extracted process and CO2 activation) were performed before adsorption experiments. To evaluate the adsorption capacity of Pb(Ⅱ ), a 1000 mg/L Pb(Ⅱ ) solution was first prepared by dissolving a measured amount of Pb(NO3)2 in de-ionized water as the stock lead solution. The targeted solutions were prepared by diluting stock solution with a calculated ratio of de-ionized water. Then the adsorption capacity was calculated using an equation. The electrochemical experiments out using CR2025 coin cells with as-obtained working electrode, separator, and lithium chip in an argon-filled glove-box. The electrochemical performance experiments will continue to be evaluated.

Primarily, Yu and her team’s work may prove beneficial for wastewater utilities due to the potential application of wastewater-treatment algae. Secondly, regarding the effective adsorption capacity, this work provides preliminary data to other researchers who are studying biomass-based adsorbents which will help decrease lead concentration in groundwater. Lastly, companies involved in work with lithium ion batteries could benefit from the results of this project by recycling Pb-based hydrochar as anode materials.

Yu, under the guidance of her Faculty Advisor Dr. Hongmei Luo, a Professor of Chemical Engineering and the Associate Dean of Research in the College of Engineering, presented her research at the NM WRRI 64th Annual New Mexico Water Conference in Pojoaque, New Mexico. Yu received a bachelor’s degree from Beijing University of Chemical Technology in her home country of China, and received a master’s degree from University College Dublin in Ireland. Yu plans to graduate in 2020, and after graduation, plans to continue her research as a postdoctoral researcher.