eNews June 2020

Animas and San Juan Watersheds Webinar Series Attracts Nearly 300 Participants

By Mark Sheely, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

Midway into preparations for the fifth annual conference on the Animas and San Juan Watersheds, the coronavirus pandemic threw the conference into jeopardy. Rather than postpone or cancel the event, the planning committee decided to attempt something new for NM WRRI: a webinar conference spanning the week of June 15-19, 2020. While attendees would miss the opportunity to gather at San Juan College and mingle face-to-face, the Animas and San Juan Watersheds Week webinar series would ultimately allow nearly 300 people to participate and learn about the research and monitoring efforts taking place within these watersheds.

Building on last year’s theme, this year’s conference not only focused on the continued—largely social—impacts of the 2015 Gold King Mine Spill, but broadened its scope to include a wide variety of topics related to the overall health of the watershed. The webinar series began on Monday, June 15 with a virtual field trip of both the New Mexico State University’s Agricultural Science Center at Farmington and Navajo Agricultural Products Industry, one of the largest farms in the United States. Tuesday’s commencement of conference presentations focused on watershed planning and management. Anthony Edwards, a member of the Bonita Peak Mining District Community Advisory Group, moderated a panel examining the benefits of a multijurisdictional watershed coalition that would allow members of the states, tribes, and other jurisdictions to keep their autonomy but work in alliance to identify important issues within the watershed. Wednesday treated participants to presentations on different water quality issues within the watershed including an examination of sediment cores taken from Farmington Lake and Aztec Drinking Reservoir #1, and a summary of multiyear monitoring of dissolved lead concentrations in the Animas River from Aztec, New Mexico to the Colorado state border. The conference webinar concluded on Thursday with presentations focusing on the connection between the watersheds and agricultural activity and the impacts of oil and gas production on the water supply within the San Juan Basin.

A post-conference community teach-in was hosted online on Friday, June 19 in collaboration with the Gold King Mine Spill Diné Exposure Project.  The teach-in included presentations on the continued social impacts of the spill on Navajo Nation from Karletta Chief, Carmenlita Chief, and Shiprock Chapter President Duane “Chili” Yazzie, as well as flash talk presentations from conference presenters with Navajo translation provided.

Framing both the beginning and end of this webinar series was a video produced by conference planning members specifically for the conference entitled, The River Connects Us All, featuring a montage of images of the Animas and San Juan Rivers from Silverton, Colorado to Lake Powell, Utah. Throughout the video the narrator reminds viewers that the natural features of this watershed, combined with the many ways local communities rely on the river, create a set of unique challenges that both connect us, and require us to proactively manage the watersheds for the health of all its residents. Conference presentations can be viewed here, and videos of all five days of the webinar series are available here.

eNews June 2020

NM Tech Researchers Monitoring Produced-Water-Related Seismicity and Surface Deformation

By Robert Sabie, Jr., NM WRRI Research Scientist

Each month NM WRRI is featuring an eNews article describing an individual research focus of the ongoing New Mexico Universities Produced Water Synthesis Project (NMUPWSP). This month we are featuring the research project entitled, Monitoring of produced-waters-related seismicity and surface deformation in a three-dimensional geologic context in the Permian Basin, New Mexico, being performed by Drs. Alex Rinehart and Mairi Litherland and petroleum geologist, Joseph Grigg, from New Mexico Tech (NM Tech) in collaboration with Dr. Ronni Grapenthin, and PhD student Emily Graves from the University of Alaska at Fairbanks.

In New Mexico’s area of the Permian Basin, produced water that is co-produced during oil and gas extraction is separated out and is currently either treated and reused within the oil and gas industry, or reinjected through saltwater disposal wells into geologic formations containing brackish or brine aquifers. These brackish aquifers are deep under the surface, confined above and below by impermeable layers, and under pressure. As the formations are injected with produced water, the pressure increases. The injection of produced water into these formations and hydraulic fracturing near inactive faults has been linked to increases in seismic activity (Kerannen and Weingarten, 2018). As oil production in the Permian Basin has increased over the past few years, so has the need to understand the stress states of the injection horizons to ensure safe subsurface disposal of produced water.

The NM Tech research team is addressing this critical need identifying regions in the Permian Basin with increasing seismicity over the previous one to five years; identifying if these regions exhibit surface deformation using interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR); identifying regions that experience aseismic surface deformation with InSAR; identifying wells undergoing injection operations in the region of interest and over the time period of interest; and, based on the detailed well construction and injection program information developed by other NMT collaborators, constructing a 1:100,000 scale three-dimensional geologic model in the form of a series of intersecting cross-sections of the formations injected in a region of heightened seismicity.

The overall goal of this project is to combine the results with other concurrent seismic and geodetic monitoring research in the region to establish an integrated monitoring program that will allow future researchers to infer when, where, and what volumes of produced waters may be injected and to ensure safe injection operations. This research may also guide future work on seismic risk in the region. As part of her core mission, Dr. Litherland will continue to monitor seismicity in the Permian Basin for the foreseeable future. Cross-sections, deformation maps, and correlations of seismicity to injection wells are forthcoming in the coming months.

Keranen, K.M. and Weingarten, M., 2018. Induced seismicity. Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences.

eNews June 2020

NMSU Student Receives NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant to Study the Potential of Clay Pellets to Treat Uranium Contamination in Drinking Water

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

During the Cold War, uranium mining occurred throughout northwestern New Mexico and across the Navajo Nation. When demand for uranium declined, the mines were abandoned, and lack of regulations and negligence resulted in abandoned uranium mines with large amounts of radioactive waste throughout the Navajo Nation. These unremediated mines have caused uranium contamination in drinking water in northwestern New Mexico and the Navajo Nation.

Treating the contaminated water and providing access to clean drinking water on the Navajo Nation is challenging. Systems like reverse osmosis are impractical due to energy demands, complexities of the system, and costs. Current methods for providing clean drinking water access, include piping and trucking in water, have proven to be ineffective and many people are often forced to consume heavily contaminated water. Thus, for a solution to be effective at solving this issue, it needs to be simple, inexpensive, and accessible.

Solving this problem is the focus of Moticha Franklin’s research. In June 2019, Franklin was awarded an NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant entitled, Surface Area of a Local Clay Material to Elucidate Uranium Abatement for Potable New Mexico Water Management.

Franklin, who grew up on the Navajo Reservation in Toadlena, New Mexico, is now a student at New Mexico State University in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Her research explores how clay material can be used to treat contaminated drinking water.

Due to clay’s cation exchange capability, it can bind and sequester heavy metals in water. Clay is difficult to manage in its muddy state, so a fabrication process has been developed at the Alumino Phyllosilicates Research Group laboratory to produce clay ceramic pellets that do not disintegrate in water. This project aims to enhance our understanding of clay sorption in the various states: powder, pellet, porous pellet. Franklin’s team hypothesize that clay powder transformed to pellet form decreases available surface area. The capacity for clays to sorb heavy metals is directly related to the surface area of the clay sorbent, so the degree of surface area abatement is important. A surface area and porosity probe will identify the best sorbent material.

Franklin explains that those who will benefit the most from this research are, “definitely the people in the northwestern region of New Mexico . . . Even though our main target is people in the Navajo Nation and the Pojoaque Basin, the potential of clay pellets is geographically limitless.” According to Franklin, this novel technology can be implemented in individual houses with any water source, regardless of the impurities. Due to its proximity to the affected region, a clay from Gallup, New Mexico, was chosen for this research and Franklin explains that clays can be obtained easily and locally.

In addition to uranium, preliminary tests have provided sorption results for other heavy metals like lead and cadmium. For all pollutants tested, the resulting pollutant levels are well below the EPA standards for safe drinking water.

Franklin presented her research at the 64th Annual New Mexico Water Conference, and plans to present this research at the 57th Clay Mineral Society Meeting in Richland, Washington.

Franklin says this research has connected her to her community in a huge way. “On the Navajo Nation, we deal with a lot of problems that no one can help with. With this research, it can help alleviate one of the major problems the Navajo Nation deals with.” Franklin plans to graduate in spring 2021 with a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry, and plans to either continue her education or teach.

eNews June 2020

NMSU Student Receives NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant to Study Surface Water as a Proxy for Precipitation

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

Stable isotopes are used for identifying water throughout the hydrologic cycle. The isotopic composition of precipitation is often used for identifying water in aquifers, determining the contributions of groundwater and precipitation to streams, and determining the water source for plants and animals. The stable isotopes in precipitation are different in various locations, but even at the same site the stable isotopes will change seasonally. Due to these differences in stable isotopes, precipitation must be collected in every study area where this type of research is being conducted. This allows researchers to identify the stable isotopes of precipitation at each location.

Collecting precipitation can be costly and difficult, especially in semi-arid, arid, and remote locations. Due to the cost and difficulty of collecting precipitation, several studies have attempted to use stream and river water as a proxy for precipitation. Surface water is more accessible and cheaper to collect. If surface water could be used as a proxy for precipitation, it could save a lot of time and money.

Victoria Blumenberg, a PhD student in the Water Science and Management Program at New Mexico State University (NMSU) is conducting a study to determine if surface water can be used as a proxy for precipitation in a semi-arid, mountainous region. Last year, Blumenberg was awarded an NM WRRI student water research grant entitled, Stable Isotope Analysis to Determine the Usefulness of Surface Water as a Proxy for Precipitation in a Semi-Arid, Mountainous Environment.

Under the guidance of her faculty advisor, Dr. Amy Ganguli, Blumenberg has created a surface water study that will couple with a precipitation study that is already underway in northeastern New Mexico. Previous studies of this nature have relied on networks that often have surface water sampling locations far from precipitation sampling locations. This results in large modeling errors that make it difficult to determine the usefulness of surface water as a proxy. The objective of Blumenberg’s study is to use direct comparisons to reduce the errors found in previous analyses. The study will establish surface water collection locations near the existing precipitation collection locations. By partnering surface water sampling sites with the locations of the precipitation collection, this study can compare the results directly and determine if surface water and precipitation have similar isotopic compositions.

The results of the study could help determine if surface water is a suitable replacement for costly, lengthy precipitation studies. If it is determined that surface water is a suitable proxy, more data can be collected to understand how stable isotopes in precipitation change with latitude, elevation, season, and distance from the coast. According to Blumenberg, the results could add to our understanding of how water moves through northeastern New Mexico. She explains, “This research is intended to provide the last piece of the water cycle puzzle in northeastern New Mexico, so we can help producers develop resilient and sustainable water management practices.”

Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Blumenberg moved to New Mexico from Charlotte, North Carolina. Blumenberg has a Bachelor of Science in Geography with a minor in Earth Science focusing on Geographic Information Systems, and a Master of Science in Earth Science. Her Master’s research involved stable isotopes in groundwater, which is the foundation for the research she is conducting at NMSU. In the future, Blumenberg hopes to work in mitigation of conflicts over water resources.

eNews June 2020

Meet the Researcher, Lani Tsinnajinnie, Assistant Professor, The University of New Mexico

By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

Lani Tsinnajinnie is an assistant professor for both the Community and Regional Planning department, as well as the School of Architecture and Planning unit at The University of New Mexico (UNM) located in Albuquerque, New Mexico. According to Lani, she believes that performing research that directly supports and assists communities in understanding their own water resources is a vital practice.  She also stresses the significance of providing guidance for students who are interested in social justice, community-engaged research, and water issues.

Tsinnajinnie received her BA and BS degrees from UNM in 2007 specializing in Native American Studies, and Environmental Science.  In 2011, she earned her Master of Water Resources degree from UNM, with her final project entitled, An analysis of Navajo nation snow courses and snowpack data in the Chuska Mountains, under the supervision of David S. Gutzler. She went on to acquire her PhD in Earth and Environmental Science with a dissertation in hydrology at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (NMT) in Socorro, New Mexico (2019). Her dissertation was advised by John L. Wilson and Marty D. Frisbee, and was entitled, Do groundwater-surface water interactions increase resilience of mountainous watersheds to impacts of climate change?

At present, Lani is working on two projects with one examining groundwater-surface water interactions in perennial watersheds located on the Navajo Nation in the Chuska Mountains, and the other looking at relationships between streamflow in mountainous watersheds with a focus on snowpack, snowmelt and other climate indicators. Her research is being funded by the UNM Center for Water and Environment, UNM’S Grand Challenges-Water Resources Seed Grant, and the UNM Advance Women in STEM award. To date, Lani has been awarded 16 unique research grants and honors for her work in water resources.

Tsinnajinnie is currently on the water conference advisory board for the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI), and assists with reviewing student research grant proposals.  She has most recently served on the working group for the 64th Annual New Mexico Water Conference, where she provided essential information and direction on the tribal perspectives of water issues in New Mexico.  Lani plans to apply for a faculty research grant with NM WRRI in the future, and is hopeful that she will have the opportunity to assist in collaborating with other water researchers from New Mexico State University, NMT, and a few of New Mexico’s tribal colleges in the pursuit of developing water-related projects.

In addition to being on the NM WRRI advisory board, Tsinnajinnie actively participates as a member in eight different committees, societies and councils. Her most recent memberships include the UNM Native American Faculty Senate as a committee member (March 2020), and the American Indian Studies Association as a council member (February 2020).  Her longest affiliation is with the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, where she has been a member since 2006.

Tsinnajinnie is the author of four refereed publications, and one government publication. Her most recent studies are set to be released later in 2020, and are still in the revision process for the Journal of Hydrology and Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies.  These articles are entitled, Groundwater from perennial springs provide refuge from wildlife impacts in mountainous semiarid watershed, and Hydrostatigraphic and structural controls on streamflow generation in the Chuska Mountains, Navajo Nation, AZ/NM, USA, respectively. Lani has presented her studies at 19 conferences and panels, with her latest presentations taking place in January and February of this year centering around Native American hydrology research. She has additionally participated in ten poster sessions at various annual meetings, and conference workshops.

When asked about her long-term research goals, Lani stated that she would like to become more involved in collaboration efforts with rural and Indigenous communities to assist them in water resources planning efforts via watershed research.  She equally aspires to help in the development of STEM programs to further support Native American students and other underserved minorities.