Faculty and Student Water Research Grant Programs

NM WRRI provides support for water-related research through its Faculty Water Research Grant Program. Funds are made available through the institute’s federal base grant (Section 104B of the Water Resources Research Act – [Public Law 109-471]) and through state appropriations. These “seed money” projects allow New Mexico university faculty to pursue critical areas of water resources research while providing training opportunities for their students.

When funds are made available, usually through the New Mexico State Legislature, the NM WRRI supports the Student Water Research Grant Program. These awards support the training of New Mexico’s future water experts through grants to university students throughout the state for their water-related research projects.


Outreach and Technical Support

By organizing conferences and workshops such as the Annual New Mexico Water Conference—held each year since 1956—the Animas and San Juan Watersheds Conference, as well as an array of technical workshops, NM WRRI provides a forum to share water research findings, inform stakeholders, and ultimately address the pressing water issues facing New Mexico and the southwest.


Clean Drinking Water Technology

Dr. Antonio Lara and the Clean Drinking Water Team from New Mexico State University establish technologies for the treatment of heavy metals and pathogens from scarce and contaminated water sources, surface and ground, to produce potable water. Investigation results show that clay ceramic pellets effectively treat and help solve the intractable problem of water contaminated by uranium in New Mexico. The technologies convert polluted water to potable water inexpensively and are usable worldwide.


NM Universities Produced Water Synthesis Project

Produced water is a multifaceted phenomenon with complex hydrologic, social, economic, and environmental implications for human-natural systems. To better understand such implications, we need to equip ourselves with sophisticated analytical and computational tools that take such complexities into account. In this project, we will explore the possibility and usefulness of developing a hybrid, multi-method dynamic simulation modeling approach that considers both aggregate feedback and heterogeneous nature of the produced water problem. We will then identify potential questions that could be addressed exclusively by the hybrid method.


In January of 2020, NM WRRI initiated Year 1 of the NM Universities Produced Water Synthesis Project (NMUPWSP) with researchers at NM WRRI, New Mexico State University, New Mexico Tech, and The University of New Mexico (UNM). This collaboration is funded through state appropriations for a statewide water assessment. The project’s Year 1 goal was to synthesize information on produced water science and management. NMUPWSP has now completed Year 1 projects, resulting in the publication of the first two technical completion reports. The project is ongoing and has an overall goal of bringing 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 on regional water budgets.

–(eNews Edition March 2021)

University EffortFull TitleTR #Publish DateAuthorsKeywords
New Mexico Water Resources Research InstituteDevelopment of a Multi-method Dynamic Simulation Model: Exploring Opportunities for Produced Water ReuseTR-3912021-03-01 00:00:00Langarudi, S.P.;
Sabie, R.P.;
Bahaddin, B.;
Fernald, A.G.
Produced Water Management, Hybrid Modeling, Simulation, System Dynamics, Agent-based Modeling, Geospatial Analysis, Cross-scale Complexity
University of New MexicoAnalysis of the Relationship Between Water, Oil & Gas in New Mexico: Investigation of Past and Future TrendTR-3902021-02-01 00:00:00Thomson, B.M.;
Chermak, J.M.
Hydrofracturing, Produced Water
New Mexico Institute of Mining and TechnologyBuilding a Produced Water Budget for New Mexico: Phase I - Database ConstructionTR-3952022-08-21 00:00:00Cather, M.;
Gallegos, C.;
Chen, D.
New Mexico Institute of Mining and TechnologyMonitoring of produced-waters-related seismicity and surface deformation in a three-dimensional geologic context in the Permian Basin, New MexicoTBDComing Soon!Rinehart, A.;
Litherland, M.;
Grigg, J.;
Grapenthin, R.;
New Mexico State UniversityCharacterization of Produced Water in the Permian Basin for Potential Beneficial UseTR-3982022-02-22 00:00:00Xu, P.;
Zhang, Y.;
Jiang, W.;
Hu, L.;
Xu, X.;
Carroll, K.C.;
Khan, N.
Utton Transboundary Resources Center (University of New Mexico)Analysis of the Relationship Between Current Regulatory and Legal Frameworks and the "Produced Water Act"TR-3962022-08-21 00:00:00Russo Baca, S.;
Kupfer, A.;
McLain, S.

Community Hydrology Program

  • Acequia irrigators in northern NM – surface water and groundwater data on the web
  • Ranchers in central NM – soil moisture and forage growth
  • Irrigators in southern NM – stakeholder co-developed irrigation and crop planning
  • Community planners in the Rincon watershed – restoration to recharge groundwater

NM Dynamic Statewide Water Budget model (NMDSWB)

  • Synthesizes water supply and demand information from across NM into a single tool
  • Comprehensive NMDSWB is available at
  • Used by stakeholders to support water planning
  • Providing foundation for innovative multidisciplinary water system models
August 2020 eNews

NMSU Student Receives NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant to Study Soil Water Loss and Capillary Forces

NMSU Student Receives NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant to Study Soil Water Loss and Capillary Forces

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

Soil can lose water through evaporation, percolation, and transpiration. Evaporation meaning water vapor lost to the atmosphere, percolation meaning the drainage/downward movement of water, and transpiration meaning water lost through the stomata of plant leaves. In arid and semi-arid regions, there can be even more soil water loss due to high temperatures and sandy soils.

Ryan Zowada, a Chemical Engineering student at New Mexico State University, was awarded an NM WRRI 2020-2021 Student Water Research Grant to explore how to decrease soil water loss by increasing capillary forces in the soil. The project entitled, Biodegradable Porous Hydrogel Water Retaining Additives Designed to Improve Irrigation Efficiency in Arid Climates, aims to add a biodegradable porous hydrogel to soil to act as a water reservoir. The hydrogel would absorb water during irrigation and desorb water during plant water uptake.

According to Zowada, hydrogels have shown they can improve water holding capacity and crop yields in inferior soil; however, the current cost required to apply an adequate amount of super-absorbent polymers in the soil isn’t very economical. One of the objectives of this project is to make the hydrogel porous, which would reduce the cost proportional to the porosity. The water holding capacity is not sacrificed by using porous hydrogels because capillary forces in porous structures increase water uptake and ease plant access to water. The porous hydrogels will also be biodegradable, which resolves the concerns about current super-absorbent polymers that eventually lose water holding capacity and build up in the soil over reapplication.

When asked about the expected results of the project and their significance, Zowada explained, “We expect to see an increase in water holding content for soils with either non-porous or porous hydrogel additives; however, we expect to see a higher increase in plant available water for the porous additive. We expect to see and evaluate a major increase in capillary action when the porous hydrogel is added to the soil compared to both non-porous sample and control soil. Finally, we expect to see a reduction in economic cost of hydrogel implementation by making 30 to 80 percent of the hydrogel volume air and thus improving its candidacy for agricultural practices.”

Zowada is conducting this research project under the guidance of his faculty advisor, Dr. Reza Foudazi, and plans on graduating in Spring 2021 with a PhD in Chemical Engineering. Zowada has a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering from NMSU, and has experience conducting research on heavy metal removal from drinking water. After he graduates, Zowada plans on continuing his research as a post-doctoral fellow with a focus on water applications.

August 2020 eNews

UNM Student Receives NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant to Develop Smart Sensing Technology to Characterize Aquatic Ecosystems

UNM Student Receives NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant to Develop Smart Sensing Technology to Characterize Aquatic Ecosystems

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

Climate change, drought, and water scarcity are critically important issues in the western United States. Answers to questions like how much water do we have, what is the quality of this water, how much water does our natural environment need, and how should water be shared are vital for the economy, the environment, and the standard of living in places like New Mexico.

To help answer questions associated with aquatic mass balances, mass-energy balances, and, most importantly, water management, Aashish Khandelwal has proposed the development of a novel smart sensing technology called The Navigator. Khandelwal, a Civil Engineering PhD student at the University of New Mexico (UNM), has been awarded an NM WRRI 2020-2021 Student Water Research Grant to work on his project entitled, Development of The Navigator: A smart sensing system to characterize aquatic ecosystems.

The Navigator aims to perform high-resolution sampling of water quality parameters over spatial and temporal scales that are currently unattainable, i.e., at the sub-minute scale and following natural flow currents. Currently, aquatic monitoring is performed by sampling the water that passes through a monitoring cross-section, such as a bridge or a weir. At the monitoring cross-section, grab samples or semi-continuous sensors monitor water characteristics at frequencies ranging from sub-minute to days. This type of sampling, referred to as Eulerian, is widely used but limited. The smart sensing system that Khandelwal and his team seek to develop, with the help of the NM WRRI grant, will feature a solar powered neutrally buoyant sphere instrumented with a GPS tracker and electrical conductivity, temperature, dissolved oxygen, photosynthetically active radiation, pH, and oxidation-reduction potential sensors. The Navigator will allow scientists and engineers to monitor aquatic systems along reaches of hundreds of kilometers. Lagrangian monitoring will allow freshwater scientists to close the gap between ocean and freshwater ecology, which has been overly reliant on Eulerian monitoring.

According to Khandelwal, “The merit of this research will be an increased understanding of mass-energy balances underlying pattern and process of our water systems, and a predictive understanding of the responses of land use changes along river networks. New Mexico can become a hotspot for intellectual, economic, and social development if we focus on our uniqueness to offer innovative solutions to pressing problems on water resources, which are relevant across the planet…The information extracted from those sensors (data analytics) will transform the next generations through access to real-time information, improved forecasting, management, and smarter allocation of resources…Most importantly, aquatic sensor development will empower citizen-based science, which will increase access to difficult-to-collect data, and improve their processing, visualization, and communication.”

Khandelwal, a student in the Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering Department at UNM, has begun work on this project under the guidance of his faculty sponsor Dr. Ricardo Gonzalez-Pinzon. Originally from Mumbai, India, Khandelwal received a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from Mumbai University. After that, he received a master’s degree in Civil Engineering focusing on Water Resource Management, as well as and a master’s degree in Architecture focusing on water sustainability design at UNM. His Civil master’s research was focused on an innovative self-cleaning water quality sensor system (SC-FLAWLeSS) that allows for long-term, semi-continuous monitoring of water quality in fluvial systems. Khandelwal plans on completing his Interdisciplinary Engineering PhD in 2022, and after graduating plans on opening a startup that stimulates water technology innovations and focuses on transitioning research and development. Khandelwal plans to contribute to water-related innovations that can lead to revolutionary technological advances that will enable communities to better satisfy their needs.

August 2020 eNews

UNM Researchers Perform a Quantitative Analysis of Water Used and Wastewater Produced by the Oil and Gas Industry

UNM Researchers Perform a Quantitative Analysis of Water Used and Wastewater Produced by the Oil and Gas Industry

By Carolina Mijares, NM WRRI Program Manager

Each month NM WRRI is featuring an eNews article describing an individual focus of the ongoing New Mexico Universities Produced Water Synthesis Project (NMUPSWP).  The NMUPWSP seeks to support integrated research from different disciplines to show the impact of produced water on NM water budgets and it complements the New Mexico Produced Water Research Consortium led by NMSU and NMED. This month we are featuring research being carried out by Drs. Bruce Thomson and Janie Chermak at The University of New Mexico (UNM).

Dramatic changes in the relationship between oil, gas, and water havebeen the result of increasing development of unconventional shale resources. Some of the more notable changes include demand for large volumes of water required for hydraulic fracturing, increased volumes of produced water, new opportunities and technologies for treating and reusing produced water, and limitations of produced water disposal by injection into salt water disposal wells. It is, therefore, important to understand how future operations will affect water demand and produced water production by the oil and gas industry in New Mexico.

This study will produce a quantitative analysis of water used and wastewater produced by the oil and gas industry. The analysis will also determine trends in the relationship between oil, gas, and water that will identify water related challenges within the industry, and reveal strategies for improved water management to limit the industry’s impact on freshwater sources and limited produced water disposal facilities.

A large amount of data on the relationship between oil, gas, and water has been collected by New Mexico state agencies; however, because these databases are very large and difficult to access, little analysis of this data has been conducted to date. The objective of this project is to use existing data to address three questions: What are the sources and volumes of freshwater used for oil and gas development? How much produced water is generated by the industry, how is it managed, what fraction can be reused, and how is it disposed of? What are the trends in water use, wastewater production, and technological developments that may influence future industry water management strategies?

The New Mexico Petroleum Recovery Research Center (PRRC) has submitted a companion proposal and the PRRC and UNM teams are collaborating on this effort. More details regarding the PRRC proposal’s goals and objectives will be provided in the following months. The research performed in this study will provide a better understanding of the technical, economic, social, and regulatory constraints to produced water treatment, reuse, and disposal. More so, it will identify gaps in water data that constrain industry and regulatory management programs.

August 2020 eNews

Meet the Researcher, Julie Tsatsaros, Instructor/Visiting Associate Professor, New Mexico Highlands University

Meet the Researcher, Julie Tsatsaros, Instructor/Visiting Associate Professor, New Mexico Highlands University

By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

This month we are meeting Julie Tsatsaros, who is an instructor/visiting associate professor in the Forestry Department at New Mexico Highlands University (NMHU). She has been in her position for four years, and currently teaches several undergraduate and graduate courses focusing on environmental science, aquatic ecology, watershed management, surface water hydrology, lake ecology (limnology), environmental toxicology, and applied forestry research methods.

Within her teaching curriculum, she prioritizes integrating knowledge from numerous areas of study (water science, forestry, ecology, economics, social science, public policy, etc.) to give students a well-rounded view of resource management with the understanding that all problems are multi-dimensional.  This is key because in order to provide a sustainable solution to a problem all aspects must be examined and evaluated. According to Julie, she feels the most important aspect of her position is to provide students with a scientifically relevant and progressive educational understanding of the natural environment that will help improve the sustainable utilization and stewardship of land, water, and forest resources.

Tsatsaros received her BES degree with honors in environmental studies from the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. She went on to obtain her MS degree in limnology from Michigan State University in Lansing, Michigan.  She later earned her PhD in water resources from James Cook University in Townsville, Australia. Julie feels her time spent in New Mexico and abroad has strengthened her ability to present her students with real-world examples and practical experiences. Her work involvement with several New Mexico state agencies, nonprofits, consulting firms, and international agricultural research organizations also contributed to her diverse expertise, and allows her to provide her students with actual case studies to assist them in formulating new solutions to natural resource issues.

In addition to her teaching obligations, Julie oversees several master students as a research committee member for the Forestry Department at NMHU, and is also the Graduate Research Coordinator for the Master of Science in Natural Science Concentration in Environmental Science and Management. She is additionally a forestry faculty representative member on the NMHU Graduate Council, and a faculty board member to the Hermit’s Peak Watershed Alliance. Within these roles, Tsatsaros effectively monitors the results of reports, designs new research procedures, seeks and secures funding opportunities, improves student enrollment, increases community engagement, and other vital tasks.

Recently, Tsatsaros served as a faculty mentor for the NMHU Alliance for Minority Participation, which assisted in awarding scholarships provided by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to underrepresented undergraduate conservation management students in the Forestry Department.  Students mentored by Julie performed monitoring and assessment research for a local nonprofit organization on water quality issues in the perennial streams located in northern New Mexico.  This research was used to contribute to watershed monitoring and assessment for the New Mexico Environment Department Surface Water Quality Bureau, and Region Six of the Environmental Protection Agency.

At present, Tsatsaros is a researcher on the Centers of Research Excellence in Science and Technology grant funded by the NSF.  This five-year $5 million grant extends through 2024, and is a partnership with NMHU Forestry Department, the New Mexico Forest and Watershed Restoration Institute, and New Mexico State University’s John T. Harrington Forestry Research Center. While the main goal of the grant is to improve forest health and resiliency, Julie states that her main focus is to help increase NMHU student retention and competency through integrated field-based curriculum and professional research, and help pave their way in becoming future forest managers and researchers.

Tsatsaros’s latest work was published in 2018 for the open access journal Water, entitled, Indigenous Water Governance in Australia: Comparisons with the United States and Canada.  A link to this article can be found here. In addition to her most recent study, Tsatsaros and her colleagues currently have two research manuscripts in various stages of publication that focus on integrating biophysical and social science related research methods to improve coastal water resource conditions.  One is to be featured in a special edition of the Marine Pollution Bulletin in October 2020, entitled, Supporting Community Led Water Quality Monitoring in River Basins Adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. The other was submitted to the Journal of Environmental Management in April 2020, entitled, Improving Water Quality in the Wet Tropics, Australia: A Conceptual Framework and Case Study.

Next year, Tsatsaros plans to work as an Aquatic Ecologist Professor at the University of the West Indies (UWI) in the Life Sciences Department at the UWI Mona Campus in Kingston, Jamaica. Once there, Julie has stated she will be promoting the possibility of extensive collaborations between NMHU, other New Mexico universities, and educational institutions to potentially create new learning experiences and research opportunities for students in New Mexico and the Caribbean. In this regard, she plans to continue providing both a challenging and rewarding education for all her students, and inspire them through motivation and enthusiasm to continue their goals of becoming future resource practitioners and managers.

Tsatsaros’s future goals consist of continuing her current efforts with multidisciplinary student and community groups by assisting with outreach, extension activities, and education to help them identify their ideal environmental outcomes and how to obtain them. According to Julie, she hopes to assist in bridging connections between research, education, professional training, and business expertise to vastly improve social, economic, and environmental issues that are both realistic and implementable.