eNews October 2020

Utton Transboundary Resources Center Completes Analysis on Regulatory and Legal Framework of the Produced Water Act

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, Analysis of the relationship between current regulatory and legal frameworks and the “Produced Water Act,” being performed by Staff Attorney Stephanie Russo Baca and Research Assistants Ambrose Kupfer and Sarah McLain at the Utton Transboundary Resources Center.

The large volumes of produced water generated in New Mexico through oil and gas production every year remain a management challenge. According to the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division (OCD), in 2019, 163,137 acre-feet of produced water was generated. One of the many challenges of managing produced water has been regulatory uncertainty. In order to overcome this challenge, New Mexico passed the Produced Water Act in 2019, formally known as House Bill 546, to provide jurisdictional and legal clarity.

The objective of the completed research project by Russo Baca and team was to enhance the dialogue of produced water legal and regulatory aspects in New Mexico. Specifically, their final report highlights how the Produced Water Act affects produced water reuse, ownership, water rights, liability, standard practices, fresh water conservation and protection, and changes to previous regulations.

The report explains the different roles of the OCD, Environment Department (NMED), and Office of the State Engineer (OSE), as well as the Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) and United States Environmental Protection Agency in regulating produced water and ensuring the protection of the state’s precision freshwater resources. While produced water is currently only permitted for reuse or disposal within the oil and gas industry, the Produced Water Act tasked NMED and WQCC to establish standards based on scientific criteria for potentially using treated produced water outside of the oil field – a topic of much concern and continued discussion. Generally, these standards must protect the health of humans, animals, and the environment.

Another interesting point the report describes is how the Act encourages the oil and gas industry to reuse produced water for hydraulic fracturing, thus limiting freshwater use.  According to the report, “Any contract entered into, on or after July 1, 2019, is against public policy and void if it requires freshwater resources to be purchased for oil and gas operations when produced water, treated water, or recycled water is available and able to be used.” On May 6, 2020, OCD filed an application to amend rules to implement statutory additions to the Oil and Gas Act with a new requirement for disclosing and reporting of water use of all sources of water in the completion of the hydraulic fracturing of a well. The sources of water are classified by four categories: (1) produced water, (2) water other than produced water that has 10,000 or more mg/l total dissolved solids (TDS), (3) water other than produced water that has more than 1,000 mg/l TDS but less than 10,000 mg/l TDS, and (4) water other than produced water that has 1,000 mg/l TDS or less. This information would be helpful for better understanding water budgets and accounting of water use in New Mexico.

Changes to New Mexico’s regulation of produced water based on the passage of the Produced Water Act are forthcoming as the science, technology, and discussions of public acceptability move forward. This report will be made available on NM WRRI’s website in the next few months after peer-review.

eNews October 2020

Water Conference Session on October 27 to Explore the Nexus of COVID-19 and Water Access for Navajo Nation

By Mark Sheely, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

At the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority reported that 30 percent of Navajo Nation homes lack access to piped water service. In many cases, occupants of these homes rely on hauled water as their primary source for water. Prior to strict isolation and contact tracing measures, COVID-19 has spread much faster among residents of the Navajo Nation than among residents of the surrounding states of New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah.

As part of the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed earlier this year, $5 million was appropriated by Indian Health Service (IHS) to support the Navajo Nation Water Access Mission, which includes the installation of up to 59 transitional water points, supplying up to 37,000 water storage containers, and providing up to 3.5 million doses of water disinfection tablets for residents living in homes with no running water access for the duration of the Navajo Nation COVID-19 Public Health Emergency.

Join us on Tuesday October 27, the first day of the general session of the 65th Annual New Mexico Water Conference, for a panel devoted to exploring the work of this mission and the longstanding challenges of water access in the Navajo Nation. This session entitled, Spotlight on Navajo Nation and the Nexus of Coronavirus and Water, will be moderated by Crystal Tulley-Cordova, Principal Hydrologist for the Water Management Branch of the Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources. Presenters will include:

  • Navajo Nation Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty, who played an important role in securing the CARES Act funding for water access
  • To’Hajiilee Chapter President Mark Begay, whose community has faced water infrastructure challenges since before the pandemic
  • Captain David Harvey of the Indian Health Service, who has been coordinating Water Access Coordination Group activities

Following the panel discussion, there will be four breakout options allowing conference attendees to brainstorm and discuss opportunities for tribal communities across New Mexico to build water resource capacity. These breakout sessions will focus on the areas of university research benefits, tribal communities, government agencies, and non-profits. These breakout session discussions will serve as the basis for a follow up workshop in November.

Take advantage of our free registration for the duration of this year’s annual conference and join us for this and many other informative sessions taking place throughout October 26-29, 2020.

eNews October 2020

Crystal Tulley-Cordova, Principal Hydrologist, Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources

By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

This month for Meet the Researcher, we had the pleasure of interviewing Crystal Tulley-Cordova, Principal Hydrologist for the Water Management Branch at the Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources in Ft. Defiance, Arizona (2018). The Navajo Nation is the largest Native American reservation in the United States, and is located in the southwestern Four Corners Region. According to Crystal, the most important aspect of her role as Principal Hydrologist is to protect and manage water resources across the Navajo Nation to ensure Navajo residents have access to safe water. She currently mentors students interested in STEM related fields through the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, and also regularly presents on Navajo Nation water-related research projects.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Crystal has devoted a large portion of her time working with the Navajo Nation COVID-19 Water Access Coordination Group to help Navajo residents obtain access to safe drinking water. Crystal has stated that the primary focus of the group was to develop 59 transitional water points in Navajo communities in areas that do not have a permanent watering point, and to help educate Navajo residents about safe water collection and water storage programs. More information about this effort can be found here.

Crystal earned her BS in Earth and Planetary Sciences (2007), and Master of Water Resources degree in Hydroscience (2011) from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, New Mexico, under Laura Crossey and Bruce Thomson as her advisors respectively. She received her Interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate in Sustainability (2018) under the guidance of Brenda Bowen, and earned her PhD in Geology (2019) under the advisement of Gabriel J. Bowen from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Tulley-Cordova has over 18 years of research and professional experience. She was a Think Globally, Learn Locally Fellow, and helped integrate science curriculum into both elementary and middle school classrooms in Salt Lake City, Utah, and diligently studied as an intern and Graduate Research Assistant for several institutions.

For several years, Tulley-Cordova has been an important collaborator with the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI), and has participated in both the 64th and 65th NM WRRI Annual New Mexico Water Conference Tribal Working Groups. Crystal feels these opportunities have allowed her to thoroughly share her perspectives and ideas to help with conference planning. She would additionally like to express her appreciation to the NM WRRI for their successful Animas and San Juan Watersheds conferences, as they were beneficial to not only her graduate studies but also to her work as a Principal Hydrologist.

In her latest publication for the Journal of Contemporary Water Research and Education (2018) entitled, Navajo Nation, USA, Precipitation Variability from 2002 to 2015, Tulley-Cordova’s research focused on investigating precipitation variability throughout the Navajo Nation. Crystal explains that Navajo people are quite familiar with bimodal precipitation patterns, but this research allowed her the opportunity to study different techniques used to quantify inter- and intra- annual precipitation variability. For those interested in this research, please click here for more information.

In addition to her research responsibilities, Crystal is a Sequoyah Fellow in the American Indian Science and Engineering Society and a member of three professional affiliations, which are comprised of the Geological Society of America, Colorado River Water Users Association, and the Association for Women Geoscientists. Crystal has also undertaken several leadership roles to support her community and has served as a mentor and representative for graduate students of local societies, science fair judge, camp instructor, and has volunteered her time to promote the learning of future researchers at college events within her area.

Tulley-Cordova’s research and expertise has been featured in several media and science outlets, including documentaries, magazines, technical reports, podcasts and newspapers. She has been interviewed for several issues of Indian Country Today, and the Navajo Times. Currently, Crystal and her colleagues have a manuscript in preparation to be published entitled, Stable isotopes in precipitation and associated waters: Recording the North American Monsoon in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah.

Throughout her career, Crystal has been invited to speak at a wide variety of conferences, research centers, and higher education institutions. One of her most recent presentations entitled, Addressing water challenges in the Navajo Nation, was given virtually for the Native Waters in Arid Lands COVID-19 Meeting in 2020. To accompany her official invites, Crystal also volunteers to give presentations on her current research findings, and personal experiences to locations all around the country. At this time, she has offered her expertise to over 50 events.

Crystal has been the recipient of 14 honors and awards throughout her career. In 2017, she was presented the American Indian Science and Engineering Society Graduate Student Poster Award in Water Management, and the Graduate Student of the Month Award for the American Indian Graduate Center. Tulley-Cordova has also been recognized for her efforts by earning several fellowships and travel grants. Recently, she was awarded the Native American Natural Resources Research Scholarship (2018), Cobell Graduate Scholarship (2017), and the American Chemical Society’s Women Chemists Committee Travel Award (2017).

When asked about her future goals, Crystal stated that she would like to be a vocal, and well-informed water advocate committed to solving the southwestern United States’ most pressing challenges in innovative and collaborative ways. She has many research projects in the works for the upcoming year, which will be seeking the collaboration of several federal, state, tribal, and other academic partners. These research opportunities will be centering on a wide variety of topics including a study on desalination, watersheds, and the COVID-19 nexus with water. As a parting message, Crystal would like to emphasize the importance of the Navajo phrase, “Tó éí iiná áté”, which means water is life.

eNews October 2020

ENMU Student Awarded an NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant to Study Reservoir Release Impact on Pelagic-Spawning Minnows

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

The Pecos River in New Mexico is home to pelagic-spawning minnows. These minnows are called pelagic-spawning because they release eggs directly into the water column. As the eggs are released and fertilized, they drift downstream. These fish rely on water temperature and stream flow as environmental cues to initiate spawning; however, dam construction has fragmented the Pecos River and it no longer resembles the historical environmental conditions in which these fish evolved. The effects of unnaturally timed reservoir discharge may interrupt the continuous flow required for pelagic-spawning minnows.

Richard Raymondi, a graduate student at Eastern New Mexico University (ENMU), has been awarded an NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant to test his hypothesis that sustained high flows will negatively affect egg and larval survival for the pelagic-spawning minnow on the Pecos River.

Under the guidance of his faculty advisor Dr. Jesse Filbrun, Raymondi’s project will use a 1,500 gallon stream tank to mimic velocities observed during high-flow reservoir releases and determine if the timing and magnitude of reservoir release is detrimental to eggs and larvae of pelagic-spawning minnows. Plains Minnow specimens have already been collected from the Pecos River and transported back to the Behavior Ecology Lab at ENMU for observation under captivity and to complete spawning tests. The minnows will be fed, separated, and injected with a commercial spawning agent. After spawning occurs in designated aquaria, eggs will be collected using a sieve, counted, and measured. To test the effects of discharge on egg survival, three stream simulation treatments will be conducted in the stream tank using the fertilized eggs. Stream flows for each treatment will be set to mimic a range of flows, replicating velocities directly measured from U.S. Geological Survey gage stations in the Pecos River. Lastly, survival and growth rates in the stream tank experiment will be compared among flow treatments.

The project entitled, Investigating the effects of flow on growth and survival of larval pelagic-spawning minnows of the Pecos River, NM, was presented at the Southern Division-American Fisheries Society meeting in February 2020, and according to Raymondi, will help provide insight to natural resource managers about the potential impacts of reservoir releases on native fish in the Pecos River. As Raymondi explains, “This study will provide natural resource managers information to implement policies that will mitigate potential impacts of management decisions. Water management decisions in New Mexico are inherently complex and should account for the ecological consequences on native fishes. Implementing sound water management strategies benefit all forms of life in New Mexico.”

Originally from Boise, Idaho, Raymondi received his undergraduate degree from Boise State University and plans on graduating with a Master of Science in Biology from ENMU in 2021. After graduation, his goal is to be involved in conservation biology as a fisheries biologist. In Raymondi’s words, “Riverine systems of the Southwest United States are home to some of the most diverse ichthyofauna around, and so I would like to build a career that deepens our understanding of the unique wildlife found here.”