Community Water December 2020 eNews

NMSU publication culminates 10-year study of acequia systems

NMSU publication culminates 10-year study of acequia systems

By Jane Moorman,  NMSU Marketing and Communications

LAS CRUCES – An in-depth study of centuries-old community acequia systems in northern New Mexico reveals why they have been resilient.

Since 2010, researchers from New Mexico State University, University of New Mexico, and Sandia National Laboratory have studied hydrology and cultural aspects of the of El Rito, Rio Hondo and Alcalde acequia systems.

“We wanted to understand the many facets involved in the operation of these systems and what contributes to their resiliency, not just the hydrology,” said Sam Fernald, professor in NMSU’s Department of Animal and Range Sciences. “I think we found out some of those, including the importance of the culture of the community.”

Fernald is the principal investigator of “Acequia Water Systems Linking Culture and Nature: Integrated Analysis of Community Resilience to Climate and Land Use Changes,” a research project funded by a $1.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

All around the world, community-based flood irrigation systems, owned and managed by self-organized farmers, deliver the natural resource of water to sustain agriculture during scarce or uneven yearly rainfall. The New Mexico Acequia Association estimates 640 small-scale systems exist throughout New Mexico.

The researchers learned that the acequia system creates a responsive mechanism for the entire community to interact with the landscape and develop a specific water management approach.

“As the neighbors work together to maintain the ditches, a cultural aspect develops that provides cohesion for the community,” said Steve Guldan, NMSU’s professor and superintendent of the Sustainable Agriculture Science Center at Alcalde.

“We learned how adaptable the system is to respond to the environmental situations. Even if it is a dry year, with not a lot of water available, the acequia commissions are able to keep the ecosystem alive. Then during wet years, they are able to expand and have a larger irrigated footprint,” Fernald said.

The 17 researchers working on the project represent 10 disciplines, including hydrology, natural resources, ecology, water management, agronomy, rangeland management, agricultural economics, anthropology, and global culture and society.

“We had a lot of community support during the gathering of data for the various studies,” Guldan said. “In the early stages, David Archuleta, an Alcalde community member and farm supervisor of NMSU’s science center, gained the trust of the local farmers, allowing us access to their property to perform our hydrological studies. That trust carried over to the social-cultural studies when they were asked to participate in group meetings and surveys.”

After establishing the collaboration between community and researchers, Fernald said, “We didn’t want to just get the data and leave. We wanted to give the results back to the communities that helped us with the research.”

NMSU’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences produced “Acequias of the Southwestern United States: Elements of Resilience in a Coupled Natural and Human System,” an eight-chapter, 90-page publication that reports on the various research findings.

The publication was edited by Adrienne Rosenberg of the Alcalde Center, with Fernald, Guldan, and José Rivera, professor emeritus at the University of New Mexico, serving as associate editors. It is available at

“We are hoping this will provide the reader the ability to look at the whole system,” Fernald said. “It is not just about the hydrology system of surface water, groundwater and the river, but also the cultural aspects of the area.”

The chapter topics include the key concepts of a multi-disciplinary approach to acequias, cultural aspects of the Northern Rio Grande region, acequia ecosystems including surface water and groundwater interactions, role of livestock in supporting the communities, adaptation to drought, and acequia and community resiliency.

“The publication’s forward is by one of the leading acequia historians, Luis Pablo Martínez Sanmartín of Spain,” Fernald said. “He presents the global context of how this ancient system of irrigation has made contributions worldwide.”

The publication was presented during the New Mexico Acequia Association’s annual meeting in December.

The researchers are hoping the publication will be a tool for legislators and policymakers when making decisions regarding acequia systems.

In addition to the publication, scientists with Sandia Labs have brought all the data together into integrated models that set the framework for ongoing studies.

“We have a project on the Rio Hondo to provide data back to the community in real time,” Fernald said. “During our work with the communities, we realized that the acequia commissions could use the models to help make management decisions.”

December 2020 eNews

NMHU Student Awarded NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant to Establish Monitoring Sites in the Upper Pecos River

NMHU Student Awarded NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant to Establish Monitoring Sites in the Upper Pecos River

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

In New Mexico, the Upper Pecos River originates in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and flows through the Pecos Wilderness, Santa Fe National Forest, as well as private and public land before entering the Fort Sumner reservoir. The river corridor contains a historic lead-zinc mine from the early 1900s that has been in the reclamation phase for about the last twenty years. The New Mexico Mining and Minerals Division is currently reviewing a proposal from a company named Comexico LLC that would like to conduct exploratory drilling for gold, copper, and zinc in the Pecos Mountains. As the New Mexico Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department considers this proposal, it is important to establish the Upper Pecos River’s baseline water quality conditions before any exploratory drilling or extraction.

To better understand the Upper Pecos River’s water quality conditions, Letisha Mailboy at New Mexico Highlands University (NMHU) has been awarded an NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant for a project entitled, Environmental Chemistry of the Upper Pecos River; Understanding Natural and Anthropogenic Influences on Water Quality. Under the guidance of her faculty advisor Dr. Jennifer Lindline, Mailboy’s project will establish five monitoring sites along a stretch of the Upper Pecos River. There will be one monitoring site upstream from the historic mine site, two at tributary confluences near the proposed exploratory hard rock drilling site, and two at high-use recreation areas. The project will collect water samples at each of the sites every two weeks from June 2020 to May 2021 and analyze the samples for basic anion-cation concentrations. The data will be used to characterize the hydrogeochemistry of the Upper Pecos River and examine spatial changes in water chemistry.

According to Mailboy, the data and interpretations will be shared with the Upper Pecos Watershed Association to inform their decision-making and restoration activities. This data will help the researchers understand the Upper Pecos Watershed’s natural conditions and identify potential changes due to mining-related activities. The project will assist the Pecos community by monitoring, analyzing, and investigating the degradation factors that impact the Upper Pecos River.

Mailboy presented this project at the 65th Annual New Mexico Water Conference and the 2020 New Mexico Alliance for Minority Participation Virtual Student Research Conference. Mailboy wrote in her project summary, “Projects like these are vital because water is important to New Mexican culture, traditions, place identity, and values.” Originally from To’Hajiilee, New Mexico, Mailboy received her Associates of Applied Science in Natural Resources Management and Environmental Science from the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Mailboy is expected to graduate in the fall with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Geology from NMHU and plans to enroll in their Environmental Geology Graduate Program.

December 2020 eNews

Meet the Researcher, Omar Holguin, Associate Professor, New Mexico State University

Meet the Researcher, Omar Holguin, Associate Professor, New Mexico State University

By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

This month for Meet the Researcher, we had the opportunity to interview Omar Holguin, an Associate Professor for the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences (PES) in the College of Agriculture, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences at New Mexico State University (NMSU). He currently mentors seven PhD students and one MS graduate student alongside teaching classes on sampling and analysis of environmental contaminants, and an undergraduate seminar. Omar teaches other courses, as needed, such as the principle of genetics and intro to organic chemistry. Holguin has expressed that student mentoring is one of the most important aspects of his position, and “it is important to provide an environment where students can achieve their greatest potential while allowing them to become independent thinkers and researchers.”

Omar received his professional education entirely from NMSU. He obtained his BS in Environmental Science specializing in environmental chemistry (2002), an MS in Agronomy focusing on natural product isolation (2005), and a PhD in Plant and Environmental Sciences with an emphasis on mass spectral analysis of plant metabolism (2012). Before reaching his current position as Associate Professor, Holguin served in various other roles at NMSU during his research career. He was hired as a Senior Research Associate at the Center for Animal Health and Food Safety Chemical Analysis and Instrumentation Laboratory (2010-2012), Metabolomics Laboratory Manager for PES (2007-2010), and The Counter Terrorism Chemical Technologies Laboratory Director at the Physical Science Laboratory (2005-2007). Holguin has held several other NMSU administrator appointments.

Omar has collaborated with the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI) for many years. He considers his most significant contributions to the Institute to be in student mentoring and training to use chemical instrumentation. Holguin has been available to provide a jump start for several projects using various analytical instrumentation. At present, Omar advises Sergei Shalygin, a PhD student who was awarded an FY20-21 NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant for the project entitled, Assessment of the cyanobacterial Harmful Algal Blooms (cHABs) and toxins in the blooming water bodies of New Mexico. Sergei’s project aims to detect cyanobacterial toxins in the blooming waters of New Mexico, which can be deadly for both humans and animals. These cHAB toxins have been the cause for alarm since the summer of 2019 when sizable traces were found in the Abiquiu and Cochiti lakes. The outcome of this study is to essentially provide the groundwork for a state/federal monitoring program for irrigation and recreational water bodies currently absent from New Mexico.

In addition to assisting in Sergei’s work, Omar and his colleagues are currently investigating how they can produce and use co-products found in microorganisms and plants. Holguin is passionate about research in this area, and he states that the overall goal of these studies is to help improve the current bioeconomy and make alternative sources of starting materials for other industrial practices, renewable energy feedstocks, or nutraceuticals. Holguin attributes his work efforts in polyunsaturated fatty metabolism and lipid accumulation in microalgae in helping him create significant collaborations with several other organizations. Among those collaborators include the Sustainable Bioeconomy for Arid Regions consisting of numerous partners such as The University of Arizona, Bridgestone America, the United States Department of Agriculture, and Colorado State University.

With 50 published peer-reviewed journal articles and several in review, Omar Holguin’s research is extensive and covers numerous topics related to agriculture, water treatment, biofuel, and others. He has been an invited speaker for several meetings and symposiums including being the keynote speaker for the Summer Community College Opportunity for Research Experience at NMSU, where he gave a presentation entitled, Food, Water, Energy and Environmental Research (2018). One of the more recent studies Omar contributed to was published in the HortScience journal entitled, Nutraceutical Properties of Pecan Kernels Are Affected by Soil Zinc Fertilizer Application (2020). The research investigated the effects of tree zinc fertilization on nutraceutical properties of ‘Wichita’ and ‘Western’ pecan kernels. In addition to his research, Holguin and his colleagues are the owners of two intellectual property patents entitled, Subcritical water extraction of lipids from wet algal biomass (2012), and D. Innoxia Withanolides with Specific Anti-Cancer Activities (2010).

Regarding his future career goals, Holguin has expressed that he wants to make contributions to science that help society tackle current environmental concerns and health disparities. Omar also plans to continue his working relationship with NM WRRI by proceeding with his observations of water quality parameters and detection of contaminates of emerging concern. Outside the NM WRRI program, Holguin mentioned that he and his colleagues will continue their collaborations by looking at how they can make a stronger bioeconomy through improved renewable energy feedstocks, which can identify human beneficial co-products from agricultural and biofuel processes.

As a parting message, Omar would like to extend his sincerest appreciation for the unwavering support he has been given by his family, colleagues, NMSU staff, and students. He states that he has been fortunate to have such a dedicated support system, and their encouragement has led him to be successful in his career and gave him the motivation to accomplish what he has to this date.