August 2022 eNews

Secure Water Future Project Explores Western Water Issues in California with Expedition Including NMSU Graduate Students

Secure Water Future Project Explores Western Water Issues in California with Expedition Including NMSU Graduate Students

by Liam Sabiston, NM WRRI Graduate Research Assistant

The USDA-funded Secure Water Future project aims to understand, enable, and envision water management strategies through data-enabled decision-making. The project has partnered with NMSU, Utah State University, and several campuses within the University of California system, including Merced, Davis, and Berkeley. The Secure Water Future project recently held a Climate Adaptation Science Academy Experiential Learning Expedition (CASA ELE) from August 1 to August 7. CASA ELE invited graduate students from NMSU, Utah State University, UC Merced, UC Davis, and UC Berkeley to Merced, California, to experience the processes that drive decision-making on water issues in the semi-arid western US. The expedition sought to inform graduate students on topics in groundwater management, environmental water management, hydroclimatic conditions, and reconciling agriculture and ecosystems.

The group departed from UC Merced, driving east to Yosemite National Park and making stops at Olmsted Point and Mono Lake, where Dr. Sarah Null gave a lecture on the history of the lake and the legislation put in place to protect it. The group stopped in Yosemite National Park to meet with park hydrologist Rachel Hallnan, who spoke with the group and reviewed some of the daily park operations. The learning expedition continued to O’Shaughnessy Dam, where Chris Graham presented how the reservoir supplies water to the city of San Francisco and the daily operations at the site. The next several days involved rafting down the Tuolumne River, where the group gained firsthand experience of the Tuolumne River watershed. The group mentors provided daily lectures on a wide range of topics, including water policy and economics, climate change and adaptation, watershed ecology, hydrology, and earth surface processes. The group then made its way to Dos Rios, a newly proposed state park where a floodplain restoration project is being implemented to return land previously used for agriculture to its natural state. The learning expedition concluded with a final stop at Randy Fiorini’s farm, a local farmer in the Turlock Irrigation District. This last stop allowed the group to see local agricultural practices and better understand how policy, such as the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, affects stakeholders. Moving forward, Secure Water Future plans to host another expedition next summer in Utah to explore processes that drive decision-making on water issues in another semi-arid climate. An expedition will be hosted in New Mexico the following year.

When asked about their experience at CASA ELE, the NMSU students said the following:

“It was exciting and fun to learn through the mentor sessions’ hydrological processes, earth surface processes, aquatic ecology, climate science, and water policy and economics for the understanding of river systems and fluvial processes, in this particular experience, the Tuolumne River in California.” – Sabrina Galvan Ontiveros

“The time I spent conversing with other people during mentor sessions, sitting on the beach, or during lunch breaks were extremely helpful in obtaining effective insights and other’s perspectives to improving research methods pertaining to water management and agriculture.” – Tasnim Kamal Shamma

“It was a remarkable experience for me to see how California is adapting to a changing climate and noting the similarities and differences when compared to the approach New Mexico is taking on the topic.” – Liam Sabiston

“It was an amazing experience to travel to the mountains and raft down the Tuolumne River to follow water and see how it’s stored and used for agriculture in San Joaquin Valley and learn from their management practices how California is working to be a resilient valley.” – Jorge Preciado

August 2022 eNews

NMSU PhD Candidate Awarded Student Water Research Grant for Work Characterizing Key Components of the Rio Grande Compact and Rio Grande Project

NMSU PhD Candidate Awarded Student Water Research Grant for Work Characterizing Key Components of the Rio Grande Compact and Rio Grande Project

by Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Sr. Student Program Coordinator

The current water debate between New Mexico and Texas is complex. A PhD candidate at New Mexico State University, Claudia Trueblood, is researching three important topics related to this issue: (1) water supply of the Rio Grande Project (RGP), (2) Diversion Ratio provision, and (3) D2 allocation curve. NM WRRI has awarded Trueblood a Student Water Research Grant (SWRG) to assist with publishing this research in three separate peer-reviewed journal articles. The SWRG project is titled Statistical Characterization of Central Components of the Rio Grande Compact and Rio Grande Project.

The RGP is a federal Bureau of Reclamation irrigation project authorized by Congress in 1905 and largely completed in 1916. The RGP provides irrigation water to 90,640 acres in Elephant Butte Irrigation District (EBID) in New Mexico, 69,010 acres in El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1 (EPCWID) in Texas, and up to 60,000 acre-feet of water per year to the country of Mexico. Elephant Butte Reservoir is the primary storage facility for the RGP. Caballo Reservoir was added in the late 1930s along with hydroelectric generation capacity at Elephant Butte Dam. Four primary RGP diversion points are in New Mexico, one is in Texas, and one diverts water to Mexico. Trueblood’s research aims to characterize the Rio Grande Compact’s annual credits and debits with water supply level and examine relationships among prior years’ annual credits and debits for the period 1940 to 2020.

The Diversion Ratio is the sum of annual RGP diversion charges to EBID, EPCWID, and Mexico to the annual release from Caballo Dam. It is used in the RGP allocation procedure as codified in the 2008 Operating Agreement among EBID, EPCWID, and the United States to adjust EBID’s annual allocation for losses in New Mexico due to groundwater capture. Trueblood’s second research objective is to develop a statistical model for forecasting the Rio Grande Project Diversion Ratio for an upcoming year based on pre-release groundwater levels, the current year’s estimated annual release from Caballo Reservoir, and the prior year’s release from Caballo Reservoir.

The third objective of Trueblood’s research attempts to reformulate the D2 equation, which is a linear regression that estimates total annual RGP diversions to EBID, EPCWID, and Mexico based on release and diversion data collected by Reclamation during the period 1951-1978, when the RGP was affected by persistent droughts. D2 serves as the basis for annual diversion allocations for EBID and EPCWID in the 2008 Operating Agreement.

Under the guidance of her faculty advisor, Dr. Phil King, and faculty sponsor Dr. Soyoung Jeon, Trueblood expects the results of her research to uncover potential autocorrelations between water available and water delivered by Colorado and New Mexico, to develop a method of estimating the seasonal Diversion Ratio during the irrigation season rather than only at the end of the season, and to improve on the estimation of the D2 allocation curve by including prior year release. This research has significant implications for allocating water and meeting delivery obligations downstream in Texas and Mexico.

Trueblood will present this research at the 67th Annual New Mexico Water Conference and is currently finishing the first manuscript of this project with her research committee. Trueblood, originally from Colombia, plans on graduating with her PhD in Water Science and Management next semester. After graduation, Trueblood plans to work in a job that directly relates to water management.

August 2022 eNews

Meet the Researcher, Zachary Mitchell, Assistant Professor, Eastern New Mexico University

Meet the Researcher, Zachary Mitchell, Assistant Professor, Eastern New Mexico University

By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

Zachary Mitchell is an assistant professor at Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, New Mexico. He teaches ecology and aquatic science courses throughout the school year, including Fisheries Management and Conservation, Limnology, Aquatic Ecology, and Wildlife Biology. Mitchell currently mentors three graduate students and several undergraduate students who are either assisting on Mitchell’s current projects or working on their own research tasks. According to Mitchell, “The most important role of my position is to teach students the necessary knowledge and skills that will make them successful after college in the biological/natural resources field.” Mitchell’s undergraduate student, Justin Schleusner, was recently awarded a New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI) Student Water Research Grant for his project titled, Effects of turbidity on fish behavior and community structure in New Mexico Rivers. This project was featured in the July edition of eNews.

Mitchell’s expertise centers around fisheries and aquatic science field sampling techniques. “My research generally focuses on testing ecological theory to better understand the patterns and processes of species distribution and community structure in freshwater ecosystems to better inform conservation and management actions . . .  I am particularly interested in the impacts of natural and anthropogenic disturbance events on stream community form and function,” Mitchell states. In addition to this research, he is currently working on a few projects related to the thermal ecology of riverine organisms. To further these efforts, his lab received funding to develop a long-term monitoring program on the Pecos River to better understand the driving factors of community structure.

Mitchell earned his BS (2014) with honors in Wildlife, Fisheries, and Aquaculture Science from the College of Forestry at Mississippi State University in Starkville. The Department of Biological Sciences awarded his MS (2016) in Biological Sciences at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston. Focusing on Aquatic Resources and Integrative Biology, Mitchell pursued his PhD from the Department of Biology at Texas State University in San Marcos and graduated in 2020. He has five published peer-reviewed manuscripts with several others in preparation. When asked about his motivation to become a researcher, he mentioned that he has been an avid outdoorsman for most of his life and enjoyed learning about the science, management, and conservation of ecosystems during his early undergraduate years.

When asked what one of the most significant issues within his research field is, Mitchell mentions that the “negative impacts associated with climate change and growing human populations are a concern to rivers. In the southwestern US, increasing drought frequency and magnitude is troubling… Water is life, and we need to learn how to use it sustainably.” This concern has led him to seek a better understanding of how decreasing water availability will impact aquatic communities across multiple spatial and temporal scales. In the future, Mitchell hopes to collaborate with NM WRRI on manipulative experiments examining drought and flood impacts on riverine community structures. He anticipates that such projects of this caliber would help clarify groundwater availability and how these sources influence river communities.