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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

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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.

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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.

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eNews July 2022

Transboundary Basin Challenges Presented at The American Geophysical Union Frontiers in Hydrology: Future of Water Conference

Transboundary Basin Challenges Presented at The American Geophysical Union Frontiers in Hydrology: Future of Water Conference

By Ana Cristina García-Vásquez, NM WRRI Graduate Research Assistant

Ana Cristina García-Vásquez is a PhD student at New Mexico State University (NMSU), and works at the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI) as a Graduate Research Assistant. Since 2015, she has been working on the identification of different groundwater recharge sources on the Mexican side of the Mesilla/Conejos Médanos transboundary aquifer system. This recharge estimation is necessary to know the origin, quantity, and quality of the available resources, with the main objective of creating better management of transboundary aquifers. García-Vásquez works alongside Dr. Zohrab Samani (NMSU), Dr. Alexander (Sam) Fernald (NMSU), Dr. Alfredo Granados (UACJ), and Andrew Robertson (USGS), who are also members of the doctoral committee for the Water Science and Management Program.

In collaboration with her colleagues, García-Vásquez worked on an isotopic analysis to identify the recharge origin in the Conejos Médanos (CM) aquifer, which provides data on the CM area. Through this research, she discovered no traces of tritium content, which indicated that the water in the CM aquifer is from the Quaternary Age and, therefore, cannot be renewed since a recharge source is not present. To elaborate on this effort, García-Vásquez and her team have recently published an article titled, Investigation of the origin of Hueco bolson and Mesilla basin Aquifers (US and Mexico) with isotopic data analysis, published by the open-access journal, Water.

García-Vásquez presented a part of this investigation at The American Geophysical Union Frontiers in Hydrology: Future of Water Conference, held on June 19-24, 2022, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in a session titled, Transboundary Groundwater Resilience through Collaborative Models, Data, Systems, and Discussion. Her presentation on the Assessment of Recharge Potential in the Mesilla/Conejos Médanos Transboundary Aquifer between the US and Mexico, introduced the estimation of the replenishment recharge from the same aquifer system based on its drawdown data. These data were provided by the Municipal Board of Water and Sanitation of Ciudad Juárez (JMAS). In conclusion, the data analyzed provides an estimated groundwater recharge amounts to 1.34 million m3 per year, therefore, the extraction rate in Mexico exceeds the recharge in Mexico.

As a follow-up to the session, a round table discussion titled, Transboundary groundwater issues, challenges, and approaches to sustainable development and management at Frontiers in Hydrology Meeting 2022, was organized by Dr. Fernald in collaboration with Anne Marie Matherne (USGS) and several other participants. In this round table, attendees discussed legal frameworks of groundwater, the limitations of exchanging data, and collaborations between different countries. They also talked about the fear/uncertainty of sharing data due to legal challenges, and the accessibility of sharing data between Canada and Mexico. Problems and solutions regarding these U.S. international borders were discussed in addition to how binational information could be stored.

The different perspectives of the participants established a binational dialogue so as not to abuse a shared system. To conclude, they talked about the necessity to produce organized research science to conduct and support the decisions/agreements in these countries. Research is the key to present the current state of the aquifer and address the challenges of the current crisis. Participants agreed they are on the right track to share the information, have discussions, and think about future agreements.

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eNews July 2022

Meet the Researcher, Pei Xu, Professor and Research Director, New Mexico State University

Meet the Researcher, Pei Xu, Professor and Research Director, New Mexico State University

By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

Pei Xu is a professor for the Department of Civil Engineering at New Mexico State University (NMSU), and the research director of the New Mexico Produced Water Research Consortium. She has been with NMSU since 2013, and teaches undergraduate and graduate courses related to wastewater treatment, environmental engineering/technologies, and food-energy-water sustainability. At the onset of employment with NMSU, Xu has worked closely with the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI), and she has served as an advisor to several of NM WRRI’s Student Water Research Grant recipients. She regularly works with NM WRRI researchers on various water projects, such as the New Mexico Universities Produced Water Synthesis Project (NMUPWSP). Led by NM WRRI, the NMUPWSP is funded through state appropriations for a statewide water assessment with the objective of stimulating discussion concerning the legal and regulatory aspects of produced water reuse and the impacts of the newly enacted Produced Water Act. Collaboration between multiple universities across the state brings together water research experts to provide an independent understanding of the broad implications of produced water management decisions. In this collaborative effort with NM WRRI, Xu is researching ways to improve water sustainability and resilience in New Mexico via alternative water supplies (e.g., brackish water and produced water).

Xu has many areas of expertise, including 1) produced water quality, treatment, and reuse; 2) membrane processing and fouling; 3) advanced oxidation and disinfection; 4) food-energy-water-environment systems; 5) potable/non-potable water reuse; 6) desalination; 7) biological and bioelectrochemical processes; 8) removal of emerging contaminants; 9) decision support tools; 10) resources recovery from wastewater, and 11) photocatalysis. Xu’s research addresses critical water challenges in arid and semi-arid regions using non-traditional water supplies such as brackish water, produced water, desalination concentrate, and industrial and municipal wastewater.

Xu leads multiple million dollars’ worth of research efforts (federal, state, and industry funding), including the New Mexico Produced Water Research Consortium and the National Alliance for Water Innovation (NAWI). The Produced Water Act was signed into law during the 2019 New Mexico Legislative Session, and tasked the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) with regulating the disposition of produced water, including discharge, handling, transport, storage, recycling, or treatment. In September 2019, NMED entered into an agreement with NMSU to establish the NMSU-led NMPWRC to help fill in the scientific and technical gaps related to produced water reuse. Xu proudly mentions that the NMPWRC has developed an extensive network of over 75 public-private partnerships with many agencies, professionals, community groups, policymakers, and international entities. Currently, the NMPWRC is working on various technical issues associated with produced water treatment/reuse and expanding its public education and outreach program.

NMSU is a founding member of NAWI alongside Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Xu is the lead cartographer of NAWI on brackish water desalination and a project lead on membrane scaling control using electromagnetic fields. She works alongside researchers from national labs, academia, and industry to develop roadmaps, and identify knowledge gaps and opportunities for developing alternative water supplies. This extensive research will span over five years to create an affordable, energy-efficient, resilient water supply through decentralized, small-scale, fit-for-purpose desalination.

Xu earned her BS, MS, and PhD in Environmental Engineering from Xi’an University of Architecture and Technology, China; Lanzhou Jiaotong University, China; and the National Institute of Water, Forest and Agricultural Engineering in Paris, France, respectively. She opted to become a researcher because she is interested in fundamental sciences and applied engineering technologies. “Being a researcher allows me to work in both areas and develop innovative and creative concepts for engineering applications,” Xu states. She envisions her future work centering around building infrastructure for arid/semiarid regions to address water scarcity challenges, fostering sustainable and healthy communities, and supporting economic development through her research efforts.

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eNews June 2022

NM WRRI Hosts Hybrid 2022 Animas and San Juan Watersheds Conference

NM WRRI Hosts Hybrid 2022 Animas and San Juan Watersheds Conference

By Mark Sheely, NM WRRI Program Specialist

Nearly seven years following the August 2015 Gold King Mine waste water spill, and after a gap due to Covid-19, the Animas and San Juan Watersheds Conference returned to Farmington, New Mexico, with a slate of associated events along with the main conference plenary sessions taking place on June 7-11, 2022. Building on the experience gained from virtual events over the past two years, NM WRRI also offered a free, simultaneous Zoom option for attendees, making this the first hybrid conference hosted by NM WRRI. Nearly 200 in-person and virtual attendees learned about a broad array of watershed health topics affecting the Animas and San Juan Watersheds, including restoration and remediation efforts related to the 2015 Gold King Mine spill.

Day One presentations included updates on efforts from the Bonita Peak Mining District Community Advisory Group, and Trout Unlimited’s Ty Churchwell on efforts to get a Good Samaritan law for the remediation of hardrock mines passed at the federal level. Presentations also encompassed a wider range of regional watershed issues, such as the San Juan Watershed Group’s presentation on their microbial source tracking study in the San Juan River, the New Mexico Environment Department’s (NMED) overview of funding opportunities available through their River Stewardship Program, current efforts of the San Juan Water Commission, the history and development of the Lee Acres Water Users Association, and research from the New Mexico State University Agricultural Science Center at Farmington (NMSU ASC Farmington) concerning corn and potato yields, among other compelling presentations. This first conference day concluded with a poster session reception featuring five posters. All permissible presentation slides, posters, and videos will be available at the conference website.

Day Two began with a morning of presentations by the U.S. Geological Survey and Navajo Nation EPA concerning various hydro-geochemistry studies taking place in the watershed. The final afternoon of the conference featured talks by New Mexico State Climatologist Dave DuBois on the climate outlook of the San Juan Basin, Bureau of Reclamation hydrologist Susan Behery on the operations of Navajo Dam and Reservoir, before concluding with an overview of the WIIN Act projects given jointly by the NMED and Utah Department of Environmental Quality, and finally a summary of a Gold King Mine spill restoration plan shared by the NM Office of the Natural Resources Trustee. Also making a surprise appearance on Thursday, June 9, was U.S. Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernández, who delivered remarks to the conference audience.

This year’s conference was fortunate enough to feature a number of pre- and post-conference events. Before the June 8 conference commencement, NM WRRI helped coordinate a pre-conference event held in the Navajo Nation. The “Shiprock Sustainability Fair,” organized by partners from NM WRRI, the NMSU ASC Farmington, and The University of Arizona, featured several demonstration areas ringed around the outside of the Shiprock Chapter House. Co-organizer Dr. Karletta Chief presented one of her off-grid solar-powered water treatment units, while fellow event organizers Dr. Kevin Lombard and Brandon Francis of the NMSU ASC Farmington demonstrated onsite XRF soil testing of community soil samples and showcased a greenhouse with a raised-bed garden that was installed at the Dream Diné Charter School next door to the chapter house. More than 100 local community members were served lunch provided by local Navajo venues before a number of door prizes were given out following the luncheon.

On June 10, the day after conference presentations, attendees had the opportunity to participate in a day of tours that included a morning tour of the NMSU ACS Farmington lead by superintendent Dr. Kevin Lombard, and featured an overview and several stops around Navajo Agricultural Products Industry (NAPI) facilities lead by NAPI Director of Sales and Marketing, Vincent Cowboy. After returning from this field trip, attendees were welcomed at Growing Forward Farm in Aztec, NM. The 12-acre farm is managed by the NMSU San Juan County Cooperative Extension Office, and since its inception in 2020, serves as a community agricultural education resource.

On the morning of June 11, attendees were treated to one final field trip, a rafting float trip through the confluence of the Animas and San Juan Rivers led by Desert River Guides of Farmington, New Mexico, that also included a site visit to view a portion of the Animas/Berg Park Fire Mitigation Project. This multi-year effort has removed portions of invasive Russian Olive and Salt Cedar, and seeks to regrow native trees in the parks. While floating down the lower Animas and into the San Juan River, trip operator Cody Dudgen shared the future plans of local river recreation advocates such as Desert River Guides. These plans include expanding the presence of outdoor recreation options in that portion of the watershed through river hazard removal, the installation of new man-made rapids, and a new boat landing in the Westland Park area of Farmington.

NM WRRI thanks the planning committee members, presenters, and all the attendees who helped make this year’s conference a success, and looks forward to welcoming participants again at next year’s Animas and San Juan Watersheds Conference.

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eNews January 2021

Acequias & Science: Highlights from a Collaborative Workshop Connecting Acequia Communities with Research

Acequias & Science: Highlights from a Collaborative Workshop Connecting Acequia Communities with Research

By Lily Conrad, NM WRRI Graduate Research Assistant

In an era of changing climate, socio-economic dynamics, and water rights allocations challenging the resilience of acequia networks throughout New Mexico, there is a need to address gaps in scientific and community knowledge to prepare these irrigation networks for the future. To do this, researchers and communities must establish a foundation of transparent, mutually respectful communication and collaboration. On the evening of January 14th, New Mexico State University (NMSU) and the New Mexico Acequia Association (NMAA) hosted a collaborative workshop connecting traditional irrigation communities with acequia research. The workshop presented highlights from a newly released book by the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at New Mexico State University entitled, Acequias of the Southwestern United States: Elements of Resilience in a Coupled Natural and Human System. The workshop also included question and answer sessions, and a discussion about how to direct future research to better address community needs.

The workshop attendance of over 100 participants reflects community interest and the justification for more workshops of this nature. The evening highlighted three blocks of research found in the newly published acequia book. First, Dr. Sylvia Rodriguez and Dr. José Rivera highlighted critical social and historical elements of acequias. The speakers and discussion emphasized the need for acequia research to be mostly interdisciplinary to encapsulate community relationships to the land and culture that promotes resilience. The second block of research presentations highlighted hydrologic and natural science-related findings from Dr. Carlos Ochoa and Dr. Andrés Cibils. These presentations spurred follow-up conversations surrounding on-the-ground implications and how these findings might inform changes in ditch or land management. The final portion of the presentations featured Dr. Vincent Tidwell and Dr. Sam Fernald tying together the previous topics with themes of connection, integration, and resilience. In the conversation that followed, researchers opened the floor for community members to voice their questions, concerns, and needs for the future resilience of acequias. As the workshop conversation concluded, facilitators and attendees were already looking forward to the next discussion to continue addressing more topics. In true NMAA fashion, the meeting ended with singing, celebration, and appreciation of acequias.

Please click here to register to view the Zoom recording, and here to view the Facebook livestream.

Acequias & Science workshop organizers and presenters. First row from left to right: Emily Arasim (NMAA Acequia Program, Assistant & Youth Education Coordinator), Sam Fernald (NM WRRI, Director & NMSU, Professor), and Adrienne Rosenberg (NMSU Sustainable Agriculture Science Center in Alcalde, Editor). Second row from left to right: José Rivera (UNM, Professor Emeritus), Serafina Lombardi (NMAA, Director of Education and Outreach), and Andrés Cibils (NMSU, Professor). Third row from left to right: Vincent Tidwell (Sandia National Laboratories, Distinguished Member of Technical Staff), Steve Guldan (NMSU Sustainable Agriculture Science Center in Alcalde, Superintendent), and Carlos Ochoa (OSU, Associate Professor). Fourth row from left to right: Lily Conrad (NMSU, Graduate Research Assistant), Sylvia Rodriguez (UNM, Professor Emeritus), and Paula Garcia (NMAA, Executive Director).

 

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April 2022 eNews

NMSU Student Receives Water Research Grant to Study Uses for the Byproducts of Hydrothermal Liquefaction

NMSU Student Receives Water Research Grant to Study Uses for the Byproducts of Hydrothermal Liquefaction

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Sr. Student Program Coordinator

Nitrate is one of the major pollutants of concern in New Mexico water. Ingesting high concentrations of nitrate can cause harmful effects in humans, including an increased risk of cancer. In recent years, increases in nitrate concentrations have been observed in the Rio Grande. These nitrates are likely from agricultural fertilizers and wastewater effluents from large cities like Albuquerque, Las Cruces, and El Paso. Current methods for nitrate removal are ion exchange, reverse osmosis, and electrodialysis, which can have high energy requirements and high costs. Hydrothermal liquefaction-char (HTL-char) is a promising adsorbent for the removal of lead and copper from wastewater*, but to evaluate HTL-char as an adsorbent for anions like nitrate, more information is needed on its ability to adsorb anions.

Fortunately, Hengameh Bayat, a PhD candidate at New Mexico State University’s Chemical and Material Engineering Department, is working on research evaluating nitrate removal from water using food waste HTL-char. NM WRRI has awarded Bayat a Student Water Research Grant for a project titled, Wastewater treatment and water recycling through the use of byproducts from hydrothermal liquefaction of food waste.

Hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) is a technology used to produce bio-crude oil from food waste. Byproducts of HTL are a nutrient-rich aqueous phase (HTL-AP), and char. HTL implementation has been limited by the lack of value of these byproducts. Therefore, Bayat’s research not only evaluates the use of HTL-char to remove nitrate from water, but also evaluates the use of HTL-AP to provide needed moisture and additional carbon and nutrients to compost.

Under the guidance of her Faculty Advisor, Dr. Catherine Brewer, Bayat’s project has four objectives: 1) Produce and characterize the surface properties and ion adsorption capacity of HTL-chars prepared through co-HTL of food waste and red mud; 2) Quantify the effects of water pH, contact time, and initial nitrate concentration on adsorption performance and mechanisms for nitrate adsorption; 3) Characterize food waste HTL-AP for compost-relevant properties, including pH, total carbon, total-N, ammonia-N, phosphorus, salinity, metals, and organics composition; and 4) Evaluate the feasibility of HTL-AP addition to compost in terms of microbial activity, nutrient availability (C/N ratio), moisture, and quality of the finished compost.

According to Bayat, using HTL-char produced from food waste would reduce nitrate removal energy use and costs while also helping to meet waste management and energy needs. The use of HTL-AP in compost systems will provide moisture, adjust the pH, and increase the amount of nutrients in compost while maintaining the advantages of compost as a fertilizer. Bayat presented her work at the 66th Annual New Mexico Water Conference and the 2021 AlChE annual meeting in Boston.

Originally from Iran, Bayat received her bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from Arak University, and a master’s degree from the Material and Energy Research Center at the University of Tehran. Bayat plans to graduate with her PhD from NMSU in Chemical Engineering in 2022. After graduation, Bayat plans to pursue a career in academia. She is interested in converting waste materials to value-added products for water conservation and remediation.

* Bayat, H., et al., Removal of Heavy Metal Ions from Wastewater Using Food Waste Char. In 2020 ASABE Annual International Virtual Meeting, ASABE: St. Joseph, MI, 2020; p 1.

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April 2022 eNews

Meet the Researcher, Brad Talon Newton, The New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology

Meet the Researcher, Brad Talon Newton, Hydrogeologist, The New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology

by Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

This month for Meet the Researcher, we are featuring Brad Talon Newton, a hydrogeologist at the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources (NMBGMR) at The New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (NMT) in Socorro, New Mexico. He conducts hydrogeologic research, education and outreach, and student mentoring. According to Newton, the research component is highly important since water problems (both quality and quantity) are ubiquitous and require top-quality science solutions. He currently advises two master’s students in the Earth and Environmental Science Department at NMT and intends to co-teach karst hydrology in the future.

Newton has an extended work history with the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI). He has been an essential contributor to the Statewide Water Assessment (2014-2017) and has produced several reports describing his research efforts. As described by the NM WRRI website, this project complements existing state agency water resource assessments and provides new, dynamic, spatially representative assessments of water budgets for the entirety of New Mexico. Newton has also advised several students in the development of the Python Recharge Assessment for New Mexico Aquifers (PyRANA) model, which estimates runoff and diffuse recharge. Newton’s interests include collaborating with NM WRRI to improve the PyRANA model with new data he obtained while participating in a study in the Salt Basin. By using the chloride mass balance method to calculate the proportion of runoff in watersheds that recharges the groundwater system, he believes this could enhance the PyRANA model to estimate focused recharge throughout New Mexico.

Newton has performed a wide variety of hydrogeologic research in New Mexico since his employment with NMBGMR in 2007. This research has ranged from regional-scale characterization to local hydrologic processes. One of his first extensive multidisciplinary studies took place in the Sacramento Mountains with the goal of improving knowledge of subsurface geology and the regional hydrogeology. Newton believes this research helped corroborate several other Roswell Artesian Basin studies by assisting in the development of a better hydrogeologic conceptual model. Newton has additionally led groundwater studies along the Animas River after the Gold King Mine Spill in 2015, with the objective of assessing spill impacts on the groundwater quality in New Mexico. By characterizing the hydrogeologic system, Newton and his team were able to identify interactions between shallow and deep aquifers that control the spatial variability of groundwater chemistry in the area.

According to Newton, one of the biggest issues facing New Mexico and the southwestern U.S. is the concern for future water availability. “As populations continue to grow, water demand increases. However, warmer temperatures associated with climate change will very likely result in a decrease in water supply for most communities in New Mexico,” Newton explains, “Therefore, in order to quantify the water balance under these new conditions resulting from climate change, it is necessary to understand the mechanisms by which precipitation in the high mountains makes its way into regional streams and aquifers.”

Newton received his BS in Geology (2001), and MS in Hydrology (2004) from NMT. He pursued his PhD in Civil Engineering (2013) from the School of Planning, Architecture, and Civil Engineering at Queen’s University in Belfast, Ireland. Newton mentions that his desire to become a scientist originated early in life. His interests in rock climbing and cave exploration led him to pursue his degree in the earth sciences. He was drawn to the field of Hydrology due to its quantitative nature and the real-world impacts it has on the communities and people of New Mexico.

Newton intends to continue his hydrogeologic studies in New Mexico. He plans to expand his research areas to include more complex aqueous geochemistry modeling. This type of research would assist in determining the feasibility of aquifer storage and recovery (artificial recharge), which he feels is one of the best techniques to effectively increase community water supply. Lastly, Newton would also like to perform more karst hydrology projects in cave systems around New Mexico.

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eNews March 2022

NMSU Student Receives Student Water Research Grant to Study Mitigation of Harmful Algal Blooms

NMSU Student Receives Student Water Research Grant to Study Mitigation of Harmful Algal Blooms

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Sr. Student Program Coordinator

Algae are a group of aquatic organisms that form the base of the aquatic food chain. Harmful algal blooms (HABs) occur when algae grow out of control in freshwater or marine environments producing toxins, dissolved oxygen depletion, and anoxic conditions. There have been reports of HABs causing harmful poisoning effects on animals, including mammals, birds, and aquatic life across the United States. These HABs can also cause kidney and liver toxicity, skin rashes, and respiratory problems in humans. HABs are occurring worldwide due to polluted water caused by human activities, revealing a need for effective technologies that help mitigate the effects of HABs and prevent future blooms.

The New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute has awarded a Student Water Research Grant to a graduate student at New Mexico State University (NMSU) to investigate this topic. Wijayalath Kodige Nimasha Lakshani Abeykoon, a master’s student in Environmental Engineering, is working on research focused on mitigating HABs using modified clay with her faculty advisor Dr. Yanyan Zhang.

The project, Mitigation of Harmful Algal Blooms Using Modified Clays, will use porous clays to adsorb and settle down algal cells. Abeykoon is working with clay because it is a naturally available material with no significant environmental impacts, making it an attractive solution for HAB mitigation. Abeykoon and her research team have modified the natural clays to enhance their adsorption properties. The project’s innovative method of using dialysis tubes with packed modified clay inside will recover phosphate (a main ingredient in developing HABs) from water bodies to avoid phosphate release from the sediments.

According to Abeykoon, the proposed solution for HAB mitigation is expected to control existing algal blooms in a water body by settling harmful algae and adsorbing algal toxins. This solution is also expected to prevent future blooms by precipitating phosphate in water. As Abeykoon explains, “Considering its low cost, regeneration potential, and eco-friendly properties, the proposed solution has the potential to be used for HAB control and prevention on a large scale.” Abeykoon presented this research at the 66th Annual New Mexico Water Conference in October, 2021.

Originally from Sri Lanka, Abeykoon earned her bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Peradeniya. She graduated in December with a master’s degree in Environmental Engineering at NMSU and will continue her research as a PhD student at NMSU’s Environmental Engineering department. Abeykoon will begin her PhD Program in the fall of 2022 and says she is “delighted to start this new chapter of my life.” Abeykoon adds, “I hope the knowledge, experience, and skills I gain through this chapter of my life will guide me to an academic and research career in [the] same field that I am wishing for.”