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eNews January 2021

Meet the Researcher, April Ulery, Professor, New Mexico State University

Meet the Researcher, April Ulery, Professor, New Mexico State University

By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

For this month’s Meet the Researcher, we had the pleasure of interviewing April Ulery, a professor of Soil and Environmental Science for the Plant and Environmental Sciences Department (PES) at New Mexico State University (NMSU). April teaches several classes on soil science in addition to an emergency response to hazardous material incidents course. She also serves the NMSU research community by leading the Environmental Soil Chemistry Laboratory, which helps researchers and students obtain metal, salt, and nutrient analyses of their soil, water, and plant samples. Each year, she typically mentors 15 to 20 undergraduate environmental science students, and two to five soil science students. Currently, she is mentoring one PhD student, and three MS students in their field of study. According to Ulery, teaching students and assisting other faculty members is greatly rewarding for her, and being able to create lasting collaboration opportunities with her colleagues is an essential aspect she enjoys.

Ulery completed her BS in Geology (1980) from the University of Redlands in Redlands, California. She obtained both her MS (1985), and PhD (1992) in Soil Science from the University of California (UC Riverside) in Riverside, California. In addition to her current position, April has held numerous positions throughout her career including Interim Department Head for the Agricultural and Extension Education Department (AXED) at NMSU, Environmental Soil Scientist for Komex H20 Science Environmental Consultants, and postdoctoral research scientist for The U.S. Department of Agriculture – Agricultural Research Service Salinity Laboratory at UC Riverside.

April has collaborated and worked with the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI) since her employment at NMSU in 1998. She has been a part of many different projects over the years, and has had at least six students receive funding for their research through the NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant. One of Ulery’s students, Bianca Wright, was awarded one of these grants in FY20-21 for her project, Evaluating Soil Lead Bioavailability in Agricultural Fields across the Animas Watershed. Wright and her research team are investigating the lead concentrations in the agricultural soil and vegetation in the Animas watershed. Previous ongoing research in this area has shown sporadic high levels of the contaminant in corn kernels, but not in their roots, stems, leaves, or husks. Since corn is a staple crop, especially for the Navajo Nation, this project will strive to determine whether or not contamination is present and to assist appropriate agencies in determining if it is safe to consume corn grown in fields irrigated by the Animas and/or San Juan Rivers. Recently, the Navajo Nation and the state of New Mexico reached a multi-million-dollar settlement with mining companies to help cover both environmental response costs and damages to natural resources as a result of the 2015 Gold King Mine Spill. More information about this settlement can be found here.

Ulery’s main area of research revolves around how to manage soil quality for improving agricultural productivity and environmental remediation. She is especially interested in quantifying soil properties including salinity, nutrient status, metal concentrations, and how they affect plant growth. Understanding soil is important because it connects the hydrology, atmosphere, geology, and biology of an area. Contamination in the soil can lead to, or be the result of, contamination of the other systems. In New Mexico, water resources are in direct competition with urban development, and changes in this regard could cause significant problems for crop growth. April’s favorite project to date has been developing educational videos to better explain difficult concepts found in soil science to help individuals gain a better understanding of the subject. These videos can be found here, and are free for everyone to use.

April’s research can be found in an expansive collection of over 75 scientific journal articles, book chapters, and NMSU Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletins. Her most recent study accepted for publication in the Natural Sciences Education journal (2021) is entitled, Pivoting to online laboratories due to COVID-19 using the “Science of Agriculture” digital tools: A case study. With several other articles and manuscripts in the review/revision process, additional research by Ulery and her colleagues will be released within this coming year.

Ulery has been the recipient of more than ten awards for her exceptional professional service with her most recent honors presented by NMSU, including Outstanding Mentor for NMSU’s Teaching Academy (2020), Outstanding Faculty for AXED (2018), and Professor of Exemplary Teaching for PES (2014-2017). Accomplishments in April’s research allowed her to secure numerous funding opportunities in the form of education and research grants, partnerships, subcontracts, and competitive grants. Developing new labs, case studies, and animation tools to improve learning in STEM courses are just a few examples of how funding has supported Ulery and her students.

At present, Ulery works with several professional organizations, which can all be classified as service to her profession, teaching, or to the university. She is the president of the Soil Science Society of America, and chair of both the PES scholarship and curriculum committees. She additionally serves on the NMSU anti-racism/anti-discrimination task force committee, is an American Geosciences Institute Liaison, and is on the Council of Science Society Presidents’ Board of Directors among others.

As only the third female president of the Soil Science Society of America in 85 years, some of April’s main goals are to be an effective leader for all members of this expansive organization, and to increase diversity in both leadership and membership. In regards to future collaborations with other universities, Ulery has expressed that she is always interested in working on anything water, soil, and/or plant related in managed or native systems located in the southwestern U.S. As a parting message, April Ulery states: “I would like to remind everyone to treat each other with respect and kindness. I’ve learned so much from my students and colleagues over the years, and the most important thing is not about counting research papers or funding dollars, but connecting with others on a personal level and honoring their role in your life. I’ve always loved NMSU because they put people, especially students, first.”

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eNews January 2021

NM WRRI Publishes Technical Completion Report

NM WRRI Publishes Technical Completion Report

By Carolina Mijares, NM WRRI Program Manager

NM WRRI announces the publication of technical completion report no. 388, a collaborative publication prepared for the Bureau of Reclamation and its Desalination and Water Purification Research Development Program (Report No. NMSU005). In 2017, New Mexico State University (NMSU) faculty member Dr. Kenneth C. Carroll (Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences) received funding through a cooperative agreement between Reclamation and NMSU. The cooperative agreement is a collaborative project that aims to increase scientific knowledge and research expertise in the area of alternative waters for water supply sustainability in New Mexico and the western U.S.

An Integrated Geochemical Approach for Defining Sources of Groundwater Salinity in the Southern Rio Grande Valley of the Mesilla Basin, New Mexico and West Texas, USA by Christopher Kubicki, NMSU Water Science and Management alumnus, Kenneth C. Carroll, James C. Witcher, and Andrew Robertson is available in its entirety on the NM WRRI website by clicking here.

Executive Summary

Salinization of aquifers in arid regions is a growing issue due to increased water use as a result of population growth and increasing agricultural demands (Szynkiewicz et al., 2011). Spatial variability in sources of groundwater salinity may exist due to stratigraphic, geochemical, and hydrologic processes even in an integrated and relatively homogeneous aquifer system. For this reason, methods are needed to determine salinity sources, groundwater flow, and transport of salts in alluvial/fluvial groundwater basins.

Geochemical tracers analyzed from groundwater samples were used to determine the sources of salt contributing to groundwater salinity in the Mesilla Valley of the Mesilla basin located in southern New Mexico and west Texas. Results from southern Mesilla Valley groundwaters show a localized area, plume, of saline groundwater (10,000 to 29,700 mg/L total dissolved solids) near Sunland Park, New Mexico.

Results from this work help to construct a conceptual model of groundwater flow and the source of salinity in the Mesilla basin. Analysis of δ18O and δD isotopes from groundwater samples support previous research that effectively shows groundwater in the Mesilla Valley has been recharged primarily from the Rio Grande. North of Sunland Park, New Mexico, lower groundwater salinity is associated with a spatial transition from sedimentary to volcanic rock underlying the alluvial aquifer, increasing alluvial sediment thickness, and δ34S signatures of groundwater (+2.28 to +5.76‰), indicating a sulfate source that could not originate from Paleozoic bedrock. These results indicate a reduced influence of upward groundwater flow from sedimentary bedrock and increased dilution of brackish groundwater within the lower salinity alluvial aquifer in the central and northern Mesilla Valley.

Results for major ion analysis indicate a general shift from HCO3- recharge waters in the northern Mesilla Valley groundwater toward Cl- and SO42- waters in the southern Mesilla Valley. The transition in water types occurs from north to south and along the groundwater flow path, indicating increased influence from halite and gypsum dissolution and/or cation exchange in southern groundwaters. Evidence presented herein shows that groundwater salinity in the Mesilla Valley is increasingly derived from evaporite mineral dissolution and/or cation exchange as water flows southward. The δ34S signatures of groundwater from the southern Mesilla Valley within the area of high salinity (+12.36 to +12.46‰) are comparable to δ34S signatures of Upper Paleozoic gypsum (+12.5‰), indicating prolonged contact between groundwater and underlying Paleozoic bedrock. Greater than atmospheric concentrations of 39Ar (132 to 134% pM) and high 4He (10-6 to 10-7 ccSTP/g(H2O) in groundwater samples collected from the plume confirm a substantial fraction of the groundwater is old (>1,000 years). This study illustrates how nested well clusters and geochemical tracers can be used to identify salinity sources and processes in geochemical investigations.

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December 2020 eNews

NMT Student Awarded NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant to Monitor Sediment Transport in the Arroyo de los Pinos

NMT Student Awarded NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant to Monitor Sediment Transport in the Arroyo de los Pinos

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

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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 https://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/research/water/RR796/welcome.

“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.”

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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.

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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.

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eNews November 2020

NM WRRI Hosts Virtual 65th Annual New Mexico Water Conference

NM WRRI Hosts Virtual 65th Annual New Mexico Water Conference

By Mark Sheely, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

In a first for the 65 years of the Annual New Mexico Water Conference, more than 500 people from across the state, country, and the globe gathered in front of their computer screens for the NM WRRI’s first virtual annual New Mexico Water Conference, held October 26‑29, 2020. With a conference theme of Meeting New Mexico’s Pressing Water Needs: Challenges, Successes, and Opportunities, water researchers, government officials, tribal leaders, and others shared their perspectives and expertise on the latest water research and management topics facing New Mexico. Presentation slides linked by agenda item can be viewed here. Recorded video from all three days of the general conference webinar organized by session can be viewed in a YouTube playlist here.

From the opening remarks delivered by NMSU Chancellor Dan Arvizu and opening keynote address by U.S. Senator Tom Udall through three days of discussions and presentations, two technical poster sessions, and a host of questions and answers, conference participants were eager to take up the challenges, successes, and opportunities related to meeting New Mexico’s pressing water needs. The looming effects of environmental challenges such as the current drought and continued regional aridification highlighted some of the largest areas of concern for water managers and researchers. Presenters also spoke on legal challenges including water deliveries on the Rio Grande, as well as social and political challenges in access to water for rural communities, particularly tribes in New Mexico. Showcasing successes throughout the state offered conference participants guidance in water research and management. The pre-conference field trip on the San Juan-Chama Project Headwaters tour showed extensive work in upland water treatment, while a later presentation on the Rio Grande Water Fund highlighted efforts to protect our water supply from the devastating effects of wildfire. The opportunities for water research and planning in New Mexico included presentations on the 50-Year Water Plan that the state will be moving forward on soon, and at the federal level, studies of both the Rio Grande and the Pecos River basins. Finally, the opportunities for produced water research were explored extensively during the final conference session. Overall, the conference revealed that the state faces great challenges, but at the same time many water managers, researchers, and policymakers are working to build on successes and continue to understand and manage the state’s water resources into the future.

The day before the conference began, participants had the opportunity to attend a two-part “virtual field trip” on Monday, October 26. The Bureau of Reclamation produced an hour-long video tour of the San Juan-Chama Project headwaters basins in which virtual tour guide Emma Kelly guided participants through the history of the project, discussed its current functions and water delivery operations, and examined the critical work with partners such as the 2-3-2 Partnership and the San Juan-Chama Watershed Partnership to protect its headwater forests. You can view the entire video on the San Juan-Chama Watershed Partnership YouTube channel here. In the second hour of this virtual field trip, Lucia Sanchez of the Interstate Stream Commission Water Planning Program and filmmaker Christi Bode shared with conference participants videos demonstrating water planning and water data efforts taking place within New Mexico.

On Tuesday, October 27, after some words of welcome from New Mexico State University Chancellor Dan Arvizu, New Mexico Senior Senator, Tom Udall delivered an opening keynote address that took up the question of how water managers, researchers, and policy-makers can meet the pressing water needs of New Mexico, namely those associated with climate change, and prolonged drought. Senator Udall focused on three keys to addressing water supply challenges: good science, cooperation, and, once the first two have come to fruition, taking action. Later in the morning, recognizing that the water supply challenges facing New Mexico have larger international dimensions, Senator Udall participated in a panel discussion alongside former Mexican Federal Senator Jeffrey Max Jones, former groundwater chief for Mexico’s National Water Commission (CONAGUA) Rubén Chávez Guillén, Dr. Mike Muller of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, and Chris Wilson of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. This discussion, moderated by NM WRRI Director, Sam Fernald, examined the opportunities and limitations associated with international policy approaches to addressing water issues, as well as the role of science in improving water policy decision-making.

Conference presentations on Wednesday, October 28, included an update by State Engineer John D’Antonio, Jr., the prospects of high-recovery desalination, an evaluation of prior appropriation by New Mexico State Representatives Melanie Stansbury and Derrick Lente, and a session dedicated to highlighting the research possibilities for water data in New Mexico. This day also saw the first of a two-part virtual poster session. Overall, 52 poster presenters, including university students, faculty, and agency personnel from across the state, showcased their current water-related research projects during the two-part virtual poster session. PDFs of posters are available to view on the conference website here.

To bring the conference to a close on Thursday, October 29, Michael Connor, former Deputy Secretary of the Interior and Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, delivered the 2020 Albert E. Utton Memorial Water Lecture. Connor’s lecture assessed the current state of climate change impacts in New Mexico and the western United States, and examined the current litigation, research, investment, and planning measures being taken, as well as the potential policy changes that may take shape under a new presidential administration. Other sessions on this final day focused on forest and watershed restoration efforts around the state, and an in-depth look at produced water research being done from the perspectives of both the New Mexico Universities Produced Water Synthesis Project and the New Mexico Produced Water Research Consortium.

A conference proceedings will be prepared in the coming months, and once completed will be available via the NM WRRI website.

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eNews November 2020

Meet the Researcher, Kerry Howe, Director of the Center for Water and the Environment, and Professor, The University of New Mexico

Meet the Researcher, Kerry Howe, Director of the Center for Water and the Environment, and Professor, The University of New Mexico

By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

For this month’s Meet the Researcher, we had the opportunity to interview Kerry Howe, Director of the Center for Water and the Environment (2013), and Professor (2015) at The University of New Mexico (UNM) located in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Kerry has taught nine different courses at UNM for the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering, and currently offers courses on physical/chemical water treatment processes and sustainable engineering. The latter provides students the opportunity to learn about identifying, quantifying, managing, and reducing the environmental impacts caused by modern society.

Howe has advised over 40 graduate students during his UNM career. He has mentored students funded by the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI) in the past, and is currently advising Jasmine Anne Quiambao, a student who was awarded an NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant for her project entitled, Evaluation of Heavy Metal Adsorption onto Microplastics. According to Howe, this project investigates the impact of microplastics in the environment and the ability of microplastics to be a vehicle for other types of environmental contamination, particularly toxic metals like arsenic and uranium, which can adsorb to microplastic surfaces. This student researcher’s study has also been featured this month, and can be found here.

Howe has expressed that all aspects of his job at UNM are important, and requires a delicate balance; however, he believes the educational objectives of his students must come first. As the director of a research center, he feels it is his duty to help prepare UNM students for their future engineering careers. Due to this strong sense of leadership, he strives to provide the best learning environment possible for undergraduate and graduate students alike by assisting them in developing experiments, offering coursework advisement, and being available for final writing review. Additionally, Kerry is responsible for a variety of administrative tasks including approving proposals, managing budgets, identifying new funding opportunities, interacting with the public, and providing a strategic vision.

Kerry received his BS in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1984, and earned his MS in Environmental Health Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin in 1986. Howe continued his education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he completed his PhD in 2001. He is a registered professional engineer in both Wisconsin and New Mexico, and is a Board-Certified Environmental Engineer with the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists (AAEES). While in consulting, Kerry was involved in the design of numerous water treatment plants, culminating with his role as the lead project engineer for the design of a 100 million gallon per day water treatment plant. He has provided independent technical reviews of water quality, worked as a project manager for plant startups, conducted several desktop corrosion control studies, directed full-scale tracer tests in treatment plants, and more.

Howe has over 30 years of environmental engineering experience with a focus on physicochemical water and wastewater treatment. His unique area of expertise is membrane-based technologies, including membrane filtration and reverse osmosis (RO). Kerry states that the main areas of his research involve investigating methods of improving process efficiency by understanding and preventing fouling of membrane surfaces, supplementing potable water reuse by recycling treated municipal wastewater, and minimizing the waste stream/concentrate from brackish water desalination by RO. Disposal of RO waste concentrate is an expensive process and can have environmental impacts. Kerry’s research diligently seeks to improve the RO process and reduce the amount of waste being disposed. This has led him to the creation of a patent issued in 2013 entitled, High Water Recovery from Desalination Systems using Ion Exchange Technology.

In one of his RO research experiments, Kerry and his colleagues focused on the removal of contaminants of emerging concern and discovered that the functional chemistry of organic compounds can have an impact on the removal process. According to Howe, methyl and hydroxyl increase rejection, but halogens, and carbonyl groups decrease rejection. This helps to explain RO inconsistencies concerning compounds of similar molecular weight and hydrophobicity. He continues by saying the results of their research revealed how different membrane products vary in their ability to remove low-MW neutral organics, and proposed boron as a surrogate compound to classify the organic removal abilities of RO membrane products.

Kerry’s additional research can be found in an expansive repertoire of over 170 works including publications, presentations, technical reports, and manuscripts. He is an author of two major textbooks about the treatment of water entitled, Principles of Water Treatment, and MWH’s Water Treatment: Principles and Design. Howe and colleagues have been published in over 30 peer-reviewed articles with his most recent printed in Desalination (2020) entitled, Mineral Recovery Enhanced Desalination (MRED) process: An innovative technology for desalinating hard brackish water.

In conjunction with his research activities, Kerry is an active member of four professional affiliations including the American Water Works Association, and the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors. He is an invaluable member of several committees, peer reviewer for many water and environmental engineering journals, and serves as the state representative for the AAEES. Howe has been the recipient of over ten honors and awards throughout his career. He was designated as UNM’s 65th Annual Research Lecture Honoree in 2020, and was awarded the Stamm Endowed Research Award in the previous year.

Kerry states that one of the main goals of his career has been to protect public health by improving municipal water treatment. He mentions that his research endeavors effectively investigate fundamental principles while remaining grounded in the practical applications that will be usable by utilities and consultants practicing in the profession. Kerry plans to continue moving forward on helping pave the way for future UNM engineering students and being an active participant in his research on potable water reuse.

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eNews November 2020

UNM Student Awarded an NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant to Study Reactivity of Microplastics with Heavy Metals

UNM Student Awarded an NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant to Study Reactivity of Microplastics with Heavy Metals

by Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

In New Mexico, freshwater systems near abandoned mines have heavy metal concentrations above acceptable Environmental Protection Agency contaminant levels. Microplastics (plastic materials with a diameter <5 mm) can be introduced into these same freshwater systems by solid waste dumping, recreational activities, or wastewater treatment effluents. If microplastics are introduced into freshwater that is already contaminated with heavy metals, the interaction between these contaminants can enhance toxic effects.

The potential increased toxicity in aquatic ecosystems could be harmful to living organisms. Therefore, in order to assess the reactivity of microplastics with heavy metals, Jasmine Anne Quiambao, a graduate student in the Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering Department at The University of New Mexico, has been awarded an NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant entitled, Evaluation of Heavy Metal Adsorption onto Microplastics. Quiambao and her faculty sponsors, Dr. Jorge Gonzalez Estrella and Dr. Kerry Howe, are working on a project with two main tasks: first, to investigate the occurrence of microplastics in freshwater systems containing elevated concentrations of heavy metals; and second, to investigate the adsorption of heavy metals onto microplastics in laboratory experiments. Dr. Kerry Howe has been featured as this month’s Meet the Researcher, and a link to his interview can be found here. The project will analyze samples that have been taken from freshwater systems close to abandoned mines, ponds used for recreational activities, and the Rio Grande. Quiambao and her team will then evaluate the adsorption of arsenic and uranium onto microplastics.

The results from this study will inform New Mexicans about the occurrence of microplastics in New Mexico freshwater systems and their potential interaction with heavy metals. According to Quiambao, “This research is a relevant foundation for potential environmental contamination/pollutants in freshwater systems in the state of New Mexico. We could potentially contribute to protecting human health and the environment of New Mexico communities by conducting this research and getting reliable data.” Quiambao presented this project at the 65th Annual New Mexico Water Conference, which was held virtually this past October.  To view her poster, as well as others from the conference, please click here.

Quiambao, originally from the Philippines, received her bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering and plans on graduating with a master’s degree in Environmental Engineering in Fall 2021. After graduation, Quiambao plans on obtaining employment in New Mexico’s water sector focusing on water and environment-related projects. She is interested in applying to Intel, wastewater treatment plants, and the Albuquerque Water Utility Authority.

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eNews June 2020

Animas and San Juan Watersheds Webinar Series Attracts Nearly 300 Participants

By Mark Sheely, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

Midway into preparations for the fifth annual conference on the Animas and San Juan Watersheds, the coronavirus pandemic threw the conference into jeopardy. Rather than postpone or cancel the event, the planning committee decided to attempt something new for NM WRRI: a webinar conference spanning the week of June 15-19, 2020. While attendees would miss the opportunity to gather at San Juan College and mingle face-to-face, the Animas and San Juan Watersheds Week webinar series would ultimately allow nearly 300 people to participate and learn about the research and monitoring efforts taking place within these watersheds.

Building on last year’s theme, this year’s conference not only focused on the continued—largely social—impacts of the 2015 Gold King Mine Spill, but broadened its scope to include a wide variety of topics related to the overall health of the watershed. The webinar series began on Monday, June 15 with a virtual field trip of both the New Mexico State University’s Agricultural Science Center at Farmington and Navajo Agricultural Products Industry, one of the largest farms in the United States. Tuesday’s commencement of conference presentations focused on watershed planning and management. Anthony Edwards, a member of the Bonita Peak Mining District Community Advisory Group, moderated a panel examining the benefits of a multijurisdictional watershed coalition that would allow members of the states, tribes, and other jurisdictions to keep their autonomy but work in alliance to identify important issues within the watershed. Wednesday treated participants to presentations on different water quality issues within the watershed including an examination of sediment cores taken from Farmington Lake and Aztec Drinking Reservoir #1, and a summary of multiyear monitoring of dissolved lead concentrations in the Animas River from Aztec, New Mexico to the Colorado state border. The conference webinar concluded on Thursday with presentations focusing on the connection between the watersheds and agricultural activity and the impacts of oil and gas production on the water supply within the San Juan Basin.

A post-conference community teach-in was hosted online on Friday, June 19 in collaboration with the Gold King Mine Spill Diné Exposure Project.  The teach-in included presentations on the continued social impacts of the spill on Navajo Nation from Karletta Chief, Carmenlita Chief, and Shiprock Chapter President Duane “Chili” Yazzie, as well as flash talk presentations from conference presenters with Navajo translation provided.

Framing both the beginning and end of this webinar series was a video produced by conference planning members specifically for the conference entitled, The River Connects Us All, featuring a montage of images of the Animas and San Juan Rivers from Silverton, Colorado to Lake Powell, Utah. Throughout the video the narrator reminds viewers that the natural features of this watershed, combined with the many ways local communities rely on the river, create a set of unique challenges that both connect us, and require us to proactively manage the watersheds for the health of all its residents. Conference presentations can be viewed here, and videos of all five days of the webinar series are available here.