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eNews March 2021

NMSU Student Awarded NM WRRI Water Research Grant to Study Degradation of Microplastics from Wastewaters to H2 Energy

NMSU Student Awarded NM WRRI Water Research Grant to Study Degradation of Microplastics from Wastewaters to H2 Energy

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

The term microplastics refers to any fragmented plastic material with sizes less than 5 mm. In a 2017 worldwide study by Orb Media, researchers found that over 80 percent of tap water samples tested positive for microplastics. The U.S. had the highest contamination rate of any nation with more than 94 percent of tap water samples containing plastic fibers. Microplastics are found in the effluent of water treatment plants, industrial wastewaters, rivers, lakes, and oceans. A recent report in Science indicates that approximately 0.48–1.27 million tons of plastic debris enter oceans annually. Microplastics have the potential to cause harmful effects on human health (endocrine disrupting chemicals and disease-causing microbes) and ecological environments (invasive species can use them to travel to new habitats). For these reasons, it is important to remove microplastics from water before consumption and before releasing water into the environment.

However, due to the intrinsic physical and chemical characteristics of microplastics, removal from water or wastewater is difficult. Studies suggest that treatment technologies such as membrane bioreactors, activated sludge, hydrocyclone, coagulation, and filtration are effective at removing microplastics with sizes larger than 1 mm, but large amounts of smaller microplastics still pass through the existing water and wastewater treatment processes. There are some processes that can be used to remove or degrade microplastics like membrane filtration, or thermal, chemical, and catalytic oxidation, but these technologies are expensive and often have high energy requirements. Therefore, NM WRRI has awarded a Student Water Research Grant to Thiloka Edirisooriya as she works to develop an efficient and sustainable method to degrade micro-and nano-plastics from water. Under the guidance of her faculty sponsors, Dr. Huiyao Wang and Dr. Pei Xu, the project entitled, Solar reforming of microplastics in water for H2 production and degradation using nanocomposite photocatalysts, will use photocatalysis while producing hydrogen (H2) under solar reforming.

The project aims to develop highly functional nanocomposite photocatalysts to clean water and convert microplastics from a waste to H2 energy. According to Edirisooriya, “This research will help to improve water quality, reduce acute and chronic toxicity to human and aquatic life, and will assist in guiding the potential application of photocatalysis for environmental remediation of microplastic pollution.” Edirisooriya presented this project, which also addresses the renewable energy demand issue, at the 65th Annual New Mexico Water Conference.

Edirisooriya, originally from Sri Lanka, has a BS in Civil Engineering where she worked on flow forecasting modeling and flood modeling. Edirisooriya plans to graduate with her MS in Civil Engineering from New Mexico State University in December. After graduation, Edirisooriya plans to continue in academics and hopes to enroll in a PhD program.

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eNews March 2021

NMHU Student Awarded NM WRRI Water Research Grant to Study Water Quality in the Upper Pecos River

NMHU Student Awarded NM WRRI Water Research Grant to Study Water Quality in the Upper Pecos River

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

The Upper Pecos watershed is part of the larger Rio Grande Basin. It extends from the headwaters of the Pecos River in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to where Interstate Highway 25 crosses the Pecos near San Jose, New Mexico. The Upper Pecos River provides water for wildlife habitats and the public water supply, and supports recreation, agriculture, and tourism. However, it has been hypothesized that increasing public and private land usage in the watershed could degrade the water quality of the Upper Pecos River. In order to reduce any potential water quality degradation, the Upper Pecos community needs data that can help them make informed management decisions. The first step in this process would be to conduct a water quality monitoring study to determine the current condition of the Upper Pecos River and its response to increasing land usage.

Unfortunately, water quality data are not regularly collected throughout the Upper Pecos watershed. To help address this knowledge gap, NM WRRI has awarded New Mexico Highlands University’s Megan Begay a Student Water Research Grant to assess the overall water quality of the Upper Pecos River. The project entitled Water Quality Monitoring of the Upper Pecos River; Protecting the Pecos with Baseline Data, seeks to establish the baseline water quality levels of the Upper Pecos River. Under the guidance of her faculty advisor, Dr. Jennifer Lindline, Begay will collect data on a bi-weekly basis at six monitoring sites along the Upper Pecos River. The data being collected are water temperature, dissolved oxygen, specific conductance, pH, and turbidity. The project seeks to define monthly and seasonal water quality variations on the Upper Pecos River, and to inform restoration efforts by the Upper Pecos Watershed Association.

The research team aims to create an impactful water management data set for the Pecos community. According to Begay, “this research will help benefit future decision making regarding the water quality of the Upper Pecos River.” The study hopes to provide a clear understanding of the current condition of the Upper Pecos River in order to develop a more detailed understanding of the river’s response to current and increasing land usages.

Begay and her team have presented this project at the 65th Annual New Mexico Water Conference, an Upper Pecos Watershed Association Board Meeting, and to the Pecos Hydrology Workgroup.

Originally from New Mexico, Begay received her Associate of Applied Science in both Natural Resources Management and Environmental Science from Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute. Begay is on track to graduate from New Mexico Highlands University in the fall with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Geology. After graduation, Begay plans on gaining more applied experience in her field and going to graduate school.

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eNews March 2021

PhD Student, Sara M. Torres, Begins Research on the Life Cycle Assessment of Pecan Orchards in the Mesilla Valley

PhD Student, Sara M. Torres, Begins Research on the Life Cycle Assessment of Pecan Orchards in the Mesilla Valley

By Carolina Mijares, NM WRRI Program Manager

PhD student Sara M. Torres’ dissertation follows the life cycle of pecan orchards to identify the water and environmental impacts at each stage of pecan production from cradle-to-gate. Cradle refers to the establishment of the orchard and gate represents the pecans leaving the orchard. The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) will compare orchards using different irrigation schemes, including flood, drip, and micro-sprinklers in the Mesilla Valley. New Mexico is the second-largest pecan producer in the country, and Doña Ana County is the highest pecan-producing county in the United States. With this research, Sara hopes to provide producers with sustainability tradeoffs to help inform decisions on how to make pecan production more sustainable from cradle-to-gate.

This project has provided Sara the opportunity to get to know the pecan production culture in the Mesilla Valley. She has had the chance to talk with producers one-on-one and has learned a lot about the hopes and dreams producers have for the Valley. Sara states, “Being in the field speaking with stakeholders is my favorite part of my current role.”

Sara enjoys the project’s collaborative approach and working under the guidance of Dean Rolando Flores of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, and Dr. Alexander “Sam” Fernald, Director of NM Water Resources Research Institute. Her project is funded by the Hazel and Ulysses McElyea Endowment through the college of ACES. She is grateful for the critical conversations about research where individual and collective goals can be developed and used to execute and complete the proposed study on pecan orchard LCA. Sara states, “There is a creative energy to our meetings that I believe is helping move our research forward.”

Born and raised in Colombia, Sara recently lived in Colorado, Michigan, and now New Mexico. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies from the University of Colorado Boulder. She has a Master of Science in Community Sustainability and another in Geography, Environment, and Spatial Sciences from Michigan State University.

Sara expects to graduate with a Doctor of Philosophy in Water Science and Management in August 2022. She aspires to work on solving complex environmental problems at the community level. Sara hopes to use her skills and tools to implement environmental and behavioral theories to improve local environmental outcomes.

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eNews March 2021

Meet the Researcher, Huiyao Wang, New Mexico State University

Meet the Researcher, Huiyao Wang, New Mexico State University

By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

This month for Meet the Researcher, we had the opportunity to interview Huiyao Wang, an associate professor of Materials Engineering for the Department of Civil Engineering at New Mexico State University (NMSU). Wang has worked at NMSU since 2013 and specializes in advanced research on novel materials and innovative energy for water treatment, solar energy, fuel cells, nanomaterials, and analytical devices. He teaches Fundamentals of Environment Engineering, and has instructed other NMSU courses in the past. Huiyao acknowledges that water is one of the most important factors of life for human beings, and has therefore dedicated his career to developing and researching new opportunities to reuse and preserve it.

Wang received his higher education entirely from Lanzhou University in Lanzhou, China. He earned a BS in Physics (1987), an MS in Semiconductor Physics and Devices (1993), and a PhD in Condensed Matter Physics (1998). His PhD work focused on preparing nano-structure photocatalytic metal oxide thin films to degrade dye wastewater by sunlight. Huiyao is currently a part of the American Society of Civil Engineering, and the Materials Research Society (International). He has additionally served as a guest editor for the journal Catalysts.

Huiyao is currently mentoring Master’s student Thiloka Edirisooriya and PhD student Lin Chen. The New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI) recently awarded Thiloka Edirisooriya an FY20-21 Student Water Research Grant for her project entitled, Solar reforming of microplastics in water for H2 production and degradation using nanocomposite photocatalysts. This research will study the abundance of microplastics in multiple water sources that tend to absorb toxic chemicals and cause chronic diseases such as cancer within the human body. According to Wang, the result of this experiment will be to develop highly functional nanocomposite photocatalysts to clean water and convert microplastics to H2 energy. By doing this, it will help improve water quality, reduce acute and chronic toxicity in human and aquatic life, and will assist in guiding the potential application of a photocatalysis to assist in remedying microplastic pollution.

Wang has worked with NM WRRI for several years, and has contributed to multiple technical completion reports including Reducing Treatment Costs of Alternative Waters with Antifouling Ion-Exchange Membranes, and Low Cost, Low Energy concentrate Water Desalination Using Heat Recuperative Solar Still with Concentrating Solar Technology. Additional articles by Wang can be found in over 50 peer-reviewed publications with his latest being featured in the open access journal Water (2020) entitled, Interplay of the Factors Affecting Water Flux and Salt Rejection in Membrane Distillation: A State-of-the-Art Critical Review.

Huiyao and his colleagues are currently working on two projects using solar-driven multi-functional photocatalytic oxidation membrane distillation for produced water treatment, and closed-loop water reuse. This research will focus on innovative technology based on the integration of photocatalysis and membrane distillation processes instead of a combination of both. Integration is performed by utilizing solar energy to cause organic degradation on photocatalytic nanoparticles and inactivation of microorganisms while enhancing photothermal efficiency to produce vapor for membrane distillation. Wang states that these “projects aim to develop a multi-functional anti-fouling photocatalytic membrane distillation process that can utilize the full spectrum of solar energy to separate salts, decompose organic contaminants, inactivate pathogens, and produce high quality distillate.”

Using nano or advanced materials and technologies to improve water treatment and develop new water purification technologies is vital to Wang’s research, and he has stated that he would like to develop a transdisciplinary program to integrate nanotechnologies into environmental engineering. He hopes to continue developing immobilized solar photocatalytic reactors for water disinfection and purification as well.

Regarding future research, Huiyao plans to continue using his expertise to enhance environmental sustainability in his upcoming project with Dr. Pei Xu and Dr. Xuesong Xu entitled, Near zero-waste discharge of concentrate treatment using innovative electrodialysis processes. Huiyao is also currently collaborating with researchers at the University of Cincinnati, University of Michigan, University of California at Davis, California State University Fresno, and NMSU on several different research projects. He aims to participate in as many new developments related to environmental sustainability as possible, and hopes for additional cooperative opportunities with NM WRRI, NMSU, and other universities.

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eNews February 2021

Updated model shows New Mexico Hydrologic Diversity (Figure)

Updated model shows New Mexico Hydrologic Diversity (Figure)

By Kevin Perez, NM WRRI Research Specialist; Ahmed Mashaly, NM WRRI Graduate Research Assistant; Sam Fernald, NM WRRI Director

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eNews February 2021

PhD student from NMSU awarded Student Water Research Grant to study emerging contaminants PFAS

PhD student from NMSU awarded Student Water Research Grant to study emerging contaminants PFAS

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals used in food packaging, clothing, cleaning products, dental floss, nonstick cookware, and many other products that we use in our daily lives. Although more research is needed on the subject, recent studies have shown that exposure to large amounts of PFAS may negatively affect human health. Many PFAS chemicals do not break down naturally. The stable carbon-fluorine bond protects PFAS structures against environmental degradation and results in air, soil, and groundwater accumulation.

In 2018, the New Mexico Environment Department reported that PFAS associated with firefighting foams used in military training exercises were discovered in groundwater at and around Cannon Air Force Base and Holloman Air Force Base. Due to the ability of PFAS to bioaccumulate in animals, there is concern about some of the contaminated wells supplying drinking water to local dairies.

The New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute awarded New Mexico State University PhD candidate Zahra Abbasian a Student Water Research Grant to help fund her research of PFAS fate and transport. An accurate understanding of PFAS transport is essential to developing efficient remediation methods and determining the exposure risks. Therefore, under the guidance of her faculty advisor, Dr. Reza Foudazi, Abbasian has begun work on a research project entitled, The effect of concentration and composition on PFAS adsorption at air-water interface.

The project aims to study PFAS adsorption kinetics and equilibrium at the air-water interface by measuring the surface tension over time. Abbasian will examine different concentrations, compositions, and the amount of PFAS adsorbed at the air-water interface after equilibrium time, which could indicate how fast and to what extent these contaminants can be transported from the liquid phase to the interface.

Results of this research will demonstrate the factors that affect PFAS adsorption at air-water interface and is expected to show that PFAS adsorption at the air-water interface should be considered in PFAS fate/transport analysis and risk assessment. Several remediation techniques are also likely to benefit from the results of the project. Abbasian has presented this project at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Annual Meeting, and at the Annual New Mexico Water Conference.

Originally from Iran, Abbasian received her BS in Chemical Engineering from Shiraz University, and her MS in Chemical Engineering from Iran University of Science & Technology where she worked on the synthesis of highly porous polymers. Abbasian will graduate in 2022 with a PhD in Chemical and Materials Engineering, and plans to become an academic or industry leader in the field of water and wastewater treatment.

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eNews February 2021

Meet the Researcher, Sangamesh Angadi, Professor, New Mexico State University

Meet the Researcher, Sangamesh Angadi, Professor, New Mexico State University

By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

Sangamesh (Sangu) Angadi is a professor of crop stress physiology for the Plant and Environmental Sciences (PES) Department at the New Mexico State University (NMSU) Agricultural Science Center at Clovis. He teaches special topic classes for graduate students and presents guest lectures in several courses. Sangu has written and collaborated with the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI) on several proposals over the years and mentions that his research’s primary goal is to improve our agriculture’s water productivity and conserve water resources.

Angadi completed both his BS (1983) and MS (1985) in Agriculture from the University of Agricultural Sciences in Bangalore, India, focusing on agronomic management of rainfed hybrid cotton. He earned his PhD (2001) from the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, researching water relations of different height sunflower cultivars. Throughout his career, Sangu has worked as a statistician, scientist, and research/teaching assistant.

Concerning his research, Sangu expresses one of the most important aspects of his position involves “introducing well-adopted, low water-using, stress-tolerant alternative crops into local cropping systems and designing sustainable cropping systems to help improve climate resiliency, resource conservation, resource use efficiency, and other ecosystem services to reduce Ogallala Aquifer depletion and sustain irrigated agriculture in the region.” He states that he and his colleagues are developing suitable deficit irrigation management strategies to help protect the multibillion-dollar rural economy and assist in the smoother transition of agriculture from deficit irrigation to dryland farming.

Angadi and his colleagues are currently working on a project to introduce native perennial grass mixtures into irrigated agriculture in the form of Circular Buffer Strips (CBS). These grass strips will alternate with crop strips and provide several advantages. Sangu has stated that this technique will “rearrange the underutilized portion of a circular pivot into CBS to improve the sustainability of the Ogallala Aquifer…[and] enhance environmental stewardship, water conservation, and use in the entire Great Plains.” He anticipates the water cycle’s benefits to include 1) reduced evaporation and runoff losses of rainfall and irrigation water, 2) high-intensity precipitation conservation, and 3) advanced soil water storage and crop water use efficiency. Sangu predicts that CBS could also refine food productivity through improved soil health, natural resource conservation, system resiliency (e.g., reduced stress and better resource use), climate change mitigation, and biodiversity (e.g., pollinators, beneficial insects, nutrient cycling). Angadi’s preliminary results are promising, and show improvements in grain yield (>20%), microclimate, water conservation, and biomass production in border rows.

Angadi is additionally working on a USDA-NIFA-CAP grant entitled, Sustainable Bioeconomy for Arid Regions, to develop a desert-adapted alternative crop ‘Guar’ for the Southwestern region. The main focus areas will be on stress physiology, deficit irrigation management, and agronomy of the crop. According to Sangu, he hopes that through his research he will be able to inform producers about the challenges faced by agriculture in this region, including limited irrigation and dryland conditions.

Angadi has been a mentor to many young scientists and has offered his expertise to undergraduates, graduates, and postdoctoral researchers alike. He is a graduate student committee member for three NMSU students, one University of Arizona student, and one Texas Tech University student. NM WRRI recently awarded Sangu’s PhD student, Paramveer Singh, an FY20-21 Student Water Research Grant for their project entitled, Improving Green Water Use Proportion in a Center Pivot Irrigation System by Using Circular Grass Buffer Strips. This research aims to improve the water cycle’s efficiency by using water isotopes to see an increase in transpirational use of rainfall and a reduction in evaporation loss due to CBS.

Angadi has written and collaborated on over 80 refereed journal articles concerning water use efficiency, crop yield, irrigation, and various other agricultural concepts. He has several articles in review for publication in the coming year. Angadi is currently working with his team on an article entitled, Preliminary Benefits of Circular Buffer Strips of Perennial Grasses in a Center Pivot Irrigation in the Southern Great Plains, in preparation for the Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment journal.

Sangu has been the recipient of several honors and recognitions including the Mobley Family Endowed Research Award from the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences (ACES) at NMSU, and the USDA Team Award for an outstanding integrated program in water resources. His research project entitled, Circular Buffer Strips (CBS) of Native Perennial Grasses, was also showcased by the Soil and Water Conservation Society as an innovative idea in 2019. He has attended and presented at more than 145 conferences and meetings over the course of his career.

Sangu is an active member of six professional affiliations including the Crop Science Society of America, Soil and Water Conservation Society, and the American Society for the Advancement of Science. He also serves in a variety of professional appointments including being the Chair of the PES Award Committee, and a member of multiple faculty recruitment committees in the College of ACES.

Regarding his future goals, Sangu has expressed that “water will be the most important factor limiting food security of [our] exponentially growing population.” With that in mind, he believes we need to develop new technologies that will not only increase water productivity, but also improve ecosystem services, system resiliency, and mitigate climate change. He plans to perform more research on the roles of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and big data science with multi-disciplinary teams as a way to enhance the water efficiency of production systems. Sangu Angadi emphasizes that while researchers in other parts of the state are dealing with water resources that are renewable, he is working on fossil water from the Ogallala Aquifer that is quickly depleting, thus creating an extra urgency to help eastern New Mexico prepare to face current and future challenges in the region.

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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. Corn is a staple crop, especially for the Navajo Nation, so 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 partial 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

NMT Student Awarded NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant to Monitor Sediment Transport

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

Measuring sediment transport in arid environments presents some unique challenges. Ephemeral channels have sandy, porous bed sediment and are disconnected from the water table. High-intensity storms are required to produce sediment runoff in these channels. When flooding does occur, high rates of sediment are carried down these dryland channels and sediments are routed from the hillslopes to perennial trunk rivers, like the Rio Grande.

This sediment runoff can become problematic for river managers who are tasked with safely and efficiently moving water downstream. Sediment input from tributaries can cause sediment plugs, which prevent water flow. Sediment flow is also important for aquatic species, including endangered species like the silvery minnow whose habitat consists of gravel and woody debris, both of which are transported into the Rio Grande from ephemeral tributaries.

In order to observe and investigate sediment flow, NM WRRI has awarded a Student Water Research Grant to New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (NMT) PhD student Kyle Stark, who is researching the automated systems that monitor and measure sediment transport. The project entitled, Improving Continuous Sediment Monitoring in an Ephemeral Arroyo in Central NM, focuses on enhancing the operations of a sediment monitoring station, located 200 meters upstream of the confluence with the Rio Grande. The Arroyo de los Pinos site has been chosen as a prime location to study sediment flux in the Middle Rio Grande Valley because it is a direct tributary and drains many common lithologies found along the valley.

The research site includes a host of different instrument types to monitor sediment transport, many of which have never been used in this region. Finding a cheaper way to monitor sediment movement would improve regional knowledge of sediment budgets in the Rio Grande Valley. This grant will help fund the telemeter digital system that transmits and stores data collected at the sediment monitoring station.

According to Stark, the Arroyo de los Pinos system was designed and constructed to be a premier sediment monitoring station. It incorporates peer-reviewed methods of monitoring sediment with novel approaches in the arid Southwest. He explains that, “We produce data that is collected in only a few places around the world.” The inspiration for this system “comes from strong partnerships between federal government agencies, NMT, local New Mexican stakeholders (NM Geological Society).”

Stark has presented this project to the American Geophysical Union, the Geological Society of America, at the 65th Annual New Mexico Water Conference, and at the New Mexico Geologic Society Spring Conference. Stark hopes that this research will benefit academia, government agencies, and local landowners; that it will allow for better management of rivers and floodplains across the southwest United States and semiarid regions worldwide.

Stark, originally from Berryville, Virginia, earned a Bachelor of Science in Geology from The College of William and Mary where he studied the groundwater of early English settlements in Jamestown, Virginia. He then earned a Master of Science in Hydrology from NMT researching sediment transport. Stark plans to graduate in 2022 with a PhD in Earth and Environmental Science with a concentration in Hydrology. After graduation, Stark plans to pursue post-doctoral researcher opportunities related to surface water.