Community Water

Transboundary Groundwater Resilience Network Hosts First In-person Collaboration Event in New York City

Transboundary Groundwater Resilience Network Hosts First In-person Collaboration Event in New York City

By Ana Cristina Garcia-Vasquez, NM WRRI graduate research assistant; Kaustuv Neupane, NM WRRI graduate research assistant & Christine Tang, NM WRRI Research Scientist

The Transboundary Groundwater Resilience (TGR) Network of Networks, funded by the National Science Foundation’s Accelerating Research through International Network-to-Network Collaborations(AccelNet) program, met in New York City last week on March 23, 2023, to host an event for UN Water 2023. TGR partners and co-hosts New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI) at New Mexico State University, San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) and University of California San Diego, West Big Data Hub at the University of California Berkeley (UCB), and Water and Climate Coalition.

Pictured from left to right are attendees at TGR’s UN Water 2023 event, Connecting the World for Transboundary Groundwater Resilience, held in New York City on Thursday, March 23, 2023.Top row: I. Zaslavsky, director/UCSD; S. Fernald, director/NM WRRI; E. Tapia Villaseñor, Professor, Universidad de Sonora; A.C. Garcia-Vasquez, graduate research assistant/ NM WRRI; M.E. Giner, US commissioner/IBWC; A. Granados-Olivas, professor/UACJ; J. Christopher, project manager/SDSC; M.A. Kinzer, artistBottom row: K. Neupane, graduate research assistant/NM WRRI; E. Lictevout, director/IGRAC; A.R. Maldonado, Mexican Commissioner/IBWC; S. Megdal, director/WRRC; D. Gyawali, former minister of water resources/Nepal; A. Atkins, executive director/West Big Data Hub; S.S Solis, Professor, UC Davis; E. Hestir, Associate Professor/UC Merced; C. Cramer, deputy director/SDSC.

This event was to further the project’s Action Agenda item #86, Connecting the World for Transboundary Groundwater Resilience, which is a commitment submitted to the UN Water Conference pledging to deliver scaled and replicable water actions used to improve water-related objectives, goals, and impacts.

This interactive 90-minute event allowed attendees to participate in discussions related to transboundary groundwater research and management, perspectives on successes, challenges, and needs, and possible solutions for transboundary groundwater collaboration.

The meeting began with a networking breakfast. Sam Fernald, director of the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute, gave a presentation titled, Transboundary Groundwater Resilience: contributions from a network for disciplines and communities, which focused on the convergence of disciplines and community interaction as a pathway for supporting action agenda item #86.

Afterward, in the participant spotlight section, attendees shared their insights and experiences related to transboundary groundwater. This section of the event heard remarks and observations from many participants from all over the world, including TGR partners in Mexico, the US, Nepal, Sweden, and the Netherlands. A follow-up community discussion was moderated by Ashley Atkins, executive director of the West Big Data Innovation Hub at UCB and a Co-PI of TGR, and Julie Christopher, technical project manager for the West Big Data Hub and GO FAIR US, at SDSC.

Suggestions on achieving sustainable transboundary water development centered around what is needed for transboundary cooperation and what these transboundary agreements need to include. For successful cooperation, we need to consider the perspectives of all the stakeholders and build trust through better collaboration, communication, and data sharing. Dr. Elisabeth Lictevout, Director of the International Groundwater Resources Assessment Centre, stressed the importance of building trust by sharing accurate, up-to-date data and that data sharing is the best way to collaborate. Thus, we need increased investment in groundwater monitoring, data collection, and information sharing between countries and regions.

Legal agreements, policies, and regulations should promote equitable and sustainable use of groundwater, consider a long-term perspective that includes anticipating and mitigating challenges, and increase investment in sustainable management practice to ensure the continued availability of this vital resource. Preserving and protecting transboundary groundwater resources for future generations is the utmost priority.

Connecting the world for transboundary groundwater resilience is complex and challenging; however, we must undertake it to build a sustainable and resilient future for all. We must work together towards this important goal and ensure that our actions today contribute to a better tomorrow.

The event wrapped up with concluding remarks by NM WRRI graduate research assistant Ana Cristina Garcia-Vasquez, who emphasized that water connects all aspects of life. To achieve better water development, we must first learn how to communicate with each other.

For more information on becoming involved, please visit the TGR website, or sign up for the mailing list to learn about future TGR events and announcements.

Community Water December 2020 eNews

NMSU publication culminates 10-year study of acequia systems

NMSU publication culminates 10-year study of acequia systems

By Jane Moorman,  NMSU Marketing and Communications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Rincon Arroyo Watershed Stabilization Project

The NRCS has awarded the Doña Ana County and its Flood Commission the first Planning/NEPA phase of a Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Operations Program for the Rincon Arroyo Watershed. Partners to the project include the NM WRRI, BLM, EBID, and the Caballo Soil and Water Conservation District. This phase aims to create a watershed plan to address the root cause of flooding, vegetation loss in the uplands that scour soils and transport sediment, which in turn clogs downstream riparian areas and over 19 miles of agricultural infrastructure, and overwhelms downstream flood control infrastructure.


NM WRRI Water and Community Collaboration Lab

The NM WRRI Water and Community Collaboration Lab (WCC-Lab) aims to foster links between the best science, communities, and stakeholders to inform water and environmental decision-making. The WCC-Lab’s goals focus upon collaboratively developing and testing innovative and feasible approaches to the complex issues of water supply and usage in New Mexico. Results of our pilot projects in the Hatch and Mesilla Valley and the Rincon Arroyo watershed within the Valley, have led to funding of several projects by grants that are highlighted on this website


Hatch and Mesilla Valley Drought Resiliency Project

Elephant Butte Irrigation District (EBID) was selected for award for the Reclamation WaterSMART Drought Response Program. The project entitled, EBID Drought Resiliency Priority Projects: Watershed-scale Stormwater Monitoring and Capture proposes to address program tasks of a) increasing the reliability of water supplies through infrastructure improvements, through stormwater capture and aquifer recharge and b) projects to improve water management through decision support tools, modeling, and measurement, through increased system monitoring and a model decision support tool. NM WRRI will lead the development of an integrated system dynamics model decision-support tool, which will assess the systems’ water balance and related socio-economic data that allows for long-term future trend projection of the effect of stormwater supplies and a scenario of watershed-scale stormwater harvesting.

Community Water

Rincon Subbasins 319 Project

The NM WRRI has been selected for award by the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) for a Watershed Implementation grant funded by EPA Clean Water Act Section 319 funds. The Rincon Sub-basins 319 Project implements a watershed restoration plan with the primary objective to reduce sediment transport including E. coli to the impaired reach of the Rio Grande through small-scale, low impact restoration practices. This project will also inform future project proposals within the larger Rincon Arroyo Watershed.


Outreach and Technical Support

By organizing conferences and workshops such as the Annual New Mexico Water Conference—held each year since 1956—the Animas and San Juan Watersheds Conference, as well as an array of technical workshops, NM WRRI provides a forum to share water research findings, inform stakeholders, and ultimately address the pressing water issues facing New Mexico and the southwest.


Clean Drinking Water Technology

Dr. Antonio Lara and the Clean Drinking Water Team from New Mexico State University establish technologies for the treatment of heavy metals and pathogens from scarce and contaminated water sources, surface and ground, to produce potable water. Investigation results show that clay ceramic pellets effectively treat and help solve the intractable problem of water contaminated by uranium in New Mexico. The technologies convert polluted water to potable water inexpensively and are usable worldwide.


Community Hydrology Program

  • Acequia irrigators in northern NM – surface water and groundwater data on the web
  • Ranchers in central NM – soil moisture and forage growth
  • Irrigators in southern NM – stakeholder co-developed irrigation and crop planning
  • Community planners in the Rincon watershed – restoration to recharge groundwater

Sustainable Water and Agriculture Life Cycle Assessment Project

The purpose of this project is to connect academic research with the practical needs of the pecan industry in the Mesilla Valley. This opportunity opens the possibility of learning about the current industry practices.