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eNews September eNews 2021

ENMU Student Awarded Research Grant to Study Rio Grande Cooter Nesting

ENMU Student Awarded Research Grant to Study Rio Grande Cooter Nesting

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Senior Student Program Coordinator

The Pecos River originates in the mountains of northern New Mexico and runs 926 miles through the Chihuahuan Desert before flowing into the Rio Grande on Texas’ southern border. The Pecos River represents a major water resource and habitat for wildlife throughout Texas and New Mexico. This wildlife includes numerous species in diverse aquatic, riparian, and upland habitats. Anthropogenic alterations to the Pecos River, like dam construction and channelization, have contributed to altered flow regimes and increased salinity. As conditions across the watershed have changed, the biological diversity of the Pecos River has decreased.

One species of particular concern is a freshwater turtle called the Rio Grande cooter. Habitat degradation due to river flow alterations (e.g., dam construction, oil and gas extraction, etc.) can be a major threat to this species’ survival. The Rio Grande cooter’s status is currently being reviewed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service for potential federal listing under the Endangered Species Act. Still, there is a need for more research about this turtle species in the United States and New Mexico. The Black River, a tributary of the Pecos River in Eddy County, New Mexico, is one of the only systems where the Rio Grande cooter is found in relatively high numbers; however, there have been no reports on nesting behavior to date and no reports of Rio Grande cooter nests being found on the Black River. This illustrates a gap in knowledge about nest site selection and hatching success for this species.

To fill this knowledge gap, NM WRRI awarded Eastern New Mexico University (ENMU) masters student, Frank Rodriguez, a Student Water Research Grant to study the nesting ecology of this elusive species. Under the guidance of his Faculty Advisor, Dr. Ivana Mali, Rodriguez will be working on a project entitled, Nesting ecology of the Rio Grande cooter (Pseudemys gorzugi) on the Black River, New Mexico. The objectives of this project are to conduct pedestrian surveys in search of Rio Grande cooter nesting females, set fresh nests on the Black River, and monitor the nests via game cameras to assess successful hatching rates and possible predation levels. In addition to pedestrian surveys, hoop-net trap surveys, and installing cameras, GPS transmitters will be attached to gravid females to gain more information about nesting behavior.

According to Rodriguez, freshwater turtles represent important bio-indicators of their respective ecosystems and evidence of reproduction in the Rio Grande cooter populations could be an indicator of riverine system health. Therefore, understanding the nesting ecology of the Rio Grande cooter is beneficial to managing the species and New Mexico’s water resources. According to Rodriguez, this project is significant because it will assess the relationship between Rio Grande cooter nesting success and habitat characteristics like river width, depth, water conductivity, and riparian land-use practices. If the water conditions and riparian vegetation are affecting Rio Grande cooter reproduction and nesting site selection, this study can inform water management practices on the Black River to ensure the survival of this species in one of its last strongholds.

Originally from Miami, Rodriguez received his undergraduate degree from Southern Oregon University, where he majored in Biology with an emphasis in Evolutionary Biology. He is planning to graduate from ENMU in May 2023 with a Master of Science in Biology degree. After graduation, Rodriguez plans to enroll in a doctoral program in wildlife biology or another relevant branch of biology and hopes to be directly involved in the conservation and management of endangered and threatened wildlife. Rodriguez plans to present his research at the 66th Annual New Mexico Water Conference.

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eNews September eNews 2021

Meet the Researcher, Frank Ramos, Professor, New Mexico State University

Meet the Researcher, Frank Ramos, Professor, New Mexico State University

By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

This month, our featured researcher is Frank Ramos, a professor at New Mexico State University (NMSU) in the Department of Geological Sciences. He has been affiliated with NMSU since 2008 and has held his current position since 2019. Ramos typically teaches four classes a year, including undergraduate-level courses such as Introductory Geology, Petrology, Geochemistry, and graduate-level Isotope Geochemistry and Analytical Geochemistry. He is currently advising five masters students performing thesis-related research and consistently works alongside two to five undergraduate researchers at any one time. Ramos believes in “training students to critically think, integrate information from different sources, and write clearly and concisely, done in an honest and ethical context. [He tries] to train students in a direct and honest fashion, not only to be able to act as ethical scientists but to also appreciate the world and environment in which they work and live.”

Ramos has been involved with the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI) for several years as a key member in several research projects (i.e., Produced Water Chemistry in the Permian Basin), and as a student advisor to students funded through the NM WRRI Student Water Research Program. In 2020, he advised Lin Chen on a project entitled, Recovery of Rare Earth Elements and Potable Water from Produced Water. Ramos describes this project as being centered around creating a process to concentrate and extract Rare Earth Elements (REEs) while generating clean potable water from Permian Basin Oil and Gas extraction-related produced water in southeast New Mexico and west Texas. REEs are critical components used in creating cell phones and high-end ceramics, which makes them valuable commodities. The process of extracting REEs while also generating clean water for agricultural and industrial use could prove significant in potentially helping address some of New Mexico’s unique water challenges. To read more about Lin Chen’s research project, please click here.

Ramos graduated with his BS in Geology from Stanford University (1989). He earned his MS in Geology (1992), and PhD in Geochemistry (2000) from the University of California in Los Angeles. He has over twenty-five publications across a wide variety of journals and guidebooks. Ramos has also received multiple funding opportunities for his work from the National Science Foundation Division of Earth Sciences and other organizations.

Ramos has served his community and university by being an active member in several societies and outreach efforts. He is the director of the NMSU Johnson Mass Spectrometry Laboratory, which assists students and researchers in the use of analytical tools to address problems associated with Geochemistry and Petrology. Ramos is also the president of the New Mexico Geological Society Foundation board in Socorro, New Mexico, and sits on the NMSU Radiation Safety Committee. Ramos holds memberships to several professional organizations such as the American Geophysical Union, and the Mineralogical Society of America.

Ramos is currently active in several research investigations ranging from scavenging REEs from water and coal ash to remediating lands by removing radionuclides in water, soils, and plant materials. A critical project he is leading involves a group of student researchers attempting to identify the Ra/Th ages of crystals in lavas erupted from active or recently active volcanoes worldwide. This research and all methods associated with the project are being developed and tested at NMSU alongside ongoing research in the NMSU Johnson Mass Spectrometry Lab. Ramos intends to expand the laboratory’s capabilities to include inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry trace element analyses to supplement their current isotope ratio measuring equipment. With the acquisition of this new unit, he believes it would greatly expand the range of elements and isotopes available for testing. This would allow researchers to access a wider variety of analytical tools and assist NM WRRI researchers in their water-related projects by allowing more isotopes (87Sr/86Sr or 206Pb/204Pb) to be examined. In addition to the five scientists Ramos has trained that currently fulfill technician or lab manager positions, he plans to guide at least five more to operate and maintain mass spectrometers in state-, national-, and educational-related labs across the U.S.

To anyone interested in pursuing a career in the water research field, Ramos imbues this parting message: “Water is a critical component to our nation’s well-being. Especially with the challenges that are building as a result of climate change, we have to begin to address water issues in more coherent and insightful ways. As such, water and water-related employment opportunities will expand greatly in the foreseeable future, and scientists will need to be well-versed in multiple research fields. This is the time to expand yourself and learn to 1) think critically, 2) hone your ability to integrate information from multiple sources, and 3) better your writing and communication skills. Focusing on these attributes will offer big rewards in your future.”

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eNews September eNews 2021

NMSU Researchers Analyze Produced Water Chemistry in the Permian Basin

NMSU Researchers Analyze Produced Water Chemistry in the Permian Basin

By Robert Sabie, Jr., NM WRRI Research Scientist

Each month NM WRRI is featuring an eNews article describing an individual research focus of the ongoing New Mexico Universities Produced Water Synthesis Project (NMUPWSP). This month we are featuring research being performed by Drs. Pei Xu, Yanyan Zhang, Kenneth Carroll, Tanner Schaub, Frank Ramos, and Jackie Jarvis at New Mexico State University (NMSU).

The extraction of oil and gas has economic benefits as well as environmental concerns, one being the management of produced water. Efforts to treat and find beneficial uses for produced water are met with fair skepticism given the constituents in the water can pose a risk to public health and the environment. Management decisions are often made using water quality parameters such as salinity, total organic carbon, and heavy metal content, however, these parameters are not enough to capture the full range of risk and toxicity of the produced water. Previous research determined there are up to 1,198 constituents identified in produced water, while only 527 of those have associated toxicity data publicly available in a database (Danforth et al. 2020). Although many of the produced water constituents are known, there is still a need for a comprehensive assessment of produced water quality and removal efficiency of treatment technologies for reducing environmental toxicity.

Researchers at NMSU are addressing this need by conducting this comprehensive assessment in their project entitled, Characterization of Produced Water in the Permian Basin for Potential Beneficial Use. Through this project, the NMSU research team is developing effective methods to analyze the organic and inorganic constituents, radionuclides, and toxicology of highly saline produced water, as well as producing a better understanding of the chemical composition and toxicity of produced water in the Permian Basin in southeastern New Mexico.

The team is collaborating with industry partners and has already completed site visits in January 2020. Analysis of the produced water quality are being performed at NMSU using advanced instrumentation such as ion chromatography (IC), inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectroscopy (ICP-OES), inductively coupled plasma mass spectroscopy (ICP-MS), agilent gas chromatography time of flight mass spectrometry (GC LECO TOF MS), Waters Acquity Ultraperformance liquid chromatography Q-TOF MS systems (LC-QTOF-MS-MS), ultrahigh resolution Orbitrap-based mass spectrometry, total organic carbon (TOC) and fluorescence excitation and emission mapping (F-EEM). In vitro tests are being performed on a mouse macrophage cell line to determine the environmental toxicity of the produced water constituents from different wells and disposal sites. The research performed in this study will help establish improved management practices, proper risk assessment, spill response, treatment, and beneficial use applications.

Reference

Danforth, W.A. Chiu, I. Rusyn, K. Schultz, A. Bolden, C. Kwiatkowski, E. Craft, An integrative method for identification and prioritization of constituents of concern in produced water from onshore oil and gas extraction, Environment international, 134 (2020) 105280.

Water storage pond for hydraulic fracturing.
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August 2021 eNews

Upcoming First Forum of the New Master Watershed Conservationist Program to Discuss Visions for the Future of the Hatch and Mesilla Valley Watershed

Upcoming First Forum of the New Master Watershed Conservationist Program to Discuss Visions for the Future of the Hatch and Mesilla Valley Watershed

By Dr. Connie Maxwell, NM WRRI Post-Doctoral Researcher

The forum, The Future of our Watershed in the Hatch and Mesilla Valleys, kicks off the first event of a new Master Watershed Conservationist program on September 9th, at 6:30 p.m., as an online zoom event (click here for link, and here for program information and to register). This first forum is open to the public and will feature a panel of local ecological and resource specialists who will engage in discussions with the audience on visions for the future and the needs for watershed stewardship in New Mexico’s most southern Rio Grande watershed region. Dr. Connie Maxwell from the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI), who has spearheaded this first session, will provide an overview of watershed issues for the region and moderate the panel, which will include: Gary Esslinger, Elephant Butte Irrigation District; Jeff Witte, NM Department of Agriculture; Gill Sorg, City Councilor, City of Las Cruces; Kevin Bixby, Supervisor, Doña Ana Soil and Water Conservation District (DASWCD) and Southwest Environmental Center Director;  John Gwynne, Doña Ana County Flood Commission; Don McClure, Bureau of Land Management, and Steve Wilmeth, a local rancher with extensive rangeland conservationist experience. This first forum event will also introduce the Master Watershed Conservationist program, which aims to empower citizens to promote stewardship of our local watersheds. Through the series of eight forums scheduled over the next nine months, the program will also engage volunteers in making decisions and implementing conservation projects in New Mexico’s southern Rio Grande watershed. Ten community organizations have joined with the DASWCD to organize the volunteer program, including NM WRRI, City of Las Cruces, Doña Ana County Flood Commission, Caballo Soil and Water Conservation District, Elephant Butte Irrigation District, Natural Resource Conservation Service, New Mexico State University Extension, Paso del Norte Watershed Council, Rio Grande Theater, and Spring Rains Consulting.

This program comes at an important time for the Hatch and Mesilla Valley region, as increasing watershed health can help build resiliency, giving both the ecosystem and the community greater capacity to face significant current challenges. Drought and high temperatures are increasing aridity, which is drying upland soils and stressing vegetation and rangeland health. Less upland vegetation results in less infiltration of monsoonal rains, which then leads to increased floods that erode and carry soils into the Rio Grande valley and overwhelm agricultural and flood infrastructure. This forum is convened in partnership with the Hatch and Mesilla Valley Watershed Plan – a South Central NM Stormwater Management Coalition project with planning efforts led by NM WRRI – to inform the watershed plan with the visions, ideas, data, and issues discussed at this evening event. Many partners are joining together in this watershed planning effort to address the root of this region’s issues through building up watershed health, identifying needs for innovations, and crafting plans for short-term priorities and long-term resilience. NM WRRI is contributing to this effort and meeting improved watershed goals through leading upland and urban green infrastructure restoration projects to slow and spread flood flows to restore vegetation, reduce flood energy and erosion, and recharge soil moisture and downstream aquifers. These projects will provide key data that will help our team estimate the restoration practices’ effects. We use these estimates in innovative tools we have created to identify the best spots for restoration, how much is required to achieve goals, and what the effects could be of large-scale implementation on the regional water conditions (Maxwell et al., 2021; NMWRRI, 2020).

The Master Watershed Conservationist programs will be conducted in live online Zoom events until in-person options become more possible, which will then follow COVID health guidelines. For more information, go to the DASWCD website page for the program: https://daswcd.org/master-watershed-conservation-program/

References:

Maxwell, C.M., Fernald, A.G., Cadol, D., Faist, A.M., King, J.P., 2021. Managing flood flow connectivity to landscapes to build buffering capacity to disturbances: An ecohydrologic modeling framework for drylands. J. Environ. Manage. 278, 111486.

NMWRRI, 2020. Statewide Water Assessment. Statewide Water Assessment. https://nmwrri.nmsu.edu/statewide-water-assessment/ (accessed 3/9/2021).

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eNews

Watershed Restoration in the Rincon Arroyo Watershed

Watershed Restoration in the Rincon Arroyo Watershed

By Connie Maxwell, NM WRRI Graduate Research Assistant

The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) awarded the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI) a Watershed Implementation grant funded by the Environmental Protection Agency Clean Water Act Section 319 funds, The Rincon Subbasins 319 Project. NM WRRI, in collaboration with the Stormwater Coalition, will work to bring the best science to better understand watershed dynamics and develop tools for land managers to achieve watershed restoration to address regional flooding and water supply challenges. The NM WRRI is the grant recipient and project lead; other project collaborators include the Doña Ana County Flood Commission as the long-term manager of the project and member of the steering committee, the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, Bureau of Land Management, the Caballo Soil and Water Conservation District, and additional project experts as key personnel.

Floods scour soils and transport sediment, which in turn clog downstream riparian areas, agricultural infrastructure, and overwhelm downstream flood control infrastructure. A root cause of flooding is vegetation loss in the uplands exacerbated by droughts, growing aridity, and land management. The Rincon Subbasins 319 Project implements a watershed restoration plan in two subbasins of the Rincon Arroyo Watershed with the primary objective to reduce sediment transport that includes E. coli to the impaired reach of the Rio Grande through slowing flood flows and spreading them across the landscape. This project will examine restoration and management approaches that exploit storms that come in fewer and more intense events to achieve revegetation (Bestelmeyer et al. 2018; Holmgren et al. 2006). The restoration design was informed by the results from an innovative ecohydrologic modeling framework developed by Maxwell et al. (2020) that quantified the extent of restoration needed to build the watershed’s buffering capacity to disturbances such as flooding and droughts. The small-scale, low impact restoration practices will include constructing stone lines, wire and brush lines, microcatchments, and one-rock dams to infiltrate storm runoff in two sub-watersheds totaling 180 acres. The project will compare flow dynamics, E. coli loading, and vegetation between treated and non-treated control subbasins to quantify and compare the effects of the restoration practices. The collaborative process and critical science provided by this project will support water managers and inform other projects across regional watersheds of the Hatch and Mesilla Valleys.

References:

Bestelmeyer, B. T., D. P. Peters, S. R. Archer, D. M. Browning, G. S. Okin, R. L. Schooley, and N. P. Webb. 2018. The grassland–shrubland regime shift in the southwestern United States: Misconceptions and their implications for management. Bioscience 68:678-690.

Holmgren, M., P. Stapp, C. R. Dickman, C. Gracia, S. Graham, J. R. Gutiérrez, C. Hice, F. Jaksic, D. A. Kelt, and M. Letnic. 2006. Extreme climatic events shape arid and semiarid ecosystems. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 4:87-95.

Maxwell, C.M., Fernald, A., Cadol, D., Faist, A.M., King, J.P. (in press) 2020. Managing flood flow connectivity to landscapes to build buffering capacity to disturbances: an ecohydrologic modeling framework for drylands. Journal of Environmental Management.

Eroding Channel in the Rincon Arroyo Watershed.
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eNews

Reclamation Selects Proposal from the Stormwater Coalition with NM WRRI to Develop a Hatch and Mesilla Valley Watershed Plan

Reclamation Selects Proposal from the Stormwater Coalition with NM WRRI to Develop a Hatch and Mesilla Valley Watershed Plan

By Connie Maxwell, NM WRRI Graduate Research Assistant

The South Central New Mexico Stormwater Management Coalition (Stormwater Coalition) has identified watershed restoration as the critical underlying strategy to address flooding and sediment transport issues in the Hatch and Mesilla Valleys. Vegetation loss in upland watersheds is leading to floods that scour soils and transport sediment, which in turn clogs downstream riparian areas, agricultural infrastructure, and overwhelms downstream flood control infrastructure. Higher flow energies and decreased infiltration are diminishing water storage and supplies across the landscape, negatively impacting agriculture, communities, and ecosystems.

The Stormwater Coalition’s proposal was selected for funding by the Bureau of Reclamation through its WaterSMART Cooperative Watershed Management Program. The goal of the two-year project is to develop a community-based comprehensive watershed plan and prioritize project designs for the region. The group proposed project goals to increase collaboration to improve watershed health by keeping the water and the soil on the watershed through developing local solutions which can be implemented across the region. The planning and project design objectives are to reduce sediment transport, prevent flooding, increase upland vegetation productivity, increase upland flood flow infiltration, and increase water supply through shallow groundwater aquifer recharge from flood flows and stormwater in valleys. The group also proposes to extend its organizational development, increase collaborator development and community outreach, and assemble a diverse technical and stakeholder task force to develop the plans. The proposed project management team includes NM WRRI as project manager and planner, the Doña Ana County Flood Commission, the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, the Alamosa Land Institute, and the Jornada Resource Conservation & Development Council as fiscal agent.

The Stormwater Coalition identified five main issues to address in the watershed planning and priority project design process: 1) degraded upper watersheds as indicated by increasing erosion and sediment transport is the critical underlying issue; 2) water supply: increased variability, shortfalls, and aquifer depletion; 3) urban development expansion from the El Paso/Juarez metropolitan district towards Las Cruces; 4) a need to increase watershed-scale coordination to achieve goals and reduce conflict; and 5) a need for coordinated watershed planning efforts in the newly created Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. The Stormwater Coalition is a grass-roots, non-regulatory group that was established in 2010 to develop cross-agency regional watershed management collaboration with diverse stakeholders for stormwater management and to identify the watershed dynamics that affect its management. The Stormwater Coalition states on their website that because stormwater does not respect political boundaries, it has become apparent that the needs of the region would best be served by a regional watershed management approach. The partners include the regional flood commissions, soil and water conservation districts, and counties within the watershed; the Elephant Butte Irrigation District – the largest irrigation district in New Mexico; the Village of Hatch; and the City of Anthony. Collaborators extend throughout the watershed and includes farmers and ranchers; federal and state agencies; universities and associated organizations, such as the NM WRRI; watershed groups, such as the Paso del Norte Watershed Council; and municipalities.

Excerpt from proposal cover. Photo courtesy of Jay Hill Photography (area farmer and former EBID board member).
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August 2021 eNews

NMT Student Awarded Research Grant to Study the Volumetric and Chemical Influence of Groundwater on the Rio Grande

NMT Student Awarded Research Grant to Study the Volumetric and Chemical Influence of Groundwater on the Rio Grande

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Senior Student Program Coordinator

Groundwater contributions to surface flows (e.g., irrigation returns, lateral basin flow paths) can provide significant base flow in the Rio Grande. As flow paths exit the basin and converge, the solute from each distinct source contributes to the chemical evolution of the riparian aquifer and the river. For example, Hogan et al. (2007) found that deep upwelling groundwater is the primary source of salinization in the Rio Grande. Quantifying the proportions of these distinct groundwater contributions to the Rio Grande hydrologic system could help evaluate the system’s resilience in the face of increased water stress.

NM WRRI has awarded New Mexico Tech graduate student, Ethan Williams, a Student Water Research Grant to study the volumetric and chemical influence of groundwater on the Rio Grande in the southern Albuquerque Basin. The project entitled, Quantifying groundwater to surface water exchanges in the Belen reach of the MRGCD, has three objectives: (1) to identify the proportion and provenance of groundwater contributions in the study area, (2) to record how these fluxes change through the 2021 water year, and (3) to integrate the results into the hydrogeologic context of the basin.

Under the guidance of his faculty advisor, Dr. Alex Rinehart, Williams will collect water samples and flow data at strategic locations in the project area and perform end-member mixing analysis (EMMA). Williams will then calculate volumetric source contributions, develop conceptual flow models for the study, and present his findings within the context of the current literature.

Williams expects the findings to clarify groundwater’s role in maintaining and supplementing flow in the Rio Grande in the southern Albuquerque Basin. According to Williams, “this work aims to provide a nuanced understanding of how, where, and when distinct groundwaters contribute to the Rio Grande. This data will have significant implications for meeting compact obligations, maintaining riparian habitat, and supporting beneficial water use. By evaluating individual groundwater sources, we will characterize how distinct groundwaters affect the chemical evolution of the river and the spatial distribution of individual inputs. These findings will help us accurately anticipate the effects of drought on issues like river salinization and inform our ability to deploy mitigation strategies.” Williams has submitted an abstract about this research to the Geological Society of America Fall Conference in Portland, Oregon. He will also present a poster on this topic at the 66th Annual New Mexico Water Conference.

Originally from Oak Park, Illinois, Williams graduated in 2018 from the University of New Mexico with a BS in Geology. After working for a consulting company on a groundwater monitoring project in northeastern New Mexico, Williams enrolled in the Department of Hydrology at New Mexico Tech where he plans to graduate with an MS in Hydrology next year. After graduation, Williams plans to pursue a career in water where he hopes to “develop and maintain safe and sustainable water sources in water-stressed regions.”

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August 2021 eNews

Meet the Researcher, Kathryn Olszowy, Assistant Professor, New Mexico State University

Meet the Researcher, Kathryn Olszowy, Assistant Professor, New Mexico State University

By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

This month for Meet the Researcher we had the pleasure of interviewing Kathryn Olszowy, an assistant professor for the Department of Anthropology at New Mexico State University (NMSU) since 2019. She teaches several courses including biological anthropology, human health and biological variation, and evolutionary medicine. According to Olszowy, the most crucial aspect of teaching is to help students improve their scientific literacy and assist them in understanding social and structural factors that shape human health and wellness. She also emphasizes the importance of encouraging students to grow in their confidence, knowledge, and skills. Helping students realize their potential in creative and productive research outlets is one of the main reasons she values her role as a mentor to any interested undergraduate and graduate students.

One of Kathryn’s students, Hailey Taylor, was recently awarded a New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI) Student Water Research Grant for the project entitled, Living with Water-Insecurity: How do people adapt and cope with poor water quality and access?. This research will investigate how residents of colonias in Doña Ana County, New Mexico adapt and cope with inadequate water quality/supply. This study will then examine the potential mental and physical impacts limited water can have on individuals living in these underdeveloped communities along the US-Mexico border. Olszowy comments that Hailey is not only interested in measuring people’s own perceptions of water insecurity but also what they would like to see as possible solutions. This research is a part of Kathryn’s more extensive research study funded by The Mountain West Clinical and Translational Research Infrastructure Network (MW CTR-IN). Further information on Hailey’s study can be found in NM WRRI’s July eNews article located here.

Kathryn earned her BA (2007) from Colorado State University in Fort Collins and MA (2009) in Anthropology from the University of Colorado at Boulder. She received her MS in Biomedical Anthropology (2011) and her PhD (2014) in Anthropology from Binghamton University located in New York. From there, Olszowy continued her education and acquired her MPH (2019) from Cleveland State University in Ohio.

Kathryn’s research and teaching interests center around an assortment of different areas, including human biocultural variation and adaptation, intergenerational transmission of poor health, and food and water insecurity. With her background in obesity and chronic disease research, she is involved in several concurrent projects, with water research being one of the most recent additions to her repertoire. Some of her projects include looking at the role stress plays in male/female obesity disparities, and performing studies on the physical and mental health outcomes associated with population displacement due to natural disasters. She is also working on a project with her colleague, Dr. Mary Alice Scott, a medical anthropologist, documenting experiences given by people living in rural communities in Doña Ana County during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kathryn “became interested in water research after a plenary session held at the Human Biology Association meeting in 2019. The session was called, Life and Death: Human Biology and Water, and highlighted the fact that water is an understudied aspect of human biology, even though it is essential to us socially and physiologically.” This encouraged her to investigate possible correlations between household water insecurity and the risk of developing conditions like obesity and diabetes. Olszowy states that there is very little literature describing these relationships and believes this kind of research is critical in the U.S. border region due to issues with water scarcity and tensions between industry (e.g., agriculture and oil), community, and individual needs. To help fill in the gaps between water and health research, The MW CTR-IN funded Olszowy with a pilot grant for her research entitled, Water Insecurity: A neglected social determinant of chronic disease risk (2019), which is an integral part of Hailey Taylor’s research as described above. In this study, a survey of colonia residents in Doña Ana County was conducted regarding their experiences of water insecurity and how it impacts their diet, mental health, and potentially chronic disease risk. Once completed, this project will help provide insight for further research associated with water uncertainty and its possible connection to people developing mental and physical health risks.

In addition to her research responsibilities, Olszowy is involved in several university and community service efforts. She is a member of the NMSU COVID-19 Vaccine Tiger Team and assists the Department of Anthropology as their Darwin Day Coordinator and as a member of the Assessment Committee. Within her community, she has volunteered to help with rural food distribution, fundraising, and was an AmeriCorps service member for their cancer services program.

Regarding future career goals, Kathryn mentioned she would like to become more involved with applied and community-based participatory research around Las Cruces and southern New Mexico. She aspires for her research “to be relevant to community concerns and contribute to community-driven improvements in health and wellness.” By working more with the community, Olszowy hopes to gain the attention of local community students and interest them in the anthropology field and NMSU programs dedicated to mentoring and research involvement. She would also like to mention that her research would not have been possible without collaborators at the Doña Ana County Department of Health and Human Services.

Kathryn anticipates making more contributions to water research, NMSU, and NM WRRI in the future once in-person research collaborations have fully resumed. She expressed that “because of the pandemic, a lot of opportunities to connect and collaborate were postponed over the past year and a half, so I am eager to explore opportunities with NM WRRI and across NMSU as we start to open up.”

Kathryn stated that one of the most important lessons she learned during the COVID-19 pandemic was to be flexible with research expectations. Next year, she looks forward to applying for larger external grants to further her MW CTR-IN research between water insecurity, mental distress, and food insecurity with the possibility of acquiring funding for additional student involvement.

As a parting message for those looking to enter the research field, Kathryn stressed the importance that “if you have an interest, something that sparks your curiosity, pursue it. Read about it, talk to experts, find where the gaps are.” She believes this is critical in learning how to view problems from multiple dimensions and discover where research still needs to be performed. As experienced firsthand, Olszowy understands that research is not always a neat and orderly process, and making adjustments should be expected.

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eNews July 2021

NMSU Student Awarded Research Grant to Study Household Water Insecurity in Doña Ana County

NMSU Student Awarded Research Grant to Study Household Water Insecurity in Doña Ana County

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Senior Student Program Coordinator

Household water insecurity (HWI) is the experience of living with limited access to water both in terms of quantity and quality. HWI is common in the colonias of Doña Ana County, New Mexico. Colonias are underdeveloped communities along the U.S.-Mexico border and often lack critical infrastructure, such as safe, treated, and piped water. In Doña Ana County, residents of these colonias have had to adapt and cope with inadequate access to quality water. Research has shown that HWI is a social determinant of health, which is reflected in multiple health disparities such as elevated mental distress and food insecurity. Therefore, the strategies that individuals living in these water-insecure households use to adapt and cope have the potential to impact the physical and mental health of colonia residents. An urgent need exists for a research project that focuses on HWI as a means to ensure community health and individual well-being. Research on individuals, households, and communities coping with water insecurity is critical to developing effective people-centered interventions.

In order to address the need for research concerning how people adapt their daily lives to HWI, Hailey Taylor, a master’s student at New Mexico State University’s Anthropology Department, has been awarded an NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant. The objective of the project entitled, Living with Water-Insecurity: How do people adapt and cope with poor water quality and access?, aims to determine how residents of colonias in Doña Ana County, who live with HWI, adapt and cope with inadequate water quality and/or access. The project also aims to explore the potential impacts HWI and related coping mechanisms have on individuals’ physical and mental health.

Under the guidance of her faculty advisor, Dr. Kathryn Olszowy, Taylor will utilize a qualitative ethnographic approach and 30-45 minute semi-structured interviews to address the following goals: 1) define the experiences of those living in water-insecure households, including their observations and perspectives on HWI and how it interacts with other household conditions like food insecurity; 2) identify strategies that individuals living in water-insecure households use to adapt to and cope with inadequate water quality and/or access; and 3) determine how individuals’ experiences of HWI impacts their overall health and well-being.

Expected results from this portion of the project include information on the strategies individuals use to cope with water access and quality issues, how colonia communities perceive and respond to high rates of HWI, and how HWI interacts with other structural factors that impact health disparities. According to Taylor, “Both the research topic (water insecurity) and the research context (colonias of Doña Ana County) are severely understudied, [and] there is an urgent need for data on both [because] present interventions to address these issues are insufficient due to a lack of context-specific data available to guide intervention design.”

Taylor hopes to make the data generated by this project available to the public, and to entities that can assist in the development of public health interventions addressing HWI, as well as any potential health consequences identified by this research. The long-term goal is to translate these findings into community-based strategies for dealing with water insecurity across Doña Ana County and other colonia communities in the U.S.-Mexico border region. Taylor plans to present her research at the 2022 Human Biology Association Annual Meeting and the 66th Annual New Mexico Water Conference in October.

Taylor, who has lived in the El Paso area for over a decade, has a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology with a minor in Public Health. Taylor is not only working on her master’s degree in Anthropology with an emphasis in Biological Anthropology, but she is also enrolled as a Master’s of Public Health student with a focus in Health Behavior and Health Promotion. Taylor plans on graduating with her MA in 2022 and her MPH in 2024. After graduation, Taylor plans on continuing her education with a PhD in Anthropology and plans on continuing her career as an academic researcher in the field of biological/medical anthropology both in the U.S. and abroad. As Taylor explains, “I hope to work primarily in anthropological research; though I have additional interests in teaching, applied work/outreach, and academic writing and publishing. I expect to go where my research interests take me and are needed, and I am greatly looking forward to what lies ahead in my future as a practicing anthropologist.”

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eNews July 2021

Researchers Investigate Long-Term Changes in Regional Groundwater Recharge in New Mexico

Researchers Investigate Long-Term Changes in Regional Groundwater Recharge in New Mexico

By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

As an arid state in the southwestern U.S., New Mexico has long faced issues of water scarcity and the lack of surface water. It is no secret that water is an invaluable resource that sustains not only agricultural industry, but also naturally occurring ecosystems and human livelihood. Many New Mexican families have suffered from the effects of extreme, prolonged drought, and without a sufficient supply of water to meet demands, water use and conservation have become a topic of much debate over the years.

To gain insight into how to improve management and protection of land and water usage around New Mexico, Dr. Xiaojie Li, Dr. Alexander (Sam) G. Fernald, and Dr. Shaozhong Kang, have performed a study exploring the changes in groundwater recharge (RE), precipitation, surface water inflow, outflow, diversions, returns, and surface water and groundwater evapotranspiration in five New Mexico counties (Taos, Torrance, Doña Ana, Eddy, and Lea) during the years between 1975-2015. Monthly and yearly data used in this study were downloaded from the New Mexico Dynamic Statewide Water Budget (NMDSWB) model on the NM WRRI website, which combines observed baseflow water data and hydrological modeling methods to calculate RE based on the water budget approach (RE equals groundwater recharge).

The primary focus of their research paper entitled, Assessing Long-Term Changes in Regional Groundwater Recharge Using a Water Balance Model for New Mexico, was to investigate five critical aspects of groundwater retention, including (1) the variation of groundwater RE over the past 41 years for five counties, (2) the change-point of RE for those five counties, (3) the temporal trend of RE before and after the change-point, (4) the relationship between RE and precipitation, and finally (5) the contribution rates of variables affecting recharge. A change-point refers to the point in time a variable changes significantly, and is widely used to represent hydrological variable mutations. As described in this study, groundwater is an important source of water to be found in New Mexico, and accounts for nearly half of all total annual water withdrawn for all uses.

Upon looking at the collected data for all counties, a major change-point in RE was revealed to have occurred in the 1990s. It was discovered that the quantity of RE in New Mexico is strongly intertwined with the amount of snowmelt/snowpack accumulation, surface water flow, development and expansion of oil and gas industries, and agricultural irrigation events. This provides evidence that both climate fluctuation and human activity greatly impact water instability and RE rate. In order to combat such RE variations, this study suggests water managers should attempt to increase deep percolation under irrigated lands, and improve management of unirrigated landscapes such as forests to minimize evapotranspiration from groundwater. Urban and residential growth should also be closely monitored and optimized to have a net-zero impact on RE. Taking steps towards slowing climate change impacts (e.g. snowpack melting, and alternating fertilizers and pesticides to reduce carbon and nitrogen emissions) could also have a positive impact on RE.

To ensure each county’s RE fluctuation was represented correctly, water budget calculations were performed independently of one another based on available historical data included in the NMDSWB model. RE levels presented by each county show that individual water budgets for each region are important in identifying hydrological differences.  Each aspect examined within this study allowed the researchers to see the interconnections between both human and weather activity on groundwater RE. As New Mexico water budgets change and evolve with time, it is imperative that land use, groundwater evapotranspiration, climate change efforts, and agriculture be carefully managed to ensure there is enough water to meet demand for generations to come.

To read the full article illustrating the complete set of efforts undertaken by the research team, please click the link found here.

Infographic illustrating groundwater recharge trends and hydrological contributors in New Mexico between 1975-2015.