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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 a rare and 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 was 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 discharge).

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 the only practicable 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 irregular 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 speed.

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. Variant 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 terrain changes and evolves 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.

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eNews July 2021

Meet the Researcher, Anjali Mulchandani, Assistant Professor, The University of New Mexico

Meet the Researcher, Anjali Mulchandani, Assistant Professor, The University of New Mexico

By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

This month, our spotlight researcher is Anjali Mulchandani, an assistant professor at The University of New Mexico (UNM) for the Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering Department. She taught Environmental and Water Resources Engineering this past spring, and in the fall she will be teaching Sustainable Engineering. According to Anjali, the most important aspect of her position is to train the next generation of engineers to think critically and compassionately about solving global environmental issues. She believes students must apply a holistic lens to problems they are solving by considering the preservation of the environment and its resources, as well as the communities those resources touch and the economics of developing and implementing new environmental resource sustainability technologies.

Mulchandani has mentored 16 students throughout her career, and currently has six students (one PhD, two MS, two undergraduates, and one high school student) in her research group. One of her MS students, Natalie Gayoso, recently received a New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI) Student Water Research Grant for her project entitled, Techno-Economic Analysis to Determine Cost of Atmospheric Water Capture Technologies. Anjali explains that this research will involve atmospheric water harvesting, an innovative decentralized technology that provides clean drinking water from the air by condensing water vapor in the atmosphere. The project’s ultimate goal is to determine locations where this technology could be feasibly applied with an electrical energy grid or renewable energy source powering it. To read more details about this project, please visit the NM WRRI eNewsletter featuring Gayoso’s research located here.

Anjali’s research passions include designing hands-on learning tools, and guiding public outreach initiatives for STEM awareness and engagement among all levels of learners. She is currently the lead researcher for the Environmental Resource Sustainability Group at UNM. She explains this is where her research can converge environmental engineering, materials science, nanotechnology, thermodynamics, and data analytics to design and predict the feasibility of novel water treatment and resource recovery technologies. In addition to her student’s work with atmospheric water harvesting, Mulchandani is also actively researching how to recover metals and energy from various types of waste material.

Four of Anjali’s projects have been funded by several organizations, including the National Science Foundation, PepsiCo, and UNM’s Advance Women in STEM. Her latest funded proposal is entitled, Waste as a Resource: A thermo-chemical System to Recover Metals and Produce Oil from Sewage Sludges, and extends from August 2021 to July 2022. Mulchandani is a member of six professional societies, including the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists, American Water Works Association, and the Sustainable Nanotechnology Organization. She has been an invited lecturer to several seminars, and has presented her research at over 30 conferences, symposiums and expositions.

Mulchandani received her BS (2014) in civil engineering, focusing on environmental engineering and hydrology concentrations from the University of California in Los Angeles. She obtained both her MS (2016) and PhD (2020) degrees in environmental engineering from Arizona State University in Tempe, and continued her studies as a postdoctoral researcher (2020) in the same field at Stanford University.

Regarding future goals and ambitions, Anjali is dedicated to pursuing her research in environmental engineering and water resources to tackle current and future water scarcity issues and promote resource recovery. She comments that, “the number of people who will be impacted by water scarcity is projected to increase over time… [and] simultaneously, we cannot continue to mine fresh resources and ignore the waste we produce.” Mulchandani aims to integrate this philosophy into her work with her research group, and continue informing her students of ways to better preserve natural resources and the communities who rely upon them. With this in mind, Anjali is optimistic about the future and states that she is “excited to work with creative minds who are excited to make our land safe and habitable.”

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eNews June 2021

Modeled Estimates of Historical and Future Surface Water Inflow for the State of New Mexico and the San Juan River Basin

Modeled Estimates of Historical and Future Surface Water Inflow for the State of New Mexico and the San Juan River Basin

By Kevin Perez, NM WRRI Program Specialist; Sam Fernald, NM WRRI Director

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eNews June 2021

UNM Student Awarded Research Grant to Study the Cost of Atmospheric Water Capture Technologies

UNM Student Awarded Research Grant to Study the Cost of Atmospheric Water Capture Technologies

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

Water scarcity is a challenge in New Mexico and around the world. As groundwater and surface water availability decline, the need to explore alternative freshwater sources is clear. One idea for an alternative freshwater reservoir is the water in the atmosphere. This water has a very low salt content and has universal availability. The atmosphere contains six times more water than the world’s rivers. These factors make the water in the atmosphere a potential alternative freshwater source. However, to perform Atmospheric Water Capture (AWC) effectively, we need to better understand how different climate regions affect the amount of water being produced and the effectiveness of different water harvesting technologies.

The New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute has awarded The University of New Mexico (UNM) master’s student Natalie Gayoso a Student Water Research Grant to study the cost of purchasing and operating technology that performs large-scale AWC to accommodate commercial applications. The project entitled, Techno-Economic Analysis to Determine Cost of Atmospheric Water Capture Technologies, will identify important cost and benefit drivers of AWC technologies.

Under the guidance of her faculty advisor, Dr. Anjali Mulchandani, Gayoso will be conducting a Techno-Economic Analysis (TEA). The TEA will include three main steps: 1) performance modeling through a thermodynamic analysis of AWC energy requirements under various climate models, 2) cost modeling through identification of key capital and operating expenditures for AWC units and power supply, and 3) financial evaluation through a sensitivity analysis to determine the components that are critical drivers of cost at various scales of the technology.

According to Gayoso, the results of the TEA will show the volume of water collected at three model climate conditions – arid, temperate, and coastal –  based on the size and power requirements of two different water harvesting approaches (i.e., comparing drying air using a desiccant to condensation to dew point using a compressor). As Gayoso explains, “by developing a techno-economic analysis, we can evaluate the economic viability of AWC technology, allow direct benchmarking against competition like bottled water, and identify major cost drivers. This research will highlight the most cost-effective technology and energy-efficient mode to produce a high volume of clean drinking water from the atmosphere.” Gayoso expects that using existing renewable energy sites will be the most cost-efficient due to the negligible capital expenditure needed to bring the site to operable status. She expects a temperate climatic condition with 60 percent relative humidity to be the most cost-efficient area due to certain units costing more as the capacity of water increases. Gayoso plans on presenting her work at the 66th Annual New Mexico Water Conference in October.

Gayoso, whose family moved to Albuquerque when she was six, received a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering with an emphasis in Environmental Engineering and plans on graduating in 2022 with a Master of Science in Civil Engineering with an emphasis in Water Resources. After graduation, Gayoso plans on working somewhere where she can make a positive impact on water management and the environment.

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eNews

Meet the Researcher, Catherine Brewer, Associate Professor, New Mexico State University

Meet the Researcher, Catherine Brewer, Associate Professor, New Mexico State University

By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

This month’s featured researcher is Catherine (Catie) Brewer, an associate professor for the Chemical and Materials Engineering Department at New Mexico State University (NMSU). Catie teaches three classes at NMSU, including an introduction to chemical engineering calculations, brewing science and engineering, and heat and mass transfer. She is the director of NMSBrew (Brewery Engineering). Catie has affiliate faculty status with the Water Science and Management (WSM) graduate program, and works closely with the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI). Two master’s students she previously supervised completed the WSM graduate program, and two of her doctoral students have been sponsored by NM WRRI research grants. These awards were given to study the use of biomass energy in water desalination and the use of biomass-derived chars for the removal of metals from contaminated water. Brewer states that one of the most important aspects of her position is “training students to better communicate across disciplines, develop efficient research skills like improvisation and resourcefulness for when things do not go as planned in the lab/field, and the importance of teamwork.”

Catie is currently supervising four doctoral, five master’s, and approximately twelve undergraduate students. One of her students, Hengameh Bayat, was recently awarded an NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant for the project entitled, Wastewater treatment and water recycling through use of byproducts from hydrothermal liquefaction of food waste. Brewer states that this research will evaluate the best uses for co-products created from hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) of food waste, the aqueous phase, and the char. Nutrients and carbon from the food waste end up in these co-products, which have the potential to improve the economic feasibility of food waste HTL if value-added applications can be implemented. Further information on this topic can be found in their recent publication entitled, Hydrothermal Liquefaction of Food Waste: Effect of Process Parameters on Product Yields and Chemistry.

Brewer’s research interest focuses on biomass utilization, which is the process of using plant materials for energy, environmental remediation, and sustainable agriculture. Her group works with alternative crops (hemp, hops, guayule, halophytes, algae, etc.) to develop new processes and products, and with agriculture/forestry residues to better manage waste.

Catie earned her BS degree in Chemistry with a minor in Mathematics from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, located in western Pennsylvania (2007). She received her PhD in Chemical Engineering and Biorenewable Resources and Technology with a minor in Soil Science from Iowa State University, located in Ames, Iowa (2012). Her dissertation was entitled, Biochar Characterization and Engineering.

Throughout her research career, Brewer has contributed to over forty peer-reviewed publications and three book chapters. She currently has seven manuscripts under review or in preparation for publication. Catie is a member of several professional affiliations, including the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), the American Society of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineers (ASABE), and the Pink Boots Society. She has received several funded grants, with her most recent one being from The Department of Energy Sandia National Laboratory Lab Directed Research and Development program (2020) for her proposal entitled, Techno-economic Analysis of Extracting Rare Earth Elements from Coal and Coal Fly Ash Using Supercritical CO2-H20-Chelator Systems. Other awards include winning the Best-in-Show Beer and the grand prize at the AIChE Young Professionals 3rd Annual Brewing Competition in 2019. She has been an invited speaker at several national and international seminars, conferences, and workshops, and her group has presented their research at over eighty academic engagements.

When asked about future endeavors, Brewer anticipates many upcoming research opportunities on a multi-university/departmental scale. She hopes to become more involved with educational grants and activities related to alternative crops and/or products, and agricultural engineering. Catie also plans to expand and develop NMSBrew to become a better resource for NMSU students and the NM brewing industry.

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eNews May 2021

NM WRRI Hosts Workshop Focused on Building Water Capacity for Tribes, Pueblos, and Nations

NM WRRI Hosts Workshop Focused on Building Water Capacity for Tribes, Pueblos, and Nations

By Mark Sheely, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

On Wednesday, May 19, 2021, over 150 people attended a virtual workshop hosted by the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI) focused on bringing together both Tribal and non-Tribal water resource managers, and researchers to further understand pressing tribal water issues and help to foster future research collaborations that will help build the capacity of Tribes, Nations, and Pueblos within New Mexico. The Workshop, Building Tribal Capacity with Water Research Partnerships, originated with NM WRRI’s 64th Annual New Mexico Water Conference, Common Water Sacred Water: Tribal perspectives on water issues in New Mexico. Through planning and reflection upon this conference, NM WRRI and the conference planning members recognized a broader need to continue engagement that would address tribal water challenges.

In touching on the workshop objectives in his welcome remarks, NM WRRI director, Sam Fernald, explained how planning this workshop had given him additional insight into the value of tribal perspectives and collaboration in water management. “On the subject of promoting water research that supports tribal capacity, I’ve started to see the ways that traditional knowledge can contribute to water research in New Mexico.” he said. “I think this improved research will better represent the hydrological diversity of New Mexico and improve water management.”

Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources hydrologist and workshop planning member, Dr. Crystal Tulley-Cordova, further emphasized the benefit of this workshop not only to the Tribes, Pueblos, and Nations, but also in promoting best practices for federal, state, and academic institutions, as well as non-governmental organizations seeking to work together with Tribal entities. “Perhaps you’re coming today thinking ‘I would like to partner with a Tribe Pueblo, or Nation to do water research, so what are their needs?’” she said. “It’s important to have communication in order to not only come with your research questions to the Tribe and say, ‘How does this benefit you?,’ but rather integrate the collaboration within the research questions that you’re asking.”

In the presentations that followed, University of Arizona PhD candidate, Nikki Tulley, shared an example of co-developed research for a drought severity evaluation tool for Navajo Nation. New Mexico State University’s Indian Resources Development staff gave an overview of the research scholarship and internship opportunities available through their office, and fellow workshop planning member and Tribal liaison for the Office of the State Engineer, Myron Armijo, offered useful lessons for communicating and engaging with Tribal nations learned through his professional experience. Rounding out the first half of the program was a thoughtful discussion of best practices for research collaborations moderated by State Representative, Derrick J. Lente.

As a brown bag lunch feature, Dr. Tulley-Cordova shared a documentary produced for the Navajo Safe Water project, highlighting efforts to help provide drinking and cooking water to residents of the Navajo Nation without piped water by installing transitional watering points and distributing water containers and disinfection tablets. You can view the video here, and learn more about Navajo Safe Water at their website.

In the afternoon portion of the program, breakout sessions allowed participants to further explore pressing Indigenous water issues, possible areas of future research, and discuss appropriate research methodologies. These topics included: universal access to clean water, research to inform Tribal Water Rights, environmental justice, data sharing and collaboration models that respect sovereignty and build trust, climate change impacts on water, and research to support the adoption and implementation of water quality standards. After reconvening and hearing summaries from each session, Dr. Lani Tsinnajinnie of The University of New Mexico, who also helped in planning this workshop, reflected on the presentations and discussions of the day, highlighting the importance of community-lead research projects that co-produce knowledge, and meet the needs and protocols of Tribal communities. Dr. Tsinnajinnie ended by expressing that the dialogue of the workshop should continue, and that another event in the fall of 2021 would be forthcoming.

A video recording of the workshop general session can be viewed here.

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eNews May 2021

NMSU Student studies Cyanobacterial Harmful Algal Blooms in New Mexico

NMSU Student studies Cyanobacterial Harmful Algal Blooms in New Mexico

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

Nutrient loads from agricultural fields, wastewater runoff from industry, and high temperatures due to climate change can cause specific environmental conditions that cause intense growth of microorganisms called cyanobacteria. These events are called Cyanobacterial Harmful Algal Blooms (cHABs) and they are an ecological problem in freshwater lakes and rivers. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), cHABs and their toxins can harm people and animals. In New Mexico, cHABs caused several recreational lakes to shut down in the summer of 2019. In response to the detection of these large blooms in 2019, additional research concerning cHABs in New Mexico needs to be conducted to mitigate against future blooms. As a state with an already limited supply of freshwater, it is important to investigate threat of cHABs to New Mexico’s aquatic ecosystems, water supplies, and the agricultural economy.

NM WRRI has awarded a Student Water Research Grant to New Mexico State University (NMSU) PhD student Sergei Shalygin to help fund a project which will collect and monitor water samples in the lakes, rivers, and reservoirs of New Mexico. The project entitled, Assessment of the cyanobacterial Harmful Algal Blooms (cHABs) and toxins in the blooming water bodies of New Mexico, aims to monitor endogenous cyanobacterial toxic species in the Rio Grande and detect cyanobacterial toxins with mass spectrometry from both water samples and biomass.

Under the guidance of his faculty advisor, Dr. F. Omar Holguin, Shalygin collected samples from the Rio Grande and other lakes and reservoirs for laboratory analysis. First, the macroscopic biomass of the cHABs were collected and analyzed phenotypically under a microscope. At the same time, genomic DNA was extracted and sent for Next-generation sequencing of the toxin-producing genes. Biomass and water quality parameters (pH, temp, alkalinity, N, P) were also quantified. Some blooms are not visible, so Shalygin’s research team targeted biomarkers from the water samples for mass spectrometry. Both toxins and bioactive compounds from the blooms and the water column were concentrated, extracted, and analyzed utilizing high accuracy mass spectrometry.

According to Shalygin, because New Mexico does not have any federal or state freshwater monitoring programs for cHABs, this research may serve as a template for future monitoring of the lakes, rivers, and reservoirs of New Mexico. As Shalygin explains, “The data gathered in this project will help develop collaborations for the establishment of a statewide monitoring program. With the data obtained during the proposed research period, an initial comparison of the relative concentration of cyanobacterial toxins from water bodies of New Mexico with EPA standards can be conducted and will be useful in decision-making to minimize the negative effect of cyanobacterial toxins.” Shalygin presented part of this project at the 65th Annual New Mexico Water Conference.

Shalygin, originally from Russia, has a master’s degree in Biology and a PhD in Botany. Shalygin is on track to graduate with a PhD in Plant and Environmental Sciences from NMSU in 2023, and after graduation, plans to continue doing good science.

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eNews May 2021

NMSU Student Studies Water Conservation with Circular Grass Buffer Strips

NMSU Student Studies Water Conservation with Circular Grass Buffer Strips

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

Water security is a monumental challenge for semi-arid regions around the country, including eastern New Mexico. The Ogallala Aquifer’s dwindling groundwater reserves threaten the area’s agricultural production, economy, and rural livelihoods. The transition from irrigated farmland to dryland farming in this area has already started in the form of partial pivot circles, where only a portion of the pivot (generally 2/3) is under full irrigation and the rest is kept dry. Semi-arid conditions and low rainfall severely impacts this kind of dryland production. Increasing irrigation water use efficiency and improving the use of rainwater on crop fields would allow farmers to reduce irrigation without significantly affecting crop yield, and as a result would help sustain the aquifer. Research has shown that this region is receiving an increasing amount of its rainfall in large rainfall events. The current annual cropping system is unable to effectively capture rainwater from these high intensity, short duration precipitation events. A major portion of the rainwater from these storms is lost as surface runoff, which also washes away topsoil and nutrients. An innovative strategy that conserves more of this rainwater is needed to increase water efficiency.

NM WRRI has awarded New Mexico State University PhD student Paramveer Singh a Student Water Research Grant to work on a project that offers several benefits, including improving the efficiency of rainwater. Under the guidance of his faculty advisor, Dr. Sangu Angadi, Singh is working on a simple and cost-effective strategy that rearranges the dryland portion of partial pivots to improve multiple ecosystem services. The project is entitled, Improving Green Water Use Proportion in a Center Pivot Irrigation System by Using Circular Grass Buffer Strips, and studies the novel concept of rearranging the dryland portion of partial pivots into circular buffer strips of native perennial grasses growing 3-4 ft tall and alternating with irrigated crop strips.

The system provides multiple barriers to surface runoff and wind flow. The research team expects the system to reduce runoff, increase infiltration of rainwater, and reduce evaporation loss. To explore and gauge the potential benefits of wind moderation by circular grass buffer strips, a multi-year study has started at NMSU’s Agricultural Science Center in Clovis, New Mexico. Five circular buffer strips of perennial grasses were planted in June 2016 in the southwest quarter of a center pivot at the station. The southwest quarter of another nearby center pivot serves as a control. The grass buffer strips were arranged alternately with crop strips. In the past three years, the research evaluated micro-climate, corn physiological response, and grain yield response. Encouraging soil moisture results after rainfall events inspired the research team to carry out an in-depth assessment of the proportion of rainwater use under the two systems. For this part of the project, Dr. Robert J. Lascano, from the United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) in Lubbock, Texas, will collaborate with the team. Initial soil and plant samples will be collected before rainfall events during the corn growth period (June to September). Rainwater for each event will be collected and analyzed to determine its isotopic composition. After a rain event, plant samples will be taken every two hours during daylight for four days. Soil samples will be taken every eight hours. The amount of rainfall received will determine the depth of soil samples. Sealed and frozen samples will be examined at USDA-ARS in Lubbock, Texas, for isotope signature.

Preliminary results are indicating a 46% improvement in water conserved after a heavy rainfall event. As Singh explains, “We expect a significant increase in rainwater (green water) use by corn with circular buffer strips as conservation of heavy rainfall events improve significantly. More of that water will be used in the production process for a period of time after each rainfall event. If that contribution is significant, irrigation management can be altered to reduce Ogallala Aquifer water use and improve water use efficiency.” According to Singh, precipitation is going to play a vital role in the region’s agricultural production system as aquifer depletion continues. This novel system may prove to be a much-needed solution for both irrigated and dryland production systems and the rural economy of the entire region.

Singh has presented this research at the 2020 Crop Science Society of America – Soil Science Society of America International Annual Meeting and the 65th Annual New Mexico Water Conference. Originally from the village of Kheri Jattan of Punjab, India, Singh plans to finish his PhD in Agronomy and Crop Science in 2022. After graduation, Singh would like to continue working in the field of agricultural research because, as he explains, “my home state Punjab is facing a similar water crisis issue where over-pumping of groundwater for rice production has severely declined the water table. I would love to use my experience and knowledge garnered here at NMSU to contribute to solving water scarcity problems back home in whatever capacity.”

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eNews May 2021

Meet the Researcher, Holly Brause, Research Scientist, New Mexico State University

Meet the Researcher, Holly Brause, Research Scientist, New Mexico State University

By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

This month for Meet the Researcher, we had the pleasure of featuring Holly Brause, who is a Research Scientist for the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI) at New Mexico State University. She has been in her position since 2019, and states that she has three main roles at NM WRRI, which include 1) managing NM WRRI’s participation in the Transboundary Aquifer Assessment Program, 2) collaborating with NM WRRI faculty and staff on grant-funded interdisciplinary research projects, and 3) carrying out research and publishing efforts to meet WRRI initiatives. In 2018, Holly was a recipient of the Student Water Research Grant given from NM WRRI to fund part of her dissertation research entitled, The Everyday Politics of Irrigated Agriculture and an Uncertain Future, and it is here that she attributes the beginning of her working relationship with the Institute.

When asked about her work at NM WRRI, Holly believes that she brings a very different perspective to the Institute due to her training as a social scientist and anthropologist. The field of anthropology has a long history of working with communities, and is accustomed to thinking critically about the politics of representation and issues of power in collaboration. Through her research and communication practices, Brause feels she is able to bring this perspective to the forefront when networking and managing relationships with stakeholders and local communities.

Brause received her BA in Anthropology (2006) from Linfield College located in McMinnville, Oregon, and an MA in Latin American Studies (2011) from the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida. This month in May 2021, she earned her PhD in Anthropology from the University of New Mexico (UNM) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Her dissertation was entitled, Cultivating the Future: Globalized Competition and Environmental Interactions in the New Mexico Chile Industry, and she passed her defense with distinction in April 2021.

Currently, Holly is working on an ethnographic assessment of agricultural water use and water management in the New Mexico/Chihuahua borderlands. This research is inspired by the absence of formal policies that govern the use of shared groundwater resources through legal frameworks. She hopes to discover the existing social, political, cultural, and economic frameworks that shape the use of shared groundwater in practice at the U.S/Mexico border. As a result of the study, Brause aims to provide a detailed ethnographic analysis of water use practices and a qualitative analysis of the political, social, and economic motivating forces behind such practices. In conjunction with this work, Holly is collaborating with several other NM WRRI researchers to create a project that combines ethnographic research and qualitative interviews with modeling, hydrology, and GIS to examine potential future outcomes of water conservation techniques.

Brause has received several awards and fellowships throughout her educational experience, with her latest one being the Ruth E. Kennedy Award (2019) from the UNM Anthropology Department. She holds professional membership to seven associations, including The Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition, and the American Anthropological Association. Holly additionally served as the Graduate Student Liaison to Ethnology hiring Committee at UNM (2018), and was a part of the Anthropology Graduate Student Union Conference Coordination Committee (2017-2018). She has been an invited speaker at several summits and workshops, and has presented her work at over ten conferences and annual meetings.

In regards to future ambitions, Holly was pleased to inform us that she plans to continue her work as a Research Scientist Associate for NM WRRI, maintain her research projects, and grow both as an anthropologist and as an interdisciplinary researcher.