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eNews January 2021

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

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

By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

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eNews January 2021

NM WRRI Publishes Technical Completion Report

NM WRRI Publishes Technical Completion Report

By Carolina Mijares, NM WRRI Program Manager

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December 2020 eNews

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

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

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

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Community Water December 2020 eNews

NMSU publication culminates 10-year study of acequia systems

NMSU publication culminates 10-year study of acequia systems

By Jane Moorman,  NMSU Marketing and Communications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The publication was edited by Adrienne Rosenberg of the Alcalde Center, with Fernald, Guldan, and José Rivera, professor emeritus at the University of New Mexico, serving as associate editors. It is available at https://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/research/water/RR796/welcome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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December 2020 eNews

NMHU Student Awarded NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant to Establish Monitoring Sites in the Upper Pecos River

NMHU Student Awarded NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant to Establish Monitoring Sites in the Upper Pecos River

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

In New Mexico, the Upper Pecos River originates in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and flows through the Pecos Wilderness, Santa Fe National Forest, as well as private and public land before entering the Fort Sumner reservoir. The river corridor contains a historic lead-zinc mine from the early 1900s that has been in the reclamation phase for about the last twenty years. The New Mexico Mining and Minerals Division is currently reviewing a proposal from a company named Comexico LLC that would like to conduct exploratory drilling for gold, copper, and zinc in the Pecos Mountains. As the New Mexico Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department considers this proposal, it is important to establish the Upper Pecos River’s baseline water quality conditions before any exploratory drilling or extraction.

To better understand the Upper Pecos River’s water quality conditions, Letisha Mailboy at New Mexico Highlands University (NMHU) has been awarded an NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant for a project entitled, Environmental Chemistry of the Upper Pecos River; Understanding Natural and Anthropogenic Influences on Water Quality. Under the guidance of her faculty advisor Dr. Jennifer Lindline, Mailboy’s project will establish five monitoring sites along a stretch of the Upper Pecos River. There will be one monitoring site upstream from the historic mine site, two at tributary confluences near the proposed exploratory hard rock drilling site, and two at high-use recreation areas. The project will collect water samples at each of the sites every two weeks from June 2020 to May 2021 and analyze the samples for basic anion-cation concentrations. The data will be used to characterize the hydrogeochemistry of the Upper Pecos River and examine spatial changes in water chemistry.

According to Mailboy, the data and interpretations will be shared with the Upper Pecos Watershed Association to inform their decision-making and restoration activities. This data will help the researchers understand the Upper Pecos Watershed’s natural conditions and identify potential changes due to mining-related activities. The project will assist the Pecos community by monitoring, analyzing, and investigating the degradation factors that impact the Upper Pecos River.

Mailboy presented this project at the 65th Annual New Mexico Water Conference and the 2020 New Mexico Alliance for Minority Participation Virtual Student Research Conference. Mailboy wrote in her project summary, “Projects like these are vital because water is important to New Mexican culture, traditions, place identity, and values.” Originally from To’Hajiilee, New Mexico, Mailboy received her Associates of Applied Science in Natural Resources Management and Environmental Science from the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Mailboy is expected to graduate in the fall with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Geology from NMHU and plans to enroll in their Environmental Geology Graduate Program.

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December 2020 eNews

Meet the Researcher, Omar Holguin, Associate Professor, New Mexico State University

Meet the Researcher, Omar Holguin, Associate Professor, New Mexico State University

By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

This month for Meet the Researcher, we had the opportunity to interview Omar Holguin, an Associate Professor for the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences (PES) in the College of Agriculture, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences at New Mexico State University (NMSU). He currently mentors seven PhD students and one MS graduate student alongside teaching classes on sampling and analysis of environmental contaminants, and an undergraduate seminar. Omar teaches other courses, as needed, such as the principle of genetics and intro to organic chemistry. Holguin has expressed that student mentoring is one of the most important aspects of his position, and “it is important to provide an environment where students can achieve their greatest potential while allowing them to become independent thinkers and researchers.”

Omar received his professional education entirely from NMSU. He obtained his BS in Environmental Science specializing in environmental chemistry (2002), an MS in Agronomy focusing on natural product isolation (2005), and a PhD in Plant and Environmental Sciences with an emphasis on mass spectral analysis of plant metabolism (2012). Before reaching his current position as Associate Professor, Holguin served in various other roles at NMSU during his research career. He was hired as a Senior Research Associate at the Center for Animal Health and Food Safety Chemical Analysis and Instrumentation Laboratory (2010-2012), Metabolomics Laboratory Manager for PES (2007-2010), and The Counter Terrorism Chemical Technologies Laboratory Director at the Physical Science Laboratory (2005-2007). Holguin has held several other NMSU administrator appointments.

Omar has collaborated with the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI) for many years. He considers his most significant contributions to the Institute to be in student mentoring and training to use chemical instrumentation. Holguin has been available to provide a jump start for several projects using various analytical instrumentation. At present, Omar advises Sergei Shalygin, a PhD student who was awarded an FY20-21 NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant for the project entitled, Assessment of the cyanobacterial Harmful Algal Blooms (cHABs) and toxins in the blooming water bodies of New Mexico. Sergei’s project aims to detect cyanobacterial toxins in the blooming waters of New Mexico, which can be deadly for both humans and animals. These cHAB toxins have been the cause for alarm since the summer of 2019 when sizable traces were found in the Abiquiu and Cochiti lakes. The outcome of this study is to essentially provide the groundwork for a state/federal monitoring program for irrigation and recreational water bodies currently absent from New Mexico.

In addition to assisting in Sergei’s work, Omar and his colleagues are currently investigating how they can produce and use co-products found in microorganisms and plants. Holguin is passionate about research in this area, and he states that the overall goal of these studies is to help improve the current bioeconomy and make alternative sources of starting materials for other industrial practices, renewable energy feedstocks, or nutraceuticals. Holguin attributes his work efforts in polyunsaturated fatty metabolism and lipid accumulation in microalgae in helping him create significant collaborations with several other organizations. Among those collaborators include the Sustainable Bioeconomy for Arid Regions consisting of numerous partners such as The University of Arizona, Bridgestone America, the United States Department of Agriculture, and Colorado State University.

With 50 published peer-reviewed journal articles and several in review, Omar Holguin’s research is extensive and covers numerous topics related to agriculture, water treatment, biofuel, and others. He has been an invited speaker for several meetings and symposiums including being the keynote speaker for the Summer Community College Opportunity for Research Experience at NMSU, where he gave a presentation entitled, Food, Water, Energy and Environmental Research (2018). One of the more recent studies Omar contributed to was published in the HortScience journal entitled, Nutraceutical Properties of Pecan Kernels Are Affected by Soil Zinc Fertilizer Application (2020). The research investigated the effects of tree zinc fertilization on nutraceutical properties of ‘Wichita’ and ‘Western’ pecan kernels. In addition to his research, Holguin and his colleagues are the owners of two intellectual property patents entitled, Subcritical water extraction of lipids from wet algal biomass (2012), and D. Innoxia Withanolides with Specific Anti-Cancer Activities (2010).

Regarding his future career goals, Holguin has expressed that he wants to make contributions to science that help society tackle current environmental concerns and health disparities. Omar also plans to continue his working relationship with NM WRRI by proceeding with his observations of water quality parameters and detection of contaminates of emerging concern. Outside the NM WRRI program, Holguin mentioned that he and his colleagues will continue their collaborations by looking at how they can make a stronger bioeconomy through improved renewable energy feedstocks, which can identify human beneficial co-products from agricultural and biofuel processes.

As a parting message, Omar would like to extend his sincerest appreciation for the unwavering support he has been given by his family, colleagues, NMSU staff, and students. He states that he has been fortunate to have such a dedicated support system, and their encouragement has led him to be successful in his career and gave him the motivation to accomplish what he has to this date.

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eNews November 2020

NM WRRI Hosts Virtual 65th Annual New Mexico Water Conference

NM WRRI Hosts Virtual 65th Annual New Mexico Water Conference

By Mark Sheely, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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eNews November 2020

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

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

By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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eNews November 2020

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

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

by Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

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

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

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

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

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eNews October 2020

Utton Transboundary Resources Center Completes Analysis on Regulatory and Legal Framework of the Produced Water Act

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 the research project entitled, Analysis of the relationship between current regulatory and legal frameworks and the “Produced Water Act,” being performed by Staff Attorney Stephanie Russo Baca and Research Assistants Ambrose Kupfer and Sarah McLain at the Utton Transboundary Resources Center.

The large volumes of produced water generated in New Mexico through oil and gas production every year remain a management challenge. According to the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division (OCD), in 2019, 163,137 acre-feet of produced water was generated. One of the many challenges of managing produced water has been regulatory uncertainty. In order to overcome this challenge, New Mexico passed the Produced Water Act in 2019, formally known as House Bill 546, to provide jurisdictional and legal clarity.

The objective of the completed research project by Russo Baca and team was to enhance the dialogue of produced water legal and regulatory aspects in New Mexico. Specifically, their final report highlights how the Produced Water Act affects produced water reuse, ownership, water rights, liability, standard practices, fresh water conservation and protection, and changes to previous regulations.

The report explains the different roles of the OCD, Environment Department (NMED), and Office of the State Engineer (OSE), as well as the Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) and United States Environmental Protection Agency in regulating produced water and ensuring the protection of the state’s precision freshwater resources. While produced water is currently only permitted for reuse or disposal within the oil and gas industry, the Produced Water Act tasked NMED and WQCC to establish standards based on scientific criteria for potentially using treated produced water outside of the oil field – a topic of much concern and continued discussion. Generally, these standards must protect the health of humans, animals, and the environment.

Another interesting point the report describes is how the Act encourages the oil and gas industry to reuse produced water for hydraulic fracturing, thus limiting freshwater use.  According to the report, “Any contract entered into, on or after July 1, 2019, is against public policy and void if it requires freshwater resources to be purchased for oil and gas operations when produced water, treated water, or recycled water is available and able to be used.” On May 6, 2020, OCD filed an application to amend rules to implement statutory additions to the Oil and Gas Act with a new requirement for disclosing and reporting of water use of all sources of water in the completion of the hydraulic fracturing of a well. The sources of water are classified by four categories: (1) produced water, (2) water other than produced water that has 10,000 or more mg/l total dissolved solids (TDS), (3) water other than produced water that has more than 1,000 mg/l TDS but less than 10,000 mg/l TDS, and (4) water other than produced water that has 1,000 mg/l TDS or less. This information would be helpful for better understanding water budgets and accounting of water use in New Mexico.

Changes to New Mexico’s regulation of produced water based on the passage of the Produced Water Act are forthcoming as the science, technology, and discussions of public acceptability move forward. This report will be made available on NM WRRI’s website in the next few months after peer-review.