Meet the Researcher, Alfredo Granados-Olivas, Professor, Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez
by Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator
This month for Meet the Researcher, we had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Alfredo Granados-Olivas, professor for the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez (UACJ). He has been a researcher and professor at UACJ for almost 35 years, and currently teaches five classes and advises eight students (five undergrad, two masters, and one doctorate). Granados-Olivas states that one of his most important roles is to promote successful agricultural engineering degree programs for students using a multimodal education system, which includes linking academic programs to agribusiness operations and government practices. Granados-Olivas states, “The responsibility of training new engineers with a philosophical approach to new challenges related to the holistic solutions to environmental problems is what makes a good engineer; however, a great engineer is one that has the ability to understand that a complex mathematical computer model that simulates a potential solution requires a human component that must be willing and able to assist in the desired outcome.” Granados-Olivas adds, “Therefore, we must teach and train a new generation of engineers with a high level of humanitarian commitment to balance the required equilibrium that we need to compromise with society while applying learned skills.”
Granados-Olivas has been associated with the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI) for many years as a key contributor in several projects, conferences, workshops, and other research activities. As a graduate student, he spent a considerable amount of time working with NM WRRI, where he obtained unwavering support and resources for his research. Granados-Olivas recounts that one of the most influential people he met at NM WRRI was the late Bobby J. Creel (associate and interim director of NM WRRI from 1986 to 2010), who understood the importance of his research and its proposed integrated binational components. He recalls Creel as being “a visionary of his time since he was also concerned with the transboundary approach to groundwater resources along the U.S. and Mexico border.” Granados-Olivas found friends, mentors, and colleagues at NM WRRI, including Dr. John W. Hawley, Dr. John F. Kennedy, Dr. Zohrab Samani, and Dr. Chris Brown, who helped him understand geology, geomorphology, hydrogeology, and geographic information systems (GIS) while reviewing aerial photography and other remote sensing information associated with his research area.
Presently, Granados-Olivas has been working with NM WRRI’s current director, Dr. Alexander (Sam) Fernald, on multiple action items regarding transboundary water management and water sustainability at the border region between the U.S. and Mexico. He has also been a major contributor in the Two Nations One Water binational conference, which has been held annually by NM WRRI, New Mexico State University (NMSU), and UACJ. Granados-Olivas describes this event as one where community leaders, colleagues, and official water institutions from both sides of the border can come together to discuss and share information towards a holistic approach to water endeavors. Furthermore, he has been working with NM WRRI’s Dr. Holly Brause, on distributing the results of collaboration between NM WRRI and UACJ regarding challenges to the Paso del Norte region, and water sustainability through a video interview found here.
Granados-Olivas is also a part of the doctoral committee for the Water Science and Management Program, and has been mentoring Ana Cristina Garcia Vásquez, who is working as a graduate research assistant at NM WRRI. Ana Cristina’s research focuses on identifying different sources of groundwater recharge at the Mexican side of the Mesilla/Conejos Médanos transboundary aquifer system while using isotopic measurements. According to Granados-Olivas, Ana Cristina’s research is relevant for the binational region because water origin and residence time of groundwater resources are important factors for researchers to know beforehand so they can better prepare for and project watershed sustainability. This research is additionally being supervised by Dr. Alexander (Sam) Fernald, Dr. Zohrab Samani, and Dr. Andrew Robertson, and was recently published in the open-access journal, Water, under the title, Investigation of the origin of Hueco bolson and Mesilla basin Aquifers (US and Mexico) with isotopic data analysis.
Granados-Olivas graduated with his BS in Agricultural Economics and Rural Development from Escuela Superior de Agricultura Hermanos Escobar, and his MS degree in Groundwater Hydrology from UACJ both located in Chihuahua, Mexico. He earned his PhD from NMSU in Las Cruces, New Mexico, in Agronomy with an emphasis on soil/water interactions. Granados-Olivas explains that his peers greatly influenced his decision to become a researcher in his graduate studies courses. He was a Sam Steel NMSU alumni, and during that time, he had the opportunity to work with remarkable researchers that changed the course of his professional life. Granados-Olivas attributes Dr. Curtis H. Monger as one of the most influential people who helped guide his study interests and assisted him in discovering methods to make his research stronger. Monger helped him develop more detailed research questions and better analyze logical and scientific results, which allowed him to improve his capacity to independently solve the challenges he confronted during his training at NMSU. This experience is one that Granados-Olivas continues to reference as a foundation for his present work.
Granados-Olivas’s professional research focuses on the sustainability of water resources on arid ecosystems to promote equity and sustainable development in rural communities of Mexico. His expertise centers around hydrogeology, interactions between surface water and groundwater, aquifer recharge, GIS, and remote sensing. Currently, he is the private investigator for a Microsoft Artificial Intelligence for Earth Project, which will be used to promote humanitarian technology, water conservation, and promote maximum yields at a desert irrigation district in northcentral Mexico. This project will simulate training farmers on using big data technology to make real-time decisions while promoting irrigation efficiency. In a previous project titled, Sustainable water resources for irrigated agriculture in a desert river basin facing drought and competing demands: from characterization to solutions, awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to The University of Texas at El Paso’s (UTEP) Center for Environmental Resource Management, Granados-Olivas was a key contributor for the binational aspect. This project involved five U.S. universities (NMSU, UTEP, Texas Agricultural and Mechanical University, Michigan Technological University, and The New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology), and one Mexican university (UACJ). This collaboration was formed in 2015 and lasted through 2021 performing research and discovering new ways to better understand agricultural water demand challenges under a climate change scenario at the Paso del Norte region (Las Cruces, El Paso, Ciudad Juárez).
An additional major project Granados-Olivas collaborates with the NM WRRI on is the Transboundary Aquifer Assessment Program (TAAP) in the Paso del Norte region. He states that the “evolution of different challenges toward a holistic approach into watershed management have increased and there are new and complex questions to solve as climate change is more evident at the regional scale. Increased demands, lack of precipitation and the rise of temperatures have exposed vulnerabilities in surface water availability, and has caused groundwater to become a major player towards a potential solution for water demands for both countries.” Because of these issues, Granados-Olivas affirms there is a need to follow a hydro-diplomatic approach that would allow the U.S. and Mexico to mutually benefit from these results. For this reason, Granados-Olivas believes the TAAP project is one of the most important initiatives that both the U.S. and Mexico have agreed upon to openly discuss groundwater sustainability and the exchange of information via diplomatic routes. He has high expectations for this research effort and considers it an exciting approach into future binational agreements to manage groundwater at the border region.
In addition to his university research, Granados-Olivas mentions that he has a small consulting firm (Granados Engineering AC) working on precision agriculture in Ascensión, Chihuahua, at the Center for Technology Transfer of Artificial Intelligence for Agriculture. At this site, he and his colleagues evaluate technologies (e.g., drones, multi-depth soil sensors, and meteorological data) to improve irrigation efficiencies in pecan orchards while estimating real-time evapotranspiration and delivering this information to farmers to make on-site decisions.
Granados-Olivas has been certified by Harvard University’s School of Public Health and Environment as a specialist on Alternative Energy and Energy Efficiency. The Watershed Management Group, which works to complement the water-food-energy nexus, has also acknowledged him as a certified engineer in Water Harvesting Design. Since 2005, Granados-Olivas has been part of the Sistema Nacional de Investigadores from Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología, and recently he received an award from the National Association of Schools and Faculties of Engineering of Mexico, recognizing his academic efforts in training the newer generation of engineers and water researchers.
Regarding future goals and ambitions, Granados-Olivas states that he is very close to retiring from his years of service in academia and research. Despite this, he reassures that he will still be closely linked to UACJ as a part-time researcher to complete ongoing projects and assist his students in completing their research activities. A few of those projects involve training the next generation of water specialists for binational collaboration and forming networks within informal environments in hopes of creating long-term partnerships. “Water has become one of the most important natural resources, if not the most important one around the world, and our region is no exception. We see all around us different stages of water crisis and we need to move forward in creating a collaboration agenda that will help us resolve different kinds of water issues along the transdisciplinary arena (environment-society-economy) in which water plays a major role.” Granados-Olivas explains, “Instead of spending precious resources on the planning process, we need more action items to ensure water sustainability for the near future, and most importantly at the binational level. . . Water research is the way to go to any scholars seeking a productive and exciting future. Any subject related to this field of work is a challenging and powerful driver in accomplishing a successful career with water management. Go for it!”