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.”

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.
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.”