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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.