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Watershed Restoration in the Rincon Arroyo Watershed

Watershed Restoration in the Rincon Arroyo Watershed

By Connie Maxwell, NM WRRI Graduate Research Assistant

The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) awarded the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI) a Watershed Implementation grant funded by the Environmental Protection Agency Clean Water Act Section 319 funds, The Rincon Subbasins 319 Project. NM WRRI, in collaboration with the Stormwater Coalition, will work to bring the best science to better understand watershed dynamics and develop tools for land managers to achieve watershed restoration to address regional flooding and water supply challenges. The NM WRRI is the grant recipient and project lead; other project collaborators include the Doña Ana County Flood Commission as the long-term manager of the project and member of the steering committee, the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, Bureau of Land Management, the Caballo Soil and Water Conservation District, and additional project experts as key personnel.

Floods scour soils and transport sediment, which in turn clog downstream riparian areas, agricultural infrastructure, and overwhelm downstream flood control infrastructure. A root cause of flooding is vegetation loss in the uplands exacerbated by droughts, growing aridity, and land management. The Rincon Subbasins 319 Project implements a watershed restoration plan in two subbasins of the Rincon Arroyo Watershed with the primary objective to reduce sediment transport that includes E. coli to the impaired reach of the Rio Grande through slowing flood flows and spreading them across the landscape. This project will examine restoration and management approaches that exploit storms that come in fewer and more intense events to achieve revegetation (Bestelmeyer et al. 2018; Holmgren et al. 2006). The restoration design was informed by the results from an innovative ecohydrologic modeling framework developed by Maxwell et al. (2020) that quantified the extent of restoration needed to build the watershed’s buffering capacity to disturbances such as flooding and droughts. The small-scale, low impact restoration practices will include constructing stone lines, wire and brush lines, microcatchments, and one-rock dams to infiltrate storm runoff in two sub-watersheds totaling 180 acres. The project will compare flow dynamics, E. coli loading, and vegetation between treated and non-treated control subbasins to quantify and compare the effects of the restoration practices. The collaborative process and critical science provided by this project will support water managers and inform other projects across regional watersheds of the Hatch and Mesilla Valleys.

References:

Bestelmeyer, B. T., D. P. Peters, S. R. Archer, D. M. Browning, G. S. Okin, R. L. Schooley, and N. P. Webb. 2018. The grassland–shrubland regime shift in the southwestern United States: Misconceptions and their implications for management. Bioscience 68:678-690.

Holmgren, M., P. Stapp, C. R. Dickman, C. Gracia, S. Graham, J. R. Gutiérrez, C. Hice, F. Jaksic, D. A. Kelt, and M. Letnic. 2006. Extreme climatic events shape arid and semiarid ecosystems. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 4:87-95.

Maxwell, C.M., Fernald, A., Cadol, D., Faist, A.M., King, J.P. (in press) 2020. Managing flood flow connectivity to landscapes to build buffering capacity to disturbances: an ecohydrologic modeling framework for drylands. Journal of Environmental Management.

Eroding Channel in the Rincon Arroyo Watershed.
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Reclamation Selects Proposal from the Stormwater Coalition with NM WRRI to Develop a Hatch and Mesilla Valley Watershed Plan

Reclamation Selects Proposal from the Stormwater Coalition with NM WRRI to Develop a Hatch and Mesilla Valley Watershed Plan

By Connie Maxwell, NM WRRI Graduate Research Assistant

The South Central New Mexico Stormwater Management Coalition (Stormwater Coalition) has identified watershed restoration as the critical underlying strategy to address flooding and sediment transport issues in the Hatch and Mesilla Valleys. Vegetation loss in upland watersheds is leading to floods that scour soils and transport sediment, which in turn clogs downstream riparian areas, agricultural infrastructure, and overwhelms downstream flood control infrastructure. Higher flow energies and decreased infiltration are diminishing water storage and supplies across the landscape, negatively impacting agriculture, communities, and ecosystems.

The Stormwater Coalition’s proposal was selected for funding by the Bureau of Reclamation through its WaterSMART Cooperative Watershed Management Program. The goal of the two-year project is to develop a community-based comprehensive watershed plan and prioritize project designs for the region. The group proposed project goals to increase collaboration to improve watershed health by keeping the water and the soil on the watershed through developing local solutions which can be implemented across the region. The planning and project design objectives are to reduce sediment transport, prevent flooding, increase upland vegetation productivity, increase upland flood flow infiltration, and increase water supply through shallow groundwater aquifer recharge from flood flows and stormwater in valleys. The group also proposes to extend its organizational development, increase collaborator development and community outreach, and assemble a diverse technical and stakeholder task force to develop the plans. The proposed project management team includes NM WRRI as project manager and planner, the Doña Ana County Flood Commission, the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, the Alamosa Land Institute, and the Jornada Resource Conservation & Development Council as fiscal agent.

The Stormwater Coalition identified five main issues to address in the watershed planning and priority project design process: 1) degraded upper watersheds as indicated by increasing erosion and sediment transport is the critical underlying issue; 2) water supply: increased variability, shortfalls, and aquifer depletion; 3) urban development expansion from the El Paso/Juarez metropolitan district towards Las Cruces; 4) a need to increase watershed-scale coordination to achieve goals and reduce conflict; and 5) a need for coordinated watershed planning efforts in the newly created Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. The Stormwater Coalition is a grass-roots, non-regulatory group that was established in 2010 to develop cross-agency regional watershed management collaboration with diverse stakeholders for stormwater management and to identify the watershed dynamics that affect its management. The Stormwater Coalition states on their website that because stormwater does not respect political boundaries, it has become apparent that the needs of the region would best be served by a regional watershed management approach. The partners include the regional flood commissions, soil and water conservation districts, and counties within the watershed; the Elephant Butte Irrigation District – the largest irrigation district in New Mexico; the Village of Hatch; and the City of Anthony. Collaborators extend throughout the watershed and includes farmers and ranchers; federal and state agencies; universities and associated organizations, such as the NM WRRI; watershed groups, such as the Paso del Norte Watershed Council; and municipalities.

Excerpt from proposal cover. Photo courtesy of Jay Hill Photography (area farmer and former EBID board member).
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August 2021 eNews

NMT Student Awarded Research Grant to Study the Volumetric and Chemical Influence of Groundwater on the Rio Grande

NMT Student Awarded Research Grant to Study the Volumetric and Chemical Influence of Groundwater on the Rio Grande

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Senior Student Program Coordinator

Groundwater contributions to surface flows (e.g., irrigation returns, lateral basin flow paths) can provide significant base flow in the Rio Grande. As flow paths exit the basin and converge, the solute from each distinct source contributes to the chemical evolution of the riparian aquifer and the river. For example, Hogan et al. (2007) found that deep upwelling groundwater is the primary source of salinization in the Rio Grande. Quantifying the proportions of these distinct groundwater contributions to the Rio Grande hydrologic system could help evaluate the system’s resilience in the face of increased water stress.

NM WRRI has awarded New Mexico Tech graduate student, Ethan Williams, a Student Water Research Grant to study the volumetric and chemical influence of groundwater on the Rio Grande in the southern Albuquerque Basin. The project entitled, Quantifying groundwater to surface water exchanges in the Belen reach of the MRGCD, has three objectives: (1) to identify the proportion and provenance of groundwater contributions in the study area, (2) to record how these fluxes change through the 2021 water year, and (3) to integrate the results into the hydrogeologic context of the basin.

Under the guidance of his faculty advisor, Dr. Alex Rinehart, Williams will collect water samples and flow data at strategic locations in the project area and perform end-member mixing analysis (EMMA). Williams will then calculate volumetric source contributions, develop conceptual flow models for the study, and present his findings within the context of the current literature.

Williams expects the findings to clarify groundwater’s role in maintaining and supplementing flow in the Rio Grande in the southern Albuquerque Basin. According to Williams, “this work aims to provide a nuanced understanding of how, where, and when distinct groundwaters contribute to the Rio Grande. This data will have significant implications for meeting compact obligations, maintaining riparian habitat, and supporting beneficial water use. By evaluating individual groundwater sources, we will characterize how distinct groundwaters affect the chemical evolution of the river and the spatial distribution of individual inputs. These findings will help us accurately anticipate the effects of drought on issues like river salinization and inform our ability to deploy mitigation strategies.” Williams has submitted an abstract about this research to the Geological Society of America Fall Conference in Portland, Oregon. He will also present a poster on this topic at the 66th Annual New Mexico Water Conference.

Originally from Oak Park, Illinois, Williams graduated in 2018 from the University of New Mexico with a BS in Geology. After working for a consulting company on a groundwater monitoring project in northeastern New Mexico, Williams enrolled in the Department of Hydrology at New Mexico Tech where he plans to graduate with an MS in Hydrology next year. After graduation, Williams plans to pursue a career in water where he hopes to “develop and maintain safe and sustainable water sources in water-stressed regions.”

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August 2021 eNews

Meet the Researcher, Kathryn Olszowy, Assistant Professor, New Mexico State University

Meet the Researcher, Kathryn Olszowy, Assistant Professor, New Mexico State University

By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

This month for Meet the Researcher we had the pleasure of interviewing Kathryn Olszowy, an assistant professor for the Department of Anthropology at New Mexico State University (NMSU) since 2019. She teaches several courses including biological anthropology, human health and biological variation, and evolutionary medicine. According to Olszowy, the most crucial aspect of teaching is to help students improve their scientific literacy and assist them in understanding social and structural factors that shape human health and wellness. She also emphasizes the importance of encouraging students to grow in their confidence, knowledge, and skills. Helping students realize their potential in creative and productive research outlets is one of the main reasons she values her role as a mentor to any interested undergraduate and graduate students.

One of Kathryn’s students, Hailey Taylor, was recently awarded a New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI) Student Water Research Grant for the project entitled, Living with Water-Insecurity: How do people adapt and cope with poor water quality and access?. This research will investigate how residents of colonias in Doña Ana County, New Mexico adapt and cope with inadequate water quality/supply. This study will then examine the potential mental and physical impacts limited water can have on individuals living in these underdeveloped communities along the US-Mexico border. Olszowy comments that Hailey is not only interested in measuring people’s own perceptions of water insecurity but also what they would like to see as possible solutions. This research is a part of Kathryn’s more extensive research study funded by The Mountain West Clinical and Translational Research Infrastructure Network (MW CTR-IN). Further information on Hailey’s study can be found in NM WRRI’s July eNews article located here.

Kathryn earned her BA (2007) from Colorado State University in Fort Collins and MA (2009) in Anthropology from the University of Colorado at Boulder. She received her MS in Biomedical Anthropology (2011) and her PhD (2014) in Anthropology from Binghamton University located in New York. From there, Olszowy continued her education and acquired her MPH (2019) from Cleveland State University in Ohio.

Kathryn’s research and teaching interests center around an assortment of different areas, including human biocultural variation and adaptation, intergenerational transmission of poor health, and food and water insecurity. With her background in obesity and chronic disease research, she is involved in several concurrent projects, with water research being one of the most recent additions to her repertoire. Some of her projects include looking at the role stress plays in male/female obesity disparities, and performing studies on the physical and mental health outcomes associated with population displacement due to natural disasters. She is also working on a project with her colleague, Dr. Mary Alice Scott, a medical anthropologist, documenting experiences given by people living in rural communities in Doña Ana County during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kathryn “became interested in water research after a plenary session held at the Human Biology Association meeting in 2019. The session was called, Life and Death: Human Biology and Water, and highlighted the fact that water is an understudied aspect of human biology, even though it is essential to us socially and physiologically.” This encouraged her to investigate possible correlations between household water insecurity and the risk of developing conditions like obesity and diabetes. Olszowy states that there is very little literature describing these relationships and believes this kind of research is critical in the U.S. border region due to issues with water scarcity and tensions between industry (e.g., agriculture and oil), community, and individual needs. To help fill in the gaps between water and health research, The MW CTR-IN funded Olszowy with a pilot grant for her research entitled, Water Insecurity: A neglected social determinant of chronic disease risk (2019), which is an integral part of Hailey Taylor’s research as described above. In this study, a survey of colonia residents in Doña Ana County was conducted regarding their experiences of water insecurity and how it impacts their diet, mental health, and potentially chronic disease risk. Once completed, this project will help provide insight for further research associated with water uncertainty and its possible connection to people developing mental and physical health risks.

In addition to her research responsibilities, Olszowy is involved in several university and community service efforts. She is a member of the NMSU COVID-19 Vaccine Tiger Team and assists the Department of Anthropology as their Darwin Day Coordinator and as a member of the Assessment Committee. Within her community, she has volunteered to help with rural food distribution, fundraising, and was an AmeriCorps service member for their cancer services program.

Regarding future career goals, Kathryn mentioned she would like to become more involved with applied and community-based participatory research around Las Cruces and southern New Mexico. She aspires for her research “to be relevant to community concerns and contribute to community-driven improvements in health and wellness.” By working more with the community, Olszowy hopes to gain the attention of local community students and interest them in the anthropology field and NMSU programs dedicated to mentoring and research involvement. She would also like to mention that her research would not have been possible without collaborators at the Doña Ana County Department of Health and Human Services.

Kathryn anticipates making more contributions to water research, NMSU, and NM WRRI in the future once in-person research collaborations have fully resumed. She expressed that “because of the pandemic, a lot of opportunities to connect and collaborate were postponed over the past year and a half, so I am eager to explore opportunities with NM WRRI and across NMSU as we start to open up.”

Kathryn stated that one of the most important lessons she learned during the COVID-19 pandemic was to be flexible with research expectations. Next year, she looks forward to applying for larger external grants to further her MW CTR-IN research between water insecurity, mental distress, and food insecurity with the possibility of acquiring funding for additional student involvement.

As a parting message for those looking to enter the research field, Kathryn stressed the importance that “if you have an interest, something that sparks your curiosity, pursue it. Read about it, talk to experts, find where the gaps are.” She believes this is critical in learning how to view problems from multiple dimensions and discover where research still needs to be performed. As experienced firsthand, Olszowy understands that research is not always a neat and orderly process, and making adjustments should be expected.

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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 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.
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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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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.