eNews May 2020

Former NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant Recipient Publishes Peer-Reviewed Article in the Scientific Journal, Water

By Carolina Mijares, NM WRRI Program Manager

Dr. William Weaver, a New Mexico State University Department of Civil Engineering graduate, has published a peer-reviewed paper in the scientific journal, Water. While studying at NMSU, Dr. Weaver was advised under the direction of Dr. Lambis Papelis, NMSU’s John Clark Distinguished Professor and Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring & Research Center Interim Director. Dr. Weaver was a 2016-2017 NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant recipient.

In the recently published paper, Dissolution-Desorption Dynamics of Strontium During Elution Following Evaporation: pH and Ionic Strength Effects, Dr. Weaver investigated the effects of pH and ionic strength on the transport of strontium in the unsaturated zone, under dynamic water contents. The paper was written in collaboration with Dr. Tohren C.G. Kibbey and Dr. Papelis, and is available here.

Dr. Weaver’s student water research project entitled, Pore -Scale Transport of Strontium and Chromate During Dynamic Water Content Changes in the Unsaturated Zone, studied the mobility of contaminants in the unsaturated zone, the portion of the subsurface above the groundwater table. In this study strontium and chromate were looked at to understand their movement in porous media following processes such as evaporation, rainfall, and irrigation. A description of the results of this project are available by clicking here.

Dr. Weaver acknowledges NM WRRI for its contribution to his research, and states that he is greatly appreciative of the funding received. Through this support, Weaver was able to cover much needed research costs and chemical analyses, which led to the final publishing of his peer-reviewed article in Water. Dr. Weaver is currently pursuing a career in conducting research in environmental science and engineering.

eNews May 2020

NMSU Researchers Analyze Produced Water Chemistry in the Permian Basin

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 research being performed by Drs. Pei Xu, Yanyan Zhang, Kenneth Carroll, Tanner Schaub, Frank Ramos, and Jackie Jarvis at New Mexico State University (NMSU).

The extraction of oil and gas has economic benefits as well as environmental concerns, one being the management of produced water. Efforts to treat and find beneficial uses for produced water are met with fair skepticism given the constituents in the water can pose a risk to public health and the environment. Management decisions are often made using water quality parameters such as salinity, total organic carbon, and heavy metal content, however, these parameters are not enough to capture the full range of risk and toxicity of the produced water. Previous research determined there are up to 1,198 constituents identified in produced water, while only 527 of those have associated toxicity data publicly available in a database (Danforth et al. 2020). Although many of the produced water constituents are known, there is still a need for a comprehensive assessment of produced water quality and removal efficiency of treatment technologies for reducing environmental toxicity.

Water storage pond for hydraulic fracturing.

Researchers at NMSU are addressing this need by conducting this comprehensive assessment in their project entitled, Characterization of Produced Water in the Permian Basin for Potential Beneficial Use. Through this project, the NMSU research team is developing effective methods to analyze the organic and inorganic constituents, radionuclides, and toxicology of highly saline produced water, as well as producing a better understanding of the chemical composition and toxicity of produced water in the Permian Basin in southeastern New Mexico.

The team is collaborating with industry partners and has already completed site visits in January 2020. Analysis of the produced water quality are being performed at NMSU using advanced instrumentation such as ion chromatography (IC), inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectroscopy (ICP-OES), inductively coupled plasma mass spectroscopy (ICP-MS), agilent gas chromatography time of flight mass spectrometry (GC LECO TOF MS), Waters Acquity Ultraperformance liquid chromatography Q-TOF MS systems (LC-QTOF-MS-MS), ultrahigh resolution Orbitrap-based mass spectrometry, total organic carbon (TOC) and fluorescence excitation and emission mapping (F-EEM). In vitro tests are being performed on a mouse macrophage cell line to determine the environmental toxicity of the produced water constituents from different wells and disposal sites. The research performed in this study will help establish improved management practices, proper risk assessment, spill response, treatment, and beneficial use applications.


Danforth, W.A. Chiu, I. Rusyn, K. Schultz, A. Bolden, C. Kwiatkowski, E. Craft, An integrative method for identification and prioritization of constituents of concern in produced water from onshore oil and gas extraction, Environment international, 134 (2020) 105280.

eNews May 2020

NMT Student Receives NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant to Study Arroyo Rainfall-Runoff Relationships

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

Ephemeral streams, or arroyos as they are called in New Mexico, flow in direct response to precipitation. In semi-arid climates, flash floods are common in arroyos after a big storm. When the arroyo is flowing, sediment moves from these ephemeral streams into large rivers such as the Rio Grande; however, quantifying sediment influx into large rivers is challenging. Last year, Madeline Richards, under the guidance of her faculty advisor, Dr. Daniel Cadol, was awarded an NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant to study this topic. The title of her project is, Rainfall-Runoff Relationships in the Arroyo de los Pinos, Socorro New Mexico.

Small ephemeral streams in New Mexico are not studied as often as perennial streams because of their erratic nature, and because they are usually located in hard to access deserts. The Arroyo de los Pinos site is cfurrently one of very few study sites collecting data on water discharge, bedload transport, suspended sediment, and other relevant measurements during flash floods in dryland environments. This study site is located close to the confluence of the arroyo and the Rio Grande. Gaining a clearer picture of stream connectivity and rainfall-runoff relationships in this channel will be useful for quantifying flow generation as well as aquifer recharge and transmission loss through the stream bed. These processes affect flow conditions and sediment transport.

To understand stream connectivity and rainfall-runoff relationships, the project required more data on the arroyo’s watershed. To acquire this data, Madeline and her team set up pressure transducers, and rain gauges that collected runoff and rainfall data in the Pinos watershed over the monsoon season. This allowed her to identify when and from where runoff is being generated. This runoff transports sediment and carries it downstream.

The larger project this NM WRRI grant supports is funded by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in an effort to better understand the sediment flux from arroyos into main stem rivers like the Rio Grande. Agencies that manage dams, reservoirs, and mainstream channels will benefit from a better understanding of sediment generating mechanisms in ephemeral channels like the Arroyo de los Pinos.

Madeline presented her work on this project at the American Geophysical Union Fall 2019 Conference, and the 64th Annual New Mexico Water Conference.

Madeline is originally from northern California. She received her Bachelor’s in Environmental Geology at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC). At UCSC, she worked in the Geomorphology lab and her research focused on the geomorphology of Santa Cruz Mountain streams. Madeline is now finishing her graduate work in the Earth and Environmental Science Department at New Mexico Tech. Madeline works for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the Hydrology and Hydraulics section, and plans on transitioning to full-time employment after she graduates with a Master of Science in Hydrology.

eNews May 2020

NMSU Student Receives NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant to Study Disinfection Byproducts in Algae-Treated Wastewater

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

In places like southern New Mexico, which are vulnerable to water shortages and droughts due to water scarcity, it is important to explore alternative water sources to achieve sustainable water management. Wastewater treatment facilities in water-stressed regions are considering reusing treated urban wastewater as an option to reduce freshwater demand. Possible reuse applications of treated urban wastewater include non-food irrigation like landscaping, and recreational areas where human exposure is restricted. EPA guidelines require that treated water must be disinfected prior to reuse. Traditionally, chlorine has been used for disinfecting the wastewater for microbial safety to prevent bacterial regrowth. However, chlorination can result in the production of disinfection by-products (DBPs), which are recognized as a health hazard.

A novel algal wastewater treatment system (A-WWTS) developed at New Mexico State University (NMSU) is being demonstrated at the Las Cruces Wastewater Treatment Plant, and it is hypothesized that the inherent disinfection capability of this system can be beneficial in reducing the final disinfectant demand and the potential for DBP formation. This is the focus of Srimali Munasinghe-Arachchige’s research. Srimali, a PhD candidate in the Civil Engineering Department at NMSU, plans to track nitrosamines, a carcinogenic category of DBP, in the chlorinated algal effluent. Srimali received an NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant for her project entitled, Assessment of Disinfection Byproducts (DBPs) formation in algae-treated wastewater for safer reuse in restricted applications. The specific goals of this project are to track nitrosamines formation potential in the chlorinated algal effluent, determine the pH condition and minimum chlorine dosage, and to compare the chlorinated effluent of A-WWTS with the guidelines for restricted reuse.

This study consisted of two experiments. First, analyzing the maximum variations in water quality parameters due to chlorination of the algal effluent, where preliminary results indicate a low potential for DBP formation in the effluent of A-WWTS. The second experiment was to determine operating conditions for chlorination of the algal effluent. Preliminary results of this study suggest that adjusting pH to six prior to chlorination would reduce DBP formation. However, further experiments are necessary to confirm the results.

The results of this project will be beneficial to wastewater utilities by providing information about sustainable utility services. As Srimali explains, “Based on the preliminary findings, the algal effluent can be seen to have the potential to yield low-cost, high quality reclaimed water for safe reuse in restricted applications reducing the demand for the limited freshwater supplies.”

Srimali received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Peradeniya, in her home country of Sri Lanka where she specialized in Chemical and Process Engineering. She then earned a Master of Science degree in 2018 from NMSU in Environmental Engineering. Under the guidance of her faculty advisor, Dr. Nagamany Nirmalakhandan, Srimali now works on recovering nitrogen from wastewater via gas-permeable membranes to produce fertilizer and multi-criteria decision-making methods to identify preferred options for wastewater treatment. After graduation in the fall, Srimali is planning on a career related to the water or wastewater sector. As an Environmental Engineer, Srimali is interested in water conservation and reuse to contribute to the betterment of humans while preserving the environment.

eNews May 2020

Meet the Researcher, Yanyan Zhang, Assistant Professor, New Mexico State University

By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

This month for meet the researcher we are profiling Yanyan Zhang, who is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at New Mexico State University (NMSU). She instructs several advanced-level courses, including Environmental Engineering Design, Unit Processes/Operation of Wastewater Treatment, and Advanced Water Treatment and Reuse. Presently, Yanyan is supervising one master’s student, and two PhD students at NMSU with a total of ten higher-education students being mentored throughout her career. According to Yanyan, one of the most significant aspects of her position involves all the readily available opportunities to make a difference in water-related problems, which are critical to the environment and human health.

Zhang earned her BS (2005) and MS (2008) in Environmental Engineering as well as a BBA in Business Administration (2005) from Beijing Normal University (BNU). Her master’s thesis was entitled, Study of micro-ecology analysis methods based on yeast microaerobic process.  She obtained her PhD in 2012 from the University of Missouri (UM) in Columbia, Missouri. Her dissertation was entitled, Determination of low bacterial and viral concentrations in water and selective removal of pathogenic bacteria in water filtration systems.

Yanyan was hired as a research assistant at BNU for the School of Environment in 2005, and maintained her position at UM in 2008 for the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE). She transferred to the University of Alberta in 2013, where she became a postdoctoral fellow for CEE. Yanyan has been in her current position at NMSU since 2016.

With the assistance of her research team, Yanyan is actively working on two research projects; one being funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the other by the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI). She is the PI on the NIH project entitled, Resistance and Virulence of Surviving Bacteria in Water after Various Disinfection Processes, which seeks to discover any alterations of bacterial community before and after various disinfection processes in order to develop new disinfection strategies. Zhang is serving as a co-PI for the NM WRRI project entitled, Characterization of Produced Water in the Permian Basin for Potential Beneficial use, which is part of an overarching university collaboration known as the New Mexico Universities Produced Water Synthesis Project. This cooperative research opportunity seeks to conduct comprehensive assessment of produced water quality in the Permian Basin for its safe use and achieve a better understanding of the potential impacts of produced water on public health and environment. Yanyan is specifically developing an effective toxicological tool to rapid screen produced water to detect any potential risks.

Zhang’s other research interests include pathogen detection and inactivation, integrated biochemical and physicochemical treatment systems, and control of antibiotic resistance in water. She has demonstrated her expertise in these areas by performing extensive experiments on the toxicity of silver and zinc oxide nanoparticles on bacteria and viruses, engineering biological processes for municipal and oil industry water treatment, removing biofilm from drinking water, and other widespread research.

Two of Yanyan’s students (Xiaoxiao Cheng, and Lei Hu) were funded by NM WRRI under the Student Water Research Grant Program in 2018. Their projects were entitled, Developing new strategies to mitigate antimicrobial resistance for safe water reuse, and Recovery of Ammonium and Magnesium from Produced Water by Struvite Precipitation.  As a result of these projects, two peer-reviewed articles were published on their research in 2020 for Science of The Total Environment, and Chemical Engineering Journal, respectively.

At this time, Yanyan has 56 peer-reviewed journal articles with seven of them being published just this year. Her most recent studies were published in Water Research, Science of The Total Environment, Algal Research, Frontiers in Microbiology, and Chemical Engineering Journal. Zhang has been an invited reviewer of over 80 manuscripts for 25 different journals.

Yanyan has had the opportunity to present her research in several states, and has participated in many international conferences and workshops held in Beijing, Shanghai, and Alberta. Zhang holds professional memberships to the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta, the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors, and the American society for Microbiology. On the NMSU campus, Yanyan serves as faculty advisor for the Chi Epsilon student chapter, and also contributes as a Strategic Planning Committee member for her department, and to the Distinguished Lecture Series Committee. She has similarly been an active member of her community by developing scientific programs aimed at providing children with the chance to learn more about water and wastewater treatment, and by supporting the recruitment of female students for programs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Zhang stated that one of her long-term goals is to establish and maintain an interdisciplinary research team at NMSU to develop effective approaches to reduce the risks in reclaimed water, and observe its safe reuse in different applications. Her efforts in this endeavor involve her active research projects and her successful outreach connections. According to Yanyan, she will continue striving to work in the field of produced water treatment and reuse due to the rapid development of unconventional shale in the oil and gas industry. She strongly feels her research of waterborne pathogens and wastewater epidemiology is especially very important at this time, and will diligently continue her efforts in those fields of study.