eNews October 2019

UNM Student Receives NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

In June of 2019, Alyssa Latuchie, a PhD candidate at the University of New Mexico’s Department of Economics, received a NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant entitled, A Survey: New Mexicans’ Willingness to Pay for Produced Water Treatment for Beneficial Re-Use. Alyssa is working under the guidance of her faculty advisor Dr. Janie Chermak, Professor of Economics at UNM. This research addresses if New Mexicans view produced water as a resource and the value, if any, they place on it.

After oil and gas are produced, the water that comes to the surface of the well is called produced water. This water is of low quality, with high salinity and toxins of various quantities. Historically, produced water has been treated as a waste product and is disposed of through deep injection wells. More recently, there has been a movement towards re-use of this water for completion of oil and gas wells, but there is still a large amount of produced water that is simply disposed. Since New Mexico is one of the top producers of oil and gas, the amount of produced water within the state is significant. In 2015, within the New Mexico portion of the Permian Basin, over 23 billion gallons of produced water was created, and only 28 percent of that was re-used. To put this into perspective, the quantity of water that was disposed of was equivalent to the annual average usage of about 370,000 people (based off of Albuquerque’s current per capita use). Relevant to the water shortage that New Mexico faces, treated produced water could provide an additional source of water to the state.

While the technology to treat produced water exists, it comes at a high cost. The pricing structure of water often makes using fresh water less expensive than treating produced water for re-use. The goal of Alyssa’s research is to determine if the general New Mexican public views produced water as a resource instead of something to be disposed. Through direct survey, Alyssa will estimate the willingness to pay (WTP) for treatment of this resource, and by extrapolating this result across the population of New Mexico, she will be able to determine if the total WTP will cover the estimated cost of treatment. By using this method, she will be able to estimate the value of a product that is not currently bought or sold through a market.

“I expect that with proper education about produced water and the treatment available, the New Mexican public will have a small willingness to pay for that treatment. While I do not expect that the dollar value will be very high, I do think that once the results have been generalized to fit the population of New Mexico, that the willingness to pay will cover the cost of treatment of produced water,” explains Alyssa, adding that the findings can give lawmakers the knowledge and empirical data for legislation on treating produced water.

“If produced water is viewed as a resource by New Mexicans, meaning they place a value on it, it would introduce the possibility of a new water source to our arid state.”

Originally from Philadelphia, Alyssa now lives in Santa Fe and received her Master’s Degree in Economics from UNM in 2016. Alyssa plans to graduate from UNM in the spring of 2020 with a PhD in Economics in the field of Environmental and Natural Resource Economics. After graduation, Alyssa plans to continue her work for the State at the Energy Conservation and Management Division within the Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department as a Clean Energy Economist.

eNews October 2019

Meet the Researcher: Mike Hightower, Research Professor, University of New Mexico

By Sam Fernald, NM WRRI Director

This month we are profiling Mike Hightower.  Before launching into his illustrious career and water-related research, it is important to note his important connection to the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute.  Mike worked for NM WRRI as a student employee from 1973-1977 when the institute was directed by John Clark.

Currently, Mr. Hightower is a Research Professor at the University of New Mexico’s Center for Water and the Environment.  After serving 38 years at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, Mike continues as a mentor on energy and water issues.  Mike holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in civil and environmental engineering from New Mexico State University and has 40 years of experience in space, weapons, and energy and natural resources research and engineering.  His focus the past two decades has been on the use of distributed and renewable energy and water treatment technologies to enhance economic development, global public health, and infrastructure and natural resource security and resiliency. Most recently, Mike has been appointed through NMSU to serve as the Program Manager for the NM Produced Water Research Consortium.

Since 2000 Mike has actively supported the Departments of Interior, State, Defense, and Energy in establishing science and technology programs to address energy and water sustainability issues and interdependencies. These efforts have centered on advanced treatment and desalination of non-traditional water resources such as brackish ground water, oil and gas produced water, and power plant cooling water in order to efficiently and cost effectively reduce fresh water use and supplement fresh water supply availability in inland areas.  Mike has had numerous articles and reports published on desalination and energy/water interdependencies including two reports to Congress, an article in Nature, an Energy Water Food research roadmap for the National Science Foundation, and chapters in three books.

eNews October 2019

Renowned Water Expert Sandra Postel to Deliver Albert E. Utton Memorial Lecture at this Year’s Annual New Mexico Water Conference

By Mark Sheely, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

Sandra Postel opens her 2017 book, Replenish: The Virtuous Cycle of Water and Prosperity, by arguing that our natural water cycle has been broken by the same human hydraulic feats that have given us so much prosperity. “In some ways it’s hard to imagine our world of 7.5 billion people and $80 trillion in annual goods and services without water engineering—dams to store water, canals to move it around, and vast pumps to tap underground supplies,” Postel writes, “but it’s equally hard to imagine continuing down the same path.” Extreme weather, dwindling groundwater supplies, and overtapped watersheds pose an array of challenges for water managers across the globe.

As this year’s Albert E. Utton Memorial Lecture speaker, Sandra Postel will address the luncheon audience at the 64th Annual New Mexico Water Conference on Friday, November 8th at Buffalo Thunder Resort near Santa Fe, New Mexico. Currently director of the Global Water Policy Project and featured in documentaries such as the BBC series Planet Earth, Postel will demonstrate how farmers, cities, conservationists, and engineers across the US and around the world are showing that we can re-shape 21st century water management through innovation and collaboration to overcome the challenges ahead.

One stop made along the way in Replenish happens to be Santa Clara Canyon, where the 2011 Las Conchas Fire devastated 16,000 acres of forestland within Santa Clara Pueblo. On November 6, 2019, the Pueblo’s forestry staff will present to pre-conference field trip attendees their restoration efforts that have improved the watershed and its water quality.

In Replenish, Postel recounts how the Las Concha Fire also motivated Lauren McCarthy of the New Mexico Office of The Nature Conservancy to lay the groundwork for the Rio Grande Water Fund—a charter organization, now with 83 public and private organization signatories, that aims to restore 600,000 acres of forested watershed over the next 20 years. The fund’s principle is that the costs of forest thinning and other rehabilitation measures will be cheaper in the long run than the costs of fighting fires, dredging fire sediments, and extra water treatment. At the time of publication in 2017, 22,000 acres of forested watersheds had already been restored.

Postel closes Replenish with cautious optimism, stating, “Yes, the water cycle is broken, but one river, one wetland, one city, one farm at a time, we can begin to fix it.”

If you would like to attend this year’s Albert E. Utton Memorial Lecture, please contact Mark Sheely at or call 575 646-1195.

eNews October 2019

Community Science Initiative in a Northern New Mexico Drainage

By Lily Conrad, NM WRRI Research Graduate Assistant

This past September, Andrew Black (NM WRRI), Omar Coronado (WSM MS student), and Lily Conrad (WSM MS student) travelled to the Rio Hondo valley in northern New Mexico to begin installing cellular telemetry equipment at acequia monitoring stations. The purpose of these installations is to provide near-real time water quantity data that will be accessible to irrigators and acequia commissioners through a web interface The equipment will be installed in several sites throughout the valley between the communities of Valdez and Arroyo Hondo, periodically collecting water stage (elevation or height) and temperature data to be remotely sent to the interface via cellular towers.

Community members and NMSU researchers plan to collaborate on adaptive capacity assessment, site maintenance, data quality control, and analysis of system impact on water management. In the context of an acequia-irrigated landscape, adaptive capacity is the ability for water leaders to better implement adaptive management or make water resource decisions in the face of uncertainty and various challenges. After a meeting with acequia mayordomos and commissioners, the web interface will be designed to help support the valley’s acequia water sharing agreement over a trial period of the next two irrigation seasons. We anticipate the telemetry system will increase adaptive capacity within acequia water management and possibly improve acequia resilience.

Before the installation of this equipment, commissioners drove up and down the Rio Hondo manually checking flow values once per week. After the new system is in place, each commissioner or shareholder will be able to independently have access to the same water resource information. As a result, the data will be used to create a database to assist with decision making for local needs and concerns. A more precise and consistent understanding of water quantity may help with water management decisions by increasing adaptive capacity during low-flow periods.

eNews October 2019

Establishing a Research Collaboration with Stahmanns Pecans

By Sara M. Torres, NM WRRI Graduate Research Assistant

The New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute is in the early stages of forming a research collaboration with Stahmanns Pecans in the Mesilla Valley.

On October 10, 2019, Dean Rolando Flores, Dr. Alexander Fernald, and doctoral student Sara M. Torres toured the shelling facilities at Stahmanns Pecans. The purpose of the trip was to connect the institute’s academic research with the practical needs of industry. The visit to Stahmanns Pecans provided an opportunity for the team to learn about the current industry practices and begin the process of including producers in research development.

Torres recently began her doctoral research on the sustainability of pecan production this fall semester at New Mexico State University. She’s planning on approching her study on the sustainability of pecan production through a life-cycle based methodology. Through this collaboration, Torres hopes to develop a platform for producers to make decisions that maintain and enhance production in the region.

In 2019, New Mexico became the nation’s leading producer of pecans. At NMSU, the instiute is seeking to discover methodologies and practices that inform decision making in pecan production. According to NMSU: The New Mexico Pecan Industry Today, the bulk of pecan production occurs in New Mexico down in the Mesilla Valley (Doña Ana County). Stahmanns Pecans is a 3,200 acre operations and has been producing pecans in the Valley since 1932.