eNews September 2018

UNM Researcher Delves into Water Politics Affecting Our State’s Most Beloved Crop

by Katie Williams, University Communication & Marketing, UNM

Doctoral student Holly Brause packed her trunk this summer and hit the road for a lengthy drive down south. While most students travel for fun and to relax, Brause made the trip to roll up her sleeves and get to work on understanding how water issues are affecting New Mexico’s most treasured, above ground, resource.

“New Mexican agriculture depends on irrigation. Irrigation is a political process, and, like all political processes, is contested by different stakeholders,” said Brause. “This project examines the everyday politics of agricultural water use in the context of an uncertain future.”

The uncertain future Brause is focusing on is that of agricultural production here in the state, with a special emphasis on the chile industry. With agriculture being the single biggest water user in the U.S. and here in New Mexico, she hopes to understand how water is used to grow crops in southern New Mexico, but most importantly for a cultural anthropologist, how the precious resource is administered.

“I’m focusing on the social side of water use,” said Brause. “Something unique that an anthropologist can offer is a different perspective on water issues—the issues related to people, their stories, how they make decisions about water use and how they govern it.”

Brause is based out of Las Cruses for the next 10 months, completing her ethnographic research. As part of her research, she travels the southern part of our state picking the brains of growers, industry leaders, scientists, field laborers, and agricultural lenders on the chile business and how water is of the utmost concern.

“I learn about water issues affecting these farmers by interacting with them, learning about their daily water interactions,” said Brause. “I hear what their daily water issues are like and I combine that with interviews on what they think the future holds for them when it comes to resources.”

One notable finding from her interviews is the focus on the future.

“I think agriculturalists don’t get credit for really thinking a lot about water conservation,” says Brause. “Being that they are the largest users of water in the state, they don’t get much credit for seeking out ways to conserve it.”

Brause is able to work on her project entitled, The Everyday Politics of Irrigated Agriculture and an Uncertain Future, with her advisor, UNM Professor David Dinwoodie, thanks to a $6,000 grant from the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI).

The NM WRRI provides support for water-related research through its Faculty and Student Water Research Grant Programs. Funds are made available through the institute’s federal base grant and through state appropriations. The funded projects allow New Mexico university faculty and students to pursue critical areas of water resources research while providing training opportunities for their students.

The institute also participates in joint efforts to solve water-related problems along the U.S./Mexico border. Through its support of research and its interaction and cooperation with other water resources entities, the institute — located in Las Cruces at New Mexico State University — continuously strives to alleviate water problems, working toward ensuring an ample supply of high-quality water for future generations.

Ultimately, Brause hopes this research sheds light on how farmers can best be supported in their efforts to adopt water saving techniques and technology and participate in water conservation efforts.

“This project has the potential to facilitate an exchange of knowledge between farmers, support institutions, and policy makers in regards to planning for the future that may be dramatically affected by the New Mexico/Texas water litigation, increasing water scarcity, and drought conditions,” she says. “Such communication could produce increased resilience for the agriculture industry that is so important to the state of New Mexico, and result in more effective water conservation collaborations between water management organizations and agriculturalists.”

eNews September 2018

In Memoriam – John Whitlock Hernandez, Jr., August 17, 1929 – June 28, 2018

Dr. John Hernandez was a longtime colleague and friend of the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute. Upon arriving at New Mexico State University in July 1965, John’s presence was felt as he worked across departments and colleges on water-related projects and issues. His first institute publication dated back to 1975 – a paper on the National Safe Drinking Water Act. Even after his retirement from NMSU in 1999, John continued to work on water projects and, in 2006, he co-authored a report on the water conservation potential of the Tucumcari Project. John attended most of the institute’s annual water conferences, speaking at many including at the 50th anniversary conference where he paid tribute to the first director of the NM WRRI, Dr. Ralph Stucky. In 2008, John was honored with giving the Albert E. Utton Memorial Water Lecture at the annual conference. John’s love for storytelling, especially related to the history of water in New Mexico, was evident in his talk, “100 Years of Water Management in New Mexico – Stories about the People Involved.” John was also the driving force behind the book, “One Hundred Years of Water Wars in New Mexico 1912-2012,” which we worked on together.  – Catherine Ortega Klett, NM WRRI Program Manager

A celebration of Dr. John Hernandez’s life was held on September 22, 2018 at Hernandez Hall on the New Mexico State University campus. John’s colleague in the College of Engineering, Dr. David Jauregui, honored John with the following tribute:

On behalf of the Department of Civil Engineering at NMSU, it is with a heavy heart that we mourn the loss of Dr. John W. Hernandez, who passed away on June 28, 2018. Dr. Hernandez was a Professor, Dean, mentor, colleague, friend, and force of nature. His commitment to the Department, the College, the University, the State, the Country, and to humanity is inspiring. John’s spirit and enthusiasm for life, family, work, and fun never left him. This is a sad time, but also a time to reflect, rejoice, and honor one of the most exceptional men we knew. Dr. Hernandez was a Renaissance man, educated in and appreciating arts, literature, sports, and of course engineering, math, and science. We draw on Charles Dickens in homage to the man after whom our building is named:

“Father Time is not always a hard parent, and, though he tarries for none of his children, often lays his hand lightly upon those who have used him well; making them old men and women inexorably enough, but leaving their hearts and spirits young and in full vigour. With such people the grey head is but the impression of the old fellow’s hand in giving them his blessing, and every wrinkle but a notch in the quiet calendar of a well-spent life.” (Barnaby Rudge)

Those of us who were fortunate enough to know, learn from and work with Dr. Hernandez have lost a dear colleague and a cherished mentor. Our hearts go out to his family and to all who were touched by his extraordinary life. Further information is provided in Dr. Hernandez’s obituary available at the following link:

Donations for the Dr. John Whitlock Hernandez Endowed Fund to benefit NMSU Civil Engineering, which was established with a bequest from the Hernandez family, would be gratefully appreciated. For details, please contact Stephanie Armitage Sichler, Director of Development, College of Engineering (575-646-5457) or Dr. David Jauregui, Civil Engineering Department Head (575-646-3801).

eNews September 2018

Meet the Researcher – Becky Bixby, University of New Mexico

By Catherine Ortega Klett, NM WRRI Program Manager

In 2007, Dr. Becky Bixby joined the University of New Mexico’s Biology Department as a research assistant professor. Becky hails from the Great Lake state of Michigan where she grew up one mile from Lake Michigan. This early exposure to vast freshwater bodies has shaped her interests in all things wet and soggy! Becky is an aquatic ecologist who is inspired by the multi-faceted nature of freshwater ecosystem research in terms of policy and outreach. As a result, Becky also serves as the Associate Director of the interdisciplinary Water Resources Program at UNM, and holds a position as a research associate with both the Museum of Southwestern Biology and New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science.

Becky received a BA in biology from Albion College (Michigan), an MS from the University of Cincinnati studying the formation of lakes in northern Alaska, and a PhD in natural resources from the University of Michigan. Her dissertation focused on microscopic diatom systematics and ecology in high elevation rivers. Becky did post-doctoral work at the Institute of Ecology at the University of Georgia where her NSF-supported research examined landscape-scale patterns of diatom communities in rain forest streams.

Bixby’s research interests are centered on arid land aquatic ecosystems, working through the lens of community response to disturbance. Her lab work focuses on freshwater aquatic ecology with interests in the response and interactions of biological organisms to natural and human-related disturbances at different spatial and temporal scales. For example, these disturbances may be small-scale hydraulic influences on biofilms in the Rio Grande or more widespread short and long-term effects of wildfire on aquatic community structure and water quality. Becky’s lab is also doing work on springs around New Mexico, documenting algal and invertebrate biodiversity and impacts of anthropogenic disturbance.

Becky has served as the faculty advisor for three student recipients of NM WRRI Student Water Research Grants: 2014 recipient Alex Clark (undergraduate), 2017 recipient Amanda Otieno (graduate), and 2018 recipient Monika Hobbs (graduate). Working with students is a love of Becky’s since she really enjoys the project brainstorming, watching the light bulb come on, and watching her students succeed with hard work and perseverance.

eNews September 2018

NMSU Student Will Study Effects of Anticipated Climate Change on the Hydrology of Watersheds

By Catherine Ortega Klett, NM WRRI Program Manager

Khandaker Iftekharul Islam is a PhD student in Water Science and Management Program at NMSU, and a recipient of a 2018 NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant entitled: An Efficient Forecasting of Hydrologic Extremes Under Climate Change. The problem of water scarcity in the Southwest is expected to be exacerbated by a long-term continuance of global warming. A great deal of international effort has been expended in order to estimate the extent of future warming under various scenarios of projected increases in greenhouse gases. To this end, very complex numerical global climate models have been developed and used to run simulations of the likely future climate. Khandaker will make use of some of these climate scenarios, adjusted for the local context by dynamic downscaling of the results of the general circulation models, to estimate the resulting hydrologic effects on watersheds. In this effort, he will be assisted by his faculty adviser, Dr. Christopher Brown of the Water Science and Management Program (Affiliated), and the Department of Geography.

The plan of action for estimating the hydrologic impact on various local watersheds caused by future warming will be to first select, on the basis of accuracy when applied to a particular watershed, from a set of four available hydrologic models. These models attempt to simulate such relevant watershed behavior as stream hydrology and sediment transport, overland flow, channel routing, saturation infiltration, runoff, and flood forecasting. The assessment of accuracy will be carried out for a particular watershed by comparing the model predictions against actual hydrologic data for the study area. Then, having established the best available hydrologic model for a given watershed, it will be used to simulate the expected hydrologic response to a selected future climate change scenario.

It is hoped that this study will provide some insight into the likely long-term effects of climate change on the hydrological behavior of local watersheds. In particular, it may help to identify the most potentially severe water scarcity zones within watersheds, as well as provide better estimates of the frequency and intensity of extreme events like flooding and droughts and of the associated changes in overall water quality. Given the warmer and dryer conditions in the Southwest in recent decades, and the resulting decrease in precipitation and snowpack, water demand already exceeds supply in New Mexico in most years. An expected doubling in the population by the next half-century will put even more pressure on our limited water resources. Accordingly, there is a definite need to develop further skill in the art and science of forecasting the possible effects of future warming on our water supply. It is in this context that the present study should make a welcome contribution.

Khandaker expects to complete this study by 2019. He plans to present a poster of his research at the upcoming NM WRRI 63rd Annual New Mexico Water Conference that will take place at the Las Cruces Convention Center on October 17-18, 2018.

Khandaker is originally from Dhaka, Bangladesh. He graduated with a BS in civil engineering from Rajshahi University of Engineering and Technology (RUET). He received his MS in civil and environmental engineering from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden. Khandaker is eager to work to improve existing hydrologic models. He says, “I am dedicated to craft, and my goal is to become a University researcher or work in a research laboratory.”