eNews September 2020

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 , 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 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 along contours, wire and brush lines along contours,f 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.


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.

eNews September 2020

UNM Student Awarded an NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant to Study Nutrient Impairment in Streams

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

Nutrient contamination poses a risk to water quality, ecosystems, and their functions. According to the 2018-2020 State of New Mexico Clean Water Act Section 303(d)/Section 305(b) Integrated Report, nutrient contamination is among the three most common causes of river and stream water quality impairment in New Mexico. Water quality impairments in small streams can propagate to larger rivers, lakes, and aquifers. Water quality impairment from nutrients can cause aquatic species to die and can even contaminate drinking water.

Jancoba Dorley, a PhD Engineering student at the University of New Mexico (UNM), is conducting experiments at the Valles Caldera National Preserve in order to better understand nutrient impairment. In June, Dorley was awarded an NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant to analyze how biogeochemical interactions and complex transport dynamics influence the processing and export of nutrients in streams. Dorley’s project entitled, Transport and biogeochemical controls on nutrient retention along stream corridors, will be carried out under the guidance of his faculty advisor, Dr. Ricardo Gonzalez-Pinzon.

Dorley will be conducting four nutrient enrichment injections in the East Fork of the Jemez River to gain a better understanding of the geological, biological, and chemical interactions that influence nutrients in streams. After each injection, water samples will be collected and taken to UNM’s Environmental Engineering Laboratory to be analyzed. The nutrient enrichment injections will also contain a tracer that Dorley will use to monitor the transport properties that influence nutrient loading. Dorley will be paying particular attention to the hyporheic zone, a layer of sediment and porous space below the surface of the stream bed, where shallow groundwater and surface water mix.

The project aims to provide a new perspective on how to limit nutrient impairment in streams and rivers. According to Dorley, this research could help lower the high cost associated with restoring impaired ecosystems. Dorley states, “Understanding the relationships between nutrient transport and processing under different flow conditions will help us evaluate means to restore impaired streams, rivers, and lakes.”

Dorley, originally from Liberia, received a Bachelor of Science in Petroleum Engineering and a Master of Science in Hydrology from Pennsylvania State University. He is planning on graduating with his PhD in Engineering with a focus in Hydrology in the fall of 2021. After graduation, Dorley plans to continue in academia as a Professor. As a faculty member, Dorley plans to work on exciting new projects, mentor students, and educate them on the importance of environmental conservation.

eNews September 2020

NMT Researchers Upgrade Searchable Produced Water Database

By Carolina Mijares, NM WRRI Program Manager

Each month NM WRRI is featuring an eNews article describing an individual focus of the ongoing New Mexico Universities Produced Water Synthesis Project. This month we are featuring research being carried out by Martha Cather and Raven Goswick at the Petroleum Recovery Research Center (PRRC), New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (NMT).

New Mexico, particularly the Permian Basin, has seen a rebirth in oil and gas activity in the past decade due to the development of unconventional resource plays. The increase of horizontal well drilling and hydraulic fracturing has resulted in a dramatic increase of water produced, hauled, and injected. The fresh and produced water used in these operations must be mapped out to understand the demand on freshwater resources in New Mexico, the effects of disposal of large volumes of produced water, and reuse efforts by operators.

The research being conducted by Cather and Goswick will result in a geospatial database of oilfield water volume information. The state of New Mexico provides water production and injection data on a monthly basis, by well. These data will be complied into a searchable database that will allow for spatiotemporal and stratigraphic analysis to illustrate in greater detail locations and volumes of water production and injection, thus gaining a better understanding of the overall “budget” for oilfield waters in New Mexico. Data will include volumes by month, disposition (produced or injected), location (latitude/longitude and section/township/range), current operator, and pool. Where available, additional information such as well type (horizontal, vertical, injection, saltwater disposal (SWD), or producing), spud date, completion date, perforation interval, the true vertical depth and measured depth. This database will be the basis for several other collaborative efforts including work with New Mexico State University on joining information with existing water quality data, with other researchers at NMT on examining impacts of injection to stress response in the Permian Basin, and with The University of New Mexico on their efforts to identify water and wastewater management trends. Another goal of this research is to establish collaborative efforts with operators/service providers to obtain detailed information not available from public sources on water usage, water compositions and recycling efforts. This connection will allow a comparison of public and operator/service providers data to begin a framework for a future risk assessment study.

The ultimate goal of the effort is to lay the groundwork necessary to make the produced water volume and quality data available online, easily searchable and accessible, and updated regularly. The database will be available to the public and will be linked to water quality data sources in the NM Produced Water Quality Database built and maintained by the NM PRRC.

eNews September 2020

Meet the Researcher, Richard Heerema, Extension Pecan Specialist and Professor, New Mexico State University

By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

For this month’s Meet the Researcher, we had the opportunity to interview Richard Heerema, an Extension Pecan and Pistachio Specialist for New Mexico State University (NMSU) Extension Plant Sciences (hired 2005), and Professor (promoted in 2017) for the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences at NMSU. Richard primarily researches new strategies to help improve pecan production issues faced by New Mexico pecan growers with a focus on alternate bearing, fertilizer usage, and irrigation. He also coordinates educational programs for pecan and other tree nut producers, and assists local orchardists by relaying new research aimed at improving production yield. Heerema states that he greatly values his close working relationships with pecan industry clientele, and feels his role allows him to acknowledge real challenges experienced by farmers and actively address these issues by utilizing university research efforts and extension education.

Heerema double majored in Biology and Agriculture, and Plant Science from Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa in May 1998. He received his PhD in Plant Biology from the University of California (UC), Davis in September 2005 with his dissertation entitled, Compartmentalization of carbon and nitrogen stresses within almond spurs, under the advisement of Drs. Theodore M. Dejong, and Steven A. Weinbaum. Before attaining his current position at NMSU, he was a research assistant at Dry Creek Laboratories in Hughson, California (1998-2000) where he was able to work with new fruit and nut cultivars. After this appointment, Richard conducted his doctoral research at UC Davis (2000-2005), which focused on testing the branch autonomy hypothesis and its relation to almond spur carbohydrate storage, flowering, mortality and fruit set.

Currently, Heerema is working with the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI) on a project entitled, Comparison of water movement in pecan fields under different irrigation scenarios; implications to the water cycle, funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food Research Initiative under Coordinated Agricultural Projects. This research is being conducted at Leyendecker Plant Science Research Center and Stahmann Farms. At each location, two fields are being used for research purposes with one being drip irrigated, and the other being flood irrigated. Richard is the co-director of the project and is working with his colleagues to discover a more efficient water balance strategy that will provide information about where water is going, and what actions must be taken to develop better water management practices. Long-term goals for the project involve making projections about different irrigation methods for pecans in the Mesilla Valley, and the implications of them in relation to the water cycle. This project is especially important to pecan farmers because it will allow them to utilize the most effective irrigation practices to produce healthy, high quality pecans.

In addition to his NM WRRI project, Richard is currently mentoring a doctoral student (Curt Pierce) with his research on novel irrigation strategies for pecans, which includes partial rootzone drying and regulated deficit irrigation with a drip irrigation system. The project is entitled, Sustainable water resources for irrigated agriculture in a desert river basin facing climate change and competing demands: From characterization to solutions, and is being funded by an impressive USDA grant. This project is part of a multi-institutional endeavor with the University of Texas, El Paso, the University of New Mexico, and Texas A&M University.

Heerema is also a co-PI of another USDA Specialty Crops Research Initiative grant, working with PI Dr. Jennifer Randall on a project entitled, Coordinated development of genetic tools for pecan. The main focus of this research is to sequence and annotate the pecan genome, identify genes of physiological and horticultural interest, and evaluate seedlings under various environmental conditions. Ultimately, results of this study will allow for a better understanding of pecan genetic development to aid in producing more profitable and efficient pecan orchards.

In another recent research development, Richard and his colleagues (Drs. Nicole Pietrasiak and Jennifer Randall) were funded through a competitive grant provided by the NMSU Agricultural Experiment Station to investigate the microbiomes of pecan roots. This involves analyzing fungi and bacteria that live in the soil on and around the root. Heerema and his team have studied several pecan orchards to gather valuable data that will allow New Mexico producers to better understand the composition of their soil and develop a more suitable environment for their trees.

Heerema’s additional research can be found in a wide variety of publications, presentations, and magazines. One of his latest articles entitled, Pecan Kernel Phenolics Content and Antioxidant Capacity Are Enhanced by Mechanical Pruning and Higher Fruit Position in the Tree Canopy, was published in May 2020 for the Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science and is centered around the pruning of pecan orchards. Within this study, Richard and his researchers discovered that the mechanical pruning of pecan orchards improved their overall health and resulted in producing superior kernels. Heerema has also written extension publications, circulars and bulletins for several universities and programs. His most current article entitled, Zinc Management in Arid Region Pecan Orchards, was published by the University of Arizona Extension Guide in 2019.

Heerema has delivered presentations at a multitude of industry conferences, educational programs, and professional societies including Master Gardeners, Pesticide Applicators Workshops, Horticultural Science Conferences, and Pecan Grower’s Association Conferences. It is characteristic of him to present on more than one topic during an event and attend panel discussions with other researchers to broaden the scope of his research. His presentation entitled, Environmental Stress in Pecan Trees (with Freeze Injury as Example), was given at the 2020 Arizona Pecan Growers Association and is his latest presentation to date.

Over the course of his career, Richard has been recognized with several awards and honors. His latest accomplishments involve receiving the Educational Aids Blue Ribbon Award from the American Society for Agricultural and Biological Engineers (2019), and the Distinguished Extension Award given by NMSU’s College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences (2017). Richard is also an active member in four professional societies consisting of the American Society for Horticultural Science, International Society for Horticulture Science, American Pomological Society, and the Western Pecan Growers Association where he is an honorary board member and assists in organizing their annual conference. He additionally coordinates for the Western Pecan Production Short Course, and has served as the Assistant Department Head for the Extension Plant Sciences Department since 2019.