eNews November 2021

NM WRRI Receives Funding to Investigate Improvements to Agricultural and Environmental Water Resilience

NM WRRI Receives Funding to Investigate Improvements to Agricultural and Environmental Water Resilience

By Robert Sabie, Jr., Research Scientist, Assc.

The New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute is partnering with a transdisciplinary team of experts to secure a climate-resilient water future. NM WRRI is part of a winning proposal team for a new USDA Sustainable Agricultural Systems project titled, SWIM: Securing a Climate Resilient Water Future for Agriculture and Ecosystems Through Innovations in Measurement, Management, and Markets. The project brings together stakeholders, educators, and scientists to find solutions for the changing water future of the western United States with the goal of enabling innovative water management strategies that produce thriving agriculture, healthy ecosystems and community resilience. The project research team is led by UC Merced and includes researchers from UC Berkeley, UC Davis, New Mexico State University, Utah State University, the Public Policy Institute of California, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the USDA Southwest Climate Hub. Researchers will focus on three testbeds that exemplify agriculture in water-limited regions (Mesilla Valley, New Mexico; Cache Valley, Utah; and San Joaquin Valley, California).

The specific project goal is aimed at using an integrated framework of multiscale measurements and data-driven management decisions for enabling water trading. Each study site will use emerging technology and methods to improve the accuracy of localized measurements and examine the measured long-term impacts of crop choices, managed aquifer recharge, and water banking. These measurements are needed to make management decisions, each having different effects on the local and regional resiliency to climate change. Evaluation of measurements and management decisions at the farm and district scales will lead to an understanding of how differing institutional characteristics affect the viability of water markets as a strategy for climate resilience for agriculture and ecosystems.

New Mexico State University received $1.6 million of the $10 million total project award that will help support two post-doctoral researchers, seven graduate research assistants, and seven faculty and staff researchers. NMSU has a strong group of multidisciplinary team members who are integrated with researchers from the other institutions into four main project research areas: management, measurement, markets, and climate resiliency. NMSU’s team is led by NM WRRI director Dr. Sam Fernald, who will also lead the groundwater recharge modeling in the Mesilla Valley as part of the water management research team. Robert Sabie, NM WRRI research scientist, will manage the NMSU project deliverables and process remote sensing imagery for estimating evapotranspiration as part of the measurement research team. Also, part of the measurement team, Dr. Salim Bawazir, associate professor in Civil Engineering, will oversee ground measurement instrumentation (evapotranspiration, soil moisture, groundwater levels, etc.). Dr. Greg Torell, assistant professor in Agricultural Economics and Agricultural Business, will examine the key determinants of market benefits and their distributions as part of the water markets team. Dr. Caiti Steele, coordinator at the USDA Southwest Climate Hub, is collaborating with NM WRRI by examining climate change and drought resilience through water balance budgets and peer-to-peer learning networks as part of the climate resiliency team.

Recognizing that extension and education play a critical role in developing successful research outcomes, the project harnesses the expertise of stakeholders through each universities’ extension network. The project also develops K-12 educational games for computational thinking and decision-making in the context of agricultural water management. Dr. Barbara Chamberlin, assistant department head in Media Productions, will develop water and agriculture science and interactive management games. Dr. Richard Heerema, extension pecan specialist, will lead the NMSU extension and outreach efforts and will work closely with stakeholders to co-produce useful information for decision-makers.

For New Mexico, this project will help chart directions for a sustainable agricultural future within the irrigated river basins utilizing the collective knowledge of a world-class team of scientists from different southwestern states. In the Mesilla Valley of the Lower Rio Grande, this project provides synergy for several ongoing NM WRRI-led projects. The New Mexico Statewide Dynamic Statewide Water Budget has several offshoot models that explore the localized interactions of the water budget and how different management decisions impact the water budget. The NM WRRI efforts for measurements will build on current evapotranspiration remote sensing work performed under the USDA AFRI CAP project, Diversifying the Water Portfolio for Agriculture in the Rio Grande Basin. These remote sensing techniques and field measurements will be used to improve the accuracy of regional evapotranspiration models.

The new project started in September of this year and will be completed by August 2026.

For additional information on the New Mexico-based research, contact Robert Sabie at or Sam Fernald at For additional information on the larger project, consult or contact Program Coordinator Sarah Naumes at