eNews February 2022

NM WRRI Researchers and Collaborators Receive Funding to Study Sustainable Water for Agriculture

NM WRRI Researchers and Collaborators Receive Funding to Study Sustainable Water for Agriculture

By Holly Brause, NM WRRI Research Scientist

Diminishing surface and groundwater supplies due to prolonged drought and climate change, and ongoing legal battles over groundwater pumping, threaten the availability of water for agricultural production in the Mesilla and Rincon Valleys of southern New Mexico. There is a growing need to find ways to conserve water for the long-term viability of regional agriculture. Regional fallowing strategies have emerged to meet this need, and a fallowing pilot program is already underway led by the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (ISC). Yet, questions remain about the potential effects of fallowing on the regional agricultural economy and the health of the watershed and soil.

To address such questions, NM WRRI researchers and collaborators developed a transdisciplinary project titled, Strategic Fallowing for Sustainable Water and Thriving Agriculture. This project works closely with farmer stakeholders in all phases of the research to holistically study the potential systemic effects of fallowing in the Mesilla and Rincon Valleys.

The research was funded by the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) Seeding Solutions grant program in the Sustainable Water Management challenge area. FFAR is a foundation that partners with the agricultural community to identify and fill critical research gaps. The FFAR Sustainable Water Management challenge area supports research that “enhances and protects natural waters to sustain agricultural production and environmental health”—a vision well aligned with the goals of the Strategic Fallowing for Sustainable Water and Thriving Agriculture research project.

The research team also received funding for this project from the Thornburg Foundation—a New Mexico-based philanthropic organization that supports research and initiatives that address the state’s most pressing concerns. As the result of a collaborative process between NM WRRI, the NMSU Foundation, and the Thornburg Foundation’s strategic initiative on Food and Agriculture, a proposal was formulated in which Thornburg would support the social science and public policy analysis component of the project. Additional support for this $1.9 million project comes from the State of New Mexico, as well as from our many community collaborators who have pledged in-kind contributions.

The project brings together experts from the fields of anthropology, hydrology, agronomy, systems science, economics, and geography, and will also benefit from the expertise of participating stakeholders in each phase of the project. The research team’s novel approach uses collaborative anthropological methodologies and the Bayesian Belief Network to include stakeholder expertise, needs, and values in a spatially compartmentalized Hydrologic-Agricultural-Economic (HAE) system dynamics model that integrates hydrologic modeling with socioeconomics. The team will use remote sensing and field measurements to examine the impacts of fallowing on soil health, and measure the relative changes in cropping patterns and evapotranspiration. The research will culminate in a decision support tool that will help stakeholders identify strategies that would help reverse the current feedback cycle of over pumping groundwater and reducing surface water conveyance and protect the region’s agricultural economy.

Work on this four-year project began in January 2022.