December 2020 eNews

NMHU Student Awarded NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant to Establish Monitoring Sites in the Upper Pecos River

NMHU Student Awarded NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant to Establish Monitoring Sites in the Upper Pecos River

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

In New Mexico, the Upper Pecos River originates in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and flows through the Pecos Wilderness, Santa Fe National Forest, as well as private and public land before entering the Fort Sumner reservoir. The river corridor contains a historic lead-zinc mine from the early 1900s that has been in the reclamation phase for about the last twenty years. The New Mexico Mining and Minerals Division is currently reviewing a proposal from a company named Comexico LLC that would like to conduct exploratory drilling for gold, copper, and zinc in the Pecos Mountains. As the New Mexico Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department considers this proposal, it is important to establish the Upper Pecos River’s baseline water quality conditions before any exploratory drilling or extraction.

To better understand the Upper Pecos River’s water quality conditions, Letisha Mailboy at New Mexico Highlands University (NMHU) has been awarded an NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant for a project entitled, Environmental Chemistry of the Upper Pecos River; Understanding Natural and Anthropogenic Influences on Water Quality. Under the guidance of her faculty advisor Dr. Jennifer Lindline, Mailboy’s project will establish five monitoring sites along a stretch of the Upper Pecos River. There will be one monitoring site upstream from the historic mine site, two at tributary confluences near the proposed exploratory hard rock drilling site, and two at high-use recreation areas. The project will collect water samples at each of the sites every two weeks from June 2020 to May 2021 and analyze the samples for basic anion-cation concentrations. The data will be used to characterize the hydrogeochemistry of the Upper Pecos River and examine spatial changes in water chemistry.

According to Mailboy, the data and interpretations will be shared with the Upper Pecos Watershed Association to inform their decision-making and restoration activities. This data will help the researchers understand the Upper Pecos Watershed’s natural conditions and identify potential changes due to mining-related activities. The project will assist the Pecos community by monitoring, analyzing, and investigating the degradation factors that impact the Upper Pecos River.

Mailboy presented this project at the 65th Annual New Mexico Water Conference and the 2020 New Mexico Alliance for Minority Participation Virtual Student Research Conference. Mailboy wrote in her project summary, “Projects like these are vital because water is important to New Mexican culture, traditions, place identity, and values.” Originally from To’Hajiilee, New Mexico, Mailboy received her Associates of Applied Science in Natural Resources Management and Environmental Science from the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Mailboy is expected to graduate in the fall with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Geology from NMHU and plans to enroll in their Environmental Geology Graduate Program.