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eNews March 2021

NMHU Student Awarded NM WRRI Water Research Grant to Study Water Quality in the Upper Pecos River

NMHU Student Awarded NM WRRI Water Research Grant to Study Water Quality in the Upper Pecos River

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

The Upper Pecos watershed is part of the larger Rio Grande Basin. It extends from the headwaters of the Pecos River in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to where Interstate Highway 25 crosses the Pecos near San Jose, New Mexico. The Upper Pecos River provides water for wildlife habitats and the public water supply, and supports recreation, agriculture, and tourism. However, it has been hypothesized that increasing public and private land usage in the watershed could degrade the water quality of the Upper Pecos River. In order to reduce any potential water quality degradation, the Upper Pecos community needs data that can help them make informed management decisions. The first step in this process would be to conduct a water quality monitoring study to determine the current condition of the Upper Pecos River and its response to increasing land usage.

Unfortunately, water quality data are not regularly collected throughout the Upper Pecos watershed. To help address this knowledge gap, NM WRRI has awarded New Mexico Highlands University’s Megan Begay a Student Water Research Grant to assess the overall water quality of the Upper Pecos River. The project entitled Water Quality Monitoring of the Upper Pecos River; Protecting the Pecos with Baseline Data, seeks to establish the baseline water quality levels of the Upper Pecos River. Under the guidance of her faculty advisor, Dr. Jennifer Lindline, Begay will collect data on a bi-weekly basis at six monitoring sites along the Upper Pecos River. The data being collected are water temperature, dissolved oxygen, specific conductance, pH, and turbidity. The project seeks to define monthly and seasonal water quality variations on the Upper Pecos River, and to inform restoration efforts by the Upper Pecos Watershed Association.

The research team aims to create an impactful water management data set for the Pecos community. According to Begay, “this research will help benefit future decision making regarding the water quality of the Upper Pecos River.” The study hopes to provide a clear understanding of the current condition of the Upper Pecos River in order to develop a more detailed understanding of the river’s response to current and increasing land usages.

Begay and her team have presented this project at the 65th Annual New Mexico Water Conference, an Upper Pecos Watershed Association Board Meeting, and to the Pecos Hydrology Workgroup.

Originally from New Mexico, Begay received her Associate of Applied Science in both Natural Resources Management and Environmental Science from Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute. Begay is on track to graduate from New Mexico Highlands University in the fall with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Geology. After graduation, Begay plans on gaining more applied experience in her field and going to graduate school.