Faculty Water Research Grant Program

NM WRRI provides support for water-related research through its Faculty Water Research Grant Program. Funds are made available through the institute’s federal base grant (Section 104B of the Water Resources Research Act – [Public Law 109-471]) and through state appropriations. These “seed money” projects allow New Mexico university faculty to pursue critical areas of water resources research while providing training opportunities for their students. The grants generally provide about $30,000 per year for projects up to three years in duration. The grants help faculty to explore and develop research ideas that can attract more substantial outside funding. Grants are available to tenure track faculty members in any department at one of the state’s six research universities (UNM, NM Tech, NMSU, NMHU, WNMU, and ENMU).

RFP available at FY 2020 NM WRRI Faculty Water Research Grant Program



Understanding the Costs of Arid Inland Communities’ Potable Water Reuse Options; Carolina Scruggs, University of New Mexico, School of Architecture and Planning

Communities with exceptional water scarcity, including some in New Mexico, are considering planned potable reuse to meet future water needs. The objective of this project is to fill the knowledge gaps using a large, urban New Mexican community as a case study. The research will contribute to the literature and lay the foundation for future research, which will ultimately provide a transformative set of tools for planning and decision-making with respect to planned potable reuse in arid, inland communities.

Arsenic Removal from Water by Porous Polymers; Reza Foudazi, NMSU, Department of Chemical Engineering

This project aims to produce a new type of porous monolith that is capable of adsorbing arsenic from drinking water. The monolith will have practical advantages over commercially available methods. Eventually the hope is to produce a new generation of economical adsorbents for arsenic and heavy metal removal from water resources.


Self-Sustaining Produced Water Treatment for Concurrent Renewable Energy Production, Desalination and Organic Removal; Pei Xu, NMSU, Civil and Geological Engineering

The study will develop an innovative microbial capacitive deionization cell (MCDC) to simultaneously remove organic substances and salts from produced water so it can be recycled and reused. Moreover, compared to other energy intensive systems, MCDC uses bacteria to convert biodegradable pollutants into direct electricity, which offsets operation energy use or supplies additional energy for other systems. Investigators will develop novel modular systems for produced water treatment using advanced carbon materials as electrodes, and optimize reactor configuration to improve the removal of solutes in the reactor. The proposed system can be used as a standalone process or as pretreatment for membrane desalination processes to reduce energy consumption and fouling potential.

Doing Hydrology Backwards in New Mexico to Estimate a Statewide Water Budget; Ricardo Gonzales-Pinzon

This project will implement a methodology to estimate statewide water budgets based on streamflow time-series because they integrate watershed processes and flowpaths that operate at different spatial and temporal scales. This research complements and further develops and implements a parsimonious and pseudo real-time methodology that allows estimates of statewide water budgets. The key product of this research is the characterization of watershed-fluxes of precipitation and evapotranspiration as well as the rainless conditions that prevail during most of the hydrologic year in New Mexico. Hypotheses will be tested in four major NM basins: Canadian River, Rio Grande, Gila River, and the Pecos River.

Draft Technical Completion Report


Policy alternative for controlling nitrate pollution from New Mexico’s dairies; Jingjing Wang, University of New Mexico, Department of Economics

The project will produce a white paper that illuminates the potential impacts of alternative policies for controlling nitrate pollution from New Mexico’s dairies. The paper will be aimed at policymakers and will include ample simulations of the policy impacts on nitrate pollution control and farm incomes.

Draft Technical Completion Report

Identification of law and policy options for best water management practices; Adrian Oglesby, Utton Transboundary Resources Center, University of New Mexico

The project will survey drought responses made in law and policy within New Mexico, across the West, and in other arid parts of the world. The objective is to provide meaningful water law and policy options for New Mexico lawmakers that can be successfully implemented in New Mexico to promote water conservation and efficiency.

Draft Technical Completion Report


Assessment of water table and water quality variations with respect to river flow along Rio Grande between Garfield NM and Fabens TX; Blair Stringam and Manoj Shukla, New Mexico State University, Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences

The water budget estimation requires accurate knowledge of interactions between surface water including irrigation water and precipitation, crop water uptake, deep percolation, and recharge to groundwater. This project’s objectives are to analyze fluctuations of water table on a monthly basis along the Rio Grande river south of Garfield NM down to Fabens, TX and develop a model that describes the influence of the river and canal systems on the water aquifers; analyze fluctuations in groundwater quality by collecting water samples from over 50 observation wells and river water; and develop a preliminary water budget for the experimental area and identify the influence of surface and groundwater interaction on water quality.

Technical Completion Report No. 372

Drought, Salinity, and Invasive Plants: A New Model for Sustainable Water Management; Geno Picchioni, NMSU, Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences and Brian Schutte, NMSU Department of Entomology, Plant Pathology and Weed Science

The study will look at data that will reveal the importance of soil water sodicity assessment as a predictive tool for assessing risk of lands to invasive and weedy plants. This metric is of significant value to the diverse stakeholders in predicting plant invasions before they become a problem.

Technical Completion Report No.368


The transport and accumulation of pyrogenic black carbon in fire-prone watersheds and implications for water quality; Daniel Cadol, New Mexico Tech, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

This research is expected to open new lines of inquiry into the water quality effects of wildfire. The study will measure the black carbon concentration in depositional zones of three recently burned watersheds in New Mexico (Whitewater Baldy fire in the Gila National Forest, Little Bear fire in Lincoln National Forest, and the Las Conchas fire in the Valles Caldera National Preserve and Bandolier National Monument). The PI will test for the presence of certain contaminants found by previous researchers to be associated with wildfires. It will identify the relative importance of mass movement and overland or river flow in transporting pyrogenic black carbon through recently burned semi-arid watersheds by identifying the dominant depositional zones – floodplains, river banks, or depositional debris fans.


Updating the Digital Hydrogeologic-Framework Model of the Mesilla Basin Area with Specific Reference to the Transboundary Aquifer Assessment Project (TAAP); John W. Hawley, NM Water Resources Research Institute

The primary objective of the study is to provide hydrogeologic information in digital GIS formats at scales appropriate for development of the groundwater-flow and hydrochemical models needed to support water-resource planning and management in the binational Mesilla Basin-Paso del Norte region. The area of extensive and locally-thick basin-fill aquifer systems proposed for digital characterization includes the entire Mesilla Basin, the Rincon and Mesilla Valleys of the Rio Grande, and adjacent parts of the southern Jornada (del Muerto) and Palomas Basins that are located between Caballo Dam and El Paso/Ciudad Juarez.


Computational Fluid Dynamics Modeling of Karst Conduit-Matrix Exchanges with Relevance in Contaminant Transport, and Chemical Reactions; John L. Wilson, NM Tech, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

Karst aquifers supply water to 25% of the United States, and almost all water to some regions, e.g., 90% of Florida’s population. Much of the southern New Mexico Pecos Watershed is karst. The proposed mathematical models and field project are designed to illuminate karst conduit to matrix water exchanges and their role in a wide variety of natural and anthropogenic (bio)geochemical processes, including contaminant transport and sequestration in karst aquifers. These issues are of concern to water supply, water quality, and environmental agencies and interest groups at the local, state and federal level.

Technical Completion Report No. 362

2005-06 program

Mitigation of Membrane Biofouling by Harnessing Bacterial Cannibalism; New Mexico Tech; Frank Huang, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Snezna Rogelj, Department of Biology

Millions of barrels of produced water are generated during gas production in New Mexico each year. While not drinkable because of the high salt content, trace organics, and heavy metals, produced water can be treated for agricultural and industrial purposes. Using produced water for industrial purposes would free up freshwater for other uses. A major problem with treating produced water with membrane separation, as is commonly done, is that its large-scale implementation has been plagued by the reoccurring biofouling of the membranes and the associated high operating costs. Conventional de-fouling techniques, such as acid and alkaline/detergent cleaning, are generally ineffective. This research looks at using bacteria’s ability to “eat” their neighboring siblings under nutrient-limited conditions and feed on the released nutrients. This “cannibalism” may be used to control membrane biofouling.
Technical Completion Report No. 338


A Physically Based Parsimonious Approach for Spatial Disaggregation and Recovery of NEXRAD Precipitation Data in Mountainous Terrains; New Mexico Tech; John Wilson, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

Mountain rains are a major source of fresh water in New Mexico. Characterizing the spatial variability of precipitation is critical for understanding and predicting both natural and human-influenced hydrologic responses, like recharge, runoff, and reservoir releases. NEXRAD radar is used to provide continuous temporal and spatial precipitation data. This study provides a statistical approach to improve the quality of NEXRAD estimation, which will be valuable to water resources managers, water regulators, planners, and decision makers like the Office of the State Engineer and the Interstate Stream Commission.


Development of Geospatial Modeling Tools for Watershed-Based Water Resources Management in New Mexico; New Mexico Tech; Enrique Vivoni, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

Providing decision makers with better forecasts of water supply is the aim of this research that will develop new geospatial modeling tools for managing water supplies in New Mexico using scientific knowledge on climate, surface, and groundwater relations. Although the modeling results are sophisticated, they will be made amenable to water managers via the web in a similar fashion to existing drought maps. The modeling tool is expected to provide detailed simulation capabilities for flood and drought forecasting, estimate runoff, evaporation and aquifer recharge, and simulate basin water storage and supply.
Technical Completion Report No. 345


Predicting Land Use Change and Its Effect on Nonpoint Source Pollution; University of New Mexico; Jennifer Thacher and Janie Chermak, Department of Economics

The two researchers are heading a project that will provide an economic model of land use change within the Middle Rio Grande basin. The model will be used to predict future land use patterns in the region and to estimate future nonpoint pollution levels. City managers and water quality agencies could use this model for planning purposes.
Technical Completion Report No. 346


Estimating Water Use through Satellite Remote Sensing; New Mexico State University; Max Bleiweiss and Rhonda Skaggs, College of Agriculture and Home Economics and Zohrab Samani College of Engineering

Recently, an evaluation of the Lower Rio Grande indicated that over half the water is unaccounted for in the water budget. That water is likely used for households, riparian vegetation, supplemental farm irrigation, and off-season runoff. In order to determine how the water is being consumed, the researchers will use innovations in satellite technology that have made it possible to process satellite data to estimate evapotranspiration. A team of investigators at NMSU have developed the software to provide regional ET maps from the NASA-TERRA satellite. These maps can be used to help schedule irrigation, for example. The maps will also allow for assessing the impact of water conservation policies on a regional basis by measuring water use before and after the implementation of policies. Real time ET maps will be made available to the public thereby allowing farmers to compare the water use of different crops and determine the best irrigation schedule.


Land Application of Industrial Effluent on a Chihuahuan Desert Ecosystem; New Mexico State University; Manjo Shukla, John Mexal and Ted Sammis, Department of Agronomy and Horticulture

In many areas of southern New Mexico and the border region, there is a need to develop low-cost wastewater treatment methods. These areas are experiencing rapid population growth, urban expansion, and environmental pollution. Using conventional treatment technologies to treat wastewater to a high standard is not always practical, especially in communities that lack the required infrastructure and cannot afford the installation and maintenance. This research looks at land application systems, a biological treatment technology that has low costs and easy management compared to conventional technologies. This project will evaluate a land application system installed at the West Mesa Industrial Park near the city of Las Cruces.


Solar Desalination of Brackish Water Using Membrane Distillation Process; New Mexico State University; Shuguang Deng, Department of Chemical Engineering

This research will try to improve the distillation process used for desalinating brackish water in our state. This technology consumes low energy and can use low grade energy. This will drastically reduce the cost for treating brackish water to produce high quality fresh water. Specifically, Deng and his research team are evaluating the technical and economic feasibility of a solar evaporative desalination process that uses membrane distillation technology. Membrane distillation is a relatively new process that is being looked at worldwide as a low cost, energy saving alternative to conventional separation processes such as distillation and reverse osmosis. The technology uses a porous hydrophobic membrane that excludes liquid from the pores but not vapors. The process can be operated at a lower temperature than regular thermal distillation. This process could be powered with New Mexico’s solar energy.
Technical Completion Report No. 342


Sustainable Recovery of Potable Water from Saline Waters; New Mexico State University; Nirmala Khandan, Department of Civil and Geological Engineering

This researcher is developing a solar-powered desalination system and will conduct pilot scale studies on the system. His approach has the potential for wider applications in reclaiming high quality water from wastewaters and industrial side streams such as produced waters from oil fields. An advantage to his approach is that it does not consume nonrenewable energy resources, reduces reliance on energy imports, and is not harmful to the environment.


Utilization of Saline and Other Impaired Waters for Turfgrass Irrigation; New Mexico State University; Bernd Leinauer, Department of Extension Plant Sciences and Ryan Goss, Department of Agronomy and Horticulture

This project looks at trying to make use of the vast amount of brackish water in New Mexico by determining if saline and other impaired waters can be utilized for turf irrigation. New and improved salt tolerant warm season grasses have made the prospect of using these grasses in conjunction with saline irrigation water quite promising. These grasses are now being tested for their combined cold hardiness and salt tolerance under harsh high altitude climate conditions.