eNews September 2020

UNM Student Awarded an NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant to Study Nutrient Impairment in Streams

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

Nutrient contamination poses a risk to water quality, ecosystems, and their functions. According to the 2018-2020 State of New Mexico Clean Water Act Section 303(d)/Section 305(b) Integrated Report, nutrient contamination is among the three most common causes of river and stream water quality impairment in New Mexico. Water quality impairments in small streams can propagate to larger rivers, lakes, and aquifers. Water quality impairment from nutrients can cause aquatic species to die and can even contaminate drinking water.

Jancoba Dorley, a PhD Engineering student at the University of New Mexico (UNM), is conducting experiments at the Valles Caldera National Preserve in order to better understand nutrient impairment. In June, Dorley was awarded an NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant to analyze how biogeochemical interactions and complex transport dynamics influence the processing and export of nutrients in streams. Dorley’s project entitled, Transport and biogeochemical controls on nutrient retention along stream corridors, will be carried out under the guidance of his faculty advisor, Dr. Ricardo Gonzalez-Pinzon.

Dorley will be conducting four nutrient enrichment injections in the East Fork of the Jemez River to gain a better understanding of the geological, biological, and chemical interactions that influence nutrients in streams. After each injection, water samples will be collected and taken to UNM’s Environmental Engineering Laboratory to be analyzed. The nutrient enrichment injections will also contain a tracer that Dorley will use to monitor the transport properties that influence nutrient loading. Dorley will be paying particular attention to the hyporheic zone, a layer of sediment and porous space below the surface of the stream bed, where shallow groundwater and surface water mix.

The project aims to provide a new perspective on how to limit nutrient impairment in streams and rivers. According to Dorley, this research could help lower the high cost associated with restoring impaired ecosystems. Dorley states, “Understanding the relationships between nutrient transport and processing under different flow conditions will help us evaluate means to restore impaired streams, rivers, and lakes.”

Dorley, originally from Liberia, received a Bachelor of Science in Petroleum Engineering and a Master of Science in Hydrology from Pennsylvania State University. He is planning on graduating with his PhD in Engineering with a focus in Hydrology in the fall of 2021. After graduation, Dorley plans to continue in academia as a Professor. As a faculty member, Dorley plans to work on exciting new projects, mentor students, and educate them on the importance of environmental conservation.