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eNews February 2022

UNM Student Receives Student Water Research Grant to Study the Impact of Forest Fires on Local Hydrology

UNM Student Receives Student Water Research Grant to Study the Impact of Forest Fires on Local Hydrology

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Sr. Student Program Coordinator

In 2016, the Dog Head Fire burned almost 18,000 acres of Cibola National Forest across the Manzano Mountains in central New Mexico. This fire may have impacted springs and wetlands in the area, which are susceptible to pressure from climate change, increases in groundwater pumping, land-use changes, and wildfires. A study that produces historical water quality data for spring systems is needed to better understand the possible impacts of this forest fire on the local hydrology.

NM WRRI has awarded Naomi DeLay, a graduate student at The University of New Mexico, a Student Water Research Grant to study two springs in the Cibola National Forest, the Ojo del Rancho del Medio and the Ojo del Rancho del Medio West springs. The study, titled Hydrogeochemical Analysis of Springs in the Cibola National Forest: Implications for Springs/Wetlands Sustainability & Geochemical Response to Forest Fire, aims to evaluate whether the recent Dog Head Fire ash/material will have an impact on the water composition of the springs and if the springs will exhibit different trace element characteristics than other regional springs.

Under the guidance of her faculty advisor Dr. Laura Crossey, DeLay will be sampling local surface materials and performing mobility experiments on the solid samples to identify the possible sources of solutes. Total solid chemistry and batch mobility experiments on the ash, soil, sediments, and bedrock within the study area will be used to determine the sources of mobile elements being released into spring waters, focusing on the mobility of ions from ash deposits from the Dog Head Fire.

According to DeLay, the methods used in this study could provide means to better understand how springs and other water sources are affected by environmental events like forest fires. As Delay explains, “by understanding the conditions and impacts to the flow and water quality of these springs, we can better understand the sustainability of these spring systems. These mountain recharge springs are important water resources for the local communities and wildlife in these areas. Livestock and wildlife have historically depended on these springs, so the quality of our springs affects food webs and the health of these ecosystems.” DeLay has presented this work at the 65th and 66th Annual New Mexico Water Conference.

Originally from northern New Mexico, DeLay earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Earth Science with an emphasis in Geology at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in 2017. DeLay expects to graduate from The University of New Mexico in 2022 with a Masters of Science in Earth and Planetary Science.