New Mexico Water eNews


November 2015

Photo by Will Keener, Medano Creek

New Mexico University Researchers Assess Water Supply Challenges
by Catherine Ortega Klett, Program Manager

In 2014, New Mexico’s State Legislature funded a New Mexico Universities Working Group to look at the state’s water supply vulnerabilities. The Group was asked to (1) assess the current status of water supply and demand after years of severe drought in New Mexico; (2) put the current drought into long-term context with reduced surface water, groundwater depletions, and economic activity; and (3) develop a list of vulnerabilities and promote policy strategies to mitigate these vulnerabilities. The research focused on the Lower Rio Grande.

Researchers from the three major research universities in New Mexico participated in the study and included both water and social scientists. The Group included Janie Chermak, UNM Professor of Economics; David Gutzler, UNM Professor of Earth & Planetary Sciences; Peggy Johnson, Principal Hydrogeologist with NM Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources at NM Tech; J. Phillip King, NMSU John Clark Distinguished Professor in the Civil Engineering Department; and UNM Bureau of Business and Economic Research Professor Lee Reynis. The researchers were assisted by several undergraduate and graduate students.

The Group's final report to the Interim Committee on Water and Natural Resources was presented on August 31, 2015. The report includes an executive summary with key findings, recommendations, and principal vulnerabilities. Click here to view the report in its entirety.

NM WRRI has published Technical Completion Report 368 by NMSU
researchers Geno Picchioni, Triston Hooks, Brian Schutte, and David Daniel

Salinity, Invasive Plants, and the Soil Water Supply

by Geno A. Picchioni, New Mexico State University

The soil water supply is the hidden but indispensable component of our water budget. In the southwestern U.S., long-term drought, soil salinity, and land-use intensification have increased the risk of invasive plants that cause economic and environmental harm to ecosystems, including the alteration of the soil water supply. Preventing the spread of invasive plants by predictive and preventative practices is considered to be the most economically and environmentally viable approach for control, but the approach is hindered by limited ability to forecast early stages of plant invasions. There is growing appreciation for the role of salinity in regulating plant species populations on semiarid lands, but research is lacking to address this hypothesis. Better understanding of the relationship between salinity and the spread of invasive plants could fill hard data gaps in the literature and have a positive influence on land and water management decisions for rangelands, riparian zones, grazing, crops, dairies, and the oil and gas industry.

We have investigated the salinity responses of a unique plant taxon, Lepidium, in greenhouse and growth chamber experiments. Two member species, L. latifolium (perennial pepperweed) and L. draba (white top), have earned their reputations as alien aggressive invaders throughout much of the western U.S. with anecdotal accounts in the literature classifying them as salt-tolerant. A third species, L. alyssoides (mesa pepperwort), is indigenous to New Mexico and our earlier research revealed its potential to become invasive on salt-affected landscapes. In the current study, the salt tolerance of all three species equaled or exceeded that of salt-tolerant cotton despite their combined leaf sodium (Na) and chloride (Cl) concentrations reaching halophytic proportions of 7% to 13% with no characteristic signs of leaf injury.

Species such as those in our study appear to exploit high leaf Na and Cl in ways that other plant species cannot and they shed their high-salt leaf litter to the ground at the expense of the other species to intensify the invasive cycle. By “engineering” a site to fit their needs, salt-tolerant invasive plants can significantly alter vegetation diversity by changing the soil water supply and quality. The broad impact of the findings is in application to the larger diversity of invasive plant species to aid in the understanding of factors that govern invasions, to strengthen predictive and preventative measures, and to preserve the quality and supply of soil water in semiarid regions.

The NM WRRI just published a technical completion report of a project by Picchioni, Hooks, Schutte, and Daniel, Drought, Salinity, and Invasive Plants: A New Model for Sustainable Water Management. Click here to view NM WRRI Technical Completion Report No. 368. The project was funded by the NM WRRI and the New Mexico Agricultural Experiment Station Rangeland Ecosystems Program.

(Left) NMSU Professor Frank Ward described economic benefits that can be expected in a severe drought from a water bank established in New Mexico. Richael Young of Mammoth Trading, talked about how her company helps farmers trade groundwater in Nebraska. Photos by Fernando Herrera, NM WRRI.

Water Banking Workshop Brings Stakeholders Together
by Catherine Ortega Klett, Program  Manager

On November 12, 2015, the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute hosted a one-day workshop in Las Cruces to learn more about the possibility of establishing a water bank in the Lower Rio Grande in southern New Mexico. The workshop was sponsored by several Lower Rio Grande water users including PNM, City of Las Cruces, New Mexico Farm Credit, New Mexico Pecan Growers, Southern Rio Grande Diversified Crop Farmers Association, Camino Real Regional Utility Authority, New Mexico State University, a USDA grant, and NM WRRI.

Over 100 stakeholders participated in the workshop including farmers, local water-user groups, faculty and students, state water agency staff, legislators, and other interested individuals. Workshop participants were eager to hear from groups that have successfully addressed the effects of groundwater pumping on surface water depletion through the establishment of a water bank or through other similar and flexible mechanisms.

Several states such as Kansas and Nebraska have established water banks. Representatives from those states spoke at the workshop and described how they implemented successful water banks in their area. University of Arizona Professor Bonnie Colby, an expert on voluntary, incentive-based arrangements to improve water supply reliability and reduce regional economic losses during drought, described how to develop a system to trade water. NMSU Professor Frank A. Ward specifically addressed drought adaptation in the Rio Grande Basin through water banking.

An executive summary of the workshop is being prepared and will be posted on NM WRRI’s website. Slide presentations from the workshop are available on the NM WRRI website under the Conferences tab at:

                Over several decades, Dr. Bobby J. Creel (left) worked with many
                NMSU students on water-related projects, particularly projects using
                GIS technology.

Donations Sought for Graduate Student Scholarship in Regional Water Research
by Catherine Ortega Klett, Program  Manager

NM WRRI will help New Mexico State University students conduct research associated with regional water groups through the Bobby J. Creel Student Scholarship in Water Resources. At the recently held water banking workshop in Las Cruces (see above article), several speakers talked about providing NMSU graduate students with an opportunity to get involved in assisting regional water groups with water related projects. The importance of including college students in assisting with new initiatives like a water banking effort was recognized.

Donations to the Bobby J. Creel Student Scholarship in Water Resources can be made online at Donations on December 1, 2015 will receive a dollar-for-dollar match from the NMSU License Plate Program via

The scholarship is named for longtime NM WRRI staff member Dr. Bobby J. Creel who was with the institute from 1986 until his untimely death in 2010. During his tenure, he received over 60 grants and was principal investigator on numerous projects involving water resources management and planning in New Mexico. Dr. Creel established the Geographic Information Science Lab at WRRI and mentored many students over 40 years at NMSU.

Copyright © 2015 New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute, All rights reserved.
eNews design by Peggy S. Risner

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