New Mexico Water eNews


June 2015

NMSU master’s student Kai Williams takes a water sample from an irrigation drainage canal for water quality analysis.

Can Irrigation Drainage Water be Reused?
by Catherine Ortega Klett, Program Manager

Agricultural irrigation is a water intensive activity with the potential for re-use, but prior research on irrigation return flow has not been extensively conducted. The goal of this research was to analyze the water quality of the irrigation return flow for potential irrigation re-use downstream and hypothesize the sources of non-point discharge contaminants. This study is part of a larger research project focusing on the importance of riparian zones in improving water quality. Once completed, this research will act as a guideline for policy-makers in designing riparian zones for improved water quality and water re-use. The data collected also will be used in a water quality model as part of Kai’s master’s thesis.

Water samples from irrigation return flow drains in Southern New Mexico were taken on a bimonthly basis and analyzed for anions, metals, chemical oxygen demand (COD), temperature, pH, salinity, total organic carbon (TOC) and Escherichia coli (E. coli). Water quality results were then compared to federal, state, and local water quality recommendations for irrigation and surface water. Overall, the results show that the irrigation return flow would need treatment to decrease the water’s concentration in E. coli, metals, and salinity prior to irrigation re-use in order to reduce the risk to human health and crop production.

Kai received a NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant for this project and her final report will be posted on the institute’s website. Kai worked under the direction of NMSU Associate Professor Salim Bawazir of the Department of Civil Engineering.

El Agua es Vida: Acequias in New Mexico, an exhibit at the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico from May 2014 to June 2015, showed the general public the interconnected features of upstream and downstream rural and urban populations as linked by acequias. The George Chacon painting, recently purchased by the NM WRRI, is to the far left. Photo courtesy of Seth Roffman Green Fire Times, June 2014.

Painting Finds a New Home at NM WRRI
by Jesslyn Ratliff, Grants Coordinator

NM WRRI Director Sam Fernald is the Principal Investigator of a project that is funded by the National Science Foundation entitled, CNH: Acequia Water Systems Linking Culture and Nature: Integrated Analysis of Community Resilience to Climate and Land Use Changes. This project has goals of understanding acequia-moderated linkages between culture and nature and to quantify community survival tipping points. One major deliverable of this particular project was a public museum exhibit. The museum exhibit entitled, El Agua es Vida: Acequias in New Mexico, was opened at the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico on May 3, 2014 and closed on June 6, 2015. The intent of the exhibit was to show the general public the interconnected features of upstream and downstream rural and urban populations as linked by acequias. The curator of the exhibit, Devorah Romanek, worked with a group of collaborators including University of New Mexico faculty and students, Dr. Sylvia Rodriguez, Dr. Jose Rivera, Moises Gonzales, David Castello, and Elise Trott and New Mexico Acequia Association staff member Quita Ortiz. The museum staff combined modern and archival photographs, artwork, traditional and modern objects and artifacts, texts, and audiovisual materials to tell the story of acequias. The exhibit did an exceptional job of connecting art with a research endeavor.

An oil painting by Taos artist George Chacón was featured in the exhibit and depicts a community settlement downstream of a watershed. Water feeds the agriculture and then seeps through the ground to recharge the aquifer, portraying the hydrologic cycle. Fortunately, NM WRRI was able to purchase the beautifully illustrative painting from Mr. Chacón, and will display it at Stucky Hall, the home of the institute on the New Mexico State University campus. El Agua es Vida: Acequias in New Mexico is a great addition to our building and symbolizes a hydrologic connection between acequia irrigation systems, aquifers, and rivers. The staff at NM WRRI is grateful to be able to enjoy this wonderful artwork and we are excited that our guests get to enjoy it as well. More information on the exhibit can be found at

Graduate student Elise Trott's research includes participant observation with acequia activists protesting the Santolina development. Photo by Elise Trott.

Engaging Community Voices in Water Management
by Elise Trott, UNM Department of Anthropology

Elise Trott’s qualitative research project illuminates how grassroots political organizers of New Mexico’s acequias (communally managed irrigation ditches) are contesting the very template of democratic natural resource management that also promotes environmental and community health. Through in-depth analysis of participant observation and individual semi-structured interviews, Trott examines the ways that acequia users and organizers are making their voices heard in water management. This includes their role in promoting and passing legislation to support traditions of community water management and the agricultural and riparian growth that acequias feed throughout the state, as well as their participation in activism to protect the water rights of semi-rural and disadvantaged communities, like the South Valley of Albuquerque, from the threats of industrial and urban sprawl development.

As drought becomes an increasingly urgent problem across the Western United States, Trott’s research indicates that the place-based environmental and natural resource knowledge of community ditch users reflects water’s inseparability from the surrounding environment and the value of a holistic and context-specific approach to water management. She contends that policymakers in a position to influence water management need to make the effort to promote perspectives on natural resource use that privilege community and environmental health rather than simple economic gain, especially when these perspectives come from traditionally disempowered communities whose voices are rarely heard in policy discourses. She suggests: 1) Supporting legislation that encourages local, decentralized, and sustainable water management, such as water banks; 2) Promoting elected rather than appointed water boards to minimize the influence of powerful corporate interests; and 3) Soliciting the input of local communities in questions of development and water use through public fora.

This study is part of Trott’s dissertation research on New Mexico’s acequias and their connections to social justice, environmental health, and community wellbeing. She will complete her doctorate in the spring of 2017 and plans to continue to teach and conduct research on environmental- and health-related issues in rural and disadvantaged communities New Mexico. As a recipient of an NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant, Trott’s final report will be posted on the institute’s website in July 2015. Elise was supervised on the project by Assistant Professor Erin Debenport.

Photo by Laurel Saito, Boise State University

Modeling Course Helps Researchers Communicate Across Disciplines
by Ken Peterson, NM WRRI Program Specialist

The science and management of many environmental issues including climate change is inherently interdisciplinary. One of the ways to approach the diversity of needs in managing and understanding these issues is to employ mathematical computer modeling. Models based on available scientific knowledge and theories can be used to bridge the gap between the ability to scientifically predict with reasonable certainty and the need to make management decisions.

In June, two doctoral students of NMSU’s Water Science and Management program, Dina Salman and Christopher Valasco, along with NM WRRI’s Ken Peterson attended a two-week interdisciplinary modeling course on water related issues and climate change. The course was hosted by Boise State University and funded through a National Science Foundation EPSCoR grant. Approximately 25 graduate students attended the class representing various disciplines and universities in Nevada, New Mexico, and Idaho. Dr. Laurel Saito of the University of Nevada designed and orchestrated the class, while guest lectures from over ten universities participated in the teaching and lab exercises. NM WRRI Director Sam Fernald gave a presentation on the modeling efforts on an acequia research project in which he and colleagues are working.

Throughout the course, students learned about the advantages and limitations of using models, different spatial and temporal scales that specific disciplines are concerned with, differences in degrees of uncertainty of data and models, interdisciplinary modeling options, and methods for interacting with stakeholders and the public. The students were introduced to models that are available in different disciplines and shown how such models might be applied together to address water-related issues regarding climate change, address issues of variability and uncertainty in implementing interdisciplinary approaches, and gain experience in working in interdisciplinary teams. The course culminated in group projects where students were tasked with modeling real-world complex issues in Idaho, Nevada, and New Mexico involving water, climate, ecological, political, social, and cultural aspects.

Graduate student Michael Wine participated in an outreach event for Socorro elementary school students. He provided a case study demonstrating how a scientist goes about testing a hypothesis from beginning to end.

NMT Graduate Student Michael Wine Receives Award to Continue Hydrologic Modeling Research
by Catherine Ortega Klett, Program Manager

Congratulations to hydrology PhD student, Michael Wine for receiving a
2015 New Mexico Geological Society award. This award will provide Michael funding to make field measurements and site visits intended to aid in developing a distributed hydrologic model of the Valles Caldera that incorporates a maximum amount of physical realism. Michael also was awarded a NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant and he has already submitted a paper on his research to Earth Science Reviews.

Streamflow emanating from New Mexico’s semi-arid snow-dominated mountainous watersheds, such as Valles Caldera, provides a critical source of water for downstream acequias, municipalities, environmental flows, farmers, and industry. However, despite the large historical contribution of snowmelt to runoff in New Mexico’s mountainous watersheds, the future importance of snowmelt as a streamflow generation process is uncertain due to a warming climate that may already be reducing peak snow water equivalent that accumulates during the winter.

Michael is developing a spatially distributed coupled surface-subsurface HydroGeoSphere model of the Valles Caldera watershed aimed at replicating past and projecting future hydrological fluxes to better understand controls on the hydrologic cycles in regions characterized by strong interactions between surficial and groundwater regimes. The novel model under development will account for the spatial distribution of nearly all hydrologically relevant factors—precipitation, snowmelt, plant water uptake characteristics, surface roughness, soil properties, and underlying geology. Following completion, this model is expected to have implications regarding the potential impacts of climate change scenarios on discharge from New Mexico’s snow-dominated watersheds.

After completing a PhD in 2016 and with his broad interests in the field of hydrology, Michael will consider working for a university or as a consultant in the private or public sector. He is particularly interested in further investigating transformational changes to the hydrologic cycle due to land-use and climate change. A final report for his NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant will be posted on the institute website this summer. Michael worked under the advisement of Assistant Professor Daniel Cadol of NM Tech’s Earth & Environmental Science Department.

NM WRRI Technical Completion Report No. 366 is available online at

Scintillometery in New Mexico
by Jan Hendrickx, New Mexico Tech

A large aperture scintillometer (LAS) is an instrument that consists of a laser transmitter and a receiver. The receiver measures intensity fluctuations in the radiation emitted by the transmitter caused by refractive scattering by turbulent air movements in the LAS path. For LASs, the observed intensity fluctuations are a measure of the structure parameter of the refractive index. At optical wavelengths the contribution of temperature fluctuations dominates, that is, the structure parameter of temperature can be deduced from the structure parameter of the refractive index. Using similarity theory in the atmospheric surface layer, the surface flux of sensible heat can be determined from the structure parameter of temperature and supplemental meteorological measurements.

Scintillometers make it possible to measure sensible heat fluxes over distances of 100 to 5,000 m at the scale of readily available Landsat 8
(100 m) and MODIS (1000 m) images. These measurements are used for the validation and/or calibration of evapotranspiration maps derived from Landsat and MODIS images. Hendrickx and Kleissl introduced scintillometry to New Mexico around 2007. They found that the first generation Kipp & Zonen LASs have a large inter-instrument bias that can exceed 21% but can be used for field energy balance studies after calibration against a reference LAS or eddy covariance sensible heat flux measurements over homogeneous terrain. Today, the manufacturer Kipp & Zonen has redesigned its LAS and has started the production of the next generation LAS without inter-instrument biases. The 2007 New Mexico Scintillometer Network has taught us many valuable lessons on how to utilize scintillometry for statewide validation of evapotranspiration remote sensing algorithms in New Mexico. Hendrickx and his students are reestablishing this scintillometer network using today’s more accurate scintillometers.

Staff at NM WRRI are using current and historic aerial imagery to digitize land use for three acequia irrigated valleys in Northern New Mexico. The first step in the process involves creating digital versions of older images by scanning them with a large scanner. The images are then geographically referenced to a previously referenced high resolution image using identifiable features from both images. Boundaries are drawn around the areas of land use and each area is classified using aerial photo interpretation techniques. The result is a continuous surface of land use within each valley for each year being examined as shown in the figure. The land uses can then be quantified and analyzed.

The NM WRRI has just published a technical completion report of Hendrickx and Kleissl’s project, Validation, Calibration, and Improvement of Remote Sensing ET Algorithms in Mountainous Regions Using Scintillometers. The report is available on the institute’s website. The authors received a U.S. Geological Survey 104G National Competitive Grant and the award was administered through the NM WRRI.

NM WRRI Director Sam Fernald (sixth from left) and NMSU Professor Jinfa Zhang (seventh from left) pose with faculty and administrators from China Agricultural University involved in a joint water research center.

NMSU Establishes Joint Program with China Agricultural University
by Catherine Ortega Klett, Program Manager

In May, NM WRRI Director Sam Fernald and NMSU Professor Jinfa Zhang visited China Agriculture University (CAU) in Beijing and met with representatives of CAU to discuss the development of a joint water research center. Thirteen faculty and administrative staff from CAU met with Drs. Fernald and Zhang to talk about water related research efforts at CAU and NMSU. Topics of mutual interest such as the decline in groundwater levels, water quality issues, ecological impacts, and water-use efficiency were discussed. One area presenting opportunities for both institutions was in the development of hydrological models for use from the field to regional scale.

Water issues ripe for cooperative efforts were numerous and will include faculty and student exchanges, joint institutes, workshops, and joint summer schools. Workshops for the partners are already taking place with a June meeting at CAU, which will involve NMSU professors Zohrab Samani and Manoj Shukla. In July, a CAU delegation will visit NMSU for a workshop with faculty water scientists and field trips to research sites including NMSU’s Leyendecker Plant Science Center, which includes a new pecan orchard where studies are being conducted in several areas including irrigation.

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


unsubscribe from this list    update subscription preferences 

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp