New Mexico Water eNews


January 2016

Members of the produced water research group on January 13 visited a facility that treats water produced during oil and gas extraction. The team includes (left to right: Robert Sabie, Jr., Research Specialist, NM WRRI; Naima Khan, and Aracely Tellez, Graduate Research Assistants, Water Science and Management, NMSU; Martha Cather, Industrial Technology Coordinator/Section Head, Petroleum Recovery Research Center; Sam Fernald, Director, NM WRRI; Jeri Sullivan-Graham, Brackish Water Work Group Coordinator, EMNRD and LANL; Kwabena Sarpong, Graduate Research Assistant, Water Science and Management, NMSU; Guanyu Ma, Graduate Research Assistant, Civil Engineering, NMSU.

New Project Focuses on Produced Water in Southeastern New Mexico
by Robert Sabie, Jr., Research Assistant

In locations such as Southeastern New Mexico, water users are heavily dependent on aquifers with low to insignificant recharge rates. Years of drought and increasing demand from nearly all water users threaten the sustainability of these potable water sources. The use of non-traditional water sources, such as produced water, may be a way to augment the water supply in Southeastern New Mexico, however, decision makers do not have the necessary information to include produced water in their water planning efforts.

The New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI) recently started a six-month project in Lea and Eddy counties focused on produced water, that is, water that is an incidental byproduct of oil and gas production. The project is funded by the New Mexico Environment Department through funds set aside for protecting sources of public drinking water supply. Researchers from WRRI, New Mexico Tech, New Mexico State University, and Los Alamos National Laboratory are collaborating with the communities of Lea and Eddy counties as well as reaching out to agriculturalists, oil and gas industries, and state agencies to approach the research with a holistic view of the various issues surrounding produced water.

Growing interest in produced water is due to the recognition that there are large volumes of water produced along with oil, often exceeding a water-to-oil ratio of approximately 7:1. In Southeastern New Mexico, this averages somewhere near 107.8 million m3 of produced water a year.1 Some other states are able to use these large volumes of water outside of the oil and gas industry when conditions permit. Some companies treat the produced water and subsequently reuse the water in hydraulic fracturing operations, which reduces the consumption of potable water. However, more often the produced water is regarded as a waste product and is injected into disposal wells. This study will help determine when, where, and how produced water could be used inside and outside of the oil and gas industry in New Mexico, as a replacement for valuable fresh water.

The project will provide new information on produced water quality and volume by analyzing existing data. New and existing data will be aggregated into an updated produced water database that will drive both geochemical and spatial analyses. The outputs from the analyses will be made available online as web map services. Deliverables also include a regulatory framework and treatment technologies decision support tool. The decision support tool will use criteria such as: status of technology, removal efficiencies, infrastructure, energy use, and so on, to provide information on the viability, economic feasibility, and beneficial use potential of produced water. The project is slated to be completed by June 30, 2016.

There are several economic and environmental concerns regarding the use of produced water. Treatment of water with high total dissolved solids can be very expensive and can limit the economic feasibility of using produced water. Produced water may also contain hazardous chemicals that would incur high clean-up costs if spilled during transportation, thus creating a liability. The reduction in sales of freshwater to the oil and gas industry by private owners could have a negative economic impact on the private water-right holders. All of these issues, along with the communities’ needs for sustainable water management, will be considered by water planners in the near future, and this project will provide critical information to assist in that planning effort.

1Enid J. Sullivan Graham, Anne C. Jakle and F. David Martin (2015) Reuse of oil and gas produced water in southeastern New Mexico: resource assessment, treatment processes, and policy, Water International, 40:5-6, 809-823, DOI:10.1080/02508060.2015.1096126
             New Mexico Tech student David Ketchum uses GPS and USGS Quadrangles
             to locate a spring in the Gila National Forest.

NM Tech Masters Student Studies Groundwater Recharge in New Mexico
by David Ketchum, Earth and Environmental Science Department, NM Tech

The aquifers from which our wells draw water are replenished through a process known as groundwater recharge, wherein water from rain, snowmelt, and streams infiltrates the surface and makes its way to local and regional aquifers, where it is stored as groundwater. Knowing where and at what rate recharge happens is critical because it determines how much water we can pump from the ground for our own use and how much will be available for natural systems. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 87 percent of the public supply of water in New Mexico is drawn from groundwater aquifers. With projected state population increases over the next 15 years combined with expected declining river flows, understanding how and where water enters our aquifers is as important as ever.

David’s research at New Mexico Tech, funded for two years by NM WRRI’s Statewide Water Assessment, aims to make an estimate of exactly where, and how fast groundwater recharge is occurring. His research project to date has focused on using information available for the entire state including data on rain, snowfall, temperature, vegetation, soil and geological characteristics, and the availability of energy from the sun. David has constructed a software model based on an idealized representation of New Mexico, which uses a computer to calculate the conditions in the soil over the entire state. The program processes thousands of image-like datasets in order to simulate how water moves daily through the soil over many years. So far this model only estimates recharge caused by rainfall and snowmelt (that is, in-place recharge); it doesn’t yet estimate recharge that infiltrates from running streams and arroyos, which is itself an important process. This model has indicated that the most important sources of recharge are in New Mexico’s mountains.

Since the model is only an approximation of what actually happens in nature, it is important to go into the field and collect evidence to see how well the model works. In September, 2015, David received an NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant, which provided the resources to conduct such field work. The goal of the field program was to travel to sites in the mountains where his model had indicated high recharge in order to make independent estimates of the actual recharge. Estimates like this can be done directly and inexpensively using the chloride mass balance technique. When precipitation falls, it has a small dissolved concentration of chloride, which primarily comes from sodium chloride or table salt. Chloride is also deposited on the surface as dust. Since chloride dissolves readily in water, it will enter the ground with the rain as it infiltrates. As this water percolates through soils, processes such as evaporation and transpiration (the uptake of water by plants), cause the concentration of the remaining chloride to increase. If the initial concentration of chloride in infiltrating waters is known, and the groundwater concentrations can be assessed in a lab, then calculations can be made on how much water has been lost as well as what percentage of the rain and snow has thereby become recharge in the area feeding the spring.

By sampling over 30 springs around the state, David has found that recharge varies considerably. According to his results, recharge ranges from about
9 percent of total precipitation on the Mogollon Plateau in the Gila National Forest, to over 50 percent below the peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains near Santa Fe. An unexpected result is that both chloride concentrations and other chemical properties of spring samples from around the state are much the same throughout the year and probably represent a well-mixed, or “average” water. This suggests that the water travels slowly or is recharged in the same season each year.

David plans to use this data to adjust the way his model works in an attempt to increase his confidence in the results of the final version of his model.

David hopes to complete a master's degree in 2016 from New Mexico Tech. This project, funded by a NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant, is part of his thesis work and is being supervised by Dr. Talon Newton of the NM Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources and by Dr. Fred Phillips of New Mexico Tech’s Earth and Environmental Science Department. David’s final report will be posted on the NM WRRI website in July, 2016.

New Mexico Geological Society Spring Meeting –
Call for Abstracts

The 2016 spring meeting will be held at New Mexico Tech on Friday, April 8, 2016. The abstract deadline for presentations and posters is March 18, 2016. This year’s Special Theme Session is “Geohazards in New Mexico and Surrounding Areas.” Dr. John Ridley from Colorado State University will give the keynote address, Will the environmental legacy of historic mining in the Mount West ever be behind us? Lessons from the Animas River spill.

The organizers of the meeting invite you to participate in this popular and well attended event. Oral and poster sessions will focus on the geology, geophysics, paleontology, hydrology, and mineral resources of New Mexico and adjacent areas. Abstracts related to the special theme session, or to the geology of New Mexico and adjacent states (including Mexico), are invited for posters or oral presentations. Abstracts on non-regional topics of interest will also be considered. Abstracts should be submitted online or may be accepted in other formats in special cases (contact the Program Chair for details). Please view the help page for formatting guidelines.

Program Chair: Elaine Jacobs — 505-665-3717 —
General Chair: Matthew Heizler — 575-835-5244 —
Registration Chair: Connie Apache — 575-835-5302 —

Attention Water Professionals: Call for Papers

Need an outlet for your original work in water and water related fields?
Looking to publish in a peer-reviewed, open access journal?
Interested in knowledge exchange with others in the interdisciplinary,
    water professionals community?

Submit your manuscript to our first open issue, to be published in August 2016. Visit for author instructions. Hurry! Deadline is March 1.

JCWRE is a peer-reviewed journal devoted to disseminating original work in water research, policy, education, and extension. The Universities Council on Water Resources publishes the JCWRE three times each year, with two themed issues comprised of invited authors and one open issue for general submissions.

Author Instructions

Residents of Grant County receive their free well water sampling kits at the County Cooperative Extension Office in Silver City.

Well Water Testing Continues in Grant County
by Erin Ward, Border Outreach

The Grant County Beat announced on December 10, 2015 that the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI), Grant County Cooperative Extension Service, and the New Mexico Department of Health are inviting private well owners in Grant County to stop by the Grant County Extension Office in Silver City to pick up a free water sampling kit. The kit included an instruction sheet explaining how to collect a sample and submit it for free testing.

The samples are shipped to a commercial laboratory in Albuquerque and tested for the presence of coliform, fluoride, arsenic, and other contaminants. Results are provided to property owners within three weeks.

The service is a part of a research project conducted by the NM Department of Health and the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute at New Mexico State University. For more information, contact the Grant County Extension Office at 575-388-1559 or Erin Ward, NM WRRI project director, at 575-646-7154.

Water Dialogue Meeting Focuses on Planning
by Catherine Ortega Klett, Program Manager

On January 7, 2016 about 130 participants took part in the 22nd Annual Statewide Meeting hosted by the New Mexico Water Dialogue. This year’s event looked at issues related to improving both the water planning process and its outcomes. Questions asked were: How can New Mexico’s planning regions, of which there are 16, better integrate ongoing planning with implementation? How can the process be strengthened to assure adequate representation of the values and concerns from each of the region’s diverse people? How can dialogue, cooperation, and coordinated action among local, regional, state, and federal actors be enhanced?

NM WRRI staff members Ken Petersen, Bob Sabie, and Sam Fernald attended the Water Dialogue meeting. Program Specialist Ken Peterson gave a presentation to the group on the dynamic statewide water budget and emphasized the importance of cutting-edge research on water planning. At the same meeting, NMSU Professor J. Phillip King of the Civil Engineering Department reported on the multi-university study conducted recently on the climate impact on Rio Grande surface water and groundwater.

A summary of the meeting will appear in the New Mexico Water Dialogue’s spring newsletter, to be published in March. Presentations from the January meeting will be posted online at sometime in February.

Save the Date Animas Conference

Annual Water Conference Proceedings Published
by Catherine Ortega Klett, Program Manager

New Water Realities – Proposals for Meaningful Change was the theme of the 58th Annual New Mexico Water Conference that was held in Albuquerque in November 2013. A full proceedings of the conference presentations is posted online and a limited number of copies has been printed. Over 300 participants attended the meeting and each participant has received a copy of the proceedings on CD.

Following the 2012 annual New Mexico conference on water scarcity issues, the institute focused the 2013 conference on solutions to dealing with the state’s limited water supply. The meeting built on recommendations outlined in the 2012 Water Conference Report, addressing adaptations to drought, a situation many consider “the new reality” after decades of relative water abundance in New Mexico and the region. Each conference speaker was asked to bring to the table at least one proposal or strategy for addressing the impact of water scarcity in New Mexico

The conference featured New Mexico and western water experts on topics including new desalination techniques, river and watershed management research, agricultural practices, water storage, climate change, water quality, and many other water-related issues.

The proceedings also includes the Albert E. Utton Memorial Water Lecture given by native New Mexican Tanya Trujillo, now serving as Executive Director the Colorado River Board of California. She spoke on “Hope for the Colorado River Basin-Recent Successful Agreements with the Republic of Mexico.”

The 2013 conference was co-sponsored by Sandia National Laboratories and Los Alamos National Laboratory. To view the proceedings click here

                        Blane Sanchez has joined NM WRRI as Program Manager

NM WRRI Welcomes Blane Sanchez
by Catherine Ortega Klett, Program Manager

Blane M. Sanchez joined the NM WRRI staff as Program Manager at the start of the new year. A member of Isleta and Acoma Pueblos, Blane’s education and professional path stemmed from adolescent days farming and ranching with his grandfather at Isleta. Blane has over 30 years of experience with water, environmental, and natural resources involvement, and has worked with the Santo Domingo, Sandia, and Isleta Pueblos, the former All Indian Pueblo Council, and Southern Pueblos Agency of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Additionally, Blane has worked as a planner/facilitator/advisor with the Utton Transboundary Resources Center and has served as a member of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission since 2003. He received a BS in agriculture with a range science emphasis in 1981 from NMSU and a Master's of Water Resources from UNM in 2005.

Blane will work on several projects at WRRI focusing on the Lower Rio Grande; dynamic statewide water budget; legislative funding efforts; compiling, connecting, and supporting NM university faculty and student research efforts; and planning the 2018 NM Water Conference.

Upcoming Water and Related Conferences

Periodically, NM WRRI will provide a list of meetings of interest to the water community. Please let us know if you are aware of any type of meeting that we can include on our list for circulation via the New Mexico Water eNews. Click here to see entire list.

  • 49th International Conference on Water Management Modeling (ICWMM) • Toronto, Canada  • Courtyard by Marriott Toronto Brampton • Brampton, Ontario 2016 • February 24-25, 2016 • Pre-conference Workshops February 22-23, 2016 •
  • Xeriscape Council of New Mexico 2016 Land & Water Summit – “Creating a New Paradigm for Living in Arid Lands” • Sheraton Airport • Albuquerque, NM • February 25-26, 2016 •
  • Nevada Water Resources Associations (NWRA) • 2016 Annual Conference• Tuscany Suites & Casino • Las Vegas, NV • February 29 – March 3, 2016 • Conference Program: March 1-3, 2016 •
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