New Mexico Water eNews


June 2018

Natural ferricrete deposit along Cement Creek near the Gold King Mine.

NM WRRI Hosts 3rd Annual Conference Focused on Gold King Mine Spill
by Robert Sabie, NM WRRI GIS Analyst

The 3rd Annual Conference on Environmental Conditions of the Animas and San Juan Watersheds was held June 19-22. Around forty attendees kicked off the conference events by participating in a field trip that included a tour of the Old Hundred Gold Mine in Silverton, CO as well as stops at a natural ferricrete deposit, the site of a former uranium mill in Durango, CO, and the location of relocated uranium tailings. Two days of presentations at San Juan College in Farmington, NM brought together nearly one hundred local, regional, and national researchers, regulators, and community members to discuss current results for research conducted in response to the August 2015 Gold King Mine spill. The research approach was described as being holistic — metal concentrations were examined in agricultural soils and consumable parts of plants; water quality was addressed; metal concentrations in alluvial aquifers were measured; and algae, the benthic macroinvertebrate community, and other biological responses to the spill were studied. In addition, some researchers presented techniques for monitoring other concerns in the watershed such as soil-microbial feedbacks and the tracking of microbial sources of fecal indicator bacteria.

The final day of the conference was a Teach-In event at the Shiprock Chapter House on the Navajo Nation. Around ninety people were in attendance (approximately forty-five community members). Following a series of brief research summary talks by speakers who presented their study results at San Juan College, community members engaged in a productive dialogue directing poignant questions to the research group about the quality of water and the safety of agricultural products grown in the San Juan Watershed. Over the past three years of research, all the results of the various research efforts suggest that there is no long-term environmental impact related to the Gold King Mine spill. Nearly all of the material released in the initial plume was transported and deposited in Lake Powell during a monsoonal storm event in 2015 and a subsequent spring snow melt-off in early 2016.

      Highlands geology graduate student Ryan Mann uses GPS to mark the location
      where he collected water samples and streamflow measurements on the Jemez
      River for a geomorphology class at the university.

Graduate Geology Student Conducts Research on Santa Fe River Water
by Margaret McKinney, University Relations Office, New Mexico Highlands University

A New Mexico Highlands geology graduate student will conduct a hydrogeology research study of the lower Santa Fe River that aims to measure the quantity and quality of the water as it flows into the Rio Grande.

Ryan Mann, a 41-year-old Albuquerque native and Santa Fe resident, received a grant from the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute to fund his study. "The purpose of this study is to better define the hydrologic budget, the inflows and outflows of water, as well as the water chemistry,” Mann said. “In the La Cienga area of the lower Santa Fe River there’s been a shift in land use from agriculture toward more housing developments that rely entirely upon domestic wells. I’ll be looking at how this new land use is affecting the amount of river water and its quality.”

Mann said the study will help stakeholders in the La Cienga community such as farmers, ranchers, and homeowners better balance the demands on water in the lower Santa Fe River.

Mann will be collecting water samples at multiple monitoring sites during the summer and winter seasons to test the general chemistry of the water.

Read entire article by clicking here.

Community members and researchers participate in a teach-in at the Shiprock Chapter House, June 22, 2018.

Improved Communication Post-Gold King Mine Spill
by Robert Sabie, NM WRRI GIS Analyst

In August 2015, an accidental release of three million gallons of water from the Gold King Mine sent a plume of heavy-metal-laden water down Cement Creek near Silverton, Colorado into the Animas River. The plume eventually flowed into the San Juan River and subsequently into Lake Powell. The impacted communities criticized the initial communication efforts by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) as national media published pictures of the yellow plume. Since the spill, the various entities involved in the response have put a strong emphasis on scientific transparency and communicating monitoring results to the communities. The three annual conferences hosted by NM WRRI have been part of the continuing outreach campaign to bring the various research groups and impacted communities together. Much of the communication is done by national, state, and local agencies; community-led stakeholder groups; and teach-in events.

Because scientific information is often not easily conveyed, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) and researchers from the University of Arizona (UA) developed two separate risk assessments. For example, the UA Gold King Mine Spill Diné Exposure Project used a symbolic traffic light approach for identifying safe (green), caution (yellow), and unsafe (red) risk levels for water use based on ongoing water, plant, and soil sampling efforts. In addition to participating in workshops, staff from US EPA and NMED maintain websites with links to information, data, and response efforts.

Read entire article by clicking here.

NM WRRI recently launched a new website on the Transboundary Aquifer Assessment Program, which highlights the Mesilla Aquifer/Conjeos-Médanos and the New Mexico TAAP effort.

Transboundary Aquifer Assessment Program Website Launched
by Avery Olshefski, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

The Transboundary Aquifer Assessment Program (TAAP) is a joint effort between Mexico and the United States to evaluate shared priority aquifers along the border. The TAAP encompasses three states in the US, two Mexican states, several universities and a variety of federal and state agencies on both sides of the border. NM WRRI is tasked with coordinating research projects on the Mesilla Aquifer/Conjeos-Médanos and coordinating binational cooperation with Mexican counterparts. To highlight those efforts, NM WRRI developed a website to inform researchers, stakeholders, and policy makers of the New Mexico TAAP effort. The website includes summaries of the research funded under the TAAP, information on the Mesilla Aquifer, various resources to explore, and much more. Please visit the website,, for more information.

Bureau of Reclamation Announces EBID to Receive Award for Drought Resiliency Project
by Connie Maxwell, Graduate Research Assistant NM WRRI and co-chair of the Stormwater Coalition’s Watershed Health/Rincon Arroyo (priority project) Working Group

The Elephant Butte Irrigation District’s (EBID’s) proposed project for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s WaterSMART Drought Response program is to develop and modernize its infrastructure to facilitate watershed-scale flow management, stormwater harvesting, and aquifer recharge. Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman announced on June 27, 2018 that Reclamation has awarded $8.3 million to 15 projects. Projects in New Mexico and Utah are the only ones outside of California, and EBID’s project is one of a few highlighted projects in Reclamation's press release of the awards.

Together with the South Central New Mexico Stormwater Management Coalition (Stormwater Coalition), as well as through its own efforts and vision, EBID has been developing watershed-scale solutions to manage the stormwater supplies that have been arriving in fewer and increasingly intense monsoonal bursts. Diminished snowpacks have resulted in less spring surface water runoff, while reduced soil moisture throughout watersheds has resulted in less infiltration, less productivity for upland ranchers, more intense runoff, and increased flooding. The delivery of increasingly larger quantities of sediment, as described by EBID, clogs the downstream water delivery infrastructure and reduces the water quality and the resilience of the entire river riparian system.

The proposed work would result in a step forward to analyze stormwater flow dynamics throughout the watersheds of the Hatch and Mesilla valleys, as well as manage the stormwater when it comes. As Reclamation summarized from the proposal: “The project consists of expansion and improvements to the EBID’s storm monitoring network including construction of a river meter cable on the Rio Grande, upgrades to arroyo water monitoring and data collection with installation of radar technology sensors, installation of sixteen additional rain gauge sites, and gate automation of four existing stormwater capture sites and one new site. The new data obtained from this project will allow for better system management through faster information transfer and shortened personnel response time, resulting in better water capture and water management during storm events.”

NM WRRI, through its collaboration with the Stormwater Coalition, has been an active supporter and helped facilitate this effort as part of its mission to utilize knowledge and experience of researchers throughout the state to solve New Mexico’s pressing water problems.

Follow us on Twitter!
NM WRRI website
Copyright © 2018 New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute, All rights reserved.
eNews design by Peggy S. Risner

subscribe   unsubscribe from this list

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp