New Mexico Water eNews


April 2021

Bianca Wright, Plant and Environmental Sciences BS student at NMSU, removing sections of corn stalk to perform digestion analysis to find lead contamination.

NMSU Student Studies Lead in Corn Harvested from the Animas Watershed
by Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

The Animas River has historically received contamination from natural acid rock drainage, and for the last 160 years, from legacy mines throughout the river’s watershed. In August of 2015, the Gold King Mine wastewater spill raised concerns about the safety of food grown using Animas River water. A research team has been measuring the concentrations of several metalloids in the soil, water, and plants in the watershed since 2017 and found that only two elements have ever measured above EPA or NMED recommended levels. An elevated level of arsenic (As) has been measured in soil, and an elevated level of lead (Pb) has been measured in corn kernels. Previous research has shown that arsenic is not extractable in water and thus not likely available for plant uptake, but ongoing monitoring of lead concentrations in plants of the Animas River Watershed has shown sporadic high levels of lead in corn kernels. These findings warrant further research because corn is a staple crop in the region, especially in the Navajo Nation. NM WRRI has awarded a Student Water Research Grant to New Mexico State University (NMSU) student Bianca Wright to help determine if the corn grown on fields irrigated by the Animas and San Juan Rivers is safe for consumption.

The project entitled, Evaluating Soil Lead Bioavailability in Agricultural Fields across Animas Watershed, aims to measure the amount of lead in corn plants harvested from agricultural fields irrigated from the Animas and San Juan Rivers. Under the guidance of Wright’s faculty sponsor Dr. April Ulery, whole corn plant samples were collected, including roots, leaf tissue, husk, and kernels, as well as the soil around the roots. Plant and soil material was separated and processed in the NMSU Soil Chemistry Research Lab and analyzed for lead. The results of the analyses will be compared with WHO/FAO lead safety standards of 0.05 mg/kg. Using a variety of chemicals, sequential extraction of the soil was conducted to determine the bioavailability of the lead.

Read entire article by clicking here.

Building Tribal Capacity with Water Research
Partnerships Workshop and Survey

by Mark Sheely, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

The New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute invites tribal leaders and water resource personnel, water researchers, and students—both tribal and non-tribal affiliated—to participate in the Building Tribal Capacity with Water Research Partnerships workshop on Wednesday, May 19, 2021.
The workshop is for participants to further understand pressing tribal water issues and help to foster future research collaborations that will help build the capacity of tribes, nations, and pueblos within New Mexico.

Morning presentation topics include:

• Examples of research that has addressed tribal water needs

• Effective communication and engagement with tribes, pueblos and nations

• Best practices for building partnerships and conducting water research

Afternoon breakout sessions will explore further tribal water needs and possible areas of water research collaboration. Anticipated breakout session topics include:

• Universal Access to Clean Water

• Environmental Justice

• Climate Change Impacts on Water 

• Research to Inform Tribal Water Rights

View a preliminary program here.

To help us learn more about water resource needs of the nations, tribes, and pueblos in New Mexico, as well as the level of collaboration between tribal entities and non-tribal research entities, we ask that you fill out one of two short surveys below. These surveys are strictly for the development of this workshop program, and will not be used for outside research purposes.

By completing the survey and providing follow-up contact information, you will be entered in a prize giveaway drawing that will take place during the workshop, and include NM WRRI stainless steel water bottles as well as a pair of sterling silver dime bead earrings donated by workshop planning members.

Survey link for tribal-affiliated participants:

Survey link for non-tribal affiliated participants:

You can also register for this free workshop by clicking the button below.

Thank you and we hope to see you at this event.

Register for Free!
Dr. Michaela Buenemann at the salt and clay pan, Sossusvlei, in the Namib Desert in Namibia, Africa, while conducting research on the Land Potential Knowledge System.

Meet the Researcher

Michaela Buenemann, Associate Professor, New Mexico State University
by Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

 In this edition of Meet the Researcher, we had the pleasure of interviewing Michaela Buenemann, an associate professor for the Department of Geography and co-director of the Spatial Applications Research Center (SpARC) at New Mexico State University (NMSU). She has taught at NMSU since 2008, first as an assistant professor, and has been in her current position since 2014. She teaches five classes throughout the year in addition to overseeing several funded research projects. A few of the courses she instructs include Cartography and Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Advanced Remote Sensing, and Field Explorations in Geography. Buenemann also advises undergraduate and graduate students and plans to mentor three new students in the upcoming fall semester. She recently accepted an advisement role for Victoria Blumenberg, who was awarded a New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI) Student Water Research Grant in 2019 for her project entitled, Stable Isotope Analysis to Determine the Usefulness of Surface Water as a Proxy for Precipitation in a Semi‐Arid, Mountainous Environment. According to Michaela, her ability to educate, advise, and mentor students are the most important aspects of her career alongside performing research, and providing service to her professional community.

 Buenemann is currently working with her colleagues and students on two major projects funded by The Natural Resources Conservation Service. One has the end goal of automating the mapping of inactive acequias in addition to looking at relationships between acequia status, land cover change, and ecosystem service changes. She believes this project will lend itself to further collaboration with NM WRRI and possibly universities in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. The other project will address mapping and monitoring of vegetation, hydrology, and human structures in mesquite-encroached rangelands. Michaela is also involved in a multi-team project funded by the National Institutes of Health entitled, Coordinating Research on Emerging Arboviral Threats Encompassing the Neotropics (CREATE-NEO). Buenemann states that her main role in this research is to map and model the risk of arbovirus spillover and spillback given the co-occurrence of susceptible hosts, competent mosquito vectors, and various human and environmental conditions.

Read entire article by clicking here.

Lin Chen, Environmental Engineering PhD student at NMSU, preparing rare earth calibration standard solutions in the lab.

NMSU Student Studies the Recovery of Rare Earth Elements and Potable Water from Produced Water
by Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

New Mexico is facing water challenges due to increasing water demand and chronic drought. Water researchers and managers are constantly looking for new ideas about freshwater resources. Produced water— a fluid that is an incidental byproduct from drilling for or the production of oil and gas —is the largest waste stream generated during oil and gas production. A potential solution to address some of New Mexico’s water challenges is to develop low-cost, energy-efficient systems that generate clean water from produced water sources.

In some New Mexico produced water sources, rare earth elements such as lanthanum (La), neodymium (Nd), and europium (Eu) have been detected. If these rare earth elements could be recovered in an efficient way, there is a high potential for earnings that could subsidize the cost of generating clean potable water from produced water sources.

Read entire article by clicking here.

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