New Mexico Water eNews


April 2018

      Ivana Mali and Donald Brown getting ready to set turtle traps on the Rio Grande
      River (Photo Credit: Michael R.J. Forstner)

Meet the Researcher

Ivana Mali, Eastern New Mexico University
by Catherine Ortega Klett, NM WRRI Program Manager

Eastern New Mexico University Biology Assistant Professor Ivana Mali enjoys research and teaching courses in wildlife biology, with an emphasis on herpetology, mammalogy, and landscape ecology. She currently is focusing on herpetofaunal communities that are indigenous to the region, as well as surveying for soft ticks among prairie dog burrows. One of her favorite critters from the realm of herpetology has been the turtle, which was the subject of her master's project in 2008. Moreover, the results of her PhD research on the effects of turtle commercial harvest led the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to propose a ban on all commercial turtle harvests in Texas (which is still under review). In 2016, Dr. Mali began turtle research at ENMU. Since that time, she has continued to survey the status of the threatened Rio Grande cooter on the Pecos River drainage and its tributaries. She has also completed an assessment of the prevalence of hantavirus among small mammals in eastern New Mexico. She also enjoys sharing these passions with her students: "I find great joy in sharing my knowledge about the natural world and the issues about biodiversity we are facing today. It is on us, teachers, to educate young minds so we and they can preserve natural resources for future generations," said Dr. Mali.

Mali was born and raised in Serbia, a small country in southeast Europe. She says she always liked being outside, and especially enjoyed trips to her grandparents' farm, where she could indulge in outdoor explorations of the sort that now, in her later professional life, would be considered "field work." As she happily notes, "It is now my job, and I love it." On the other hand, her childhood also had its challenges because she grew up during the time of the Yugoslavia civil war of the early 1990s, and the later bombings related to the Kosovo conflict of 1999. Despite the resulting hardships and political instability, with some luck and much perseverance, along with the indispensable help of her family, she was able to get an athletic scholarship (in volleyball), and finally made her way to the U.S. Ever since, she's taken advantage of every available opportunity to realize her current circumstances. Looking back, she considers just being where she is today as her greatest accomplishment.

Mali received a BS in biology from Henderson State University, and an MS in wildlife ecology and PhD in aquatic resources from Texas State University. She is a faculty sponsor of ENMU Fish and Wildlife Club and was a recent faculty advisor on an NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant awarded to Andrew Letter for his research on water quality impacts on the dietary habitats of the Rio Grande Cooter (see November New Mexico Water eNews for article on Letter’s project).

National Water Programs Meet to Explore Joint Projects
by Sam Fernald, NM WRRI Director

NM WRRI Director Sam Fernald, current President of the National Institutes for Water Resources, recently attended the Joint Gulf Regional Meeting at the University of Alabama. The meeting included representatives from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Sea Grant College Program (Sea Grant) and the U.S. Geological Survey’s Water Resources Research Institutes (WRRI). The group explored ways to connect and cooperate between the Sea Grant College Program and the WRRIs. In May, the group will meet in Ann Arbor, Michigan to consider Great Lakes and inland watersheds and discuss future steps for regional projects.

NMSU Researchers Study the Use of Salt-Absorbing Plants (Halophytes) as part of a Desalination Concentrate Management System
by Catherine Ortega Klett, NM WRRI Program Manager

NM WRRI announces the publication of technical completion report no. 377, a joint publication with the Bureau of Reclamation and its Desalination and Water Purification Research and Development Program (Report No NMSU001). In 2016, NMSU faculty members Dr. Catherine Brewer (Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering and Dr. O. John Idowu (Department of Extension Plant Sciences) received funding through a cooperative agreement between Reclamation and New Mexico State University entitled Center for the Development and Use of Alternative Water Supplies.

Biochar for Desalination Concentrate Management by Kwabena Sarpong, a recent MS graduate of the NMSU Water Science and Management Program, Catherine Brewer, and O. John Idowu is available in its entirety on the NM WRRI website by clicking here.

Report Abstract

Disposal of concentrate from brackish water desalination is limited by concerns that salt may leach into freshwater sources. Prevention of salt leaching can greatly increase desalination concentrate management costs, and there are few options to recover those costs. One cost-recovery option for desalination concentrate disposal is using the concentrate as irrigation water for producing halophyte biomass for forage and for other applications. The purpose of this project is to determine how much salt is contained in halophyte biomass and how much salt will leach from biochars made from halophyte biomass. Results from this research will be useful for those managing high-salinity biomass streams, such as halophyte crop residues and animal manures. The ability to sequester salt in biochar (charcoal derived from the pyrolysis of biomass used as a soil amendment) would decrease the negative impacts from land-applications of high-salinity materials, including those used in desalination concentrate management systems.

Results from this research on two species of Atriplex, halophyte forage shrubs native to the southwestern USA, show that salts taken up in the biomass are concentrated into the biochars during pyrolysis, and that pyrolysis conditions affect the amount of salt that can be leached with water. Increasing pyrolysis temperature increases the retention of calcium and magnesium ions but gives less consistent trends for the retention of potassium and sodium. The retention of some salt in the short-term suggests that, with more understanding of the salt formation and retention mechanisms, and optimization of the system, higher amounts of salt could be sequestered longer, while taking advantage of the carbon sequestration and soil quality improvement benefits associated with biochars.

Western Water Experts Gather to Discuss Water Resilience
by Jesslyn Ratliff, NM WRRI Program Specialist

Thanks to a New Mexico National Science Foundation EPSCoR Interdisciplinary Innovation Working Group award, Dr. Sam Fernald, Director of NM WRRI, hosted an Intermountain West Water Workshop April 23-26, 2018 at the University of New Mexico Sevilleta Field Station. Representatives from seven different western states were in attendance including New Mexico, Oregon, Arizona, Montana, Wyoming, Texas, and California. Other representatives from Montana, Arizona, Washington, and Utah called-in for a portion of the workshop to provide their comments regarding the discussion.


New Mexico First facilitated the event to ensure efficient and productive discussion about water resilience in the intermountain west through coordinated research and innovation. In mid-May, New Mexico First will finalize a report summarizing the workshop. The summary report will be available on the NM WRRI website.

Las Cruces Water Festival Draws Elementary School Students

NM WRRI participated in the 2018 Children’s Water Festival on April 19 at Young Park. The event is hosted annually by the City of Las Cruces. Over 250 4th graders from the area visited exhibit booths and participated in water related activities. Student assistant Brandon Rue and administrative assistant Peggy Risner gave a presentation on how and why rain occurs and how it replenishes our rivers, lakes, and aquifers. Undergraduate NMSU student Rue said, “It was great to see the kids react to the simulated cloud demo, and I really think it helped them visualize the water cycle. A lot of kids asked questions about the water cycle and how rainwater could be used at home. Talking with the students was a lot of fun.”

Preliminary Program
Now Available
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