New Mexico Water eNews


July 2017

NMSU graduate student Manuel Lopez received an NM WRRI 2017 Student Water Research Grant.

Student Water Research Leads to Professional Position with the USGS in Santa Fe
by Catherine Ortega Klett, NM WRRI Program Manager

A report entitled:Debris Flow Potential Following Wildfire in the Upper Santa Fe Municipal Watershed has been posted this month on the NM WRRI website. It summarizes work performed by Manuel Lopez, master's degree candidate in geography, in collaboration with faculty advisor Daniel P. Dugas, Assistant Professor of Geography and Extension Specialist Doug Cram, all at NMSU. Manuel received a 2017 NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant for the project.

Manuel is now working for the US Geological Survey (USGS) in Santa Fe performing fire regime analyses. He also is able to devote time to his research, which is of interest to the USGS. He said recently, “The NM WRRI grant looked great on my resume and aided me in obtaining this position, so I am very grateful to the WRRI for its support and assistance, especially from Bob Sabie, WRRI GIS Analyst.”

Manuel’s research project looked at a common initial concern after a wildfire, which is the increased vulnerability of the exposed soil to rapid erosion by storm runoff. In the southwestern Rocky Mountains, moderate to severe forest fires can increase the likelihood of debris flow events by consuming rainfall intercepting canopy, generating ash, and forming water-repellant soils resulting in decreased infiltration and increased runoff and erosion. The purpose of this study has been to make use of geographic information system (GIS) and other data to generate debris flow hazard maps that estimate the likelihood and severity of post-wildfire debris flows at different locations within the Santa Fe municipal watershed (SFMW).

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Amanda Otieno is using a turbidity meter to measure the Nephelometric Turbidity Units (NTUS) in the lower Jaramillo Creek, Valles Caldera National Preserve in June 2016.

UNM Student Studies Effects of Las Conchas Fire
on Soil Chemistry

by Catherine Ortega Klett, NM WRRI Program Manager

The 2011 Las Conchas fire in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico has had lingering effects on nearby surface water and waterways, primarily due to the leaching of burnt soils. Such effects of wildfires are typically exacerbated by the fact that the monsoon season follows after the wildfire season. Amanda Otieno, an NM WRRI 2017 student grant recipient who is completing her master's degree studies in Water Resource Management at UNM, has just published her final report on a field and laboratory study of the chemistry of soils exposed in varying degree to the wildfire. Her faculty advisor for this research is Professor Rebecca Bixby, of the UNM Biology Department. Additional assistance has come from UNM Professor Ali of the Earth and Planetary Science Department and Professor Cerrato of the Civil Engineering Department.

For this study, thirty-two soil samples were collected from the Sierra de los Valles dome within the Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP) in Jemez, New Mexico. Eight samples were collected from each of four different areas classified in terms of burn severity, labeled respectively as high, moderate, low, and unburned areas. The top three inches of soil were collected, and the soil texture type was found to be mostly loamy, containing roughly equal proportions of sand, clay, and silt, although six sandy loam samples, containing less clay, were collected from the unburned area. Equal numbers of samples were taken in winter and spring to capture some seasonal influences.

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Meet the Researcher

Colby Brungard, New Mexico State University
by Catherine Ortega Klett, NM WRRI Program Manager

In 2016, Colby Brungard joined the New Mexico State University faculty as an Assistant Professor of Pedology in the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, College of Agriculture, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences (ACES). After completing MS and PhD degrees in soil science from Utah State University in Logan, he did a two-year stint as a post-doctoral research scientist, also at Utah State University.

NM WRRI recently provided graduate student support to Dr. Brungard through its U.S. Geological Survey 104b base grant. The project, Digital Soil Mapping for Improving Hydrological Modeling of NM Water Resources, will utilize digital soil mapping techniques to produce a detailed (5 m horizontal x 1.5 m vertical) soil map across the Tromble Weir watershed, which is located on the Jornada experimental range, in conjunction with the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) program, north of Las Cruces, NM.

Dr. Brungard’s primary research interest is the integration of quantitative soil spatial information from digital soil mapping with environmental process modeling to refine our understanding of the biophysical land processes that influence managed and natural ecosystems. Dr. Brungard explains that environmental process models (e.g., hydrologic or ecologic models) are used extensively to understand complex biophysical land processes, to forecast ecosystem response to climate change, and to assess potential physical, chemical, and biological land and water degradation. Soils are fundamental to environmental process modeling because soils are the interface between hydrological, land surface, and climate processes. Quantitative spatial soil information about the nature, distribution, and uses of soil is needed in these models to resolve detailed spatial processes and enable more accurate forecasts. Digital soil mapping (DSM) provides the needed soil information for such models. Digital soil mapping is the application of quantitative modeling and advanced computing methods to integrate geospatial environmental covariates with field- and laboratory-based soil observations to predict soil spatial distribution and associated prediction uncertainty.

Photo by Will Keener

NM WRRI Receives Funding from USDA to Address Critical Agricultural Water Resources Issues
by Catherine Ortega Klett, NM WRRI Program Manager

On June 14, 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announced 14 grants totaling more than $9 million to help solve critical water problems in rural and agricultural watersheds across the U.S.

“Food, water, climate, energy, and environmental issues are all linked together, which is why we invest in multi-level approaches to water management solutions,” said NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy. “These solutions will improve water resource quantity and quality for America’s agricultural systems and also inform decision makers and citizens alike.”

NIFA’s Water for Agriculture Challenge Area aims to address critical water resources issues such as drought, excess soil moisture, flooding, quality and quantity, and other water issues within an agricultural context. In this area, Texas A&M AgriLife Research received a grant for over $1.3 million for a three-year project, which includes funding for projects at New Mexico State University (NMSU) through the NM WRRI.

NM WRRI Director Sam Fernald will work with agricultural producers from the study regions in New Mexico and Texas. Stakeholder water efficiency concerns will be linked to available water efficiency improvement approaches. These concerns and solutions will be integrated into scenario analysis modeling of integrated water management approaches.

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          EPA water treatment facility for treating Gold King Mine water near Silverton,
          Colorado. (photo by Robert Sabie, Jr.)

Notes from the 2nd Annual Conference on Environmental Conditions of the Animas and San Juan Watersheds with Emphasis on Gold King Mine and Other Mine Waste Issues
by Robert Sabie, Jr., GIS Analyst, NM WRRI

NM WRRI hosted the 2nd Annual Conference on Environmental Conditions of the Animas and San Juan Watersheds with Emphasis on Gold King Mine and Other Mine Waste Issues on June 20-22, 2017 in Farmington. The conference was co-sponsored by NM WRRI, NMSU, UNM, NM Tech, NM Bureau of Geology & Mineral Resources, NM Environment Department, City of Farmington, City of Aztec, San Juan County, San Water Soil & Water Conservation District, and the San Juan Watershed Group. The conference brought together over 100 research scientists, affected community members, regulators, and responders to discuss the latest information and findings from ongoing monitoring efforts. The conference featured two days of talks and panel discussions and concluded with a field trip to Silverton.

The geologic and mining history of Animas Watershed is complex. Millions of years ago, volcanic activity created the complex geology and ultimately the minerals that were sought by miners. The volcanic activity also created rocks that, when weathered, lead to naturally occurring acid rock drainage. Natural weathering of the rock, particularly pyrite, often occurs over tens to millions of years.

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62nd Annual Water Conference to be Held at NM Tech
by Catherine Ortega Klett, NM WRRI Program Manager

Join us in Socorro, NM in mid-August for the institute’s 62nd Annual New Mexico Water Conference, Hidden Realities of New Water Opportunities. We have an informative program scheduled and several special events planned.

The day-and-a-half conference will take place on August 15-16, 2017 at the Macey Center on the New Mexico Tech campus. This is the first time the annual water conference will be held at NM Tech, and we are excited to have New Mexico Tech President Stephen G. Wells give the first talk of the conference, The Landscape of Water – Past, Present and Future.

Following Dr. Wells, U.S. Senator Tom Udall will update participants on federal efforts related to water, including action on the federal Drought Bill. Senator Udall will also moderate a panel of representatives from various water sectors in New Mexico that includes Myron Armijo, Beth Bardwell, Terry Brunner, John Fleck, Paula Garcia, and Tanya Trujillo. Speaker and panelist biographical sketches are available on the conference website.

Also scheduled for the morning session is State Engineer Tom Blaine, who will provide an update on state water issues. Dr. William Alley will give Tuesday’s luncheon address. He was Chief, Office of Groundwater for the U.S. Geological Survey for almost two decades and is currently Director of Science and Technology for the National Ground Water Association. Dr. Alley’s presentation is entitled, Meeting the Challenges of the World’s Dependence on Groundwater.

Several panel discussions will feature experienced water specialists addressing questions on farmland retirement, innovations in watershed management, underground storage and recovery projects, use of brackish and impaired waters in New Mexico, and the Rio Grande Compact. The Wednesday luncheon will feature an update on the NM WRRI’s major water initiative, the Statewide Water Assessment.

Conference attendees are encouraged to take part in one of two optional field trips scheduled on Monday, August 14 – one hosted by the Bureau of Reclamation to the river restoration project in the San Acacia Reach; and another trip to the San Agustin Plains, hosted by the Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, Aquifer Mapping Program.

Everyone is invited to attend a reception on Monday, August 14 from 4:30-6:00 in the atrium at the NM Bureau of Geology & Mineral Resources. The Mineral Museum and gift shop will be open and you can enjoy appetizers, a cash bar, and talk with your friends and colleagues.

A highlight of the annual water conference is the poster session, which this year includes over 45 posters, most by university students from across the state. The 90-minute session on Wednesday morning allows students, faculty, agency staff, and private entities to network with colleagues from throughout the state and region, providing opportunities for collaboration.

Visit the conference website by clicking here.

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