New Mexico Water eNews


December 2017

Former NM Tech graduate student Michael Wine helps with a seismic survey in a wadi (a valley, ravine, or channel that is dry except in the rainy season) near Beer-Sheva, Israel. Wine is currently a post-doc fellow at Ben Gurion University.

NM WRRI Student Grant Recipient Has Article Published
by Catherine Ortega Klett, NM WRRI Program Manager

Research results by NM Tech doctoral student Michael Wine, recipient of two NM WRRI Student Water Research Grants, were recently published in Environmental Research Letters (22 November 2017). “In ecoregions across western USA streamflow increases during post-wildfire recovery” is co-authored by NM Tech faculty members Drs. Daniel Cadol and Oleg Makhnin. The article is available by clicking here.

In this study Michael and his co-authors address an aspect of the problem of predicting future water resource availability in water-limited regions, given the outlook for changing climatic conditions, land management paradigms, and ecological disturbance regimes. In this last category, evidence has accumulated that wildfires can increase regional water availability, although this effect has generally been demonstrated only at relatively small spatial scales such that its significance in the context of climate change projections has remained unclear. The authors have now carried out a more general statistical analysis based on empirical post-wildfire vegetation recovery data from all gauged western USA watersheds heavily affected by wildfire. The statistical model was enhanced as well by satellite imagery data, which can act as a surrogate for associated transpiration losses, to show that, in fact, the net effect of wildfires is to contribute 2-14% of long-term annual streamflow. This can be compared to climate change model ensemble hydrologic predictions of a 1-18% reduction in streamflow in western North America by mid-century. Therefore, the authors have demonstrated that over a range of spatial scales, the integrated effect of intermittent wildfire histories leads to a sustained increase in streamflow that is comparable to the anticipated decrease due to climate change projections.

Michael graduated from New Mexico Tech with a PhD in hydrology in September 2017. Currently he is a post-doctoral fellow at Ben Gurion University in Beer-Sheva, Israel. Michael says he is looking forward to continuing to investigate how global change affects water resources in water-limited landscapes.

Commenting on the impact the NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant had on his graduate student experience, Michael said, “In the present funding atmosphere, NM WRRI student grant funding was a bright light—during a fiscally challenging time—that allowed me to complete my PhD and obtain necessary research equipment. On behalf of myself and fellow students who have received NM WRRI grants, I can say that the return on investment from state funds invested in these grants is extremely high in terms of boosting student morale during an uncertain period for climate change science and in uniquely advancing our understanding of the water resources problems most critical to New Mexicans.”

The June 2018 conference includes a Call for Abstracts and Papers on topics related to the theme of the conference. Topics for the 2018 conference include all water quality issues facing the Animas and San Juan watersheds. Other particularly relevant topics include the following:

•  Geology, minerology, ore bodies and natural sources of contamination
•  Analysis of Animas and San Juan watersheds as a result of Gold King Mine
•  Effects of acid mine drainage after more than a century of mining
•  Effects of historical mill-waste discharges
•  Effects of historical spill events
•  Effects of the Gold King Mine spill
•  Differentiating geologic and legacy mining and milling contaminants from
    Gold King Mine spill contaminants
•  Transport and fate of mining and milling contaminants in the Animas and
    San Juan watersheds
•  Contaminant uptake into the food web
•  Mining and milling contaminant impacts on surface water, sediment,
    groundwater, agriculture, livestock, wildlife, and humans
•  Long-term monitoring
•  Existing corrective measures to control mine seepage and hydraulic
•  Options for additional source control, spill prevention, and remediation
•  E. coli, nutrients, and other non-mining pollutants
•  Streamflow and water quality sensitivity to climate change
•  Groundwater and surface-water geochemistry and their interaction with
    the hyporheic zone

Visit the NM WRRI conference website at: for abstract guidelines. All abstracts must be submitted online using the provided abstract form.


Transboundary Aquifer Assessment Program Update
by Avery Olshefski, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

The Transboundary Aquifer Assessment Program (TAAP) is a unique federal agency-university-binational partnership that carries out activities in support of the US-Mexico Transboundary Aquifer Assessment Act of 2006. The Act specifically designated four priority aquifers to be studied under TAAP: the Hueco Bolson, the Mesilla aquifers, the Santa Cruz River Valley aquifers, and the San Pedro aquifers. Funds have been appropriated between the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Water Science Centers and the Water Research Institutes in New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona.

The New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI) and New Mexico State University (NMSU) are working in close collaboration with the USGS New Mexico Water Science Center to improve understanding of groundwater in the Mesilla aquifers. The New Mexico team is tasked with achieving a better understanding of the Mesilla Basin aquifer through three major research efforts by NMSU faculty: 1) deep groundwater contribution to shallow groundwater by Dr. Carroll; 2) evapotranspiration modeling using remote sensing with field validations by Dr. Samani and Dr. Bawazir; and
3) impacts of drought on riparian vegetation habitat and water use by Dr. Boykin. In addition, two coordination efforts are being implemented by NM WRRI: 1) development of a strategic work plan for subsequent year activities in collaboration with the USGS; and 2) coordination with activities in Mexico.

A final report for the 2017 Fiscal Year was recently submitted to USGS on the status of the three research projects undertaken by NMSU and NM WRRI as well as an update on NM WRRI’s project coordination with Mexico. The three projects will continue into next year along with a fourth research project by Dr. Cadol from New Mexico Tech on the estimation of regional groundwater recharge from non-irrigated land in the Mesilla Basin.

A meeting was held in Tucson, Arizona at the Arizona Water Resources Research Center on December 5, 2017 to update the USGS Leadership on TAAP. The presentation included updates from Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico, and it highlighted the significance of TAAP for all the parties involved and the public that relies so heavily on these transboundary groundwater resources.

NM WRRI staff and students from left: Aracely Tellez, Ashley Page, Avery Olshefski, Sam Fernald, Francisco Ochoa, Austin Hanson, Bob Sabie, and Xiaojie Li.

NM WRRI Staff and Students Attend State Water Planning Town Hall
by Austin Hanson, NM WRRI Program Specialist

Every five years the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) is required to review and, if needed, update the State Water Plan. As part of the efforts leading up to the 2018 plan, the ISC contracted with New Mexico First and held a town hall meeting in Albuquerque on December 13-14, 2017. The meeting provided an opportunity for vested individuals from throughout the state to come together and formulate recommendations to the ISC for the State Water Plan. Of the roughly 200 individuals in attendance at the town hall meeting, New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI) sent nine students and staff to the event to weigh in and learn about what people think should be done to address the challenges of managing New Mexico’s future water supply.

Over the course of the two days, there were very few formal presentations; rather, the participants spent the majority of their time in small group discussions. Each of the six small group breakouts had its own theme, and each group was responsible for agreeing on six recommendations that were presented to the group at large. By the afternoon of the second day, nearly 200 people had come together and concurred on 36 well-thought-out suggestions for the State Water Plan.

Avery Olshefski, NM WRRI Program Coordinator, said, “It was great to see the wide range of priorities that different people have regarding the state’s water resources, which I think really speaks to the ecological, cultural, and socioeconomic diversity that New Mexico has as a state.” That being said, some recommendations proved to be common across most of the groups. For example, many people agreed that the state needs to collect more data on streamflow, diversions, consumptive use, and return flows, and the data must be openly available.

At the end of the town hall meeting, participants ranked each of the 36 recommendations. After New Mexico First tallies these results, they will be sent to the ISC to help inform the State Water Plan.

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