New Mexico Water eNews


October 2019

Meet the Researcher

Meet Mike Hightower, Research Professor,
University of New Mexico 

by Sam Fernald, NM WRRI Director

This month we are profiling Mike Hightower. Before starting with his illustrious career in water-related research, it is important to note his significant connection to the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute. Mike worked for NM WRRI as a student employee from 1973-1977 when the institute was directed by John Clark.

Currently, Mr. Hightower is a Research Professor at the University of New Mexico’s Center for Water and the Environment. After serving 38 years at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, Mike continues as a mentor on energy and water issues. Mike holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in civil and environmental engineering from New Mexico State University and has 40 years of experience in space, weapons, and energy and natural resources research and engineering. His focus the past two decades has been on the use of distributed and renewable energy and water treatment technologies to enhance economic development, global public health, and infrastructure and natural resource security and resiliency. Most recently, Mike has been appointed through NMSU to serve as the Program Manager for the NM Produced Water Research Consortium.

Since 2000, Mike has actively supported the Departments of Interior, State, Defense, and Energy in establishing science and technology programs to address energy and water sustainability issues and interdependencies. These efforts have centered on advanced treatment and desalination of non-traditional water resources such as brackish ground water, oil and gas produced water, and power plant cooling water in order to efficiently and cost effectively reduce fresh water use and supplement fresh water supply availability in inland areas. Mike has had numerous articles and reports published on desalination and energy/water interdependencies including two reports to Congress, an article in Nature, an Energy Water Food research roadmap for the National Science Foundation, and chapters in three books.

Conference Next Week!
November 6-8, 2019


NM WRRI 64th Annual New Mexico Water Conference
Co-sponsored by Pueblo of Pojoaque


Regular - $150
Students - $75



                Photo of Sandra Postel provided by: Cheryl Zook/National Geographic

Renowned Water Expert Sandra Postel to Deliver Albert E. Utton Memorial Lecture at this Year’s Annual New Mexico Water Conference
by Mark Sheely, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

Sandra Postel opens her 2017 book, Replenish: The Virtuous Cycle of Water and Prosperity, by arguing that our natural water cycle has been broken by the same human hydraulic feats that have given us so much prosperity. “In some ways it’s hard to imagine our world of 7.5 billion people and $80 trillion in annual goods and services without water engineering—dams to store water, canals to move it around, and vast pumps to tap underground supplies,” Postel writes, “but it’s equally hard to imagine continuing down the same path.” Extreme weather, dwindling groundwater supplies, and overtapped watersheds pose an array of challenges for water managers across the globe.

As this year’s Albert E. Utton Memorial Lecture speaker, Sandra Postel will address the luncheon audience at the 64th Annual New Mexico Water Conference on Friday, November 8th at Buffalo Thunder Resort near Santa Fe, New Mexico. Currently director of the Global Water Policy Project and featured in documentaries such as the BBC series Planet Earth, Postel will demonstrate how farmers, cities, conservationists, and engineers across the US and around the world are showing that we can re-shape 21st century water management through innovation and collaboration to overcome the challenges ahead.

Read entire article by clicking here.

PhD Student Researches Water Sustainability
in Pecan Industry

by Sara M. Torres, Water Science and Management (WSM), Doctoral Student

New Mexico State University (NMSU) doctoral student Sara M. Torres is in the early stages of forming a new research collaboration with Stahmanns Pecans in the Mesilla Valley. Torres visited the pecan shelling facilities on October 10, 2019, with Dean Rolando Flores, NMSU College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences (ACES), and Dr. Sam Fernald, Director of the NM Water Resources Research. The purpose of the trip was to connect academic research with the practical needs of the pecan industry. The visit to Stahmanns Pecans provided an opportunity for the team to learn about the current industry practices and begin the process of including producers in research development.

In 2019, New Mexico became the nation’s leading producer of pecans. According to NMSU: The New Mexico Pecan Industry Today, the bulk of pecan production occurs in New Mexico in the Mesilla Valley (Doña Ana County). Stahmanns Pecans is a 3,200 acre operation and has been producing pecans in the valley since 1932.

Torres recently began her doctoral research on the water sustainability of pecan production this fall semester at New Mexico State University. She is planning on approaching her study through a life-cycle based methodology. Through this collaboration, Torres hopes to develop a platform for producers to make decisions that maintain and enhance production in the region while ensuring water sustainability.

UNM Student Receives NM WRRI Student Water
Research Grant
by Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

In June of 2019, Alyssa Latuchie, a PhD candidate at the University of New Mexico’s Department of Economics, received a NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant entitled, A Survey: New Mexicans’ Willingness to Pay for Produced Water Treatment for Beneficial Re-Use. Alyssa is working under the guidance of her faculty advisor Dr. Janie Chermak, Professor of Economics at UNM. This research addresses if New Mexicans view produced water as a resource and the value, if any, they place on it.

After oil and gas are produced, the water that comes to the surface of the well is called produced water. This water is of low quality, with high salinity and toxins of various quantities. Historically, produced water has been treated as a waste product and is disposed of through deep injection wells. More recently, there has been a movement towards re-use of this water for completion of oil and gas wells, but there is still a large amount of produced water that is simply disposed. Since New Mexico is one of the top producers of oil and gas, the amount of produced water within the state is significant. In 2015, within the New Mexico portion of the Permian Basin, over 23 billion gallons of produced water was created, and only 28 percent of that was re-used. To put this into perspective, the quantity of water that was disposed of was equivalent to the annual average usage of about 370,000 people (based off of Albuquerque’s current per capita use). Relevant to the water shortage that New Mexico faces, treated produced water could provide an additional source of water to the state.

Read entire article by clicking here.

Lily Conrad (left) and Omar Coronado Ramos (right) installing the cell antenna rod to establish cell telemetry connection at the Madre del Llano Acequia.

Community Science Initiative in a Northern
New Mexico Drainage
by Lily Conrad, NM WRRI Research Graduate Assistant

This past September, Andrew Black (NM WRRI), Omar Coronado (WSM MS student), and Lily Conrad (WSM MS student) travelled to the Rio Hondo valley in northern New Mexico to begin installing cellular telemetry equipment at acequia monitoring stations. The purpose of these installations is to provide near-real time water quantity data that will be accessible to irrigators and acequia commissioners through a web interface. The equipment will be installed in several sites throughout the valley between the communities of Valdez and Arroyo Hondo, periodically collecting water stage (elevation or height) and temperature data to be remotely sent to the interface via cellular towers.

Community members and NMSU researchers plan to collaborate on adaptive capacity assessment, site maintenance, data quality control, and analysis of system impact on water management. In the context of an acequia-irrigated landscape, adaptive capacity is the ability for water leaders to better implement adaptive management or make water resource decisions in the face of uncertainty and various challenges. After a meeting with acequia mayordomos and commissioners, the web interface will be designed to help support the valley’s acequia water sharing agreement over a trial period of the next two irrigation seasons. We anticipate the telemetry system will increase adaptive capacity within acequia water management and possibly improve acequia resilience.

Before the installation of this equipment, commissioners drove up and down the Rio Hondo manually checking flow values once per week. After the new system is in place, each commissioner or shareholder will be able to independently have access to the same water resource information. As a result, the data will be used to create a database to assist with decision making for local needs and concerns. A more precise and consistent understanding of water quantity may help with water management decisions by increasing adaptive capacity during low-flow periods.

NM WRRI Welcomes New Staff Member
by Carolina Mijares, NM WRRI Program Manager

Kevin A Perez joined the NM WRRI this month as Program Specialist and will work primarily on two projects, the Statewide Water Assessment and Transboundary Aquifer Assessment Program.

Kevin brings a strong academic background to the position having received two bachelor degrees in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Antioquia, Colombia. Kevin also has years of experience as a project engineer at Gotta Engineering in Colombia where he worked on the development of engineering products related to hydraulics, hydrology, hydrogeology, modeling, programming, software development, and GIS. Kevin’s education and experience will be a great asset to the NM WRRI.

Kevin is an outdoor enthusiast, loves to travel, learn about new cultures, and meet new people. “I am very excited to be joining the NM WRRI team and following my career in water resources with such an impressive group of professionals. I’m really looking forward to exploring southern New Mexico and having some great adventures in this part of our wonderful state.”

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