New Mexico Water eNews


December 2015

Save the Date Animas Conference

Gold King Mine Spill and Other Mine Waste Issues to Highlight May 2016 Conference
by Catherine Ortega Klett, Program Manager

The New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI) will host a three-day conference in May 2016 at San Juan College in Farmington, NM to facilitate the exchange of data and ideas among four states, two Tribes, and numerous local and municipal agencies and public water systems. The conference will bring together an estimated 200 participants to gain a better understanding of the theme of the conference, Environmental Conditions of the Animas and San Juan Watersheds with Emphasis on Gold King Mine and other Mine Waste Issues. Sponsors include: NM WRRI, New Mexico Environment Department, New Mexico State University, University of New Mexico, New Mexico Tech, New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, City of Farmington, San Juan County, City of Aztec, San Juan Soil & Water Conservation District, and the San Juan Watershed Group.

The goal of the conference is to disseminate information and results from monitoring and research efforts in the Animas and San Juan watersheds. The conference will support the activities outlined in the Long-Term Monitoring Plan: Evaluating the Effects of the Gold King Mine Wastewater Spill in Northern New Mexico, prepared by the State of New Mexico’s Long-Term Impact Review Team. The draft report was issued on October 20, 2015 and can be viewed here. The conference will bring together academics, agencies, representatives, and community members and provide a forum for addressing concerns and questions over the Gold King Mine spill and the continuing monitoring efforts.

Call for Abstracts Deadline March 7, 2016

Environmental Conditions of the Animas and San Juan Watersheds
with Emphasis on Gold King Mine and Other Mine Waste Issues

May 17-19, 2016 San Juan College, Farmington, NM

The upcoming May 2016 conference includes a Call for Abstracts on topics related to the theme of the conference. Particularly relevant topics include the following:

  • Geologly, minerology, ore bodies and natural sources of contamination
  • Analysis of Animas and San Juan watersheds as a result of Gold King Mine spill
  • Effects of acid mine drainage after more than a century of mining
  • Effects of historical spill events
  • Effects of the Gold King Mine spill
  • Differentiating geologic and historical contaminants from Gold King Mine spill contaminants
  • Transport and fate of mining contaminants in the Animas and San Juan watersheds
  • Contaminant uptake into the food web
  • Mining contaminant impacts on surface water, sediment, groundwater, agriculture, livestock, wildlife, and humans
  • Long-term monitoring
  • Existing corrective measures to control mine seepage and hydraulic consequences
  • Options for additional source control, spill prevention, and remediation
  • E. coli and other organisms in nutrients

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

Faculty Directed Student Research Program Grants Awarded
by Catherine Ortega Klett, Program Manager

NM WRRI is pleased to announce the recipients of the institute’s 2016 Faculty Directed Graduate Student Research Program. The U.S. Geological Survey’s 104B grant program provides funding for research that improves management of the state’s waters. Funding is intended primarily to provide financial support for graduate students pursuing water-related degrees.

New Mexico Tech Assistant Professor Jesus D. Gomez-Velez will receive a $30,000 grant for his project, New Mexico’s Mountain Sources of Water: A Mechanistic Approach to Understand Mountain Recharge and Its Implications for Local and Statewide Water Budgets. The project’s goal is to implement a fully-coupled groundwater-surface water, three-dimensional models for four watersheds along a climatic and geologic gradient in New Mexico. These models will be used to quantify mountain recharge and will support efforts to estimate a recharge map for New Mexico. The project will support a PhD student in the Department of Earth and Environmental Science and builds on collaborative relationships with the Statewide Water Assessment working group on recharge in the state.

A second grant was awarded to NMSU faculty members of the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, Drs. Kevin Lombard and April Ulery. They are joined on the project by Dr. David Weindorf of Texas Tech University. Their project, What are the effects of the Gold King Mine Spill on San Juan County, NM agricultural irrigation ditches and farms? will look at a number of unanswered questions pertaining to agriculture in the watershed following the Gold King Mine spill in August 2015: What was in the river water pre- and post-plume? What was in the river sediment/soil pre and post-plume? What was in the ditch sediment before the spill? What was in the ditch water during the 24-hour flush period directly after the river re-opened? What is in the ditch water now? This $30,000 grant will support a graduate student and several Navajo undergraduate students from San Juan College.

Figure 1. La Jara watershed segment debris flow probability given a wildfire and subsequent five-year, 30-minute rainfall event.

Potential Postfire Debris Flow in the La Jara Watershed
by Doug Cram and Robert Sabie, Jr.

The community of La Jara, New Mexico, just north of Cuba, relies on perennial surface water as the source for their drinking and irrigation water. The La Jara Creek watershed, which provides the water, has not experienced wildland fire in the last 75 years. As a result, similar to many forests in the West, fuel loads have stockpiled to historically high levels. Given recent wildfire severity trends in the Jemez Mountains over the last 15 years, the likelihood of moderate and high severity fire has increased in this watershed. A wildfire of this magnitude increases the probability of a debris flow, a particularly hazardous and destructive event characterized by a moving mass of soil, rock, and water that travels downslope under the influence of gravity. Such an event has the potential to damage or destroy important drinking and irrigation infrastructure, the replacement of which is likely to be indeterminate given costs and regulatory procedures. It is important to note that not all burned watersheds will produce debris flows following rainfall events. Being able to predict the probability (where) and volume (how much) of a debris flow allows end users and other vested parties to prepare, plan, and mitigate based on quantitative data.

The New Mexico State University Range Improvement Task Force and the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute teamed up to estimate the probability and volume of a potential debris flow given a moderate to severe fire and a prescribed precipitation event in the La Jara Creek watershed. Using the geospatial analysis expertise at NM WRRI (i.e., Robert Sabie and Jon Williams), the team used empirical models based upon historical debris-flow occurrence and magnitude data (Cannon et al. 2010), terrain and soils information as well as rainfall storm and burn-severity data to estimate outputs. Preliminary results indicated there is a greater than 80 percent chance of a debris flow delivering more than 100,000m3 of material at the confluence of the La Jara and Madera creeks (Figures 1 and 2). This location is just upstream of La Jara’s drinking and irrigation water infrastructure. Subsequently, mitigating efforts are being explored and discussed with local community members based on study results. Final results from this effort will be published in the spring of 2016.

Cannon, S.H., Gartner, J.E., Rupert, M.G., Michael, J.A., Rea, A.H., Parrett, C., 2010. Predicting the probability and volume of postwildfire debris flows in the intermountain western United States. Geological Society of America Bulletin 122, 127-144.

Figure 2. La Jara watershed segment debris flow volume given a wildfire and subsequent five-year, 30-minute rainfall event.

Water Bank Workshop Summarized

An Executive Summary of the November 12, 2015 workshop held in Las Cruces entitled, Workshop on Water Banking in the Lower Rio Grande, Southern New Mexico is posted on the NM WRRI website at: The workshop was sponsored by several Lower Rio Grande water user groups and brought together over 100 participants to discuss the benefits, limitations, best practices, implementation methods, and future development needs related to the potential establishment of a water bank in the Lower Rio Grande.

NM WRRI has published Technical Completion Report 369 by UNM researchers Jingjing Wang and Janak Raj Joshi

Exploring Policy Alternatives for Controlling Nitrate Pollution from New Mexico’s Dairies
by Jingjing Wang and Janak Raj Joshi, University of New Mexico

New Mexico has ranked at the top in the average stocking density of large dairy farms (with 500 or more milk cows) since 2002 and the state’s average stocking density was up to 3,000 milk cows per farm in 2012. However, this significantly large average fails to reflect the magnitude of the mega-farms in the highly concentrated industry, subject to economies of scale. For example, in 2012, the average stocking density on dairy farms that accounted for 10% of total milk sales in New Mexico was 10,200 milk cows, and the average stocking density on dairy farms that accounted for 25% of total milk sales in New Mexico was 5,410 milk cows. Another characteristic of the dairy sector in New Mexico is that most cows are spatially concentrated in a small agricultural area. The dairy sector has been an economic development driver in parts of eastern and southern New Mexico and has a significant economic impact on the rural economies of these regions. However, large dairy farms in New Mexico lead to challenges in proper manure management.

In this study, we used a combination of life-cycle assessment (LCA), cost-benefit analysis (CBA), and sensitivity analysis to investigate policies for controlling nitrogen pollution from large dairy farms in New Mexico. We first constructed an integrated farm-level model that is suitable to investigate alternative policies for controlling nitrate pollution from a stylized, typical large dairy farm in New Mexico. Based on this typical dairy farm, we then conducted the LCA and CBA analyses of dairy manure management under three cases: direct land application of dairy manure (DLA), anaerobic digestion of dairy manure (AD), and anaerobic digestion of dairy manure coupled with microalgae cultivation (ADMC). Four environmental impacts (energy balance, water balance, eutrophication potential, and global warming potential) of the alternative manure management cases are assessed in the LCA analysis and net benefits of each case were evaluated in the CBA analysis under a baseline scenario and different incentive-based policy scenarios. We also conducted sensitivity analysis of cropland availability, rangeland availability, and policy strength to check the robustness of our results.

Our results suggest that nutrients (especially nitrogen) in dairy manure on large dairy farms of New Mexico can potentially be converted into various valuable products (e.g., nutrient supplement and renewable energy) while maintaining compliance with regulatory requirements. We recommend incentive-based policies including subsidies, tax credits, nutrient credits, and carbon credits for controlling nitrate pollution from large dairy farms in order to achieve the lowest environmental-compliance cost to the dairy industry in New Mexico. Education and outreach programs on alternative best manure management practices are also recommended. Given the ongoing consolidation in the dairy industry both within and beyond New Mexico’s borders, our results can inform local, state, and federal policymakers working on water quality management programs.

A comprehensive summary report of this NM WRRI funded project has been published as Technical Completion Report No. 369 and can be viewed in its entirety by clicking here. Project funding was made available by the New Mexico State Legislature in 2014.

USGS Issues RFP for National Grant Program
by Catherine Ortega Klett, Program Manager

The U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the National Institutes for Water Resources requests proposals for matching grants to support research on the topic of improving and enhancing the nation’s water supply, including the following specific areas of inquiry (levels of priority are not assigned, and the order of listing does not indicate the level of priority):

  • Evaluation of innovative approaches to water treatment, infrastructure design, retrofitting, maintenance, management and replacement.
  • Exploration and advancement of our understanding of change in the quantity and quality of water resources in response to a changing climate, population shifts, and land-use changes; including associated economic, environmental, social and/or infrastructure costs.
  • Development of methods for better estimation of water supply, both surface and groundwater, at gaged and ungaged sites, including estimation of the physical supply and of the economic supply of water.
  • Development and evaluation of processes and governance mechanisms for integrated surface/ground water management.
  • Evaluation and assessment of the effects of water conservation practices, as well as adoption, penetration and permanence.

This program provides university researchers with up to $250,000 for projects of 1 to 3 years in duration. It requires a 1:1 non-federal match. The intent of the program is to encourage projects with collaboration between universities and the USGS. Funds have not been appropriated for this program, but the USGS is proceeding with the proposal solicitation process in case an appropriation is received. The RFP at gives information on past year funding including award amounts and funding success rates.

Researchers must submit their proposal online at the website. The deadline is February 25, 2016, by 5pm Eastern Time.

If you are interested in submitting a proposal, please contact NM WRRI Director Sam Fernald (575-646-4337; ) or Cathy Ortega Klett (575-646-1195; ) as soon as possible. The proposal and budget should be reviewed by NM WRRI no later than February 15, 2016.

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