New Mexico Water eNews


July 2015

Improved Safety for Residents Downstream of Dams Focus of Student Research
by Catherine Ortega Klett, Program Manager

According to the 2012 American Society of Civil Engineers Infrastructure Report Card, dam infrastructure for both the U.S. and the state of New Mexico have received an unsatisfactory letter grade of D. Since the dams are known to be inadequate, monitoring their status during potential flood events is critical for alerting downstream residents. With the help of an NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant, six NMSU engineering students were able to provide information that will allow for the implementation of early warning emergency response plans in order to alert downstream residents and thereby limit the potential consequences of major flooding or dam failure.

Abdullah Alazmi, Malcolm Braughton, Paul Candeleria, Seth Davis, Reynold Durden, and Dennis Felipe Jr., all students in NMSU’s Civil Engineering Department, and under the guidance of Dr. J. Phillip King, studied the dam hydrology and hydraulics to identify alarm conditions in the implementation of remote radio dam stage storage monitoring systems for Apache-Brazito-Mesquite One Dam and Broad Canyon Dam in southern New Mexico.

This project set out to identify, classify, and analyze the capacity, storage, inflow, and outflow of the two dams. The volume of water contained by the dam will be monitored using a Remote Transmitting Unit (RTU) paired with piezometric data sensors. The ultimate goal of the project is to have this plan generalized and applied to other deficient dams across the state of New Mexico and the United States.

The students’ report is available on the institute’s website at:

NM WRRI Technical Completion Report No. 367 is available online at

Mesilla Basin Sensitivity to Groundwater Contamination by Septic Systems Described in Final Report
by Catherine Ortega Klett, Program Manager

Steve Walker, as graduate student and NM WRRI GIS Coordinator, used the DRASTIC model (a model used as a standardized, preliminary system for mapping hydrogeology components that govern groundwater pollution transmittance: depth to water, net recharge, aquifer media, soil media, topography, impact of vadose zone, hydraulic conductivity) to study the methods used in a recent examination of risk to groundwater from on-site wastewater management systems in Doña Ana County. The project was part of a joint effort with the Border Environment Cooperation Commission, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Border 2012 Program, NM WRRI, NMSU, and the Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez for the improvement of water resources and human health along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Results of the study have been published by the institute as NM WRRI Technical Completion Report 367. Walker and co-authors, Dr. Christopher Brown and Dr. Sam Fernald, located and mapped areas of high sensitivity to pollutants and cross referenced them with areas of high septic-system density. The highest pollution sensitivity values occurred within the Rio Grande floodplain, where low depth to water values, high amount of recharge from agriculture, high hydraulic conductivities, and relatively flat sand and gravel hydrogeology are located.

New Mexico State University graduate student Ian Hewitt stands near a portable chamber measurement device for evapotranspiration in El Rito, NM

Graduate Student Research to Improve Measurement of Water Fluxes in Northern New Mexico 
by Ian Hewitt, NMSU Graduate Student

Research is currently underway in the acequias of three valleys including El Rito, Arroyo Hondo, and Alcalde in northern New Mexico. The three valleys are located in the vicinity of Taos, Espanola, and northeast of Abiqui Lake. For many years, acequia research has been conducted through various projects by New Mexico State University students working in conjunction with local residents. Acequias are of particular interest because they have existed in New Mexico for hundreds of years, as well as the community involvement in partitioning the water in a sustainable manner to produce the maximum benefit to the community.

As part of the current research this summer, five students from NMSU have been collecting data for hydrologic research. The students include PhD candidate Jose Juan Cruz-Chairez, MSc candidate Alejandro Lopez, and MSc candidate Ian Hewitt who are all enrolled in the Water Science and Management Program at NMSU. Aiding them are two BSc candidates studying wildlife ecology/fisheries ecology at NMSU who are Joshua Grant and Carl Thompson. Data that are being collected for research include streamflow, soil moisture, groundwater levels, and evapotranspiration (ET) data. Between two and four different techniques are being employed to acquire data for each of these hydrologic elements.

It is expected that useful products will be produced after this year’s field season is over and the data has been processed and analyzed. For example, grids of soil moisture measurements taken by Time Domain Reflectometry (TDR) will be processed into surfaces, or maps of relative soil moisture using a colored scale that will show the variability of soil moisture within 30mx30m or 15mx15m plots. The plots can then be compared quantitatively to analyze the differences in soil moisture within individual fields, selected land use types, and valleys. These will also be compared with gravimetric soil moisture measurements and continuous soil measurements from sensors buried in each field. The ET that is being collected will be compared with results produced by the Simplified Surface Energy Balance (SSEB) model that is currently being employed by the USGS to acquire estimates of ET using satellite imagery. The model is thought to have issues in New Mexico with our highly variable land cover and highly reflective soils. It is expected that portable chamber measurements of ET will help highlight areas or conditions that pose issues for the model in New Mexico. In turn, it is anticipated that this will be used later to help tune the model to work in our state. The flow measurement data and groundwater data will be analyzed to determine differences in flows by valleys and individual acequias as well as groundwater storage and deep percolation.

The current data combined with two previous sets of data will be used in the next two years to produce water budgets for the three valleys. Understanding the hydrology of these valleys and how the community sustainably uses their water resources should provide valuable tools in the future for aiding water management in irrigated areas of northern New Mexico.

The research is supported by the State of New Mexico and the National Science Foundation as well as the New Mexico Agricultural Experiment Station.

New Mexico State University chemical engineering student Joshua Gomez is working on water research projects to help the residents of Palomas, Mexico, and astronauts on the International Space Station. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

NMSU Chemical Engineering Student’s Research Helps Provide Clean Water in Palomas, Mexico
by Tiffany Acosta, NMSU University Communications and Marketing Services

As a young boy, Joshua Gomez always dreamed of being a scientist. Watching programs on the Discovery Channel about Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison fueled his drive. As an undergraduate student, the El Paso, Texas, native is making that dream a reality at New Mexico State University

“I’ve always wanted to discover something, invent something, that’s what I’ve always wanted to do,” said Gomez, who is a New Mexico Alliance for Minority Participation student.

Gomez believed he would major in chemistry, but a conversation with a Montwood High School teacher sparked a new idea. “My high school chemistry teacher told me about chemical engineering and what they do, and I thought it sounded really interesting,” he said. “I went for it in my first semester at NMSU, and I fell in love with chemical engineering.”

And in less than two years at NMSU, Gomez is assisting with research projects. In spring 2014, Gomez began working with Shuguang Deng, chemical engineering professor, and Erin Ward, with the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute, on a project to develop a filter that removes arsenic and fluoride from the water in Palomas, Mexico.

“Not only did we develop this filter, but we showed teachers and community members how to make the filter themselves and acquire the materials, and that way they can maintain it so when we are gone, the project doesn’t just end. They are continuing to work on it,” Gomez said.

Though Gomez was a freshman at the beginning of the project, Deng wasn’t apprehensive about his youth. “He has a strong motivation,” Deng noted. “I think that’s very rare at such a young age, and he’s very determined. I think he has the ambition to publish a journal paper based on his research. As an undergraduate student, that’s not very easy, because he will be the main author.”

Gomez already has experience sharing the water filter project with a wide audience as he presented at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers annual meeting in November 2014 in Atlanta.

While Gomez mentioned he couldn’t have imagined working on a research project in his first year at NMSU, the results were gratifying. “Seeing your work transcend and affect a whole community, it’s really motivating that you can have that effect on people,” Gomez said. “After seeing that, that’s what I want to strive for continuously.”

NM WRRI Launches Redesigned Website
by Catherine Ortega Klett, Program Manager

The institute’s website has a new look! NMSU Computer Science master’s student, Sofia Fatima, and WRRI staff member, Peggy Risner, have been very busy the last few months redesigning the website to make it a top quality site with useful and easy to find information. Visitors to the website will find upcoming events, information on faculty and student grant opportunities, institute-produced reports, and background to the institute’s programs.

A new and exciting website feature is a link to the recently initiated Statewide Water Assessment. Funds were provided in FY 15 and FY 16 by the New Mexico Legislature to develop the first ever frequently updated, spatially representative assessment of the water budget for the entire state of New Mexico. The first version of the Dynamic Statewide Water Budget model is now downloadable from the website. This version of the model enables users to view historic water budget information from 1975-2010 for seven major river basins in New Mexico as well as the state as a whole. The model allows for user inputs on start and stop times so that mass balance information can be calculated for different periods of time. Users are also able to view time series information for the mass balance fluxes, as well as water use for nine water use categories. Future versions of the model aim to include scenario based simulations that can be used as a tool for planners and scientists to better manage our water resources.

In addition to the Dynamic Statewide Water Budget, monthly precipitation imagery for the past 30 years by hydrologic unit, county, and planning regions will also be available for download. The website also contains project reports from the other researchers and cooperators on this statewide effort.

Please look at our new website and let us know what you think Your feedback is always helpful.

Copyright © 2015 New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute, All rights reserved.
eNews design by Peggy S. Risner


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