New Mexico Water eNews


March 2016

NMHU Master’s student Grant Eyster (top) collects water quality data along the Gallinas
River. He is assisted by undergraduate Son Tran.

NM Highlands University Grad Student Studying Gallinas River Quality Within City Limits of Las Vegas, New Mexico
by Catherine Ortega Klett, Program Manager

The Gallinas River, a tributary of the Pecos River originating in the Santa Fe National Forest northwest of Las Vegas, New Mexico, is the primary source of drinking water for the city of Las Vegas. In addition, the City of Las Vegas views the river as a potential economic source if restored to an ecologically functioning state and developed into a parkway/river walk. Various studies have been conducted determining the health of the Gallinas in the upper watershed and below the City. However, the health of the system within the City limits (most urbanized section) is unknown. Grant Eyster, a Master's student in Highlands’ Department of Natural Resource Management, in collaboration with his Faculty Advisor Dr. Edward Martinez, is conducting a baseline stream health study of a reach of the Gallinas within the City limits, using chemical, biological and physical measures.

This study is assessing the health of the river with respect to four aspects, namely water quality, the state of the adjacent wetland riparian vegetation, morphological changes such as erosion of the streambed (incision) and channelization, and the robustness and diversity of the local aquatic invertebrates. Measurements are being taken at four sites within the city limits. Water samples taken weekly are being analyzed for concentrations of coliforms, total suspended solids, alkalinity, nitrite, nitrate, and phosphate. Physicochemical properties, such as temperature, dissolved oxygen, turbidity, specific conductivity, and pH are also being measured. Also at each site, the morphological characteristics of the river such as sinuosity, bank-full discharge, incision, channelization and width-depth ratio are being measured. The riparian health assessment of each site is being conducted following the protocol of the New Mexico Rapid Assessment Method (NMRAM). Finally, macroinvertebrates are collected for bioassessment at each of the sites following the methodology of the U.S. Environment Protection Agency.

This close look at the Gallinas River within the city limits will serve as a baseline assessment of the physical, chemical, and biological health of the system. Areas that are shown to be ecologically sound and productive may be identified for protection, and areas that are in poor aquatic health may be identified for improvement during the restoration efforts by the City. Results of the aquatic assessment will thus lead to steps taken by the City in order to lessen the urban impact on the river, and help transform the river into a source of pride and economic growth as well as a focal point of the City’s urban planning going forward.

Dr. Martinez commented, “Although the Gallinas is a block away from NMHU and there have been many studies of the Upper Gallinas and some in the Lower reach, no one has really studied the health of the system within the City limits until now. The information gathered by Grant’s study will inform the river revitalization project that the City, along with local watershed groups, is taking on to increase the use and function of the Gallinas within the City limits.”

This study could also serve as a starting point for local government entities and interested citizen groups in Las Vegas and greater San Miguel County to collaborate in implementing best management practices within the Gallinas Watershed. Additionally, this study can also be used to determine the effectiveness of the restoration strategies implemented by the City for this stretch of the Gallinas. Ultimately, the study may also serve as a model for other small-to-medium-sized cities working to improve water and ecosystem health in culturally and scientifically important water systems.

Grant Eyster, a recipient of an NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant for this project, recently said, “Studying the urban effects on a river highly utilized and interacted with by the community of Las Vegas is exciting to me, as I am able to use the information I gather to inform the city and interested community members about the current health of the river. Seeing restoration efforts of the river begin in the future will make me proud to see that my work is having an impact in the real world."

Grant’s final report on this project will be posted on the NM WRRI website in July.

Treated produced water storage pond. This water was treated to a level specified by the client and will be reused in hydraulic fracturing.

Update – Produced Water as a Resource in Southeastern
New Mexico

by Bob Sabie, NM Water Resources Research Institute

In January 2016, the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (WRRI) started a six-month project in Lea and Eddy Counties focused on produced water and its potential as an alternative to fresh water resources. The goal of this project is to provide decision makers with improved information on produced water in Southeastern New Mexico. This includes information on quality and volumes, as well as information on the regulatory framework, treatment technologies and costs, and potential uses outside of the oil and gas industry.

The need to examine non-traditional water sources such as produced water is due to the limited supply of both surface and groundwater in Southeastern New Mexico and because there is a considerable volume of produced water being reinjected into disposal wells. Drought and growing demand for water has added additional stress to local water systems. Agriculture, potash mining, and oil and gas consume large quantities of fresh water. Water quality thresholds for these uses are often less than that of municipal drinking water. Thus, the question arises of whether produced water can be economically treated to a level that meets threshold requirements for some of the largest non-municipal consumers. If so, the volumes of freshwater used by these consumers can be offset, extending the life of freshwater aquifers used for drinking water.

In the short time since the project began, the research group has made great progress in achieving the project goals. In January, the research team met with community members at both the Lea and Eddy County Extension Offices. The attendees provided the team with information on similar studies conducted in 2003 and illustrated some of the known challenges for using produced water within their communities. Nearly 4,000 water quality data points have been added to a produced water quality database. The addition of these data improves the understanding of the spatial distribution of Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) by location and formation. TDS information can be used to better estimate the economic feasibility of treating the water for particular purposes using a decision support tool.

Treatment technologies are available to clean produced water and are being utilized in some states such as California; in New Mexico, regulations have not yet been established to use reclaimed produced water outside of the oil and gas industry. The result is that produced water in New Mexico has three potential fates: 1) injection into a deep disposal well; 2) evaporation from a lined evaporation pond; or, 3) treatment to a desired level and reused within the oil and gas industry. The regulatory issues of who owns the water, who is liable for the water, and who regulates the water after it is treated are still being addressed. The research group is holding meetings with state agencies and providing information from this project to assist further decision making regarding produced water.

Two rounds of community meetings have been held in Hobbs and Carlsbad since the beginning of the project, and there will be one more round of meetings in late May or early June. These meetings are open to the public and those interested in water planning are encouraged to attend. The meetings will be advertised in local newspapers and by the NMSU Extension Offices. If you would like to be updated on the produced water project, please contact Robert Sabie, Jr. at to get your email added to the email list.

NMSU doctoral student Sahar Qavi in the lab carrying out steps leading to the synthesis of nano-crystalline cellulose (NCC).

NMSU PhD Student Exploring the Use of High Tech Gels for Water Filtration
by Catherine Ortega Klett, Program Manager

Water pollution is a growing problem in many locations, including New Mexico. Different methods to deal with it, such as ultrafiltration and adsorption by granular activated carbon, have been employed to remove organic constituents and bacteria from water supplies. Membrane filtration generally requires some additional post-treatment steps such as chlorination and/or UV treatment to render it antibacterial for drinking water. But unfortunately, such conventional methods of water purification tend to be rather expensive to apply, and are therefore used primarily just in large cities.

Sahar Qavi, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering at NMSU, and her Faculty Advisor in the same Department, Dr. Reza Foudazi, propose using instead a nano-structured, chemically modified cellulose as the basis for the ultrafiltration of water. Nano-crystalline cellulose (NCC) can be obtained by acid hydrolysis of cellulose at moderate temperatures. It is comprised of highly crystalline and fairly rigid nano-fibrils that in the current study are found to be of the order of a few nanometers (a billionth of a meter) in diameter and about 100 nanometers in length. A further transformation of this material is carried out by chemically binding it with something called quaternary ammonium groups, which for anyone who still remembers a little chemistry is somewhat analogous to methylated ammonium ions. The result is a material with similar structure as NCC, but which also has antibacterial properties. In this sense the process is described as the functionalization of NCC with quaternary ammonium groups.

A further step in the synthesis of the final product is the addition of about two percent by mass of a cross-linker, followed by mechanical agitation of the aqueous solution until a gel-like suspension is formed. This is then freeze dried to produce the final aerogel form, in which the modified fibrils form an interconnected and extremely low density matrix consisting of about 95 percent air. A schematic diagram illustrating key steps in the formation of aerogel is shown below. This ultralight material appears to have considerable potential for use as an inexpensive filter that can strain out even bacterial-sized particles from water.

Schematic representation of aerogel formation

Given that ordinary cellulose is known to be very reactive with water, one might worry initially that such an aerogel might readily collapse in on itself when subjected to the flow of water through it. This is not a valid concern, however, since the process of hydrolyzing the cellulose makes the resulting NCC rather impervious to the effects of water, and this desirable property is retained also after the functionalization of NCC with quaternary ammonium groups. It is therefore expected that the aerogel in this proposed application will retain enough stiffness and flexibility to pass the test of mechanical stability quite satisfactorily.

It also appears that the aerogel would provide a low-cost approach to water filtration, since cellulose is one of the most abundant materials in nature, and on top of that, the aerogel is more than 90 percent air. Of course, it's not always the case that cheap ingredients guarantee an inexpensive final product. The counter example that always comes to mind is that of the lowly lump of coal, which in principle can be converted to a diamond by applying suitable (extreme) levels of temperature and pressure. So the transforming processes matter, too. But in this case, in spite of the many rather involved steps leading to the aerogel, which involve the use of many reactants that are not inexpensive, as well as energy intensive steps such as centrifugation and freeze drying, it appears the overall production of the aerogel would be economical, especially when scaled up for mass production.

In short, this research appears to have considerable potential for commercialization. In the near-term, it is hoped that local municipalities as well as water agencies may benefit from the results of this research. The published results will be made available to researchers and others interested in the potential of antibacterial materials synthesis at low cost. Ultimately, of course, we hope the benefits of this approach to mitigating water pollution may lead to its application all around the world. It will be an interesting story to follow.

As a recipient of an NM WRRI Student Research Grant, Sahar Qavi’s final report on the project will be posted on the institute’s website this summer.

March 2016

Doing Hydrology Backwards in New Mexico to Estimate a Statewide Water Budget
WRRI Technical Completion Report No. 371
Cameron Herrington
Ricardo González-Pinzón
     A view of the East Fork Jemez River as it runs through the Valles Grande toward Hidden Valley in the
    Valles Caldera National Preserve. Photo by Cameron Herrington.

New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute
New Mexico State University
MSC 3167, P.O. Box 30001
Las Cruces, New Mexico 88003-8001
(575) 646-4337 email:



NM WRRI has published Technical Completion Report 371 by UNM graduate student Cameron Herrington and UNM Assistant Professor.

University of New Mexico Researchers Model Precipitation and Evapotranspiration
by Ricardo González-Pinzón, UNM

Accurate statewide water budgets are dependent on the quality, quantity and availability of measured information in catchments. Given typical data acquisition constraints, water budgets rely on the measurement of a limited number of water fluxes (e.g., precipitation and streamflow) and on modeling tools that allow for estimation and scaling of other relevant, unmeasured fluxes.

In our study, we used a parsimonious modeling technique (Doing Hydrology Backward (DHB) from Kirchner (2009)) that utilizes discharge data alone to estimate catchment-averaged precipitation and evapotranspiration rates in New Mexico. Discharge fluctuations were analyzed for three New Mexico basins: Canadian River, Rio Grande, and the Pecos River. We developed an open source MATLAB code capable of estimating catchment-average precipitation and evapotranspiration rates.

We successfully validated the code using the original data presented by Kirchner (2009). Despite providing accurate estimates of hydrologic processes in humid catchments, the standard DHB model did not accurately represent precipitation rates observed in three dryland basins in New Mexico. As it is, the DHB code that we developed in MATLAB will be useful in humid catchments. However, it requires the addition and validation of snowmelt terms before it can be used in our characteristic New Mexico dryland basins.

The study was funded by the NM WRRI. To view the final report click here.

NM WRRI staff are shown on the steps of the New Mexico Rotunda when they visited the 2016 New Mexico Legislative Session to support HB 78. First row from left, Jesslyn Ratliff, Catherine Ortega Klett, Patrick Natoni; second row from left, Ian Hewitt, Sam Fernald, Fernando Herrera, and Blane Sanchez

NM WRRI Receives Legislative Support for Core Programs
and Special Projects

by Sam Fernald, Director

NM WRRI extends heartfelt thanks to the New Mexico Legislature, the New Mexico Attorney General, and many supporters for the various efforts that resulted in Fiscal Year 2017 funding for NM WRRI. House Bill 78, introduced by Representative Bill McCamley, was heard before the House Agriculture, Water & Wildlife Committee on January 27 and passed with unanimous support. Ultimately, in a very tight budget year, the NM WRRI Research and Public Service Project funding was cut by 2.44% (-$15,100) for a final approved FY17 budget of $604,200. The recurring funding will support operations of NM WRRI and water research throughout the state including faculty and student grants to NM universities. In addition to the competitive research grants and ongoing programs, a special focus will be a more precise measurement of vegetation water use with remote sensing technology. In a demonstration of commitment to water issues, the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General, with funds from the Consumer Settlement Fund, authorized $500,000 in one-time funding of NM WRRI special projects. The one-time funding will in large part support the development of the Statewide Water Assessment with NM universities and agencies, an effort begun two years ago that will provide a powerful planning tool for managing New Mexico’s water resources.

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