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NMT Signs Agreement with Navajo Tech to Deploy Water Purification Systems, Bureau to Partner on Project

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Pictured are (from left) Steve Grey, Executive Committee Chair of the Four-Corners Economic Development Corp.; Dr. Stephen G. Wells, New Mexico Tech President; Dr. Elmer Guy, Navajo Technical University President, and Dr. Robert Balch, Director of NMT's Petroleum Recovery Research Center.

Crownpoint, NM
— October 7, 2020

New Mexico Tech and Navajo Technological University signed an historic Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Tuesday, Sept. 22, to collaborate on a water purification system on the reservation, paving the way for future cooperative projects. The New Mexico Bureau of Geology will partner on the project, providing support for student training in groundwater sampling and analysis.

“We want to assist them with our expertise in hydrology, field work and groundwater monitoring,” said Laila Sturgis, Manager of the Bureau’s Aquifer Mapping Program and collaborator on the project.

NMT President Dr. Stephen Wells and NTU President Dr. Elmer Guy presided over the signing ceremony on the NTU campus in Crownpoint, along with NTU leaders and students, NMT administrators and scientists, and industry guests.

Wells said this new MOU will provide ample opportunities for professors and students at both institutions to advance water purification technology.

“The Navajo Tech students have a lot they could teach us about water resilience and new ways to look at water management. We’re excited about this cooperative learning experience,” said Sturgis.

The memorandum specifically addresses a collaborative project to implement water purification technology developed at the Petroleum Recovery Research Center (PRRC) at New Mexico Tech.

Geochemist Bonnie Frey will co-lead the Bureau’s component of the project. Laboratory analysis of samples collected by Navajo Tech students in the field will be analyzed at the Bureau’s Analytical Chemistry Laboratory.

“COVID permitting, students might come down here for a day and just see how lab operations work and maybe have some hands-on work,” said Frey. The samples will be analyzed for major salts and trace metals, such as uranium.

While the new water filtration technology was developed for deployment in the oilfields, the purification units will help Navajo communities with clean water for human and livestock consumption.

NTU President Dr. Elmer Guy said the pandemic has shed new light on the lack of available clean water on the Navajo Reservation and other Native American communities in the Southwest.

“If you have clean water, you’re helping the fight against the virus,” Dr. Guy said. “Also, with the pandemic, there are things we can learn from each other about safety measures.”

Dr. Robert Balch, director of the PRRC, said NMT has partnered with a Farmington company to build the purification units using hollow membrane fibers developed and manufactured in Socorro. NMT will donate six water purification systems to rural communities in New Mexico.

“We have commercial development for a produced-water purification system,” Balch said. “But it can purify water of any type. This does have a joint purpose of approving the technology for domestic use, but it’s also the right thing to do.”

Dr. Guy said the implementation of filtration systems will provide opportunities for NTU students and faculty to learn about water standards, system maintenance, and water chemistry, as well as how to collect, analyze, and test samples. He also sees opportunities for expanded collaborations.

“I'm very happy about the opportunity to collaborate on water studies with students and faculty at Navajo Technical University, as well as with researchers at the PRRC,” said Bureau Director and State Geologist Dr. Nelia Dunbar. “We were honored to have the opportunity to visit NTU for the signing ceremony, and, once we develop our joint research projects, I'm looking forward welcoming our NTU collaborators to New Mexico Tech, and showing them the great research facilities we have at the Bureau.”