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Recent & Active Research — Hydrogeology

Adequate water resources are vital to New Mexico. We have worked on hydrogeologic studies throughout the state. These are some of our projects.

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The current and recent research projects shown below are listed in random order.
Hydrogeologic Study of the Plains of San Agustin and the Alamosa Creek Valley
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Since 2007, the sparsely populated San Agustin Plains has been a controversial basin: a company applied for a permit to pump 54,000 acre-feet per year and to pipe that water to a region outside of the Plains. In 2009, the neighboring watershed to the south, Alamosa Creek — the only perennial stream in the region — faced similar pressure with a mining company exploring for beryllium. In response to these pressures and questions about the hydrogeology of this area, the NM Bureau of Geology began an integrated geologic and hydrologic study of the basins in 2009.

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Statewide Water Assessment: Groundwater Levels and Storage Changes
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Changes in water levels can reflect very relevant water issues in the arid southwest, such as depletion of the aquifer, variations in nearby surface water, fluctuations in recharge, and changes in the groundwater storage. For this study, we are compiling water level data, in an effort to begin development of a statewide water level change contour map.

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Estimating Groundwater Recharge for the Entire State of New Mexico
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Groundwater is replenished by a process called recharge, where snowmelt and rain infiltrates through the soil and slowly moves through the subsurface to eventually reach an aquifer. Because groundwater recharge defines a limit for the availability of groundwater, estimating recharge for the state of New Mexico is necessary for effective water resource management.

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Animas River Valley - Long Term Groundwater Monitoring
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Our agency has been collaborating with the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) on a hydrogeology study along the Animas River in New Mexico in response to the Gold King Mine spill, which occurred in August 2015. The water released from the spill was loaded with dissolved metals and contaminated sediments, which posed a possible risk to groundwater quality in the Animas Valley.

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Mapping suitability for Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR) in the Albuquerque Basin
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An aquifer can be considered like a bank account. The deposits or credits typically consist of natural recharge adding water to the aquifer (like precipitation or river water seeping into the ground and reaching the groundwater table). Withdrawals take water out of the aquifer, and can include discharge into rivers or pumping of wells. Most cities are concerned with the withdrawal side of the equation and hope nature takes care of the deposits. But Albuquerque has undertaken the progressive measure of inputting additional recharge (deposits) now so there will be sufficient water for future withdrawals, something called managed aquifer recharge (MAR). To that end, the Albuquerque and Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority (ABCWUA) has recently completed a well for deep injection of excess river water into the aquifer, and is currently running surface water down the upper part of Bear Canyon Arroyo for near-surface recharge.

The work is funded by the ABCWUA and conducted by Dan Koning (P.I.), Colin Cikoski, Andy Jochems, and Alex Rinehart (now at NMT EES). The results have been released as Open-file Report 605 and as a summary Fact Sheet.

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The Collaborative Groundwater Monitoring Network
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The Aquifer Mapping Program at New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources (NMBGMR), with funding from Healy Foundation, is developing a statewide Collaborative Groundwater Monitoring Network for New Mexico. This voluntary Network will gather new and existing data on groundwater levels to help us understand how our state's groundwater resources are changing through time, promote increased awareness of water issues around New Mexico, and provide an important foundation for making informed water-management decisions.

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Mimbres Basin Hydrogeology
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The NMBGMR is beginning a new hydrogeology study of the Mimbres basin in January 2020. The initial phase of this project is an intensive campaign of water-level measurements in wells across the basin. These measurements are a continuation of a groundwater-level measurement program that began in 1910 with data recorded annually, bi-annually, or every 5 years. However, there has been no data collected in this region since 2012. We will be revisiting the wells that were last measured in 2012. The new water-level measurements will be used to create a new water table map of the basin and to assess changes in water levels through time.

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Hydrologic Assessment of the Salt Basin Region in New Mexico and Texas
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The NM Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources is working with faculty and students at New Mexico Tech, as well as researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey, on a hydrogeologic assessment of the Salt Basin region. Our research project will evaluate the water availability by 1) filling data gaps, where there is currently little or no information about the groundwater system; 2) estimating the overall balance of water in the region including groundwater recharge, storage, evaporation and pumping; 3) updating the current hydrologic model and hydrogeologic framework; and 4) running simulations in the revised model. These efforts will help assess the ability of the region to sustain current groundwater withdrawals in the Salt Basin with implications for future development in New Mexico.

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Geology of the Engle and Palomas Basins, Sierra County, New Mexico
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Geologists and hydrologists have been interested in basin-fill sediments of the Engle and Palomas Basins in Sierra County since the early 1900s. These Rio Grande rift basins contain packages of sediment shed from the surrounding uplifts over the last ~27,000,000 years. Well logs indicate that these basin-fill deposits, named the Santa Fe Group, are as much as 2 kilometers thick in places.

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Snowy River Passage, Ft. Stanton Cave

The main objective of this study is to examine hydrogeologic processes in Snowy River Passage by analysis of individual flood events. For a specific flood event, we will measure:

  1. The volume of water that infiltrates downward through the Snowy River streambed
  2. The volume of water that evaporates from the Snowy River stream
  3. The volume of water that discharges at Government Spring

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Development of 3D Aquifer Maps
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It is surprising that New Mexico does not have a detailed map of all of the productive and accessible aquifers across the state. In a state with as little as 0.24% of our land surface covered with water (the least in the country!), having detailed maps of our groundwater resources and aquifers, is essential. Some of our neighboring states, like Texas and Colorado, have these maps already available, and are successfully being used to administer and conserve water. We have started a new multi-year project to develop 3D maps of aquifers.

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