Writer: Audrey Olmsted
New Mexico State University has partnered with the Bureau of Reclamation on a $5 million cooperative agreement to develop technologies that will provide the citizens of New Mexico and the southwestern region with more affordable, potable water.
“One of the critical parameters for the growth and sustainability of communities is water,” said Abbas Ghassemi, director of NMSU’s Institute for Energy and the Environment (IEE) and WERC, a NMSU-based consortium for Environmental Education and Research. “Without water, we would not be able to maintain our standard of life, we would not be able to feed ourselves, and we would not be able to have energy. Water is the most vital resource we have.”
Through the agreement, NMSU and the bureau will conduct advanced water treatment research at the Brackish Groundwater National Desalination Research Facility in Alamogordo, using the facility as a laboratory to study research, demonstration, education and outreach opportunities with brackish and impaired water.
Brackish water is salty, but without the same amount of salinity as ocean water. For example, ocean water may have a total dissolved solids measurement (TDS) between 35,000 and 40,000 milligrams per liter, whereas inland areas, like the Tularosa Basin, may have a TDS between 1,500 to 4,000 milligrams per liter.
In recent years, the Bureau of Reclamation has been expanding the search to augment water resources for the Southwest and desalination opportunities inland.
Ghassemi, who is the principal investigator with NMSU on the agreement, said former U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici and U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman charged the Bureau of Reclamation to develop a national research facility that would develop and demonstrate novel and affordable technologies to ensure water resource availability by utilizing inland water desalination. Areas like the Tularosa Basin are ideal sources of brackish water.
Through the agreement, NMSU and the bureau will look at new technologies that are cost effective, easy to deploy, have low maintenance, and are reliable. The team is gearing the research toward small communities and rural areas to give all New Mexicans a chance to maintain their way of life and not feel forced to move to areas with more resources, Ghassemi said.
NMSU and the Bureau of Reclamation will also look at challenges posed by brackish water such as developing pre-treatment and treatment technologies, the evaluation of renewable energy, technically and economically sound concentrate management, sustainable water and environmental awareness.
Ghassemi said they want to provide outreach to the communities and keep them informed about the progress of work associated with the agreement. Another goal, he said, is to offer formal and informal classes to students at NMSU in order to educate and train them in water-related degrees so they may continue the work being laid down through this cooperative agreement.
Ghassemi said that with the help of his collaborators M. Karl Wood, director of NMSU’s Water Research Resource Institute, and James Loya and Karen Mikel, both project managers for WERC, the project has picked up momentum and is moving forward.
“We really have a lot of depth and breadth in water research, water education, water policy and water issues. This grant will culminate all of that together and put New Mexico State University at the center of inland water research as related to brackish water,” Ghassemi said. “A lot of universities claim that they are national centers, but they don’t have that national facility. NMSU will have that national presence working with the agencies charged with water augmentation.”