by George Zamora

SANTA FE, N.M., Jan. 28, 2004 – The New Mexico State Legislature is considering a bill this current session that would provide matching funding for a proposed National Science Foundation (NSF) research program that will focus on the management of the state’s water resources.

If passed, House Bill 134, introduced by State Representative Danice Picraux, will appropriate $1.5 million in state funding to provide a 50 percent match for a possible $3 million NSF grant to be administered through the federal agency’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR).

A similar bill introduced in the State Senate is being sponsored by State Senator Manny Aragon.

As proposed, the EPSCoR hydrology project would be a three-year collaborative effort among New Mexico’s three research universities to develop remote sensing technologies and methods — such as satellite imaging — to better evaluate the volume of surface water and groundwater throughout the state that is typically lost to the atmosphere through evaporation.

Under the terms of the pending legislation, New Mexico Tech, one of state’s three research universities, also would serve as the primary fiscal agent for the proposed research project.

In addition, scientists from all the other state universities, as well as from Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories, are expected to become involved with various technical aspects of the research project.

“Clearly, one of the most serious challenges facing New Mexico is this current drought situation and the long-term sustainability of our water supply,” says State Representative Picraux.

“The EPSCoR program conducts the scientific research that helps us understand the quantity and makeup of our surface water and groundwater, and how it influences our ecosystem,” Picraux explains. “EPSCoR provides the concrete, scientific data we need to make smart water management decisions. . . . In addition, EPSCoR maximizes our intellectual and scientific resources through collaboration and sharing of information between our universities and our local, state, and federal agencies.”

If state and federal funding is obtained for the hydrology project, researchers hope to improve current hydrologic models by integrating land-based and remotely sensed data, particularly in regard to evapotranspiration and surface water/ groundwater interactions — critical study areas identified in the master water plan recently developed for the State of New Mexico.

In the initial stages of the research project, the study will focus on the Middle Rio Grande corridor, the river region from Cochiti Lake to Elephant Butte Reservoir.

“One of the target goals of this proposed research project is to be able to provide daily maps of the evapotranspiration that occurs along the Rio Grande, from both agricultural crops and natural riparian vegetation,” says Robert S. Bowman, professor of hydrology at New Mexico Tech and coordinator of the university’s hydrology program.

“The ability to retrieve such up-to-date information from a website would be of great benefit not only to the Office of the State Engineer, but also to others who are involved with making decisions related to such things as irrigating crops, or managing reservoirs, or posting levels of fire danger,” Bowman adds.

“The database developed from a hydrology project such as this could become a very valuable product for a variety of users,” he says.