Pairing Groundwater and Climate Data to Inform Sustainable Ranch Management in Uncertain Times

Final report for OW18-034

Project Type: Professional + Producer
Funds awarded in 2018: $49,995.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2021
Grant Recipient: New Mexico State University
Region: Western
State: New Mexico
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Rossana Sallenave
New Mexico State University
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Project Information

Abstract:

Ranchers and farmers in northeastern New Mexico have been, and will continue, to face urgent challenges related to uncertain groundwater supplies and frequent drought. The overarching research question being pursued through this partnership is: How can groundwater and weather data be used to inform land managers that are faced with making critical decisions that influence long-term sustainability and operational profitability? The economic and ecological viability of ranch businesses is inherently tied to long-term water availability, but previous research has shown that many aquifers in northeastern NM are not recharging. Furthermore, drought is a persistent threat to short- and long-term forage supplies. In an effort to better understand the local hydrologic cycle, this project is allowing the member ranches of the Alliance to continue participating in the collection of essential scientific data, provide the resources necessary for our science team to facilitate comprehensive analysis of groundwater and weather data, and support the development of a producer-oriented, web-based data access platform. This report summarizes the progress we have made towards our goals and objectives since April 1, 2018

Project Objectives:

The following objectives will support our goals of, 1) expanding key hydrological and climate data collection, 2) developing a tool that provides land and livestock managers with easy access to this data, and 3) integrating this data into management decision-making to improve farm and ranch sustainability:

1. Develop a clear picture of local water table dynamics on producer lands: Continue measuring static water levels; Integrate existing water level monitoring and supplemental high resolution measurements to capture daily fluctuations; Integrate subsurface hydrogeology data with regional geologic mapping to create educational materials.

2. Compile, analyze, and expand on climate data collection efforts from Decagon weather stations installed on participating producers’ lands: Provide summaries of local and regional climate data for individual properties as well as the region relevant to drought planning and grazing management; Integrate climate and groundwater data for development of comprehensive water resource management materials.

3. Develop, test, and refine a web-based tool for data input, management, visualization and communication: Customize and field test features and functions to meet producer needs; Develop animations/visualizations capable of conveying complex data relationships for application in land and livestock decision-making.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Victoria Blumenberg (Educator and Researcher)
  • Dr. Joseph Zebrowski (Researcher)

Research

Materials and methods:

HPGA Mapping for Monitoring Location Selection: We worked closely with the landowners to determine locations for both monitoring transects and sites for the installation of weather stations. The landowners provided us with property boundaries and potential locations for monitoring based on their management concerns. We took this information, imported the boundaries into GIS software, and developed maps of each property to further inform the site selection process. For each property, we created multiple maps that displayed characteristics of interest for the selection of monitoring locations. We provided each landowner with a map of digital imagery (NAIP), soil map units, ecological sites, and combinations of each. These maps were then used in discussions with each manager to finalize the choice of monitoring locations that would best fit with each property’s management objectives. By using both the input from each manager and the additional information from our mapping, the monitoring strategy on each property was tailored to concerns specific to each property and their management. (see Appendix Figures A1-A3 for maps of participating ranches, monitoring locations on the participating ranches, and an example map provided to one producers to help identify monitoring locations). AppendixFigures

Hydrogeological data collection and analysis: Static water levels were measured biannually in the summer and winter at 27+ wells in the Mora-Wagon Mound Soil & Water Conservation District, to capture maximum and minimum drawdown on local water tables. Water levels were measured with a steel tape following USGS standards and hydrographs were compiled for each well showing changes in the local water table over the course of the project. Eight water level continuous monitoring loggers were installed to capture high-resolution fluctuations in local water tables. HOBO water level loggers were installed in wells with different depths to water in order to capture a high-resolution record of water table fluctuations in shallow and deeper aquifer systems. Existing data sets for the surrounding area include water chemistry, trace metal chemistry, radiocarbon and tritium isotopic information, oxygen and hydrogen stable isotopes, and geologic maps and cross-sections. 

In support of this objective, we were able to initiate a new graduate student led project in 2019 assessing seasonal precipitation isotopes patterns for subsequent characterizations of seasonal inputs to groundwater recharge. Precipitation was collected from 10 locations throughout northeastern NM monthly from March 2019-March 2020 and were analyzed for δ18O. 

Climate data collection and analysis: Work on existing weather stations and new weather station installation was initiated in Summer 2018 and Spring 2019. New stations are being funded through alternative means, which facilitated one new station in 2018 and four new stations installed in Spring, 2019. All stations will be calibrated and we will train producers to address problems with sensors and download data from their weather stations. Throughout the project we will analyze weather station data to look at variability in the region in addition to interpreting the site specific weather data with the local soils and land potential using LandPKS to assess soil available water holding capacity and runoff potential.

Short-term and long-term monitoring: Following identification of monitoring locations we established 50-meter transects to conduct soil and plant community monitoring using standard USDA monitoring methods. Two long-term monitoring transects were established on each property. Measurements taken on these transects include line-point intercept, the size and abundance of canopy and basal gaps, visual obstruction, and a belt transect to determine density of shrubs. Photo monitoring of the transects was done with the GrassSnap mobile application (University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension). Additional assessments at each transect location included rangeland health, and elements of site potential were evaluated using the LandInfo module of the LandPKS mobile application. The LandPKS mobile application calculated the available water capacity (AWC) for the sites. AWC is an integrative variable that is determined through several physical soil characteristics and provides a metric to characterize relatively static components of site potential inherent to a given location. In association with each transect we established 4 exclosures for monitoring annual productivity.

Web portal for data visualizations: Linking historical climate data and drought is one of the more important adaptive management practices. We have been working with the producers associated with this project and the HPGA over the last several years to develop a user-friendly tool to visualize their weather and climate data. Although the producers we are working with recognize the necessity to consult with local and regional scientists and extension personnel to better understand data interpretation, they desire site specific data at their fingertips to understand the patterns they are seeing and to make informed management decisions. What initially presented a formidable challenge was the desire to have some elements of the data publicly available and sensitive data private in a web-based format that is easy to use. To develop such a tool requires considerable programming and previous attempts resulted in products that were not user friendly and were deemed unacceptable by the producers.

Development of the Knowledge Portal: The High Plains Grasslands Alliance (HPGA) Knowledge Portal was a collaborative effort between the membership of the HPGA, New Mexico State University, and New Mexico Highlands University. The Portal uses ESRI's proven, "off-the-shelf" commercial web mapping platform, ArcGIS Online, to share data collected by HPGA partners as well as data from other trusted government and academic sources. The Knowledge Portal provides a secure, online platform that allows members to access private and public data relevant to decision-making (e.g. regional trends in precipitation). Further, the portal directly connects members with the Alliance’s “science team” – NMSU, NMHU, and Zeigler Geologic Consulting – to help answer questions, consider management alternatives, and provide general support with data interpretation. 

Students under the direction of Mr. Joe Zebrowski, NMHU’s Director of Geospatial Technology, refined the design of the portal’s interface, integrated additional map layers, and assisted with the creation and loading of custom datasets being developed by HPGA partners. Students under the direction of Dr. Amy Ganguli, formerly the Associate Professor of Range Science at New Mexico State University, compiled existing datasets and, where appropriate, developed new datasets to be hosted on the portal. Additional functions, such as query and report generation are being evaluated for inclusion in the portal. The NMHU/NMSU team worked together to assess previously stated needs for the portal and survey members about the content and utility of the portal.

Research results and discussion:

Covid-19 impact

Over the last two years of this project, the Covid-19 pandemic had a strong impact on our field based activities and our ability to have in person meetings. During this time we were not able to collect groundwater samples or maintain weather stations, however a majority of the long-term monitoring was restored in late 2021. During this period we were only able to have one in person meeting in Fall 2021 and due to travel restrictions we shifted all other meetings and webinars to a virtual format.

Groundwater Monitoring

The groundwater monitoring component of this project was designed to support and integrate with ongoing efforts to track changes in static water levels in wells in Mora and Harding Counties. The communities and agricultural producers in northeastern New Mexico are almost entirely reliant on groundwater resources for domestic, livestock and farming use as there are few surface water resources in the region. Long-term monitoring in other parts of the region suggest that, overall, the aquifers utilized are declining with little potential for recharge. Data collected in this effort are short-term, and thus not yet interpretable, but suggestive of similar issues in the Mora-Harding area (Zeigler n.d.).

Geohydrology studies generally include the following datasets at a minimum: biannual static water level measurements, geochemical analyses, and geologic mapping. Geologic mapping and geochemical analyses, including isotopic information, provide the context for both groundwater quantity and quality in any given area. This information is then coupled with landowner observations of the behavior of their wells and this historical information can be incredibly important to understand long-term qualitative changes in aquifers in the region. The discussion that follows is based on regional datasets gathered as part of groundwater monitoring projects in northeastern New Mexico.

Geologic Context of Northeastern New Mexico

Geologic mapping in Union and Harding Counties to the northeast and east of this project area has yielded many interesting observations regarding the subsurface geometry of water-bearing rock units that are critical to this area. Potential aquifer units in the region and their general characteristics are listed in Table 1 (Rawling, 2013; Zeigler et al., 2019a, b; Phan et al. 2021). Geologic units exposed at the surface in northeastern New Mexico and observations of outcrops coupled with projections of these rock units below ground aid in our understanding of groundwater characteristics and behavior in the project area Figure 1.

Geologic mapping and development of cross-sections, which are extrapolations of the subsurface at depth based on observations of surface features, document complexities that effectively partition the region’s aquifer units into isolated “bathtubs”. The most prominent feature that drives this partitioning is ancient topography developed on various older landscapes through time that were subsequently filled in by a younger suite of deposits, resulting in rock units inset adjacent to one another. This results in wells that are geographically close to one another but produce radically different volumes of water and/or have significantly different chemical attributes. For example, producers in east-central Union County may have a well producing 15-30 gallons per minute (gpm) with somewhat salty water located less than a mile from an irrigation well that produced 300-500 gpm with high quality water, with both wells less than a mile from dry wells. Mapping in this area has documented the presence of paleo-ridgelines of the Jurassic Morrison Formation (moderate yield to no yield, mildly salty water) with deep paleovalleys on either side filled in with deposits of the high-capacity, high quality Ogallala Formation Figure 2. Documenting the geometry and orientation of the trend of these paleo-ridgelines has proven useful for producers attempting to drill new wells.

In Mora County, the geology changes significantly from east to west, transitioning from generally flat-lying deposits with the Dakota Sandstone as the primary aquifer, to extensively folded and faulted strata to the west, where older Permian rocks become the primary aquifer. The uplift of the modern Rocky Mountains brought these much older strata to the surface or shallow subsurface, and synchronous erosion stripped away the younger rock units. Local features such as the Turkey Mountains west of Watrous and Wagon Mound, or the fault-bounded Black Mesa, result in different rock units being located at different elevations. For example, the central Turkey Mountains are composed of fractured outcrops of Permian Glorieta Sandstone, but the flanks are entirely Cretaceous Dakota Sandstone. The fault-related uplift of Black Mesa places Cretaceous black shales, which are generally impermeable, adjacent to the older Dakota Sandstone.

The westernmost portion of the project area near Ocate, NM, includes exposures of some of the oldest rocks in the project area, the Permian Sangre de Cristo Formation, which is related to the development of the southern Rocky Mountains (Sangre de Cristo Range). The Sangre de Cristo Formation formed as part of alluvial fan systems built off the Ancestral Rocky Mountains and include a significant feldspar component, which has implications for water quality and soil chemistry in the area. In addition, the presence of numerous small volcanic vents and cinder cones that are part of the Ocate volcanic field create additional subsurface and surface complications. The volcanic features in northeastern New Mexico may not act as aquifers themselves given that lava flows cap high mesas and thus have no saturated thickness, but water migrating down through fractured basalt can incorporate important metals such as magnesium, iron and aluminum. In addition, fracture flow through basalt is a source for several springs in the region. Subsurface components of volcanic features, such as sills and dikes, can block groundwater flow paths, creating further partitioning of an already complicated subsurface. Understanding these complexities has assisted in developing a better understanding of the significant variability in the characteristics of individual wells, each of which is frequently drawing water from a different groundwater source than its neighbor.

Groundwater Quantity

Biannual static water level measurements (SLWs) provide valuable insight into water table behavior. In addition, geochemical data obtained through other contemporaneous groundwater-oriented projects in the area yield preliminary information about groundwater quality and recharge potential in the project area. For this project we performed static water level measurements in July 2018, December 2018, July 2019 and December 2019 Figure 3. Winter measurements are the most critical as this is the generally the time of year when there is the lowest utilization of groundwater resources. Cattle water consumption is lower and center pivot irrigation is dormant until the beginning of March when crop pre-planting irrigation begins. Thus, winter SLWs provide a baseline for the overall behavior of the water table and can be used to determine the medium and long-term trends for various aquifers. Summer SLWs provide insight into the impact of higher use when there is greater demand by both cattle and crops. The recovery or depletion of the water table at a given well from summer to winter is also important for determining how use impacts local aquifer units in both the short and long term. Two full years of SWLs are a valuable contribution to understanding aquifer behavior; however, two winter data points alone cannot be used to make declarations regarding water table behavior. Understanding of aquifer drawdown and recovery cannot be determined until multiple winter measurements have been obtained over multiple seasons and trends do not become interpretable until more than seven to ten years’ worth of observations have been obtained Figure 3.

Depth to water is a critical factor in water table behavior and potential for recharge. A general observation from nearly a decade of SWL monitoring in the region is that wells with a water table less than 50 feet below ground surface (bgs) can recharge if there is sufficient rain or snow over the course of previous years. Most of these wells are located adjacent to drainages in shallow alluvial deposits that are highly porous and permeable. Wells deeper than this are located away from drainages and draw from older, more cemented, compacted, and therefore less permeable bedrock aquifer units. These wells generally do not receive significant quantities of modern recharge. Recharge potential is determined by analyzing water samples for the presence or absence of the hydrogen isotope tritium. This isotope is naturally occurring in the upper atmosphere and is incorporated into precipitation. The presence of tritium in groundwater samples is an indication of recent rainfall or snow making its way into the groundwater system. Waters that entered the water table more than 50 to 60 years ago will have usually insignificant amounts of tritium.

The tritium isotope replaces the hydrogen atom in the water molecules in precipitation and is carried down into the aquifers during infiltration. However, there are barriers to this recharge migrating downward to the most-utilized bedrock aquifers. Some aquifers are separated from the surface by impermeable rock layers (generally shale or mudstone-dominated strata, referred to as aquitards), and modern precipitation simply cannot penetrate these horizons. In other cases, precipitation can migrate downwards, but its progress is so slow that the tritium decays away and is thus not measurable. Therefore, a deep groundwater source may recharge but the process is so slow (decades to centuries duration) that current agricultural water consumption is far greater than the replenishment of source water. The majority of the wells sampled for tritium isotopes in the region show little to no measurable tritium Table 2, indicating that depth to the water table coupled with subsurface barriers to infiltration lead to consumption overrunning recharge. In addition, tritium values reflect the prolonged drought in the region, with shallow aquifers having low tritium results that are effectively suppressed due to a lack of rain and/or snow.

Producer Response to Groundwater Data

An informal survey was conducted at the end of the project to assess how the participating producers think about groundwater after interacting with the groundwater team and the data produced in this and parallel studies. The survey was also used to shed some light on changes in operations and/or infrastructure that producers have made or plan to make considering this information. Four of the six producer partners responded to the survey. Of the various groundwater-related data sets provided to producers (static water level data, water chemistry, tritium, and/or geologic data regarding the aquifer(s) in use), the respondents indicated that both water level data and tritium data were most useful for decision-making for their operation with chemistry and geologic data less so.

When asked how they apply groundwater data-based information, none of them considered it for either pasture rotation schedules or the number of head per pasture, rather they consider it for adaptations in their infrastructure, for irrigation use (where applicable), and for watershed and rangeland restoration efforts. When asked how their operations have been altered following learning more about their groundwater resources, participants indicated that they had altered their pasture numbers to limit use of weaker wells and had adapted existing pipeline structure to accommodate multiple wells as input sources versus one well per pipeline segment. One participant noted that they have additionally reduced their non-essential domestic water use. Infrastructure changes included using pipeline systems and closed storage systems to reduce evaporation. One participant also indicated that they now are working to spread the use among multiple wells via pipeline systems versus relying on solely one or two wells per pasture.

All respondents stated that the groundwater data is being used for both short and long-term planning. From a broader perspective, participants indicated that they have altered how they think about groundwater resources, especially given information regarding how little recharge is entering the groundwater system, as well as the connection, or lack thereof, between surface water and precipitation events and the deeper, frequently more isolated, groundwater resources. In the face of ongoing and deepening drought conditions, the participants indicate that they have been monitoring herd numbers and changing the number and placement of drinkers to distribute grazing patterns to assist with recovery of rangeland and soil health. One participant noted that they recognize that they are more reliant on groundwater resources than in the past and “… it is imperative that we conserve the water that we have.”

As an additional example of producers utilizing groundwater resource data provided directly to them in a timely manner, farmers in the community of Sedan (Union County) altered crop management practices when their groundwater-related data was made available to them to the extent that the decline of the local Ogallala-based aquifer slowed from over ten feet/year to around one to two feet/year (Zeigler et al., 2019b). In addition, many ranchers now turn off wells in pastures after moving cattle out, rather than leaving them running for the use of wildlife. In this region many windmills have also been replaced with solar-powered pumps, with the addition of timers and float valves to manage well usage.

The SWL data obtained during this project, while of very short duration, are a critical component of these ongoing, local and regional long-term monitoring efforts. In addition, the opportunity to work closely with agricultural producers to learn more about local aquifers is invaluable. Historical observations regarding well behavior, including declining yield and changes in quality, are an important addition to data gathered as part of these big picture, long-term efforts. Providing critical information about groundwater resources to the stakeholders in real time allows the producers to make informed decisions about groundwater use and consider future options as many of the aquifers in use have limited lifetimes due to limited recharge. Participants in this project are already applying the knowledge gained through this work, and parallel projects in the region, in their operational management. Changes in infrastructure, such as pipeline systems and closed storage, allows producers to move water around the landscape while minimizing evaporation and reducing stress on weak and/or non-recharging wells. Consideration of the known groundwater resources, as well as the lack of recharge from surface water and/or precipitation, is providing producers with important information for both short-term decisions such as pasture usage patterns, as well as for long-term decisions in terms of both groundwater conservation and infrastructure investment. Although conclusions about local water table conditions cannot be derived from two years of information, this data will be a major contribution to continued efforts to fully understand the groundwater resources in the area and the lifetimes of these aquifers. In addition, providing this data to producers so that they can make timely and informed decisions about this precious resource is already proving to be key to short and long-term survival strategies.

Precipitation Study- Linkages between seasonal precipitation and groundwater recharge

To extend the utility of the groundwater information that was generated from this project and companion efforts, we expanded our work to assess isotopes of oxygen and hydrogen in precipitation in the area to quantify seasonal inputs to groundwater recharge. Our goal was to generate knowledge that will eventually allow us to highlight areas that have the greatest likelihood of being points of groundwater recharge, and to investigate any potential ancient waters that are present. This information is beneficial because the ability to quantify the amount of winter (or other seasonal) precipitation contributing to groundwater offers insight into how loss of winter precipitation may affect groundwater availability in the future, thereby allowing management teams to better prepare for the season ahead. The ability to pinpoint geographic areas with higher rates of recharge will help producers prioritize land management and restoration activities. For instance, if a recharge window occurs in an area that is being encroached upon by piñon-juniper trees (known for their high-water consumption), managers can take action to control this encroachment and protect that recharge process. Finally, a better understanding of groundwater recharge will help ranchers and farmers plan their water consumption for livestock and crop production on a seasonal and annual basis. Knowing which wells are associated with groundwater that has a higher or lower potential for recharge through time will be critical to the sustainability of ranches and farms in the region in the face of more frequent drought and climate variability. We found that the precipitation collected for this study is similar to groundwater throughout the study area, negating the presence of paleowater, which is defined as water older than 11,000 years. These data suggest that aquifers in the region have received recharge from more modern precipitation (< 11,000 years), as opposed to ancient precipitation. Further efforts are being made to connect these complex findings and additional data into management recommendations to promote recharge potential.

References

Anderson, O.J. and G.E. Jones. 2003. New Mexico Geologic Highway Map: New Mexico Geological Society and New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources OFR 408: scale 1:1,000,000.

Phan, V.A., K.E. Zeigler, and D.S Vinson. 2021. High Plains groundwater isotopic composition in northeastern New Mexico (USA): Relationship to recharge and hydrogeologic setting: Hydrogeology Journal, in press.

Rawling, G.C. 2013. Hydrogeology of east-central Union County, northeastern New Mexico: New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, Open-file Report 555.

Zeigler, K.E. n.d. Accessed on: December 15, 2021. Mora-Wagon Mound Hydrogeology Project.  https://zeiglergeo.com/mora-wagon-mound-hydrogeology-project.html.

Zeigler, K.E., F.B. Ramos, and M.J. Zimmerer. 2019a. Geology of northeastern New Mexico, Union and Colfax Counties, New Mexico: A geologic summary: New Mexico Geological Society Guidebook 70, p. 47-54.

Zeigler, K.E, B. Podzemny, A. Yuhas, and V. Blumenberg. 2019b. Groundwater resources of Union County, New Mexico: A progress report: New Mexico Geological Society Guidebook 70, p. 127-137.

Climate and Weather

One of the High Plains Grasslands Alliance’s main desires is to improve communication between local landowners and ranch managers regarding their shared landscape. This desire for more regional knowledge served as a driving force for developing a user-friendly tool that provides private landowners with the ability to visualize and make interpretations of current weather patterns they are experiencing on their property alongside long-term climate data within their region, especially now that they are facing challenges such as drought, temperature extremes, and flood events. This type of platform, which allows users to upload their own data into the same application that displays historical climate summaries, did not exist within the region.

To build a historical precipitation and temperature dataset we identified 75 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather stations across the state of New Mexico that provided enough daily data in order to make inferences about climate and weather patterns (30 + years). Data included: maximum atmospheric air temperature (°F), minimum temperature (°F), precipitation amount (in), snowfall (in), and snow depth (in). However, there were large gaps in the available data sets that inhibited the ability for further interpretation. Taylor searched further and discovered that those gaps could be filled using other data platforms that provided more data for those same weather stations. Data was first pulled from the Western Regional Climate Center (WRCC) website for daily weather data for that station’s entire period of record, and organized into an excel spreadsheet. The second website used was the Agriculture Applied Climate Information System (AgACIS), which provided daily data one month at a time. Gaps in data from the WRCC dataset were identified and replaced with complete data from AgACIS (if available). One final website that was utilized was the NOAA Cooperative Observations (COOP), which provided the original scanned datasheets, some dating back to the 1800s, which allowed us to fill in data by hand for each day. Adequate measures were taken to ensure there were no collection errors and discrepancies were identified.

After the climate data were compiled, a program was written using the program R to create a website application (ShinyApp), which served as a platform to visualize the data https://aridclim2020.shinyapps.io/climate_visual_demo/. This visulation tool was first presented to the High Plains Grasslands Alliance in January 2020 and was revised based on user feedback. To facilitate use we recorded a virtual demonstration of the visualization tool which was again shared with the alliance in January 2021: https://youtu.be/tSowJ0OLS5M. To date, the team has compiled data from WRCC for all 75 weather stations, 70 stations have data from AgACIS completed and a total of 40 from NOAA. The Alliance requested that each of the participating members’ private data (weather station, well, vegetation monitoring data, etc.) remain private so we configured the climate visualization tool to not to store any user-uploaded weather station data. Only long-term, publicly available climate data uploaded by the host is stored in the system for access and analysis by users.

Development of the Web-based Knowledge Portal

In support of our third objective we conducted several rounds of development, testing, and feedback of the web-based knowledge portal for data input, management, visualization, and communication. This portal was created to provide a user-friendly way for producers and other users to access information relevant to rangeland health and management and also houses the climate visualization tool resides. The map interface uses the ESRI ArcGIS online web-portal technology to help organize and share information internally and with the public. It is hosted by ESRI through New Mexico Highland University's ArcGIS Online account. The beta version of the knowledge portal (https://hpga-knowledge-site-nmhu.hub.arcgis.com/)  has received several rounds of feedback from the producers involved with this project and continues to evolve. See Appendix_WBP for a brief description of what the portal looks like.

Participation Summary
6 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

24 Consultations
3 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
6 On-farm demonstrations
1 Online trainings
13 Webinars / talks / presentations
3 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

60 Farmers
15 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

Synopsis of Educational Approach

Education and outreach efforts for this project adopted a multi-pronged approach, with the overarching objective of using research-based data and information to help producers make informed management decisions thereby building resiliency and ensuring their sustainability and survival in the face of climate variability and drought.  In addition to sharing research-based information with clientele, another important role of extension is to help them interpret information, as clients often need help understanding what the data mean. All the activities outlined below demonstrate a deep commitment to a broad educational mission that links participatory-based research with community engagement and capacity building. By partnering with ranchers from the inception of the project we were able to identify, amplify and implement outreach materials using a variety of delivery mechanisms, to help producers build knowledge and take proactive steps that will help them sustain their operations in the future.  This participatory-based education and outreach approach has resulted in positive community impacts that continue to build momentum towards reaching our goals and objectives.

Types of Activities

Activities centered around the overarching goal of educating producers about the interconnectedness of climate, surface and groundwater, soils, and vegetation, and the importance of monitoring and understanding these variables to make informed proactive management decisions. A number of delivery mechanisms were employed to achieve these objectives.  

  • Produced 3 fact sheets
  • Conducted 6 Workshops/Webinars
  • Produced and uploaded 1 instructional video
  • Gave 5 oral presentations at annual meetings with producers
  • Disseminated 5 surveys
  • Held 6 meetings with participating producers to inform and discuss progress of the project and obtain their feedback in the construction of the Knowledge Portal
  • Collected 6 individual sets of weather station data, and produced and delivered summaries explaining and interpreting the data to 6 participating producers
  • Measured static water levels and produced 6 individual groundwater reports for 6 participating producers
  • Conducted vegetation and soil monitoring surveys and produced 6 vegetation and soil summaries to 6 participating producers
  • Using continual feedback and input from producers, developed, constructed, tested and implemented web-based Knowledge Portal https://hpga-knowledge-site-nmhu.hub.arcgis.com/

Webinars

  • Hosted Webinar (March 2021): Geologic maps: How they work and why they matter. This webinar features Kate Zeigler (Zeigler Geologic Consulting), who provides a short overview of how geologic maps work, what they can tell us, and how they can potentially be used to understand groundwater resources in northeastern New Mexico. The presentation is designed for the interested non-geologist and is specific to agricultural producers. Link to the recorded webinar: https://youtu.be/qwaMtlErYmg
  • Instructional Video Created (January 2021): Climate Portal Demonstration  (designed for producer feedback). In this video, Taylor Sanchez, a graduate student from New Mexico State University, describes the Climate Portal we are developing as part of this WSARE funding for producers associated with the High Plains Grasslands Alliance. https://youtu.be/tSowJ0OLS5M
  • Co-hosted Webinar (December 2020): Riparian Health Assessment. This webinar introduces the Riparian Bullseye Assessment method, a simple, qualitative approach to evaluating the health of riparian systems. No formal training in riparian ecology is necessary to use the Riparian Bullseye, which covers the basic indicators of ecosystem health allowing both an evaluation of individual ecological processes and the system as a whole. https://youtu.be/NageOaoIvd8
  • Webinar Contribution (October 2020): Groundwater, soils, and management: Complexities and connections. Two project team members, Dr. Kate Zeigler, Zeigler Geologic Consulting, and Emily Cornell of Sol Ranch touch on the intricacies of the hydrologic cycle and provide a short overview of groundwater resource management. They discuss how the soil interface is a key part of water movement and share ideas for basic monitoring of both soil and groundwater health. This webinar was hosted by the the NM Healthy Soils Working Group  https://youtu.be/iufGHRcUZZU
  • Co-hosted Webinar (July 2020): Drought 2020 in eastern New Mexico and the Southern High Plains - a conversation. Unfortunately this well attended and well received webinar had technical issues with the recording. Drought 2020 in Eastern New Mexico agenda July 22 2020

Fact Sheet Development

  • An NMSU Cooperative Extension publication entitled Playa Lakes: understanding their importance and how to protect them and improve their function (https://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_w/W107.pdf) was produced and distributed to producers in 2021.
  • An NMSU Cooperative Extension publication entitled  Cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) in our waters: Agricultural best management practices (BMPs) to increase resilience to algal blooms (https://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_w/W106.pdf) was produced and distributed to producers in 2020.

  • An NMSU Cooperative Extension publication entitled Monitoring your well water (https://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_m/M118/welcome.html) was produced and distributed to producers in 2018.
  • An NMSU Cooperative Extension publication entitled Accumulated growing degree days: how to use them to understand natural patterns and their effects on rangeland plants is in revision for publication in 2022 DraftFactSheet_AGDD
  • An NMSU Cooperative Extension publication entitled Importance of weather and climate monitoring to landowners and producers is in revision for publication in 2022 DraftFactSheet_Climate&Weather

Workshop: Prescribed Fire 2019

Based on feedback from producers associated with the High Plains Grasslands Alliance we partnered with the Forest Stewards Guild and Gravitas Peak Wildland Fire Module to plan and host a three-day prescribed fire workshop on the Fort Union Ranch in May 2019. The planning process included obtaining burn permits, developing a comprehensive burn plan, and selecting relevant burn units. Objectives of the workshop were to provide landowners in the region with a hands-on educational opportunity to learn about how to implement a prescribed burn. The secondary objective, which provided the structure for the educational opportunity, was to reduce conifer encroachment by up to 50% in existing meadows.

Approximately 40 people attended the workshop. Participants were private landowners, agency and organizational partners and prescribed fire professionals. Enough fire professionals participated to allow for one professional per 5-8 landowners during hands on activities, which provided the benefit of small-group learning and the opportunity for every landowner to experience each of the tasks involved in setting, managing, and mopping up a fire.

We worked with the Forest Stewards Guild to collaboratively design a post-workshop survey to obtain feedback on the event from attendees. Responses were very positive with most participants feeling that their knowledge and confidence with regard to prescribed fire had improved. Participants identified the biggest impediments to implementing prescribed fire as a management tool on their own lands were money, manpower and education of their neighbors. There was substantial interest in attending future prescribed fire workshops to continue to gain experience and confidence with the strategies and tools needed to work with fire in a safe and effective manner. For survey results and the workshop flier, see FireWorkshopAttachment

Other education/outreach and educational activities:

  • At the November 2021 High Plains Grasslands Alliance meeting a demonstration of the beta version of the Knowledge Portal was presented followed by discussion and feedback on improving the content. A survey to gain additional feedback on content and to inform the next phase of refinement was also disseminated. Victoria Blumenberg also gave a presentation to update producers on the progress of her research into the regional connections between precipitation and groundwater recharge.
  • Several project team members were interviewed by the NM Political report, after hosting a webinar on drought in northeast NM. (published August 2020)   https://nmpoliticalreport.com/2020/08/12/as-the-climate-warms-ranchers-keep-their-eyes-on-the-grass/
  • In support of our web-based tool development and other research conducted as part of this grant we gave several presentations during the January 24, 2020 meeting of the High Plains Grasslands Alliance. Progress was shared with attendees and feedback was provided to help strengthen the final product.
  • Disseminated an initial survey to participating producers in advance of developing the Knowledge Portal in April 27, 2018. Results of the survey are appended to this report. Follow up teleconference meetings were held among the producer and professional team to further inform the development of this tool and a prototype was presented at the Fall 2019 High Plains Grasslands Alliance Meeting.
  • On May 4, 2018 we conducted site visits with Dr. Margie Ryceqicz-Borecki (Western SARE Program Manager). During this visit we visited with three of the ranch producer households associated with this project (Union Land and Grazing Company, Christmas Ranch, and Cornell Ranch).
  • The PI group held an information/outreach meeting at the High Plains Grassland Alliance meeting in Roy, NM on September 29, 2017 to provide producers in attendance with an overview of the goals of this partnership, which are to incorporate scientific data into ranch management decision-making. Presentations followed by question-answer periods were given by the project professional team leaders (Ganguli, Zeigler, Sallenave, and graduate student Victoria Blumenberg). The content presented included plant community and weather station data collection progress and outreach activities. We also presented our plan for developmental feedback for a producer-oriented web-based data access platform.
  • During the March 24, 2017 High Plains Grasslands Alliance meeting near Watrous NM, PI Ganguli informed producers about the funding for project and what to expect in future months.

Learning Outcomes

6 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation

Project Outcomes

6 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
6 Farmers intend/plan to change their practice(s)
1 Grant received that built upon this project
Project outcomes:

The central focus of this project was understanding how groundwater and weather data can be used to inform land managers who are faced with making critical decisions about the long-term sustainability and profitability of their operations. Research into the connections between precipitation and groundwater are ongoing, as is research into the long-term trends in groundwater recharge and sustainability in this region. Despite the ongoing nature of this research, the work done over the duration of this WSARE grant made a measurable difference for producers within the project area by expanding their understanding of groundwater dynamics and informing management decisions related to groundwater management. Below is a list of the outcomes associated with this project:

  • Regional groundwater data collection informed groundwater management. Managers are now better able to make informed decisions about how and where to invest limited financial resources in groundwater development/management. This has manifested in everything from whether to leave wells pumping when livestock are not in the pasture to the strategic design of new water systems including storage and pipelines.
  • Weather monitoring has added resolution to drought planning and drought related management decisions (stocking rates, grazing durations, timing of grazing events). Producers are better able to develop targeted drought plans that include trigger dates and specific, associated management actions.
  • Producers possess a better understanding of the connections between precipitation and groundwater. The most preliminary interesting result of this research is that groundwater and precipitation are not as disconnected in this region as initially thought. Understanding where recharge is coming from (i.e. precipitation or streams/rivers) will help define the hydrologic cycle in this region and provide a baseline against which any future changes in hydrologic function (e.g. in relation to climate change) might be measured.
  • Developed a web-based resource to support management decision making and help producers find answers to common management questions. This Knowledge Portal is designed to support "best management" practices for land, wildlife and businesses and provide producers with a one-stop shop for answering basic management questions.
  • This project was built on community. A community of ranchers that relies on collaboration and innovation to integrate science into everyday management of rangelands. The WSARE grant funding was instrumental in developing a network for management support by strengthening relationships between neighbors, establishing new relationships between producers and science experts, and opening the door for producers to new resources.
Success stories:

Below are a selection of quotes from participating producers related to the data and information gained from the groundwater monitoring project:

"I have taken into consideration the potential impacts that new water system installations could have on a an aquifer based on the depth to static water, which aquifer the well is in (Dakota or Morrison), whether or not the tritium concentrations indicate recharge, the proximity to a drainage, and the water chemistry. Our long term planning takes these factors into account as we choose wells for pipelines and higher use areas."

"I have been able to watch the response to rainfall events, or lack there-of, and gain a deeper understanding of the behaviors of the aquifers in my region. This has motivated me to increase restoration efforts in areas where active recharge is possible."

"We plan to transfer water usage away from wells with water levels that are slowly dropping. We also have identified which wells are suitable for supplying pipeline systems and which are not with the intention of spreading our use over several wells instead of relying upon 1 or 2."

"Closely watching herd numbers and also increased the number of drinkers in order to better utilized the land to have more evenly distributed forage for animals which creates better ground coverage for moisture absorption in the soil."

"We have reduced non-essential ground water use."

 

The following quotes reflect feedback from participating producers on the Knowledge Portal:

"It's great to have a one-stop shop for all things data. It's smart to just bring in the visualizers from other websites."

"The vast wealth of links in the HPGA Knowledge Portal Content is a source of valuable tools to move forward in understanding our options in caring for the High Plains soils, habitats and waterways. The supportive work of developing the Content is appreciated!"

Information Products

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.