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 research 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 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
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.
Hydrogeological data collection and analysis: Static water levels will be 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 will be measured with a steel tap per USGS standards and hydrographs will be 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. We will compile this information with water level information to develop a four-dimensional picture of the local aquifer systems. This information will then be paired with climate data (September-December of each year) to provide producers with real-time local hydrologic information and analyze potential impacts on management.
Climate data collection and analysis: Work on existing weather stations and new weather station installation was initiated in June-August, 2018. New stations are being funded through alternative means, which facilitated one new station in 2018 and three new stations will be 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.
Web portal for data visualizations: Using collaborative input from participating scientists and producers to ensure the inclusion of all relevant data and development of correct data processing, and reporting structures a secure data portal will be created. The data visualization tool will incorporate current and historic data for production of the most robust environmental change model. Web portal will include practical elements such as login requirements, data security, reporting, interactive data collection and reporting, and educational features. Field testing will be conducted by producer team and Alliance members. Complexity of the datasets will drive an iterative refinement process of the tool to best meet producer needs.
Summary of field research activities conducted to date:
- Well measurements: Summer and winter static water level measurements were made were made in 55 wells and dataloggers were installed in five wells to capture fine scale fluctuations in water levels in five wells.
- One weather station was installed on a participating producers land but was immediately damaged by livestock. This weather station will be repaired Spring 2019. One additional weather station that was in disrepair was collected by PI Ganguli for repair and will be re-installed this summer. Data from existing weather stations continue to be collected and summarized by the PI team. In 2019 we plan to install three additional weather stations on participating producer’s ranches.
- Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Slow (CoCoRaHS) network equipment (precipitation gages and hail pads) were distributed to the six producers participating in this project. Producers were trained in how to properly install it and how to make daily observations.
- Long-term monitoring transects were established on one property to assess plant and soil community changes. In addition, the land LandPKS mobile application was use to better capture site potential on different ecological sites.
Educational & Outreach Activities
Summary of education/outreach and educational activities:
- 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.
- 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.
- In our efforts to develop a producer-driven web-based tool that will be used to input, manage, visualize and communicate data, a survey was developed and a report has been prepared and will be circulated at the HPGA Spring meeting on April 27, 2018. Results of the survey are appended to this report.
- An NMSU Cooperative Extension publication entitled Monitoring your well water (https://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_m/M118/welcome.html) was produced by and distributed to producers. We sent an electronic copy of this fact sheet to Dr. Margie Rycewicz-Borecki, the Western SARE Program Manager on September 12, 2018 and have appended the publication to this report.
- 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).