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Campus News
University of New Mexico experts work to solve regional water issues
August 16, 2004

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‘Bosque Lab’ site for students

By Greg Johnston

The popular song “Take Me to the River” could be theme music this summer for two UNM civil engineering undergraduates. Alandren Etlantus and Sarah Shannon are wading into deeper waters as part of the Research Experience for Undergraduates program funded by the National Science Foundation.

Alandren Etlantus, a UNM junior in civil engineering, documents soil erosion along the Rio Grande before wading down the river to check another site. Photo by Greg Johnston.

The two young women, paired with students from other states, are conducting research at sites along the Rio Grande. Etlantus is examining riverbank stability. Shannon is studying soil erosion. The Rio Grande “Bosque Lab,” an open space area west of the river near Central Avenue, is a setting where both have conducted research during the summer.

Julie Coonrod, UNM associate professor of civil engineering, says the program allows undergrads to get a feel for graduate level work. The research lasts nine weeks and students are paid a stipend to cover living expenses.

Once a week, Etlantus, a junior who attended Cibola High School, sloshes through the muddy water to measure bank erosion. “Just knowing what keeps the banks stable or what makes them unstable is helpful,” she said. “At this point, I don’t have any evidence that removing the Russian olives would hurt the banks.”


acequia – Spanish, irrigation ditch

benthological – Members of the North American Benthological Society are scientists mainly interested in freshwater biology.

evapotranspiration – The loss of water from the surface of the earth to the atmosphere by evaporation combined with transpiration from plants.

head gate – A gate upstream from a lock or canal that is used to control the flow of water at the upper end.

Holocene - Name given to the last 11,000 years of the earth’s history — the time since the end of the last major glacial epoch or “ice age.”

riparian - Of, on, or relating to the banks of a natural course of water

transboundary resources - Natural resources intersected by political boundaries

watershed - The region draining into a river, river system, or other body of water

Coonrod says the project, which began last summer, is designed to measure the effects of removing invasive trees. “Could we get the river to do some of the work to cut down the banks and flood the bosque to promote ecological health?” she said.

Other research valuable to river restoration efforts has to do with the water evaporation rate. Shannon, who grew up in Aztec, N.M., said she became interested after taking a class on soil mechanics. She heard about the project and applied. Assisting Shannon is Civil Engineering Professor John Stormont, who teaches soil mechanics.

Shannon and her partner visit soil water data collection boxes placed underground at sites in Albuquerque and at the Sevilleta and Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.

They perform routine maintenance and download data into a laptop computer.

“Right now our studies are based in areas of low vegetation,” Shannon said. “So with another study like this conducted in an area of high vegetation, we can discover if there is more loss of water due to water table evaporation or due to exotic species using water.”

“It’s a great project,” she said. “Doing nine weeks of research is something I don’t get to do in a normal classroom.”