Title: Water quality monitoring after the largest wildfire recorded in New Mexico
Wildfires are increasing globally in frequency, severity, and extent, becoming one of the most significant drivers of water quality impairment. This year, the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire became the largest and most catastrophic fire in New Mexico’s recorded history. The fire burned approximately 1383 km2 (341,735 acres). The Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team classified 324 km2 (80,000 acres) as severely burned. Nearly 121 km2 (30,000 acres) in the Gallinas Creek watershed were burned. Gallinas Creek is the primary source of drinking water in Las Vegas, New Mexico, and supplies nearly 13,000 people. Gallinas Creek became contaminated with debris from the burned areas soon after the North American Monsoon System started to bring sustained increases in precipitation around June 15. Rain falling on burned areas during the Monsoon consistently increased soil erosion, debris flows, and lateral flooding, rendering the use of stream water inviable for ~ 3 months. A few days after the fire began, thanks to timely funding provided by the National Science Foundation, we deployed a rapid response team equipped with semi-continuous water quality sensors to monitor water quality variations along 100 km (62 mi) starting near the burned headwaters and extending into a key reservoir designed to manage the flow of the second largest river in New Mexico. In this seminar, I will present our findings and discuss how wildfires degrade water quality resources and affect key ecosystem services multiple years post-fire.
I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Civil, Construction & Environmental Engineering at the University of New Mexico. I couple experimental (field and laboratory) observations with mathematical and statistical analyses to investigate hydrologic and biogeochemical processes in fluvial networks. My two main research objectives are to 1) quantify sub-hour-to-multidecade variability of mass and energy fluxes in fluvial networks to identify scaling patterns and the coupling between natural and human systems; and 2) apply a systems approach to propose actionable science aimed at improving the sustainable use of ecosystem services, particularly those concerning the supply and demand of food, energy, and water resources. To accomplish these goals, I have partnered with microbiologists, hydrogeologists, economists, engineers, statisticians, chemists, ecologists, and oceanographers as we collaborate in efforts seeking to understand relevant processes at microbial, local, reach, watershed, and continental scales.
I am an avid cyclist and enjoy riding road, gravel, and mountain bicycles. When time allows, I compete in local and regional races.