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New Mexico Tech Hydrologist Tapped for Sept. 30 Water Lecture

LAS CRUCES - The Rio Grande is 75 times saltier in El Paso, Texas, than at its headwaters in Colorado. A New Mexico State University water seminar Sept. 30 will provide some of the answers to just how that brackish water gets into the river.



Fred Phillips, professor of hydrology at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, will speak Sept. 30 at New Mexico State University as part of its water lecture series. (09/08/2004) (Courtesy Photo by Susan Delap)

Fred Phillips, a nationally recognized hydrology expert, will speak at 3 p.m. in Room 105 of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Jornada Experimental Range building, located on the western edge of campus.

"The basic problem is that total dissolved salts go in the Rio Grande from about 40 parts per million in the Colorado headwaters to around 3,000 parts per million by the time the river gets past El Paso," said Phillips, a hydrology professor at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. "This is a progressive increase along the river."

One of Phillips' goals is to better understand where the salt is coming from. "This water quality degradation creates a lot of problems for water users, especially in down river irrigation," he said. In addition, El Paso needs the river water for drinking, municipal and industrial uses.

Conventional wisdom has put the source of the salt at the door of irrigated agriculture. But Phillips has found that much of the salt may come from brine inflows in underground fault zones. Using geochemical fingerprinting techniques, he has discovered high concentrations of salty groundwater at several points along the river.

Phillips' free, public seminar is part of a water lecture series from NMSU's Water Task Force, civil and geological engineering department and the Water Resources Research Institute.

Over the years Phillips' has studied areas where hydrology, geochemistry and geology overlap, said Craig Runyan, NMSU Water Task Force coordinator. Phillips' research includes the effects of climate change on the hydrologic cycle.

NMSU formed the task force in 2000 to supply objective, scientific data about water issues in New Mexico. Pulled from across NMSU, this group of specially identified faculty and staff members are experts in water-related issues, Runyan said. They provide rapid responses to public requests for studies, white papers, expert testimony at public hearings and proposed solutions to water problems.

Phillips joined New Mexico Tech's earth and environmental science department in 1981. He received a bachelor's degree in earth science from the University of California at Santa Cruz. His master's and doctorate in hydrology are from the University of Arizona.

For more information, or if you are an individual with a disability who is in need of an auxiliary aid or service to participate in the meeting, please contact Leeann DeMouche at (505) 646-3973 or ldemouch@nmsu.edu before the event.