Miriam Wamsley

UNM students have just completed a final report on the condition of the Cimarron watershed and Maxwell Wildlife Refuge in northern New Mexico.

The summer session Water Resources 573 is really a rugged field trip that requires students to learn the correct way to sample water in streams and lakes, to examine riverbanks for erosion and other problems, and to assess the variety of flora and fauna that depend on the rivers.

That sounds easier than it is.  "I was counting the number of macro vertebrate taxa that live in the stream sediment," said Miriam Wamsley, one of the students in the class.  I threw away what I thought were sticks, but some of those sticks started walking away. It turned out there are more than 1,500 subspecies of Caddis flies north of the Rio Grande and some of them look like sticks."  Her job was to assess the number and variety of organisms in the sediments of the river beds, and she quickly found out the diversity in the Cimarron Riverbed showed a healthy ecosystem in place.  She found mayflies and other organisms that are sensitive to pollution alive and healthy at many of the sites.

Sixteen students took the class taught by Bruce Thomson, professor of civil engineering and Abdul-Mehdi Ali, senior research scientist in Earth and Planetary Sciences.  The students are a diverse group with majors ranging from the natural sciences and engineering to political science and journalism.  Thomson says the nature of the class puts students who don't know each other well into a situation where they must quickly form an effective team and divide the work among the members.

The students sampled water for metal and non-metal constituents, ph, temperature, electro conductivity and alkalinity at several sites in tributaries and in the Cimarron River itself.   They also sampled lakes in the watershed.

A representative from the New Mexico Environment Department helped the students plan the study.  Their work is written into a final report and sent to state agencies and local watershed representatives.  This group also worked with a consultant from the Cimarron Watershed Alliance.

The final report is available here.

See slide show here.

This class is part of the UNM Masters Degree program in Water Resources.  For the past five years students have been doing watershed assessments in northern New Mexico and Mexico.  Thomson says the assessments are becoming more sophisticated and useful as the teaching team learns how to manage the field work done by large groups of students.

Talk to the students and you immediately begin to hear the stories that come with this kind of field experience.  They are quick to talk about the time they took the directions someone gave them literally, and ended up in Colorado. Or the challenge of shopping for food for 20 people, and coming up with something everyone, even the vegetarians would eat every night.  It was clearly more than just another college course; instead it seems to be one of those life experiences that help form students into professionals.

Students in the Water Resources program examine a different watershed each year.  The reports are available on the Water Resources Program website.

Media contact: Karen Wentworth (505) 277-5627; kwent2@unm.edu