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New Mexico State researchers assist the city in managing a waste treatment facility

New Mexico State University researchers and city officials are engaged in a project that uses industrial wastewater from a settling pond at the West Mesa Industrial Park to irrigate a portion of the park.

cchioni, a New Mexico State associate professor of agronomy and horticulture, and Denise Rodriguez, an NMSU graduate student, are trying to determine the best management practices for application of the wastewater to Las Cruces' desert environment.

By using a sprinkler irrigation system, researchers are distributing and spreading out the wastewater for the land and vegetation to use it as a resource. Most of the wastewater comes from light industry companies, general manufacturing, aviation related and technology based industries.

"Without monitoring and assessment, we don't know the impact of what we are doing, as good as it sounds at first," said Picchioni, the project's principle investigator. "This project is intended to show us how to manage the facility without causing undo harm to the plants, soil or ground water."

The project began two years ago when city officials were seeking help with the new wastewater facility. The team obtained a $47,000 grant from the Southwest Center for Environmental Research and Policy (SCERP) soon after.

Picchioni said the team needs to find out how much of the mineral content is going into the plants and what exactly they are doing to the soil so they can develop a management plan that produces the least possible disturbance to the region's soil and vegetation.

The team has focused on the dominant vegetation at the site, which includes Larrea tridentata (creosote bush) and Prosopis glandulosa (honey mesquite). A treatment site has been marked with blue tags separating the area from a nearby site that receives no wastewater. The dry site serves as the project's experimental control.

Several sets of plant samples have been taken at different stages in the growing season. Mineral analysis on the first set of samples indicates that leaf tissue of mesquite contains a higher concentration of wastewater constituents. The accumulation of ions follows a similar trend in creosote bush.

First-year monitoring and significant progress toward the management plan are expected to be completed by May 2004.

City officials say that the tenants of the West Mesa Industrial Park welcome the wastewater application.

"The increase in water content has been good for the program," said Dan Santantonio, of the Las Cruces Regulatory Compliance Department. "Without enough water coming through the plant, the plastic membranes dry in the sun and can be damaged."

He said new tenants of the park are encouraged to use the waste treatment plant, but are not required to do so.

Possible future activities include a cost analysis of the site by researchers with NMSU's College of Business Administration and Economics to determine if private companies can save money by connecting to the park's wastewater facility.

"If the numbers show that you can save money by using an environmentally friendly way of treating wastewater, that would be beneficial for everyone," said Rodriguez.