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New Mexico State University

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Sandia Engineer Featured at NMSU Water Lecture Series Sept. 18

LAS CRUCES - The potential for converting the state's vast supply of largely useable brackish water through desalinization is the subject of an upcoming special New Mexico State University water lecture series that begins on Sept. 18.

Mike Hightower, an environmental engineer with Sandia National Laboratories' Energy Security Center (09/05/2003) (Courtesy Photo from andia National Laboratories)

"There is an abundance of brackish water in the state that could potentially be used to supplement our freshwater supply," said Mike Hightower, an environmental engineer with Sandia National Laboratories' Energy Security Center.

The two common desalinization methods are: reverse osmosis, which uses a high pressure membrane to filter out the salts, and thermal desalinization, which basically entails boiling the water on a large scale. "Ninety percent of the desalinization plants in the United States are reverse osmosis, and it's the process that is likely best for use in New Mexico," he said.

Hightower will present a free public seminar on brackish water resources and their impact on the future water supply Sept. 18 at 3 p.m. in Room 105 of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's new Jornada Experimental Range building, located on the western edge of NMSU.

The presentation is part of a water lecture series from NMSU's College of Agriculture and Home Economics Water Task Force, civil and geological engineering department and the Water Resource Research Institute.

The majority of New Mexico's brackish water is located in underground aquifers, Hightower said. The remainder is in the state's two main river systems, the Rio Grande and Pecos. As the river water flows downstream, he said, salt is added from a variety of sources, including inflow springs, arroyos, irrigated agriculture and municipal usage.

"As the fresh river water gets lower and lower in the state, the salt levels in some areas are getting high enough to consider desalinization of this surface water," Hightower said.

Hightower is an expert in water-related resources and infrastructure, including development of new models to improve water resource management, said Craig Runyan, water quality specialist with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service and the university's Water Task Force coordinator.

NMSU formed the task force in 2000 to supply objective, scientific data about water issues in New Mexico. It includes about 75 NMSU specialists on water-related issues who provide rapid responses to public requests for studies, white papers, expert testimony at public hearings and proposed solutions to water problems.

In addition to Hightower's expertise in industrial and nuclear waste cleanup, he has worked extensively on evaluating the cost and performance of soil/water monitoring and treatment technologies for the U.S. Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency, Runyan said.

Hightower, a member of the New Mexico Energy and Environmental Alliance, is past chairman of the Waste Management Education and Research Consortium Industrial Advisory Board. He received bachelor's and master's degrees in civil engineering from NMSU.

Other upcoming speakers in the water lecture series are Ron Lacewell, professor of water economics at Texas A&M University on Oct. 23, and John Shoemaker, a hydrologist with Shoemaker & Associates on Nov. 13.

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) 646-5254 or ldemouch@nmsu.edu before the event.