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Monitoring Network of the Groundwater Flow System and Stream-Aquifer Relations in the Mesilla Basin, Doña Ana County, New Mexico and El Paso County, Texas

Project Chief: Andrew Robertson
Cooperators: New Mexico Office of the State Engineer; New Mexico State University; City of Las Cruces Utilities; New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission; New Mexico Environment Department; International Boundary and Water Commission--US Section, Bureau of Reclamation
Period of Project: 1987 to present
Selected Publications:
  • Briody, A.C., Robertson, A.J., and Thomas, Nicole, 2016, Seepage investigation of the Rio Grande from below Leasburg Dam, Leasburg, New Mexico, to above American Dam, El Paso, Texas, 2015: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2016–5011, 15 p.,
  • Briody, A.C., Robertson, A.J., and Thomas, Nicole, 2016, Seepage investigation of the Rio Grande from below Leasburg Dam, Leasburg, New Mexico, to above American Dam, El Paso, Texas, 2014: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2016–5010, 15 p.,
  • Crilley, D.M., Matherne, A.M., Thomas, Nicole, and Falk, S.E., 2013, Seepage investigations of the Rio Grande from below Leasburg Dam, Leasburg, New Mexico, to above American Dam, El Paso, Texas, 2006–13: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2013–1233, 34 p.,
  • Driscoll, J.M., and Sherson, L.R., 2016, Variability of surface-water quantity and quality and shallow groundwater levels and quality within the Rio Grande Project area, New Mexico and Texas, 2009–13: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2016–5006, 33 p.,
  • Gunn, M.A., and Roark, D.M., 2014, Seepage investigation on the Rio Grande from below Caballo Reservoir, New Mexico, to El Paso, Texas, 2012: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2014–5197, 17 p.,
  • Hendricks, E.L., 1964, Compilation of records of surface waters of the United States, October 1950 to September 1960: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Supply Paper 1732, 574 p.,
  • Moyer, D.L., Anderholm, S.K., Hogan, J.F., Phillips, F.M., Hibbs, B.J., Witcher, J.C., Matherne, A.M., and Falk, S.E., 2013, Knowledge and understanding of dissolved solids in the Rio Grande–San Acacia, New Mexico, to Fort Quitman, Texas, and plan for future studies and monitoring: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2013–1190, 55 p.,
  • Nickerson, E.L., 2005, Description of Piezometers and Ground-Water-Quality Characteristics at Three New Sites in the Lower Mesilla Valley, Texas, and New Mexico, 2003: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2005-5248, 27 p.,
  • Nickerson, E.L., 1995, Selected hydrologic data for the Mesilla ground-water basin, 1987 through 1992 water years, Dona Ana County, New Mexico, and El Paso County Texas, 1995: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 95-111, 123 p.,
  • Wilkins, D.W., 1986, Geohydrology of the southwest alluvial basins regional aquifer-systems analysis, parts of Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 84–4224, 61 p.,


The Mesilla Basin monitoring program was established in 1987 to document the hydrologic conditions of New Mexico’s southern-most, Rio Grande rift basin. The program’s data collection and reporting is conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in cooperation with local, state, and federal agencies. Hydrologic data collected as part of the monitoring program provide valuable information to better understand the geohydrologic system and to support future efforts to update, revise, and calibrate basin models.


The objectives of this monitoring program are to document the hydrologic conditions within the Mesilla Basin and to establish a long-term continuous data record to permit the quantitative evaluation of the groundwater flow system and stream-aquifer relations.


The monitoring program currently includes: annual groundwater-level measurements at more than 150 wells, the real-time and monthly monitoring of groundwater levels in nested wells near the Rio Grande, the hourly measurement of water-quality parameters in the shallow alluvial aquifer, and a microgravity survey to estimate groundwater storage changes. Discharge measurements were made along the Rio Grande to determine gaining and losing reaches until 2015.

  1. Mesilla Basin Observation Well Network (MBOWN) (1987 – present)
    Annual groundwater-level measurements are measured at wells located throughout the Mesilla Valley and the West Mesa area (MBOWN Map). The network includes wells that are completed in the Rio Grande alluvium and in the Santa Fe Group aquifer system. The groundwater-level measurements and well records are entered into the USGS National Water Information System (NWIS)--Ground-Water Site Inventory (GWSI) database and are available to the public on NWIS Web.
  2. Mesilla Valley Hydrologic Sections (1987 – present)
    The Mesilla Valley hydrologic sections consist of several observation wells aligned perpendicular to the Rio Grande. The location of the Las Cruces hydrologic section (A-A’), Mesquite hydrologic section (B-B’), and Cañutillo well-field hydrologic section (C-C’) are shown on MBOWN map. Diagrams of the Las Cruces, Mesquite, and Cañutillo well-field hydrologic sections show well completion depths and distances from the Rio Grande. Real-time water-level records are maintained at 11 observation wells, and monthly water-level measurements are made at 25 observation wells. Real-time and monthly groundwater data are available to the public at NWIS Web.
  3. Salinity Trends in the Shallow Groundwater (2008 – present)
    Specific conductance, temperature, and water levels are measured at 1-hour intervals in 12 shallow groundwater wells along the Rio Grande. The continuous water-quality and water-level data are available here.
  4. Microgravity Pilot Study (2015 – present)
    Changes in the acceleration of gravity are precisely measured at 22 locations in the valley near Las Cruces, to estimate the change in groundwater storage of the aquifer. Many measurements are co-located with existing observation wells to gain a better understanding of the aquifer properties.
  5. Rio Grande Seepage Investigations (RGSI) (1998 – 2015)
    Seepage investigations along the Rio Grande were conducted from 1988 through 2015 (Crilley and others, 2013; Gunn and Roark, 2014). Discharge measurements were made at selected sites (RGSI Map) to determine seepage gain/loss from specific channel reaches. Water-quality samples were periodically collected for chemical analyses to determine dissolved solids (salinity), and concentrations of major ions and selected nutrients. Recent drought conditions and decreasing reservoir storage has resulted in a significant reduction in surface-water allocations and therefore limited sites with measurable discharge.
  6. Relevance and Benefits

    The Mesilla Basin monitoring network extends through New Mexico and Texas to the United States border with Mexico. The monitoring program will contribute to the USGS mission by providing data to help define the Nation’s water resources, and to disseminate impartial hydrologic information to the public. The program will benefit the cooperators and the USGS by providing essential hydrologic data necessary for subsequent evaluation of the ground-water-flow system and stream-aquifer relations. Ground-water data collected by the program are used in many interpretive studies conducted by the USGS and other agencies including the development and refinement of ground-water-flow models. The long-term monitoring program will document ground-water conditions including stream-aquifer relations, and provide essential data to develop and evaluate water-management strategies.

    Cooperating Agencies

    New Mexico Water Science Center                                      OSE HYDROLOGY BUREAU &
                                                                                                         ISC RIO GRANDE BASIN

    El Paso Field Office

    Surface Water Quality Bureau


    Concurrent Programs


    New Mexico's Environment Department and the Interstate Stream Commission are working cooperatively to develop solutions to concerns regarding the quantity and quality of the water delivered to the State of Texas. Elevated salinity in the Rio Grande Project area, which extends from above Elephant Butte Reservoir, New Mexico, to Fort Quitman, Texas, has long been recognized.

    NMED and NMISC facilitated the formation of Rio Grande Salinity Management Coalition consisting of water managers, the Rio Grande Compact Commission, and water user groups from Colorado, New Mexico and Texas that are actively working together to reduce and manage salinity in the Rio Grande Project area. In 2009 NMED, ISC, and the US Army Corps of Engineers completed the first phase of a Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) Section 729 Rio Grande Salinity Management Program which included a geospatial salinity database; USGS Rio Grande Salinity Assessment Study; and Rio Grande Economic Impact Assessment study.

    The New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute’s (NM WRRI) statewide program supports the state’s water research primarily at New Mexico State University, the University of New Mexico, and New Mexico Tech. Research is conducted primarily by faculty and students within the departmental structure of each New Mexico university campus. In-house staff administers the institute’s programs, conducts special research projects, and produces a variety of issue reports.

    The overall mission of the NM WRRI is to develop and disseminate knowledge that will assist the state and nation in solving water problems. NM WRRI administers research projects within a variety of disciplines but that specifically have a focus on water. Users and beneficiaries are local, city, and county government; local water agencies and water users organizations; state agencies (NMDA, NMED, NMOSE, ISC, NMSLO, NMDGF), federal agencies (IBSC, USACE, USBOR, USEPA, USFWS, USGS), and state universities in New Mexico.

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Page Last Modified: Thursday, 07-Apr-2016 08:31:43 EDT