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Monitoring Network of the Ground-Water Flow System and Stream-Aquifer Relations in the Mesilla Basin, Doņa 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
  • 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.,
  • 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., 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 Open-File Report 95-111, 123 p.,
  • Nickerson, E.L., 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 Scientific Investigations Report 2005-5248, 27 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, and is conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in cooperation with eight local, state, and federal agencies. Monitoring program components include the Mesilla Basin observation well network, the Mesilla Valley hydrologic sections, and seepage investigations at selected surface-water sites. The Mesilla Basin monitoring program has helped document recent hydrologic conditions and established a long-term continuous data base to permit future quantitative evaluation of the ground-water flow system and stream-aquifer relations. Collected data was extensively used in interpretive studies conducted by the USGS and other agencies to better define the geohydrologic system (selected references). Hydrologic data collected by the monitoring program will continue to provide valuable information towards future efforts to update, revise, and calibrate basin models of the ground-water flow system. The monitoring program continues to document changing hydrologic conditions and stream-aquifer relations, and identify ground-water trends.


Historic ground-water data collection efforts within the basin were limited to obtaining data on a nonrecurring, unsystematic basis. Previous studies emphasized the need for a comprehensive monitoring network of the ground-water flow system in the Mesilla Basin. A long-term monitoring program is necessary to document ground-water conditions and stream-aquifer relations to identify changes with time.


The objectives of this monitoring program are to document hydrologic conditions within the Mesilla ground-water basin and establish a long-term continuous data base to permit future quantitative evaluation of the ground-water flow system and stream-aquifer relations. To accomplish these objectives, data collection and maintenance of the Mesilla Basin monitoring program will continue including the Mesilla Basin observation-well network, the Mesilla Valley hydrologic sections, and seepage investigations at selected surface-water sites including associated water-quality analyses.


The Mesilla Basin monitoring program will continue to document changing hydrologic conditions and identify stream-aquifer relations by conducting the following program elements:

  1. Mesilla Basin Observation-Well Network
    Conduct annual ground-water-level measurements at sites in the Mesilla Basin observation-well network. Network wells are completed in the Rio Grande flood-plain alluvium/Santa Fe Group aquifer system, with wells located in the Mesilla Valley and West Mesa area (fig. 1). Annual winter water-level measurements and well records are entered into the USGS National Water Information System (NWIS)--Ground-Water Site Inventory (GWSI) data base. Mesilla Basin network wells are web ready with information currently available to the public on NWIS Web at URL (table 1.)
  2. Mesilla Valley Hydrologic Sections
    Maintain water-level record at the Mesilla Valley hydrologic sections. These hydrologic sections consist of a river-stage station and 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 figure 1. Diagrams of the Las Cruces, Mesquite, and Caņutillo well-field hydrologic sections show well completion depths and distances from the Rio Grande. The hydrologic sections currently consist of 43 sites; 3 river-stage stations and 40 observation wells. Continuous water-level records are currently maintained at 17 sites, with monthly water-level measurements at 36 observation wells. Continuous water-level records are stored in the USGS NWIS--Automated Data Processing System (ADAPS) data base and monthly water-level measurements are entered into the GWSI data base. Real-time ground-water data collection platforms (DCP) were installed at the Las Cruces hydrologic section in observation well group LC-2 and observation well group LC-3. Well group LC-2 is located approximately 350 feet from the Rio Grande. Real-time ground-water data are available to the public on NWIS Web at URL

  3. Seepage Investigations
    Seepage investigations were conducted on the Rio Grande from Radium Springs, New Mexico, to El Paso, Texas during water years 1988 through 1998. Seepage investigations of selected irrigation drains including associated water-quality analyses were initiated in the 1999 water year. One irrigation drain will be selected for investigation each water year. Biannual seepage investigations of the selected drain will be conducted at low flow during the nonirrigation season and at high flow during the irrigation season. Discharge measurements will be conducted at selected sites to determine seepage gain/loss from specific channel reaches. Water-quality samples will be collected at approximately four main-stem sites 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 since the 2003 irrigation season, with a significant increase in ground-water withdrawals to meet water demand. Annual seepage investigations will shift from selected irrigation drains to the Rio Grande at low-flow during drought years, starting in the 2004 water year (fig. 2). Results of individual seepage investigations and associated water-quality analyses were published in U.S. Geological Survey Water-Data Reports for New Mexico by water year, 1988 through 2005.

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; a 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.

DT100 - Salinity Trends in Shallow Groundwater, Rincon and Mesilla Valleys, New Mexico
Although water quantity has historically been the main concern of water managers and producers in the Lower Rio Grande (LRG) subbasin including the Rincon and Mesilla Valleys, water quality and potential salinization of aquifers is becoming an increasingly important issue because of its possible adverse impacts on drinking water and crop yields of salt-sensitive crops such as pecans. The objective of this project is to document short- and long-term variations in salinity in shallow groundwater in the Rincon Valley and Mesilla Valley aquifers. A network of instruments is installed in 13 shallow wells in the LRG subbasin (7 wells in the Rincon Valley and 6 wells in the Mesilla Valley). The network includes instruments that measure specific conductance, water level, and temperature at one-hour intervals. The results of this study will provide state agencies, regional water managers, local farmers, and the public with an improved understanding of the source and quality of the water in the shallow aquifers of the area.

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Page Last Modified: Friday, 08-May-2015 14:59:51 EDT