Nevada Water Resources Research Institute

NWRRI Funded Projects

The following ventures are the most recently funded projects by NWRRI. This work is supported by the U.S. Geological Survey under Grant/Cooperative Agreement No. G16AP00069.

Recently Funded Projects

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Degradation of Emerging Contaminants in Treated Wastewater using Immobilized Nanoscale Zero-valent Iron


Objective: The objective of this proposal is to produce a water treatment prototype made with nanoscale zero-valent iron embedded in porous materials with enhanced properties to generate oxidation or reduction processes, and assess its feasibility in environmental applications for the removal of emerging contaminants (ECs) in treated wastewater.

Technical Approach: Zero-valent iron nanoparticles (nZVI) have gained interest because of their promises for environmental restoration applications. The challenges that have discouraged their full-scale use can be solved by the application of novel advanced synthetic techniques to avoid the drawbacks identified in their performance. Assessing the feasibility of the novel materials for further application should be the final stage in its development and will provide information for its full development. We have accomplished the synthesis and characterization of nZVI immobilized in a silica-based mesoporous matrix (SBA-15) and different activated carbon materials efficient in the production of hydroxyl radicals for Advanced Oxidation Processes (AOPs) and successfully used it for the degradation of dyes and surfactants in aqueous phase. Additional research is needed to assess the feasibility of the proposed material for real-scale application. The goal of this proposal is to improve the performance of nZVI by embedding the generated nZVI in a porous matrix, and assess its capabilities for promoting advanced oxidation/reduction processes for the removal of ECs. This project advances different aspects of Environmental Engineering and solves a specific contamination problem. nanoscale zerovalent iron has been studied for its ability to reduce or oxidize organic pollutants, but its tendency to agglomerate poses a significant limitation for its use. The immobilization technique is an approach proposed to solve this limitation that has not being sufficiently tested. Our work aims to establish the reliable synthesis of nZVI embedded within the pores of a solid matrix that may avoid nZVI agglomeration and optimize its reactivity and stability for better performance in oxidation/reduction processes. The potential of the novel synthesized materials to promote oxidation or reduction processes will be assessed by measuring its capability to degrade ECs. In general, this research will (i) demonstrate proof of concept on the use of novel nanomaterials for the treatment of wastewater contaminated with emerging contaminants (antibiotics); (ii) pioneer the preparation of zero-valent nanoparticles with wellcontrolled size, structure, and composition immobilized in a porous solid matrix; (iii) test their enhanced capability for producing advanced oxidation or reduction processes; (iv) identify the effect of common water parameters in the oxidation and/or reduction process applied for the degradation of antibiotics; and (v) identify the generation of reaction by-products and follow up the reaction using kinetic models.

Benefits: The main benefit of this proposal is developing innovative approaches for the treatment of emerging contaminants in treated wastewater. The technology proposed in this project is expected to be highly cost-effective and more efficient than the technologies being used, and it will provide the opportunity for applications in the management of other sites with similar or related contamination problems. The fundamental idea is related with destructive processes that will eliminate the contamination problem and not only transfer it from one phase into another, but also avoid the need of future environmental liability or disposal requirements. Additionally, educational and research benefits are also expected from this proposal related to the synthesis, characterization ,and potential application of the proposed novel materials. Opportunities to acquire skills in nanomaterials synthesis, functionalization, structural characterizations, and optimization of oxidation/reduction properties will be provided.

Evaluation of Antibiotic Resistance Genes (ARGs) in the Urban Wetland Ecosystem: Las Vegas Wash


The majority of antibiotics produced and consumed are excreted along with antibiotic resistant bacteria, into sewage or livestock waste, which eventually enter the urban water cycle to become a human health risk. Antibiotic resistance is considered one of the most increasing human health problems globally. Urban water supply reservoirs are highly threatened by antibiotic resistance due to municipal wastewater discharge. This proposed research attempts to fill in the knowledge gap by understanding the prevalence and spread of antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) in the urban wetland ecosystem (i.e., Las Vegas Wash) in southern Nevada. This study will apply field sampling for water and sediments from the Las Vegas Wash for ARG determination and microcosm studies to evaluate the fate of ARGs under elevated antibiotic concentrations. Both microbial diversity and ARGs will be determined in the water and sediment samples, and qPCR will be used to quantify the target genes. This novel research will provide insight into the abundance of ARGs in the urban water supplies and help understand the current antibiotic resistance in the natural environments with regard to human exposure and health effects.

Improving Wastewater Treatment using Biofilms that Degrade Phenolic and Aromatic Contaminants

Project Summary

At present, wastewater treatment facilities use oxidation ponds to eliminate organic materials. Despite this step, harmful phenolic and aromatic compounds are still present in treated wastewater and, as a result, pollute our environment. Aromatic rings are resistant to microbial degradation because they must be linearized first, and linearization happens only by oxidation with radicals. This proposal will test the concept for a biotechnology that combines some bacteria’s ability to oxidize amino acids and produce hydrogen peroxide with their ability to form biofilms. In the presence of dissolved iron, hydrogen peroxides disproportionate into radicals. When the same bacteria grow as biofilms, these powerful chemicals, along with extracellular hydrolytic enzymes secreted by the bacteria, are concentrated in the organic matrix or pockets within the biofilm and protected from dilution. We hypothesize that in these pockets phenolics are oxidized, and the resultant carboxylic acids are absorbed by the surrounding bacteria and mineralized to carbon dioxide. The proposed research will begin with raising a mono-species biofilm using a Bacillus species, B. mojavensis, that we isolated from local soil and demonstrated to be a biofilm-former and a prolific hydrogen peroxide producer. This biofilm’s ability to degrade phenol, bisphenol, and Congo Red, representing increasing aromaticity (number of rings) and recalcitrance, will be tested. Next, a complex natural biofilm will be raised using Las Vegas Wash water as a source of bacteria to maximize degradation efficiency. Assays for monitoring contaminants and hydrogen peroxide are routine in our laboratories at Desert Research Institute. If validated, this research will lead to a new technology for improved wastewater treatment in Nevada. This proposal will enhance the career of a young female postdoc and provide an opportunity for training an undergraduate student in a multidisciplinary research environment.

Previously Funded Projects

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View list of previously funded NWRRI projects.

The following projects have all been previously funded by NWRRI.

NWRRI Website and Newsletter

Wastewater Reuse and Uptake of Contaminants of Emerging Concerns by Plants

Theoretical Analysis of Optimal Groundwater Basin Development

Uptake of Pharmaceutical and Steroidal Compounds by Quagga Mussels in Lake Mead

An 8,000-year Paleoperspective of Hydroclimate Variability in the Southern Sierra Nevada

Assessing Tree to Grass Water Use Ratios: Significance to Urban Water Conservation

Controls on Hydrologic Partitioning, Residence Time and Solute Export in a Snow-Dominated Watershed

DHS Maki Water Green Box

NWRRI Website and Newsletter

GreenPower: Empowering Nevada

Impact of Climate Change on Low-probability, High-risk Flooding Events in the Southwestern United States

Testing the Mortality and Settlement of Quagga Mussel Veliger Under Various Chemical Treatments

Geologic and Seismic Effects of Large Scale Groundwater Withdrawal from Northeastern Nevada Basins

Water Demand and Conservation Modeling with Sub-parcel Level Landscape Characteristics

Optimization of Ozone-biological Activated Carbon Treatment for Potable Reuse Applications

Estimation of Atmospheric Wet and Dry Deposition of Nutrients to Lake Tahoe Snowpack

Quantifying Surface Runoff and Water Infiltration in Arid and Semiarid Areas

Impact of climate on mercury transport in the Carson River-Lahontan Reservoir system and Management Alternatives to Mitigate Response

Measuring Water Use of Tamarisk and Impacts from Biocontrol: Lower Virgin River, NV

Assessment of Resiliency of Las Vegas Water System Under Climatic and Non-climatic Stressors

Effects of Regional Climate Change on Snowpack in Northern Nevada: Research and Education

Quantifying the Impact of Hyporheic Exchange on In-Stream Water Quality in the Truckee River, NV

Partition of Evapotranspiration and Scale Issues in Arid Landscape

Predicting Solar Still Water Production by Using Artificial Intelligence Techniques

Water Quality and Eutrophication Modeling of Lake Mead under Changing Water Levels

Unsaturated Hydraulic Properties of Anisotropic Soils

Black Carbon in Sierra Nevada Snow: Impacts on Snowmelt and Water Supply

Soil Heterogeneity and Moisture Distribution Due to Rainfall Events in Vegetated Desert Areas: Potential Impact on Soil Recharge and Ecosystems

Flood Warning System for the Clark County Wetlands Park

Microbial and Phytoplankton Impacts on Endocrine Disrupting Contaminants

Quagga Mussel Invasion in Lake Mead: Ecological Impact and Containment

Estimation of Spatiotemporal Statistics of Precipitation and Snow-Water Equivalent in the Truckee River Watershed

Uncertainty and Sensitivity of Groundwater Discharge Estimates for the Shrublands in the Great Basin Area

Soil Heterogeneity and Moisture Distribution Due to Rainfall Events in Vegetated Desert Areas: Potential Impact on Soil Recharge and Ecosystems

Modeling Biotic Uptake of Mercury in the Lahontan Reservoir System

Flood Warning System for the Clark County Wetlands Park

Hydrodynamic Modeling of Lake Mead

Microbial and Phytoplankton Impacts on Endocrine Disrupting Contaminants: Las Vegas Wash and Lake Mead, NV

Hydraulic Property Correspondence and Upscaling for Arid and Semiarid Hydrologic Processes

Quantify Wash Load and Fractional Suspended Load Transport in Lake Tahoe

Wash Load and Fractional Suspended Load Transport in Lake Tahoe Tributaries

Development of National Institutes for Water Resources Website for the State of Nevada for Information Transfer

Aggregating Hydraulic Property Measurements to Large Scales and Potential Applications on Water Budget Studies in Arid and Semiarid Environment

Small Scale Variability of Soil Ped Hydraulic Properties: Potential Impact on Soil Recharge and Ecosystems

Development of a Classification System for Natural Impervious Cover in the Lake Tahoe Basin

A Study of Ancient Trees Rooted 120 Feet Below the Surface Level of Fallen Leaf Lake

Quantifying Potential Economic Impacts of Water Quality Modeling Uncertainty for the Lower Truckee River, Nevada

Identification of Nutrient Rich Groundwater Inflows to Lake Tahoe

Assessment of Groundwater Recharge in Mine Altered Regions of Nevada

A Long-term Comparative Study of Golf Courses Irrigated with Reuse vs. Municipal Water

Long-range Water Supply Forecasting for Nevada and the Colorado River Basin


Chuck Russell, Ph.D.
Program Director

Suzanne Hudson
Assistant Business Manager


Desert Research Institute
755 East Flamingo Road
Las Vegas, NV 89119


Hydrologic Sciences