ABIQUIU DAM, N.M. -- About a dozen students from the science and engineering club at Coronado High School and Middle School in Gallina, N.M., toured the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Abiquiu Dam, Oct. 3, 2019.

They also toured the hydroelectric facility, which is located at the base of the dam, and managed and operated by Los Alamos Department of Public Utilities.

"These tours are an excellent way to showcase the systems and management parameters in place that guide the current reservoir and river conditions observed by the visiting public and the surrounding community," said John Mueller, Abiquiu project office manager, USACE-Albuquerque District.

The tour was especially timely for the group as the students are participating in the New Mexico 2019-2020 Governor's STEM Challenge. The theme of this year's challenge is creating technological solutions that meet the goal of "keeping the world safer using technology."

The recent toxic algae bloom at Abiquiu Lake sparked their interest and their project developed from there.

"As we became aware of this unsettling news, our community wondered why and how this affects our safety," said Sergio Torres, science instructor at Coronado High School.

"Coronado Middle High School science classes have become engaged in project-based learning in order to better understand this phenomenon," Torres said. "Our work will involve testing water parameters and monitoring chemical and biological factors that may pose deleterious effects to our environment and water quality."

A large portion of their project involves developing a real time nanotechnology platform.

"The system will be designed to monitor chemical pollutants and ecological changes that correlate with water quality and safety," Torres said. "Our project is very feasible in developing a better platform to keep our water safe."

Mueller and park ranger Austin Kuhlman met with the students, discussed a wide range of topics during the tour, and answered questions from the students such as "what is the deepest part of the lake?" (Answer: near the outlet area)

The students learned more about the recent algae bloom that closed the swim beach area of the lake; the history of the dam; and what water can be stored there and under which authorities. They also learned more about aquatic invasive species such as zebra and quagga mussels.

Kuhlman and Mueller said that while Abiquiu Lake and the rest of New Mexico is zebra and quagga mussel-free, all the surrounding states have the invasive mussels.

In the visitor's center, Kuhlman showed a motor propeller that was submerged for several months in Lake Mead, on the Nevada-Arizona border, which has invasive mussels. Every surface of this propeller was encrusted with mussels.

The invasive mussels infest pipes, conduits, and other important infrastructure associated with dams, adding hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in increased repair and maintenance costs.

"The tours at the dam and hydroelectric facility were very informative on the dam's operation and function of the hydroelectric facility," Torres said.

Torres also said that learning about the algae testing -- how it was done and the specific tests conducted -- was useful in developing their project.

"The Abiquiu Project Office staff is eager to discuss and present the Abiquiu Dam's mission with either individual visitors or groups as we did last week with the group form Coronado High School," said Mueller.

If you have a group that is interested in learning more about Abiquiu Dam, please contact the Abiquiu Project Office at (505) 685-4371 to schedule a tour.