For more than 60 years, Texas Water Resources Institute (TWRI) has helped solve priority water issues through research, education, and outreach.
Established in 1952, TWRI has been the state’s official water resources research institute since 1964, when the Water Resources Research Act created a national water resources research program. Today, the institute is one of 54 institutes in the National Institutes for Water Resources, funded by the U.S. Geological Survey. TWRI is also a part of Texas A&M AgriLife Research, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Texas A&M University.
Dr. Roel Lopez, the institute’s interim director, says TWRI’s mission is more important today than ever before.
“Securing and maintaining ample, clean water is one of the most significant challenges facing Texas today,” Lopez says. “We need strategic and innovative solutions for the serious water supply and water quality issues across the state.”
The institute’s work centers on three program areas: water quality improvement, water sustainability and security, and water resources outreach and training.
“We work not only within Texas A&M University, but we also collaborate with other universities, departments, research and extension centers, and various organizations to offer holistic, effective approaches to addressing the critical water resources issues of our time,” says Dr. Kevin Wagner, TWRI associate director.
The institute is currently involved in more than 20 projects that aim to restore water quality, conserve water, or educate Texans. The projects include collaborating with local stakeholders and governmental organizations to restore water quality in numerous water bodies across Texas and educating private property owners about what they can do to protect and conserve their water resources.
Improving water in the Lower Rio Grande Valley
One new, collaborative project at TWRI addresses water quantity and quality in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. TWRI was recently selected to lead a $2.3 million, five-year initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The Lower Rio Grande Valley Water Improvement Initiative is part of the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). The RCPP is a 2014 Farm Bill program that supports collaborative efforts to deliver conservation assistance to producers and landowners.
The RCPP is a competitive program that funded only 115 out of the 600 projects submitted throughout the country. In addition to leading the Lower Rio Grande Valley project, TWRI is a collaborator on the only other RCPP project funded specifically in Texas: the Texas Gulf Coast Stream and Wetland Initiative. That project, led by the Resource Institute, Inc., focuses on restoring and protecting headwater stream and wetland systems within a 54-county area that includes portions of six major rivers in the Texas Gulf Coast region.
For the Lower Rio Grande Valley project, TWRI will leverage the $2.3 million from the NRCS with more than $7 million of in-kind contributions from project partners: Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board, Texas Water Development Board, Harlingen Irrigation District, Rio Grande Regional Water Authority, Black and Veatch, and Cameron County Irrigation District #2.
Addressing water conservation and nutrient management
The Lower Rio Grande Valley’s population growth, Wagner says, puts pressure on region’s limited water supplies and heightens the need for water conservation, especially in agriculture.
“Between 2010 and 2060, population in the region is expected to grow 142 percent,” he says. According to the 2012 Rio Grande Regional Water Plan, an additional supply of 610,000 acre-feet of water a year will be needed by 2060.
The region’s water quality problems also need to be addressed. The Arroyo Colorado and Rio Grande have been identified as priority Texas watersheds for addressing pollution from many diffuse sources (nonpoint source pollution), such as runoff from agricultural and urban lands. Degraded water quality calls for improved nutrient management and management of irrigation return flows, Wagner says.
“A reduction in nutrients in the Arroyo Colorado is needed to help control excessive algal growth, improve dissolved oxygen levels, and restore aquatic health in the Arroyo’s zone of impairment,” he says.
“Although addressing water quantity is the primary concern, water quality and quantity are inseparable and intricately linked in the Valley,” Wagner says.
To address the critical water issues in the Valley, project partners will work together to enhance agricultural water use efficiency and improve nutrient management on irrigated cropland in the Valley through improved irrigation delivery and scheduling, and innovative irrigation techniques and technologies.
“These innovations will decrease water use, improve productivity and reduce irrigation return flows, thus reducing nutrient and sediment loading to local water bodies,” he says. “However, our approach goes beyond on-farm conservation—although that is critically important—and includes regional planning, irrigation water delivery, education and outreach, and monitoring.”
Providing solutions throughout Texas
The problems facing the Lower Rio Grande Valley are not unusual. Major water quantity and water quality problems exist in many parts of Texas, affecting the environment and the economy.
Recognized as a leader in Texas water issues, the Texas Water Resources Institute will continue to work on these challenges. The institute will continue to provide needed expertise, develop strong, interdisciplinary partnerships, and share important water information with Texans.