The research center in El Paso, TX focuses on the most critical needs of Far West Texas – adequate adequate, reliable, safe, and economic water supplies. A border population of more than 2 million, rapid growth has created competition for existing water. Environmental issues and frequent drought also underscore the urgency for finding and implementing effective solutions.
Premier research projects include waterborne pathogen detection, soil and water salinity management, reclaimed water use, desalination concentrate alternatives, ground-surface water management, and evaluation of the economic impacts of technology and policy changes.
Key Research Areas
- Waterborne pathogen detection and control
- Water and soil salinity management
- Hydrogeology and district delivery efficiency
- Water value, pricing and irrigation efficiency
- Reclaimed water use and bioremediation
- Agricultural economics and water policy
- Urban landscape water conservation
- Integrated river basin management and analysis
- Hydrologic research, done in the Far West region focuses on maintaining a healthy ecosystem during extreme drought and helps more than 2.5 million people from the West Texas, New Mexico, and along the U.S.-Mexican border.
- Researchers from the Far West region provide the scientific data on a protozoan water pathogen, this data is used to support public health decisions and regulatory monitoring by the EPA.
- Results show that a least one irrigation or about 3,000 acre-feet of freshwater per year, can be saved using soil moisture based irrigation scheduling in El Paso County.
- The El Paso Center leads a bi-national effort to ensure adequate water resources for Texas, New Mexico, and the Mexican border region.
- El Paso center researchers are developing bioenergy crops that can use marginal-quality water sources such as treated urban wastewater and gray water.
Bioenergy Crops that Thrive on Marginal-quality Water
Dr. Girisha Ganjegunte is developing bioenergy crops that can use marginal-quality water sources such as electric cooling water, treated urban wastewater, gray water, and saline groundwater. Early data indicate that varieties of switchgrass, sorghum, castor, and jatropha can tolerate irrigation water with high salinity levels.
In one project Ganjegunte studied how reject water from cooling towers can be used for crops. For example, after several cycles water used in cooling at El Paso Water Utilities can’t be used anymore. Current management of this water is non productive disposal of the water. Ganjegunte found that this reject water can be used for irrigation. Important factors include gentle slope and well drained soil with naturally occurring calcium carbonates
Producer water use and aquifer hydrology
The Ogallala aquifer provides 6.9 million acres of irrigated cropland in Texas. This accounts for almost 15 percent of the total irrigated acreage in the U.S. Certainly conservation of ground water resources is vital to the agricultural economy. Dr. Zhuping Sheng, along with researchers at Texas Tech University and others from AgriLife Research, are working to develop a policy assessment tool for the Texas High Plains. This policy will guide impacts of water conservation policies and strategies to manage ground water resources.
The project is currently underway, and objectives includes:
- Develop and estimate a hydro-econometric model
- Test the hypothesis that improved irrigation efficiency and slows down aquifer depletion
- Simulate impacts of policy measures on the aquifer
Salt Tolerance of Crops
The use of saline water resources for irrigated crops is essential to conserve freshwater resources in the Rio Grande Basin. Dr. Genhua Niu is studying saline water irrigation on several crops – chile peppers, oil seed crops, and landscape plants such as perrenials and garden roses.
Niu found salt tolerance cultivars, which have a higher yield and more profitability to chile pepper growers. She continues to study salt tolerance of different chile pepper genotypes and at various growth stages.
Other studies found a wide range of salt tolerance among many herbaceous perrenials and groundcovers and 13 garden rose cultivars. Contact Niu for a list of salt tolerant plant species.