According to the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, access to high quality fresh water is not just an agricultural or human health issue, but a major peace and security issue. By 2025, 1.8 billion people are expected to be living in countries or regions with “absolute” water scarcity and two-thirds of the world population could be under “stress” conditions. The polluting of clean water sources further threatens access to safe drinking water and increases the tension between water needs of people, agriculture, nature, and the industry.
- AgriLife Research developed hydroponic cropping systems that increased lettuce yields by more than 40% while achieving water savings of more than 90% when compared to lettuce grown under conventional irrigation systems.
- Researchers found that cutting early cotton irrigations reduced total water use by 20% while reducing lint yield by only 5%. A 25% adoption rate of this irrigation method could reduce annual water requirements by more than 1 million acre-inches, or 27 trillion gallons. This potential water savings could meet the municipal water needs of Lubbock for 20 months.
Current Projects & Selected Accomplishments
Hydrology and Water Resources Management
Flow patterns in rivers and aquifers have many implications for water resource management and ecosystem health. Dr. Zhuping Sheng studies hydrological processes, water-resources management, managed aquifer recharge, and aquifer mechanics in the El Paso and other arid regions. His theoretical and applied research is relevant for water-source protection, securing water resources during prolonged droughts, and alleviating damages due to droughts and floods.
Improvement of crop irrigation systems
Thomas H. Marek and Qingwu Xue have teamed with crop genetics faculty to help farmers achieve advanced productivity and higher water-use efficiency than ever before. Their efforts underscore significantly less groundwater resources being pumped from the Ogallala Aquifer.
These Amarillo researchers have evaluated new drought-tolerant corn hybrids at three irrigation levels in the region. Multi-year field studies indicated that it is possible to maintain 200 bushels per acre of yield at an irrigation level of 75% of evapotranspiration (ET) requirement with some new hybrids. This irrigation level can allow water savings over 20%.
Water conservation and irrigation strategies
Uvalde Center researchers, Drs. Daniel Leskovar and Vijay Joshi, have demonstrated a 36% water savings in Tuscan and cantaloupe melon through deficit irrigation applied with subsurface drip systems. Leskovar and Joshi have also demonstrated the benefits of adopting water-conserving practices (75% crop evapotranspiration) with growth-stage crop coefficients for short-day onion.
Crop water efficiency
Dr. John Jifon seeks to increase crop water use efficiency without sacrificing yield by monitoring soil moisture depletion patterns and water variables. Potential outcomes include on-farm water conservation, reduced water production costs related to water supply, and more water available for non-agricultural use.
Urban water management
Rapid land development without sufficient planning puts the city at risk for floods, damage to fish habitats, and less drought resilience. That’s why the Hydrologic Modeling Team at the Blackland Research and Extension Center is working with Austin, Texas to improve water management in the city.
The team has updated and expanded the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) model to simulate the hydrology of urban watersheds in Austin, TX. As a part of this project, the team is developing tools for rainfall-runoff modeling at sub-hourly time steps, stormwater best management practices, and green infrastructures to improve downstream water quantity and quality.
Water use efficiency
The agronomy program team led by Dr. Xuejun Dong is collaborating with researchers at College Station, Lubbock, and Amarillo in developing novel phenotyping tools to identify crop shoot/root traits with improved water use efficiency under different management regimes. To assist precision irrigation, a crop growth model is being developed for integration into an irrigation control platform teamed with TEES researchers.
Crops that can thrive on marginal-quality water
In the southwestern United States, using marginal-quality water for irrigation helps conserve the region’s scarce freshwater. However, alternative water sources can contain elevated salt levels that would be harmful to crops. To enable the use of these alternative water resources, Dr. Genhua Niu seeks out salt-tolerant cultivars of landscape plants, bioenergy crops, and regionally important crops such as chili peppers, pecans, and pomegranates.