Water is central to every aspect of agriculture, health and economies worldwide. It’s also a finite resource that faces growing demands and challenges. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, almost four in 10 people around the world live in areas with high water shortages and scarcity, and more than two-thirds of the world’s population faces water stress. The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, or DIA, calls access to fresh water a major peace and security issue. Water could divide us, but it could also be used as a tool for cooperation.
Making Research Connections
Water issues in Texas, the U.S. and across the globe are evolving rapidly. Texas A&M AgriLife Research is adapting to meet growing challenges by forming partnerships locally, with other institutions, with industry, other states and other countries to improve water use efficiency, quality and access.
Current Projects & Partnerships
Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Small Scale Irrigation (ILSSI)
In Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali and Tanzania, the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Small Scale Irrigation, or ILSSI, aims to expand farmer-led, small-scale irrigation efforts that are sustainable, profitable and gender-sensitive. Nicole Lefore, Ph.D., with The Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture directs ILSSI, a research-for-development project. The goals of ILSSI contribute to agricultural growth, better health and nutrition and social and economic resiliency among vulnerable populations.
ILSSI is a part of the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future Initiative. Partners include the International Water Management Institute, the International Livestock Research Institute, the International Food Policy Research Institute and North Carolina A&T State University. AgriLife Research personnel include Matt Stellbauer, Ph.D., Senior projects manager at the Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture; Raghavan Srinivasan, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife professor and Spatial Sciences Laboratory director, Bryan-College Station; Henry Bryant, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Research associate professor, Bryan-College Station; Abeyou Worqlul, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife assistant research scientists at the Texas A&M AgriLife Blackland Research and Extension Center; Jean-Claude Bizimana, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Department of Agriculture Economics associate research scientist, Bryan-College Station; and Yihun Dile, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Ecosystem Science and Management assistant research scientist, Bryan-College Station.
Household Water Insecurity Experiences – Research Coordination Network (HWISE-RCN)
The HWISE-RCN is part of USAID’s LASER PULSE program and is an international, multidisciplinary effort, which began at Texas A&M University in 2016 to advance understanding of the causes and outcomes of water insecurity at the household scale, including how water insecurity drives food insecurity worldwide. Wendy Jepson, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Dallas Research and Extension Center and Texas Water Resources Institute associate director is part of HWISE-RCN’s executive committee.
The initiative includes personnel from public and private research groups, and universities across the U.S. — including Texas A&M University and The University of Texas — and countries including England, Brazil, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Canada, Mexico, Ethiopia and Singapore.
Ogallala Aquifer Research Partnerships
AgriLife Research participates in several partnership projects focused on management of the Ogallala Aquifer, which is the largest aquifer in the U.S. The aquifer is being depleted rapidly, particularly in Texas. Projects include the Ogallala Aquifer Program and the Ogallala Water Coordinated Agriculture Project. The projects seek to improve the sustainability of agricultural industries and rural communities that depend on the Ogallala Aquifer through scientific research and outreach to address issues related to groundwater decline. Outreach efforts include the well-attended Ogallala Aquifer Summit every two years.
AgriLife Research personnel involved with the Ogallala Aquifer partnership programs hail from the Texas A&M Research and Extension Center at Lubbock, the Texas A&M Research and Extension Center at Amarillo and the Texas Water Resources Institute. Other partners include the Texas Tech Water Resources Center, the Kansas Center for Agricultural Resources and the Environment and USDA-ARS.
Permanent Forum of Binational Waters and TAAP
Rosario Sanchez Flores, Ph.D., TWRI senior research scientist, Bryan-College Station, leads the Permanent Forum of Binational Waters and the Transboundary Aquifer Assessment Act Program for Texas as part of the Transboundary Water Portal. Both projects partner with universities in the U.S. and Mexico and federal institutions in both countries to share data and research related to transboundary water resources and to foster a growing dialog and trust between stakeholders. The Permanent Forum of Binational Waters hosts numerous outreach efforts through its Science Talks and related open forums.
AgriLife Research personnel involved with these transboundary water projects include John Tracy, Ph.D., TWRI director, Bryan-College Station; Wendy Jepson, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Dallas Research and Extension Center and TWRI associate director, Bryan-College Station; Allen Berthold, Ph.D.; TWRI senior research scientist, Bryan-College Station; Saurav Kumar, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife El Paso Research and Extension Center assistant professor, El Paso; Lindsay Sansom, Borlaug Institute of International Agriculture volunteer, Bryan-College Station and Laura Rodriguez, TWRI graduate student, Bryan-College Station.
Rio Grande Water CAP
The Diversifying the Water Portfolio for Agriculture in the Rio Grande Basin coordinated agriculture project, or Rio Grande Water CAP, is a collaboration between Texas A&M AgriLife, the Texas Water Resources Institute, New Mexico State University and the New Mexico Water Resources Institute. The integrated, multistate project seeks to optimize water use within the Rio Grande Basin to help sustain agricultural production while enhancing regional water use efficacy and economic and employment opportunities for stakeholders, producers and communities throughout the region.
AgriLife Research personnel involved with these transboundary water projects include John Tracy, Ph.D., TWRI director, Bryan-College Station; Allen Berthold, Ph.D., TWRI senior research scientist, Bryan-College Station; Raghavan Srinivasan, Ph.D., Blackland Research and Extension Center director, Temple; Girisha Ganjegunte, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife El Paso Research and Extension Center associate professor, El Paso; Jane Dever, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Lubbock Research and Extension Center professor, Lubbock; Juan Enciso, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Weslaco Research and Extension Center professor, Weslaco; Katie Lewis, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Lubbock Research and Extension Center associate professor, Lubbock; Genhua Niu, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Dallas Research and Extension Center professor of Urban Agriculture, Dallas; and Qingwu Xue, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Amarillo Research and Extension Center associate professor, Amarillo.
Improvement of Crop Irrigation Systems
Thomas H. Marek, MS, PE, Texas A&M AgriLife Amarillo Research and Extension Center senior research engineer, Amarillo and Qingwu Xue, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Amarillo Research and Extension Center associate professor, Amarillo, 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
Daniel Leskovar, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Uvalde director and Vegetable Physiology professor and Vijay Joshi, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Uvalde Systems Plant Physiology professor, 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
John Jifon, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Department of Horticulture Sciences associate professor, Bryan-College Station, 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 Xuejun Dong, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Department of Soil and Crop Sciences associate professor, Bryan-College Station, 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.
Additional AgriLife Research Water Projects
Many water-related efforts of Texas A&M AgriLife Research operate concurrently and aim to bolster the health and availability of water resources across the state, country and world. The following list includes an abridged selection of initiatives within AgriLife Research’s continuously expanding portfolio of impactful water resources activities.
- Suresh Pillai, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife National Center for Electron Beam Research director, Bryan-College Station and his team are using electron beam technology to destroy short-chain and perfluoroalkyl substances in groundwater, wastewater, sewage sludges and soil.
- Saurav Kumar, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife El Paso Research and Extension Center assistant professor, El Paso and an interdisciplinary team of researchers from Texas A&M University and University of Texas – El Paso are using remote-sensing technologies to measure, model and track soil moisture in agriculture to optimize irrigation to save groundwater. They’re also looking at how irrigation impacts soil chemistry in ways that might release greenhouse gasses that play a role in climate change.
- Eun Sung Kan, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Stephenville Research and Extension Center assistant professor, Stephenville, is leading a team of Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Tarleton State University scientists in developing specially designed biochar tailored for dairy and other waste material to help enhance the water quality of potential agricultural runoff.
- Various researchers at the Texas Water Resources Institute, a unit of AgriLife Research, are determining links between pathogens in surface or near-surface sources, runoff and streams, and their impacts on groundwater and aiding in the development of watershed protection plans for impacted watersheds.
Selected Research Impacts
- 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.