Conservation Matters August 2013

The Texas Land, Water and Wildlife Connection

Save the date: Riesel historic designation ceremony Sept. 23

Save the date: Riesel historic designation ceremony Sept. 23

The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) experimental watershed facility, commonly called the Riesel Watersheds, recently received national recognition as “a Historic Landmark of Agricultural and Biological Engineering” by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE). A designation ceremony and open house is set for Sept. 23 from 2–6:30 p.m. at the facility, 1702 Blackland Road, Riesel. Texas Farm Bureau and other sponsors will provide refreshments. 

Established in 1937–1938 and the last remaining original experimental watershed, the Riesel site is one of 58 historic landmarks recognized nationally by the society. 

“The landmark designation is a high honor for the facility,” said Carol Flautt, ASABE awards coordinator. Headquartered in St. Joseph, Michigan, the society has recognized the nation’s historic developments in agricultural engineering for more than 80 years.

The Riesel Watersheds facility, located 2.5 miles east of Riesel, is operated by the Temple-based ARS Grassland, Soil and Water Research Laboratory. ARS is the chief scientific research agency in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Temple lab is an international leader in developing decision support tools and sustainable management systems for crops, forage and rangeland. ARS owns and operates the Riesel Watersheds but works closely with Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension at the Temple Blackland/Grassland Center. 

“This collaboration between state and federal scientists headquartered in Temple has enhanced and sustained research at Riesel and has contributed to its longevity,” said Dr. Daren Harmel, director of ARS operations in Temple and Riesel.

The Riesel Watersheds were established by USDA’s Soil Conservation Service as part of the New Deal's attempt to increase farm productivity during a devastating drought and to prevent massive soil erosion, Harmel said. The watersheds were transferred to the newly created ARS in 1954. 

“For more than 75 years, scientific staff at the 840-acre facility has been researching water, its use and its conservation, and has used this information to solve critical soil and water resource problems,” he said. The other two original experimental watersheds created at the same time, in Coshocton, Ohio, and Hastings, Nebraska, are now closed. 

“Of these original three watersheds, only the Riesel site continues to provide essential information on agricultural fields and watersheds from which to determine their impact on soil erosion, floods, water resources and the agricultural economy,” Harmel said.

Harmel and his team oversee 17 water-monitoring stations and 15 rain gauges that measure rainfall, runoff and water quality on the various kinds of lands found in Central Texas, which include native prairie, grazed rangeland, improved pasture and cultivated cropland.

Their scientific findings provide long-reaching influence on land use and economic development in Texas and across the nation. “The Agricultural Research Service pays incredible returns for the U.S. population,” Harmel said, “solving problems such as screwworm infestation and constantly battling crop diseases, invasive species and increasing droughts.”

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