New Waves December 2009

Breaking news about water resources research and education in Texas

Seawright’s research proves economic value of fighting invasive plant

As a part of the Rio Grande Basin Initiative, agricultural economics researchers at Texas A&M AgriLife have worked to identify economically-viable solutions to water quality and quantity challenges in the Rio Grande Valley, and agricultural economics graduate student Emily Seawright has played an important role in this timely research.

Seawright’s work focused on developing and using an economic model to examine potential implications of the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) biological control program for Arundo donax, commonly known as giant reed.

“This control program is anticipated to reduce the amount of giant reed present in the Texas Rio Grande Basin, thus increasing available water supply to the Texas Lower Rio Grande Valley,” Seawright said. “The purpose of this research is to estimate the potential economic benefits for the Texas Lower Rio Grande Valley gained from water saved by reducing giant reed, and to perform a benefit-cost analysis, a per-unit cost analysis, and an economic impact analysis of the program to the region.”

The project was supported for the 2008-09 academic year by funding from the USDA-ARS, the Rio Grande Basin Initiative, and a $5,000 Texas Water Resources Institute (TWRI) grant provided by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) as part of the National Institutes for Water Research annual research program. TWRI is the federally designated institute for water resources research in Texas.

The use of biological controls (i.e., beneficial insects) on Arundo donax, a perennial, non-native invasive weed, was deemed necessary by scientists because the huge weeds consume large quantities of water along the banks of the Rio Grande.

Arundo is estimated to consume 4.37 ac-ft/acre/year, in addition to decreasing riparian diversity, altering the water stream, and choking irrigation canals,” Seawright said.

The ArundoEcon© model was developed by Seawright and AgriLife researchers and incorporates life-cycle cost analysis. Seawright used the model and USDA-ARS estimates of the biological control program’s potential effects to determine that the biological control program, still in the planning stages at the time, is economically justified. Working with Dr. John Goolsby of USDA-ARS at Weslaco, Allen Sturdivant of Texas AgriLife Extension Service at Weslaco, Drs. Ed Rister and Ron Lacewell of Texas AgriLife Research in College Station, and Dr. Dean McCorkle of Texas AgriLife Extension Service in College Station, Seawright identified the life-cycle cost of saving water to be $44/ac-ft/year, along with a benefit cost ratio between $4.38:1 and $8.81:1, meaning social benefits would be between $4.38 and $8.81 for every $1 spent on the biological control project.

Seawright, who graduated with her master’s in agricultural economics in August, said that she hopes her research will help show Texans the economic importance of multi-disciplinary scientific programs such as the biological control program for Arundo donax.

“I chose this area of research because it offered me the opportunity to apply what I learned in classes and to also collaborate with several scientific disciplines, such as entomology and ecosystem science,” Seawright said. “The diversity of the study expanded my knowledge in different scientific fields and really showed me how my work is integrated with the work of field scientists.”

For more information on Seawright’s research, see the final technical report here or visit TWRI’s USGS Research Grants Web page.

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