Four-year, $10 million grant will focus on Ogallala Aquifer

Water challenges and agricultural sustainability in the Ogallala Aquifer region are the focus of a four-year, $10 million grant that will include scientists from the Texas Water Resources Institute (TWRI), Texas A&M AgriLife Research and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

Colorado State University is the overall lead on the project. Other participating entities include University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Kansas State University, Oklahoma State University, New Mexico State University, Texas Tech University, West Texas A&M University and the USDA-Agricultural Research Service. The project is funded through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative  Water for Agriculture Challenge Area, administered by USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

“For many years, researchers have been developing more efficient irrigation techniques, water-efficient crop varieties and water-conserving soil management methods,” said Dr. Brent Auvermann, an agricultural engineering specialist with AgriLife Extension and AgriLife Research in Amarillo. “But we’re still draining the aquifer. It’s time to put all of the pieces together, and it’s time for each of the affected states to learn from the others.”

The Ogallala is declining on a path many consider to be unsustainable. The Ogallala Aquifer region currently accounts for 30 percent of total crop and animal production in the United States, and more than 90 percent of the water pumped from the Ogallala Aquifer is used for irrigated agriculture.

“The Ogallala Aquifer and the agricultural production reliant upon it are critical to the long-term sustainability of not only the region but also food security for the United States,” said Dr. Kevin Wagner, TWRI deputy director. “Through this collaboration, we hope to extend the life of the aquifer and develop long-term solutions supporting sustainable agricultural production in the region.”

TWRI and AgriLife Extension participants on this project will be engaged primarily in technology transfer efforts, including leveraging AgriLife Extension venues and networks to address different audiences' and stakeholders' information and education needs.

Dr. Dana Porter, AgriLife Extension agricultural engineering water management specialist in Lubbock, said the wide variety of simulation models now available to researchers — hydrology, crop, soil and climate models, along with the expansive databases required to make these models run — now have to be integrated.

“Our models are good, but they don’t talk to each other very well,” Porter said. “We’re going to change that. We can’t ask farmers, ranchers and water-resource managers to adopt long-term strategies that affect their bottom lines if the strategies aren’t well thought out, coherent and sensible.”

For more information, read the AgriLife Today news release.

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