Writer: D'Lyn Ford
ALBUQUERQUE - New Mexico State University's Water Task Force will begin research and educational programs to improve irrigation efficiency in agriculture and urban landscaping in the Rio Grande Basin this fall as part of a joint program with Texas A&M University.
"We want to reach out to public decision makers, agricultural water users and even municipal water users to improve irrigation efficiency," said Craig Runyan, water quality specialist with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service. "This initiative will help better define current irrigation practices in the Rio Grande Basin and generate new information to improve efficiency. We will disseminate all our findings to the public in practical ways that directly impact water use in the region."
Runyan said the initiative will focus on five areas: water reuse, water conservation practices, water quality, ecological water uses that impact irrigation and use of satellite imagery and remote sensing technologies.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved a three-year, $2.6 million grant to finance projects under the initiative in New Mexico and Texas, with about $800,000 earmarked for New Mexico.
New Mexico's share will be divided between research conducted by NMSU's Agricultural Experiment Station and educational outreach through its Cooperative Extension Service. Specific projects will be chosen from NMSU faculty proposals in August and work will begin in the fall, Runyan said.
A broad variety of projects are under review. Some proposals include research and education about municipal wastewater treatment plants to irrigate farms and turf on golf courses and parks, efficient irrigation scheduling based on water requirements for specific crops, and studies of water rights policies to recommend incentives for conservation.
Other proposals include efforts to reduce water salinity to improve crops, promote integrated pest management techniques that lower the risk of contamination from fertilizers and pesticides, and research on the water needs of endangered species such as the silvery minnow to determine potential benefits and disadvantages of in-stream flow requirements.
Texas A&M will focus on similar issues in that state, but USDA funds will finance additional research and Extension work, such as engineering and economic studies to improve local water distribution systems, said B.L. Harris, associate director of the Texas Water Resources Institute.
The projects will be administered independently in each state, but NMSU and Texas A&M will cooperate wherever possible.
"We want to erase state boundaries as much as possible and get our faculties to work together," Harris said. "NMSU has expertise that we don't have and we have expertise that NMSU doesn't have, so we want to share our experience."
In New Mexico, NMSU's Water Task Force will administer the grant, oversee project approval and publish research results, said Runyan, who coordinates the task force.
NMSU's College of Agriculture and Home Economics created the task force last year as a university-wide organization to supply objective, scientific data about water issues in New Mexico. The task force includes about 75 NMSU specialists on water-related issues who provide rapid responses to public requests for studies, white papers, expert testimony at public hearings and proposed solutions to water problems.
Task force committee members testified this year at various U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hearings on critical habitat in New Mexico.
"The Rio Grande Basin initiative is a good example of the task force's positive impact on water-related issues," said Billy Dictson, associate dean of the college and director of NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service. "Our goal is to provide good, solid scientific judgment to water users and decision makers so that the state's policies and practices reflect the best possible decisions from the scientific point of view."
© 2013 New Mexico State University Board of Regents
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