Texas Tech University

Texas Tech Part of Consortium Studying Sustainability of Ogallala Aquifer

George Watson

March 23, 2016

CASNR Water Center director Chuck West will direct the Texas Tech consortium.

Map courtesy: High Plains Water District.
(click to enlarge)

Researchers from Texas Tech University will participate in a $2.4 million study directed by Colorado State University to examine the long-term sustainability of the Ogallala Aquifer.

Chuck West, the Thornton Distinguished Chair in the Department of Plant and Soil Science and director of the CASNR Water Center in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, will direct the Texas Tech contingent. Texas Tech received $211,000 from the grant, awarded by the United States Department of Agriculture's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.

“This project brings together the latest science and technology in water management in crops and soils and groundwater hydrology with an evaluation of policy and economic impacts,” West said. “The effort also includes outreach to promote adoption of water-saving irrigation methods. The consortium members have exceptional track records of research and extension education in the region, and this project strengthens our collaborations to extend the life of our shared groundwater resources.”

Charles West
Charles West

The Ogallala Aquifer, an underground water source that stretches from the Midland-Odessa area of West Texas and eastern New Mexico through eight states into southern South Dakota, is a declining source of fresh water used both for consumption and agricultural use. The aquifer region accounts for 30 percent of the total crop and animal production in the United States, and more than 90 percent of the water pumped from the aquifer is used for agricultural irrigation.

West said Texas Tech and CASNR have a long record of leadership in research and education related to the Ogallala Aquifer. The aquifer supports a multi-billion dollar agriculture industry, which is a vital employment and revenue foundation for both urban and rural areas in West Texas. He said the project will serve as an additional example of Texas Tech's commitment to partnering with its stakeholders to sustain the area's agricultural industry and its people.

Venkatesh Uddameri
Venkatesh Uddameri

Joining West in the Texas Tech consortium are Venki Uddameri, a professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Construction Engineering and director of the Texas Tech Water Resources Center; Donna Mitchell, a research assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics; and Veronica Acosta-Martinez from the USDA-Agricultural Research Service and an adjunct professor in plant and soil science.

The Texas Tech team will collaborate with economic and agricultural experts as well as engineers from throughout the region to consolidate the most up-to-date information into easily usable formats to water users and groundwater management districts.

Donna Mitchell
Donna Mitchell

The other participating institutions – the University of Nebraska, Kansas State University, Oklahoma State University, New Mexico State University and West Texas A&M University as well as Texas A&M Agrilife and the USDA-Agricultural Research Service – will examine the impact of the rapidly declining aquifer on crop and livestock producers and develop more efficient methods of using the groundwater for sustainable food production systems, rural communities and ecosystem quality. The study will take place over a four-year period.

According to West, the project will identify management strategies to apply the right water at the right time in the right place across the region. He said a coordinated regional effort will ensure advances in efficient water use will be transmitted to users more quickly, and that large-scale changes in the aquifer, cropping patterns and climate can be analyzed with greater accuracy.

Veronica Acosta-Martinez
Veronica Acosta-Martinez

“As water shortages intensify, the rest of the Ogallala Aquifer region can learn from our experiences in the South Plains of Texas, as we have studied and dealt with heat and drought to improve crop-water management,” West said. “Another part of the effort will be to identify the best combination of methods to transition to ultra-low irrigation management and dryland production, while improving soil conditions for holding water.”

The USDA also will serve as the permanent co-chair of the National Drought Resilience Parternship, a presidential initiative to help coordinate drought relief efforts, reduce drought impact and prepare for future droughts.