Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources
White House honors DASNR’s Saleh Taghvaeian
And yet, somehow, in many parts of the so-called “civilized world,” access to clean freshwater barely registers as a concern, despite the fact that, out of all the water on Earth, less than 3 percent is freshwater, of which about 70 percent of that tiny amount is in the form of glaciers and thus not available for use.
“As with many things, it takes a crisis for some people to pay attention,” said Saleh Taghvaeian, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension water resources specialist and an assistant professor in the department of biosystems and agricultural engineering.
Not a problem then for most folks living in the Southern Plains states, who until recently suffered through historic levels of prolonged drought. Ditto for the people of California, who are today likewise dealing with severe drought conditions across much of the state’s – and the nation’s – most economically important agricultural land.
“Most people tend to focus on what we perceive to be more immediate concerns,” Taghvaeian said. “Even if you’ve just suffered through historic levels of drought, all it takes is one wet year and poof, many people start downgrading their level of concern. Ag folks, as a rule and a group, tend to retain a higher level of awareness, probably because so much of what they do depends on the wise use of available water resources.”
Taghvaeian’s activities toward improving agricultural water management – along with a grant he received from the USDA National Resources Conservation Service – were officially recognized by the Executive Branch of the U.S. Government during March 22 ceremonies at the White House.
It was the first-ever White House Water Summit, aimed at shining a spotlight on the importance of multi-disciplinary, creative solutions targeting not only water problems of today, but also highlighting innovative strategies that will catalyze change in how the United States uses, conserves, protects and thinks about water in the years to come.
Taghvaeian and the OSU Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources – in collaboration with Texas A&M University, Kansas State University and USDA – recently initiated a new project promoting the use of advanced sensor-based technologies to improve agricultural water management and minimize irrigation losses, thereby helping conserve declining agricultural water resources in the Southern Plains states.
The universities and USDA are each providing more than $770,000 over the next three years to develop three research sites and 10 demonstration sites in collaboration with growers, as well as developing new mobile apps and an online video series to assist agricultural producers, crop consultants and government personnel in using modern sensors to increase irrigation efficiency.
“In addition, OSU is undertaking a new research initiative on sustainable methods of augmenting limited freshwater resources for crop irrigation with water produced from oil and natural-gas exploration,” said Garey Fox, director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Center and holder of the OSU Thomas E. Berry Professorship in Integrated Water Research and Management.
Taghvaeian has found there is a misperception among some people that agricultural producers waste water resources, wherein typically farmers and ranchers are among the nation’s best stewards of its water and land resources.
“They drink from well water pulled out of the ground on which they live and work, unlike most people living in urban areas,” he said. “Most farmers and ranchers have a vested interest in water use and efficiency. They just need the environmental stewardship to be economically feasible, and that is where research-based information being done by OSU and our cooperating partners can help.”
Addressing water challenges requires understanding of the cause, scope and impact of such challenges, as well as investigation into possible solutions, according to a press release issued by the White House as part of its water summit.
It is a belief echoed by DASNR officials.
“The importance and value of research-based information is it helps take out guesswork and allows one to make informed decisions,” said Keith Owens, DASNR associate vice president who oversees OSU’s statewide Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station system. “Freshwater is too valuable a resource to not use wisely. Given water’s finite availability and demands from population growth, agriculture and the environment, we need to constantly improve and refine freshwater management.”
During his time with DASNR, Taghvaeian has been involved in numerous projects, but three of them stand out as having the most significant impact. The first is developing management strategies for subsurface drip irrigation in Oklahoma Panhandle.
“We have been investigating the impact of irrigation amount, deficit to full, and planting accuracy on the yield of corn and sorghum,” he said. “The results have been presented to growers at several Extension events.”
The second project is in direct collaboration with cotton growers and explores the sustainability of irrigated cotton in southwestern Oklahoma, with an emphasis on soil salinization and advanced irrigation management. The third project evaluates the combined energy and water efficiency of irrigation systems in western and central Oklahoma.
“Collaborating with several DASNR faculty members, we provide participating growers with a detailed audit of pumping plant energy efficiency and irrigation system water application efficiency and uniformity, Taghvaeian said. “The results can save farmers thousands of dollars in energy savings, as well as significant water conservation.”
The breadth of work undertaken by Taghvaeian, his fellow DASNR faculty and cooperating partners showcases the abundance of opportunities relative to water-related careers, be they in government, industry or academia.
“It’s one of the reasons we place a strong emphasis on student awareness and recognition programs through the Oklahoma Water Resources Center,” Fox said. “As part of the OSU Student Water Week, for example, college students from numerous universities and states come to our Stillwater campus to participate. There is and will continue to be a great demand for individuals trained in different aspects of water use.”
For those interesting in possibly pursuing a water-related career, Fox and Taghvaeian recommend visiting the center’s website at http://water.okstate.edu and browsing around.
“We have information about projects and educational opportunities, links and contacts in the job market, plus we’re always happy to provide detailed information,” Taghvaeian said. “We like talking to people about water.”
And it is such conversations that Taghvaeian feels is one of the most enjoyable aspects of his position with DASNR.
“Being a water researcher and educator is a two-way relationship in which I learn just as much as I teach when I’m out conducting programs with farmers, ranchers, whomever,” he said. “Most of our growers are extremely progressive. They are very willing to experiment with technologies. Our land-grant mission revolves around us working side-by-side with people to help them solve issues and concerns of importance to them.”
Taghvaeian is a great believer in and supporter of the land-grant mission. He earned his doctoral degree in irrigation engineering from a land-grant institution, Utah State University, in June 2011. Taghvaeian did his post-doctoral fellowship work at another land-grant institution, Colorado State University, from July 2011 to October 2013. He then joined the hub of land-grant activity that is the OSU Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.
“Ultimately, we measure our successes based on how we have helped others to succeed,” Taghvaeian said. “That is a pretty good measure if you want to do meaningful work.”
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