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The New Wave of Water Conservation
Universities Team Up to Seek Out Nontraditional Irrigation Water Sources


Researchers will explore nontraditional water sources for irrigation, which include surface water, pond water, recycled water, or any source other than groundwater. The research will be used to create practical solutions for direct use to combat growing irrigation problems.
Photo Credit: Dr. Amy Sapkota, University of Maryland, College Park

The University of Maryland, College Park received a $10 million dollar grant in March of this year for its CONSERVE (COordinating Nontraditional Sustainable watER Use in Variable climatEs) Center for Excellence. The money will be used to fund research that will carry out a mission of "facilitating the adoption of transformative on‐farm solutions that enable the safe use of nontraditional irrigation water on food crops." The project is being led by Dr. Amy Sapkota, associate professor and environmental microbiologist at UMD, who wrote the initial grant, brought a team together, and is now the center's director.

The CONSERVE project is a collaboration of 6 U.S universities (University of Arizona, New Mexico State University, University of Maryland, College Park, University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, University of Maryland, Baltimore, and University of Delaware), the USDA Agricultural Research Service, the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, SESYNC (National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center), CosmosID (a private company), and the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies in Israel.

There are three main areas of research that will be carried out:
First, non-traditional sources of irrigation water will be explored. This refers to any sources other than ground water. Surface water, pond water, reused water, reclaimed water, and other sources will be examined. Researchers will have to determine how much of each source is available, map them using GIS technology, and evaluate relevant factors such as proximity to food production areas and economic viability. Microbiologists and chemists will also determine the chemical makeup of the water and identify any microorganisms within it.

Second, the researchers will work to develop and implement ways to treat water sources on-site, giving farmers a practical way to make use of non-traditional irrigation water sources.

The last area of exploration is centered on societal factors. Researchers at the University of Delaware will study consumer acceptance of food products grown with the use of non-traditional irrigation water, while a legal team at UMD will provide an analysis of laws and regulations related to water reuse. Currently, there is no federal law that dictates how water should be reused. Each state is left to legislate for itself, so inconsistencies exist that can hinder a national effort to conserve and reuse water. Dr. Sapkota hopes that new ways of collaboration will be fostered through this legal research that will make recommendations for a future regulatory framework that can support safe and sustainable water reuse.

"As a nation, we need to focus on building a culture of water conservation," she told Landscape Online in an interview. The research will not only help areas currently undergoing drought conditions, but will also help prevent future droughts nationwide by alleviating the overall stress on our irrigation systems.

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August 26, 2019, 3:17 am PDT

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