Home / Opinion / Commentary / From drought to land degradation — UofA focuses on challenges facing an arid environment

From drought to land degradation — UofA focuses on challenges facing an arid environment

Most Arizonans know that our water supply is low. We face this challenge, along with climate extremes, political and policy relationships with other states and the federal government over water, as well as the need to balance our state’s natural wonders with effective resource use.

A critical part of the University of Arizona’s unique land-grant mission is to work on these issues and provide sustainable solutions for today and in the future.

Employing and training the next generation of scientists is not enough. We know that we have to share the knowledge and discoveries we’re making, in real time, with everyone who plays a role in Arizona’s water future – from state leaders and water professionals to land managers and even children learning about water in school.

UofA President Ann Weaver Hart has made water and the arid environment a key focus for this university. As the No. 1 U.S. university in environmental research, we are uniquely positioned to answer this call.

Here are a few examples of how we’re already helping in efforts to effectively manage our water supply:

Through Cooperative Extension, we provide new insights, test new models and identify new tools to improve our life in an ever-more variable climate, with short-term and long-term impacts of drought, the prospect of declining water levels in the Colorado River and the growing competition for our limited water resources.

In the past two years, we trained more than 1,500 people in storm water and rainwater harvesting.

Through the UofA-managed Arizona Meteorological Network of weather stations in 30 Arizona locations, real-time weather information is used to optimize water management for crops, golf courses, parks and recreational areas, and home lawns.

Back on campus, we’re continuing our search for more solutions. Our scientists are developing crops better adapted to arid environments and honing mathematical models that can be used to optimize irrigation systems.

Our economists are calculating the true costs of water shortages to Arizona agriculture, the true economic benefits of using water for agricultural production, the value of water-based recreation/tourism, and the costs of drought to local economies throughout the state.

Our Water Resources Research Center is conducting water policy research and analysis, and engaging with water professionals and the public to develop and implement its applied research programs.

Our faculty members are building international relationships across the arid world, in Central America, South America, the Middle East, North Africa, Asia and Australia, and helping to identify solutions for arid land living. They bring what they learn about the causes of grazing land degradation in Jordan and Saudi Arabia back to Arizona to provide insights into our own landscapes.

The Southwest Climate Change network (part of UofA’s Institute of the Environment and Climate Assessment for the Southwest program) is identifying changes in agriculture that can help all of Arizona cope with drought and maintain a healthy diverse economy. The information is available here.

Our new Water and Energy Sustainable Technology initiative (WEST), which is founded on public-private partnerships, will develop real-world water treatment technologies to increase the safe reuse of water. WEST aims to become a world-renowned venue for developing new water treatment technologies, contaminant monitoring tools, energy minimization and production, and innovative education and training. With state-of-the-art facilities, workshops and educational resources already in place, WEST is an example of another of the UofA’s commitments — to  help develop our state’s diversified “tech economy.”

Through our research, outreach and partnerships, the UofA is playing an important role in helping Arizona successfully respond to increasing demands on scarce water resources, while at the same time growing a diversified economy and sustaining our vast natural resources.

— Shane C. Burgess is vice provost and dean of the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and director of the Arizona Agricultural Experiment Station.

One comment

  1. If that’s the case, why did Pres. Hart let Dr. McPherson retire?

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