Water Resources Institute has a lot to offer

Farm Forum

Brookings – Water tends to be a hot topic for just about every state. Some years there’s too much water; or in years like 2012, there was not enough. As well, different interest groups can have different priorities for water use – from agricultural and industrial to urban, recreational and even oil and gas development.

To ensure the integrity and quality of this valued resource, the South Dakota Water Resources Institute (WRI) at South Dakota State University provides leadership on finding solutions to evolving water concerns through research, educational opportunities, and community outreach.

“There will always be issues that we need to find solutions for in the state related to water,” said Jeppe Kjaersgaard, an Assistant Professor of Agricultural and Environmental Water Management at the Institute.

In the 1970s and 1980s, initial research by the South Dakota WRI focused on land suitability and management for irrigation of cropland using water from the Missouri River reservoirs. In subsequent years, the focus shifted to studying lake ecosystems and lake water quality, particularly because of the uniqueness of South Dakota’s Prairie Pothole region. Today, agricultural and environmental water management research including tile drainage, hydrology, water quality assessments and water quality for livestock are among WRI’s projects in the state, reports Kjaersgaard.

“We are using the newest technology including satellite imagery, advanced computer models and field monitoring equipment in our research and education activities,” he said.

Kjaersgaard is one of the SDSU researchers who oversee the efforts of the Institute, along with director Van Kelley, assistant director Kevin Dalsted, program manager Mary O’Neill and program assistant Trista Koropatnicki.

But the efforts of WRI extend beyond these individuals. Kjaersgaard explains that collaboration – with other university researchers at SDSU and across the state, as well as industry and different government agencies – is integral to the process to find solutions to current and emerging water issues.

To this end, South Dakota WRI hosts a water conference in Brookings annually. At the conference, participants share information on the work they are doing through panel discussions, presentations, and research poster sessions.

In 2012, about 200 individuals representing universities and local, state and federal government entities and industry attended the conference, including the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources, South Dakota Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service and United States Geological Survey.

Additionally, in collaboration with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) the South Dakota WRI annually awards research grants to researchers at different universities in the state. Kjaersgaard says about $65,000 is awarded across three to five proposals each year.

“It’s a modest amount of money, but it provides seed money to young faculty trying to build a program or fund a graduate student study. Many water related research projects in the state started under the auspices of this grant program,” Kjaersgaard said.

Looking to the future, Kjaersgaard anticipates WRI’s role – and collaboration – will grow as new water issues emerge. He cites water for continued development of the state’s economy, urban population growth, agricultural and industrial needs and possible oil and gas development in the state among those challenges to be addressed.

The South Dakota WRI is one of 54 water resources research institutes across the nation that were authorized by Congress and created after the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972. At SDSU, the institute is affiliated with the College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences, Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering and the South Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station. Funding for the institute comes from federal and state sources.

Awareness For Kids, Too

In an effort to help young people learn more about protecting our precious water supply, the annual Big Sioux Water Festival is held each May on the SDSU campus. One thousand local fourth graders are bused in for the festival which teaches them about watersheds, their water footprint and protecting water quality.