Environment

Rio Grande Salinity Drives Innovation, Change In Agriculture

The river is integral to Texas' irrigation. High salinity is changing the agricultural landscape.

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The increasing salinity of the Rio Grande is a real problem for agricultural producers. Experts from Texas A&M AgriLife Research are studying this issue to provide options and advice for those who rely on the water source.

To understand agriculture along the Rio Grande, one must first understand “where the water comes from, the volume and how the water drains,” said Juan Enciso,an AgriLife Research irrigation engineer at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Weslaco. Enciso is also an associate professor in Texas A&M University’s Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, administered by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

As the Rio Grande makes its way from its snowmelt-fed headwaters in Colorado to its outlet in the Gulf of Mexico, 80% of the water is diverted for agriculture.

“We are a very dry state and we don’t have enough water,” Enciso said. “We have to be very careful about not overusing the water.”

Many of the crops, like pecans and alfalfa, require a lot of water, said Girisha Ganjegunte, AgriLife Research water resources and salinity management research group leader at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research Center at El Paso and a professor in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences.

“Because of high evaporation and high agricultural operations, you need a lot of water to grow the crops,” he said. “The irrigation water depth is measured in feet here, not in inches.”

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