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TWRI Water Exceptional Items – AgriLife Today

December 27, 2021
The new biennium of funding for the Research, Engineering and Extension: Development of Water Programs of Excellence, also called the Water Exceptional Item, has kicked off.
Each submission went through a panel review process, and four projects were selected by Texas A&M AgriLife Research, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station.
The Water Exceptional Item is funded by state appropriations from U.S. Congress to AgriLife Research and is administered by the Texas Water Resources Institute, TWRI. Through this funding, the three Texas A&M University System agencies have provided $1,796,308 in project funding for 24 months across fiscal years 2022 and 2023.
Each project team is required to be multidisciplinary, including at least one representative from each of the three agencies. These projects are expected to lead to forward-thinking water research and extension activities and should position teams to successfully secure large, competitive, extramural resources.
“The purpose of this initiative is to invest in multidisciplinary teams, or Programs of Excellence, to assist in positioning teams to be leaders in emerging fields and successfully secure the extramural resources that advance water management in Texas,” said Allen Berthold, Ph.D., TWRI associate director, who administers the exceptional item.
Priority areas included data science sustaining water management, increasing the value of water to support agricultural production, and increasing economic and social water resilience in urban and/or rural communities.
These projects began Sept. 1. The following information highlights the research areas and goals of each project according to the abstract submitted in their application.
This project is led by Juan Anciso, Ph.D., principal investigator and AgriLife Extension horticulturist, Weslaco, with Jaehak Jeong, Ph.D., and Girisha Ganjegunte, Ph.D., AgriLife Research water resources and salinity management research group leader, El Paso, both in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Others on the team are Samuel D. Zapata, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension economist, Weslaco; and Shuiwang Ji, Ph.D., Presidential Impact Fellow in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering; Nithya Rajan, Ph.D., AgriLife Research crop physiologist/agroecologist in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, and Robert Hardin, Ph.D., agricultural engineering assistant professor, Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, all in Bryan-College Station.
The team will develop a yield-predicative analytic system using computation simulation models combined with remote-sensing tools to potentially pave the way for making more marginal-quality water available for crop production to improve farm profitability.
They will use multiple planting locations, and various water quality sources, amounts and tools to manage and forecast productivities per unit of water.
Key innovations they expect to include are accurate estimation of crop yield using unmanned aerial systems, UAS, imagery; a custom neural network algorithm to process UAS spatially distributed derived phenotypic traits; accurate yield forecasts with crop modeling and UAS-derived data as inputs; and coupling yield estimation algorithms and forecasting UAS models into a crop yield prediction and simulation tool.
The team believes the combination of biomass simulation models and remote sensing tools can help improve management strategies for using saline water and deficit irrigation strategies.
These tools will help conserve freshwater resources, improve the management of limited and saline water supplies, and enhance the sustainability of U.S. agriculture and food systems.
This project is led by Xingmao Ma, Ph.D., principal investigator and civil/environmental engineer, Zachary Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering; Anish Jantrania, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension specialist, Temple; and June Wolfe, Ph.D., AgriLife Research scientist, Temple.
Collaborators are Vierender Sharma, Ph.D., director of the Program on Environmental and Sustainability, Texas A&M School of Public Health, and Hongcai “Joe” Zhou, Ph.D., Robert A. Welch Foundation Chair, Department of Chemistry.
This team is investigating the efficacy of two highly robust and visible light-sensitive photocatalysts for their removal of polyfluoroalkyl substances, PFAS.
The project will investigate the removal efficiency of a range of historic and emerging PFAS by these two photocatalysts separately and in combination; determine the effect of various natural water constituents on the effectiveness of these two photocatalysts; and demonstrate the efficiency of photocatalytic treatment in a pilot study.
Because photocatalysis has been widely applied in water treatment as a sustainable and economic treatment technology, the technologies explored in this study can be readily transferred to the field scale.
This project will provide a novel, effective and economically viable solution to remove PFAS from water by demonstrating the efficacy of two novel photocatalysts.
This project is led by Murilo Maeda, Ph.D., principal investigator and AgriLife Extension cotton specialist, Lubbock; Nick Duffield, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Bryan-College Station; and Mahendra Bhandari, Ph.D., crop physiologist, Corpus Christi; Craig Bednarz, Ph.D., AgriLife Research crop physiologist and director of the Semi-Arid Agricultural Systems Institute at West Teaxs A&M University, Canyon; and Juan Landivar, Ph.D., center director at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Corpus Christi.
Collaborators are Paxton Payton, Ph.D., and James Mahan, Ph.D., plant physiologists, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, Lubbock; Anjin Chang, Ph.D., assistant research professor, Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi; and Jian Tao, Ph.D., associate director, Scientific Machine Learning Laboratory, Texas A&M Institute of Data Science.
The team is developing a UAS-based crop monitoring system that calculates crop water use for irrigation scheduling and increased water-use efficiency. To do this, the team’s system will take advantage of big data analytics and artificial intelligence. The UAS-derived phenotypic data and in-field weather data will help calculate actual crop evapotranspiration and biomass accumulation and determine the timing and quantity of irrigation water needed.
They will conduct field studies in 2022 and 2023 at AgriLife Research facilities near Lubbock and Bushland where the team will measure crop water use, biomass accumulation and a suite of drone-derived crop data to determine the empirical relationships needed for the UAS-based system to operate.
This project is led by Sreeram Vaddiraju, Ph.D., principal investigator and associate professor, Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering; and Terry Gentry, Ph.D., AgriLife Research soil and aquatic microbiologist, both at Bryan-College Station; and Anciso, Ph.D..
The project team plans to build upon their prior work in photocatalytic water disinfection to completely revamp the way it is currently implemented.
The team plans to develop easily recoverable, regeneratable and reusable photocatalyst foams and photocatalyst foam-ultraviolet, UV, LED hybrids to both enhance the kinetics of the water treatment process and make the process easily scalable on demand.
These photocatalyst foams and photocatalyst foam-UV LED hybrids could be added to either existing UV treatment facilities for the photocatalytic treatment of water or could be added to water stored in reservoirs or other open areas to provide for residual treatment of water using sunlight for activation.
The proposed process improvements will aid in the building of small-scale disinfection systems at point-of-sale by supermarkets for removal of harmful bacteria from produce and prevention of expensive food recalls.
The team plans to generate preliminary results for this high-risk and high-payoff strategy using these funds and to reduce any perceived risk associated with seeking extramural funding for further research and development of photocatalysis.
“We are excited about each of these projects and have high expectations for positive outcomes that will help in advancing water management in Texas,” Berthold said.
The original story written by Danielle Kalisek appeared in the November 2021 Conservation Matters newsletter. Conservation Matters is a joint project by the Texas A&M Natural Resources Institute and the Texas Water Resources Institute.


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