$1.5 Million Grant Project Looks At Columbia Basin Water Modeling

Western Ag Vignettes

Money can be well spent if it generates sound management.

Published on: November 5, 2012

With $1.5 million to find ways to involve primary water users in the research process to develop scientifically sound and economically feasible public water use in the Columbia Basin, let's hope the dollars produce helpful new directions.

The Washington State University USDA grant will build what researchers call collaborative water modeling project for the Basin. I think that means better management.

The project is what WSU School of the Environment Director Stephen Bollens calls "a great example of a pressing real-world challenge – securing a sustainable water supply – that is simply too large and too complex to be solved by any one investigator, campus or discipline."

That means a coordinated interdisciplinary team – social scientists, economists, earth scientists, civil engineers and ag scientists – will tackle to Basin water use issue.

Will there be real help for the water management effort from all this? Who knows, but experience dictates that usually the result of such comprehensive investigations is a list of good guidelines which too many disregard.

I have a lot of faith in scientific investigation when it comes to specific take-home knowledge like rather a particular herbicide controls kochia, or if a new mechanical harvester can really pick cherries and save costs – but when it comes to the less specific kind of targeting, such as the monumental Basin water use issue – results are often less adapted that a new chemical or machine.

It is research that has kept American agriculture at the forefront of global competition, and will continue to do so until funds dry up and government and industrial donations no longer flow. With the great pressures on research funding today, we must be certain that we pick our projects carefully, and that every effort is made to produce usable, solid results.

I am only using the WSU Basin probe as a platform, and not singling it out for criticism. I have every hope the results of the research will be successfully productive, and that great leaders will rise to assure the work is profoundly helpful.

I wonder what the farming industry thinks of much of the research funding that is in gear today. Is there a great confidence that the work will indeed be fruitful to the farm efficiency effort, or do many feel dollars could be spent more wisely elsewhere to help the industry. It is a debate that calls for close examination of the bulk of private and public money going to farm studies today.

Wouldn't it be interesting if we had a balance sheet that tracked all the farm research in the West and how it helped farmers?  If it turned out well, it could actually generate new investments.

I see a lot of money in the research arena today, and I hope that it is all producing something new and constructive, but I wonder if some allocations do not generate much at all.

I ask growers to make sure they support research regularly, but I want to make sure they're getting bang for their benevolence.