Cooperatove Conservation Project

Rio Grande Basin Initiative

Efficient Irrigation for Water Conservation in the Rio Grande Basin

Location: South-Central/South-West Region: New Mexico Texas

Project Summary: The Rio Grande Basin is a highly productive agricultural area, with irrigated agriculture claiming more than 85 percent of its water.
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Texas Water Resources Institute
Resource Challenge

Population growth and urban water demands in the basin are expected to double in the next 50 years.

The Basin’s agricultural crop industry, comprised principally of cotton, grain sorghum, grapefruit, chilies, pecans, citrus, sugarcane, and vegetables, has an economic impact of more than $1 billion annually. By investing in research for practice development and education to facilitate implementation of improvements in irrigation conveyance systems and efficient on-farm water use, both urban and agricultural interests can benefit from increased water availability and resulting economic enhancements.

A team of Experiment Station researchers, Extension specialists and county agents in Texas and New Mexico are working with local irrigation districts, agricultural producers, cities, homeowners and other agencies to address water issues through the federally funded Rio Grande Basin Initiative. The initiative focuses on increasing available water through efficient irrigation and water conservation. The project is administered by the Texas Water Resources Institute in collaboration with New Mexico State University.

Examples of Key Partners
  • Texas Water Resources Institute
  • Texas Agricultural Experiment Station
  • Texas Cooperative Extension
  • New Mexico Cooperative Extension
  • New Mexico State University Agricultural Experiment Station
  • New Mexico State University Water Task Force
  • USDA - Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
  • Texas Water Development Board
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture – Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service
Results and Accomplishments

Numerous projects are taking place through the Rio Grande Basin Initiative. The project is broken up into nine Tasks, and each Task focuses on a specific area, such as On-Farm Irrigation System Management, Urban Water Conservation, and Basin-wide Hydrology, Salinity Modeling and Technology – to name a few.

The Rio Grande Basin Initiative has accomplished the following in year three of this multi-year effort:

  • Precision Irrigators Network developed to conduct an on-farm research demonstration in which growers were actively involved in the evaluation of the limited irrigation program that best fits their farm. Computer models were run to record growth and development and evaluate production practices. Per year 311,000 to 413,000 acre-feet of water will be saved, based on 620,000 acres of irrigated land.
  • Researchers have determined exactly how much Giardia and Cryptosporidium are present in river water after release from wastewater treatment plants along the Rio Grande.
  • Maps completed for each of the 29 Texas irrigation district highlighting key infrastructure and improvements.
  • Irrigation scheduling with the use of soil moisture sensors has allowed Lower Rio Grande farmers to conserve about 10,000 acre-feet of water in corn production systems and 25,000 acre-feet in cotton crops.

Efforts will continue in researching ways to conserve as much water as possible in the Rio Grande Basin and education to facilitate proactive implementation.


Various projects conserve anywhere from 100 to 400,000 acre-feet of water per year, greatly increasing the amount of water available for both U.S. and Mexican stakeholders.

Project Contact
Dr. B.L. Harris
Project Director, Associate Director
Texas Water Resources Institute
1500 Research Parkway, Suite A240 2118 TAMU
College Station, TX 77845-2118
Craig Runyan
Water Quality Coordinator
New Mexico State University
P.O. Box 30003, MSC 3AE
Las Cruces, NM 88003

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