Oklahoma State University and the Oklahoma Water Resources Center are researching how to improve water availability in southwest Oklahoma.
Water scarcity is a challenge in the region, according to Ali Mirchi, OSU assistant professor of water resources engineering. He said the declining water level in Lake Altus-Lugert limits the water supply for irrigated crops.
Mirchi said he and OWRC Director Kevin Wagner began discussing water salinity issues when he came to OSU in 2018.
“The 2011 drought spurred this conversation,” he said. “That drought basically halted all irrigation deliveries within the Lugert-Altus Irrigation District, which meant producers had to stop irrigating and couldn’t grow cotton. That caused major economic impacts on the region.”
Mirchi said most irrigated agricultural crops in Oklahoma are in the western part of the state. Cotton is a major crop in southwest Oklahoma and is considered salt-tolerant.
Mirchi said saline water can be mixed with freshwater or directly applied to crops, depending on a crop’s salinity tolerance. Adding saline water to the fresh water from the reservoir could stretch available water supplies, but the catch is balancing the level of salinity so it does not harm the crops or soil.
Before researchers can move forward with any kind of in-field testing, they must make sure the system will operate the way it should.
“This is not just looking at one aspect of the problem. We want to come up with a technical framework to analyze these research questions,” Mirchi said.
Researchers are developing the data that will be used for the models by continuously monitoring seven surface water bodies and three groundwater wells in southwest Oklahoma.