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ARS Honors Texas Research Team for Water Quality Model / February 13, 2002 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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National news release

ARS Honors Texas Research Team for Water Quality Model

By Don Comis
February 13, 2002

BELTSVILLE, Md., Feb. 13—A team of scientists has won the Agricultural Research Service’s 2001 Technology Transfer Award for creating a computer model that maps pollution hot spots over all the land that drains into major rivers, lakes and reservoirs.

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SWAT web site

 

Team leader and agricultural engineer Jeffrey G. Arnold, agricultural engineer Kevin W. King and agronomist James R. Kiniry—all with the ARS Grassland Soil and Water Research Laboratory in Temple, Texas—created the model, called SWAT, for Soil and Water Assessment Tool.

ARS, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific research agency, will honor Arnold, King, Kiniry and other scientists today at a 1 p.m. ceremony at the agency’s Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center. Arnold, King and Kiniry will receive a plaque and cash award for Outstanding Technology Transfer from Edward B. Knipling, ARS acting administrator. The event, begun in 1986, honors scientists who have taken extra steps to move promising new research technology to the marketplace.

“They not only created the model from 30 years of ARS research, scaling it up to include countless farm fields and several hundred square miles of watersheds draining into each large river basin, but they did the legwork needed to put it into widespread use around the globe,” said Knipling. “By creating an easy-to-use interface with computerized mapping software, they made it possible for users to bring large, complex watersheds to life. The maps help design programs to reduce the movement of soil and chemicals to waterways.

“When this team added the ability of their model to organize the voluminous research data into color watershed maps, 5 years ago, they opened the door to users–and the users haven’t stopped coming since then,” Knipling said. “The team has worked very hard to tailor their model to user needs, which is why the model is in use throughout the world, including by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.”

EPA incorporated the model into their river basin model, and it is helping the agency save millions of dollars in time and labor that would have otherwise been required for measurements of soil and chemical movement into surface and groundwater. EPA is using the model to set limits on sediment and chemical movement into the more than 20,000 rivers and lakes in the United States that do not meet EPA water quality guidelines.

A typical use of SWAT would be to determine how much nitrogen and phosphorus a large upland dairy farm is losing to groundwater or a river downstream. And how the numbers change under different scenarios, such as, “What if the farm operators hauled the manure off-site or spread the manure over more land?” Then local, state or federal planners could use the results to recommend or require those practices that reduced potential pollution the most.

Exemplifying the “going the extra mile” that the Technology Transfer Awards honor, the scientists spent countless hours developing the model, refining it, and then re-working a few hundred thousand lines of code in the model and mapping interface to make it even easier to use. Not to mention the hours spent answering mail, phone calls and e-mail requests from potential users, as well as holding periodic workshops in Texas and around the country and world—all designed to spread the word about SWAT, teach people how to use it, and get feedback to improve it.

The researchers have developed a SWAT web site, where users can download the model–along with mapping and other interfaces and supporting documents–and keep informed of the latest improvements and workshop dates.

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Last Modified: 2/13/2002
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