Stakeholders were very engaged in the discussions and provided useful input to the Water Research Vision 2050 crafted by ARS scientists. Much of this feedback will be utilized as collaborations and projects are developed.
Water Challenges. Stakeholders would have liked to have seen more information about the following topics:
• water laws and policies discussed as these vary from State to State;
• recognition of international research ties with respect to water problems and climate change which are transboundary;
• water and environmental justice; the connections between agrovoltaic energy production and water conservation and agricultural production;
• assessment of economic impacts and opportunities related to water resources challenges;
• a brief description of ongoing watershed assessment and restoration research;
• and more emphasis on climate intensification and its impacts.
Water Supply. Both water scarcity and water everywhere are issues associated with water supply, and stakeholders suggested that we combine them. Related to this was a suggestion to recognize water supply issues in the eastern United States, not just the West because both flood and drought can asynchronously affect yearly production in many regions. The vision needs to emphasize uncertainty associated with supply – exploring the shifting trends in snowmelt/runoff and water arrival and timing, which could mean that optimal operating rules for dams/reservoirs for purposes of supply may need to change. The writing team rewrote this section to address these concerns.
Water Quality. Stakeholders requested further discussion and details on water quality ties with climate change, changes in aquatic diversity, reduced vegetative cover, fire and post-fire runoff and flooding, and water treatment for reuse in crop production or groundwater recharge. In addition, more focus should be given to the long-term impacts of poor groundwater quality. The vision should also include conjunctive water use impacts to water quality, discussions on salinity intrusion, and changes to nutrient availability due to ecosystem changes.
Water as Culture. ARS should engage more with social scientists to understand the cultural importance of water and access issues particularly to native communities and their water rights. Stakeholders reiterated the importance of researchers understanding water policies and laws for individual states to implement solutions in a way that works with the local people. Furthermore, ARS should engage, expand, and closely work with socially disadvantaged, low-income, minority, and rural populations including American Indians, Alaska Natives, and sovereign Tribal governments on water resource research challenges and issues.
Research Approach. Participants were willing to collaborate
with the ARS to realize the vision, however, a strategy to do
so has not yet been defined. Development of a combined vision with other USDA agencies, NOAA, NASA, USGS, EPA, USACE, DoS, and others was suggested. NSF organized 2019 workshop on Integrated Hydro-Terrestrial Modeling (in which ARS participated) could serve as a foundation. Real cross agency collaboration would require funding.
Partnership and Collaboration. Non-ARS participants
encouraged the agency to look beyond Federal partnerships
towards state-level expertise driving policy and regional partnerships and towards NGOs or private sector groups that are leading efforts to quantify environmental impacts of farming. Such entities could be tapped for collaborative tool development and adoption and are usually better connected and trusted by consumers and stakeholders throughout a product chain. ARS was strongly encouraged to get more scientists directly engaged to identify and rapidly respond to water resource challenges.
Among Federal participants, discussion was focused on the nuts and bolts of research partnership to accomplish project goals, and how ARS could improve collaboration with other Federal research entities. ARS leadership was encouraged to create a database of subject matter experts within the agency and throughout the Federal government to facilitate cross pollination and leverage resources. Universities were consistently acknowledged as current, integral, and effective partners, but work could be done to reach out to those not typically involved in agricultural research.
More projects and funding priorities involving several agencies are needed to solve large over-arching challenges. This will need to include development of common communication infrastructure to help make it easier to share documents when collaborating with others outside ARS; open access data, software, and code; and clearer common funding pathways or shared support infrastructure across organizations. Several agencies are interested in collaborating to address water insecurity, while others would like to consider irrigation water use. A possible way to address water resource needs for agriculture is to locate agriculture relative to the local area’s resources, e.g., growing water-intensive crops in areas with larger water supplies. Another suggestion to address water needs was to evaluate possibilities of vertical or urban agriculture for some crop types.
Science and Management Tools. Participants outside of ARS
were interested in working cooperatively to solve national
water issues and named several common topics towards which science and management tools could be applied, such as, climate change impacts on snowpack and water supplies, modernizing irrigation conveyance systems to use less energy and water, and improving technologies for water conservation and water treatment for reuse. However, it is imperative that agencies be deliberate in their collaborations. Notably, ARS must make their tools known and accessible to other agencies.
Formulating partnerships between agencies to develop specific tools to help stakeholders would have impact, but there must be mechanisms in place to share and disseminate tools, funding to hold workshops to teach end-users how to use the tools and support to sustain tools, e.g., updating, algorithms, code, and datasets. Industry members voiced that tools should offer compatibility so that they could be adapted and integrated with different agricultural systems or applications. Internal customers stated that linkage to real-time sensor networks is needed to improve tool robustness and tools for the public must be off-the-shelf for usability.
Water Science Expertise. The Water Research Vision 2050
is aligned well with the goals and vision of other Federal
agencies. However, additional details of some topics are needed, so that state and local governments can be more intentional in addressing water resources, availability, and use and to conduct the economic research required to quantify the results of applying the developed tools and management changes. These include linkages between water use, drought, and water quality (including water borne diseases, nitrogen deposits, fertilizer management, and aquatic diversity), global application of tools, and policy focused initiatives.
Transdisciplinary Research. The complexity of water issues,
the mosaic of stakeholder needs, and the patchwork of
overlapping local and national regulations across the country present significant challenges. Workshop participants strongly agreed that transdisciplinary research was critical to addressing these issues and that ARS, with its range of disciplines is uniquely suited and national scope, to facilitate transdisciplinary research and has a strong record of doing so. However, one of the greatest challenges to transdisciplinary research is identifying and engaging the diverse group of scientists and stakeholders that are needed to achieve success. As one participant noted, “I know integrating the social sciences into my research is important, but I don’t know enough about natural resource sociology or economics to know who to reach out to.” Several participants suggested creating a cross-agency forum or database to address this need.
Participants also identified several internal challenges to transdisciplinary research including the need for: greater administrative support to coordinate the disparate cultures and policies among different government agencies and research organizations; more flexibility within the National Program structure to accommodate projects that bridge several National Programs and span multiple 5-year research cycles; and broader criteria of evaluating scientists that recognize that transdisciplinary research can be high risk and may take many years to bear fruit and show impacts. Transdisciplinary research offers the ground-breaking high impact means by which ARS research can move forward. Groups undertaking these research projects should be strongly encouraged to seek out collaborations across agencies and institutions, especially seeking opportunities to enhance equity and inclusion in their research process.