West Texas Water Research Center coming to Sul Ross

ALPINE Thanks to funding from the Horizon Foundation, a West Texas Water Research Center will soon be established at Sul Ross State University (SRSU) in Alpine. The Horizon Foundation has committed a $125,000 per year challenge grant over the next three years to help launch the new center, which will be incubated at the university’s Borderlands Research Institute (BRI).

The concept for a West Texas Water Research Center crystalized after the Water in the Desert conference held in January 2024 at Sul Ross State University. The conference, which was the first of its kind in the region, brought together over 260 attendees, including members of the Texas House and Senate, local groundwater conservation district leaders, scientists, and Texas landowners.

“It was clear to us after the successful Water in the Desert conference that a research center housed here at Sul Ross was the next logical step to advancing the water issues in the West Texas region and beyond,” Sul Ross State University President Carlos Hernandez said in a news release. “The Borderlands Research Institute has a proven track record of providing sound science to inform policy decisions, and incubating this new West Texas Water Research Center at BRI will help ensure its long-term success.”

The need for the West Texas Water Research Center is becoming more apparent with each passing day. As the human population in Texas grows, so does its demand for water. Texas’ existing water supplies are projected to decline by approximately 18% between 2020 and 2070, while the population is growing at an explosive rate. Demographic estimates suggest that over 400,000 people move to Texas each year, more than 1,000 people a day. Texas is on track to exceed 51 million residents by 2070.

Rural Texas is especially at risk as strong science on water availability, recharge, and projections is often lacking. Among the 10 ecoregions in Texas, the Trans-Pecos stands out as the most iconic, the most biologically diverse, and the most pristine.

“Although water is our most critical resource everywhere, it is particularly precious in West Texas, where most of the water comes from inadequately researched and understood aquifers,” Robert Potts, who is chairman of the Dixon Water Foundation and a board member of the Horizon Foundation, said in the release. “The Horizon Foundation board believes that for people and wildlife to continue to thrive in West Texas, we must all develop a greater understanding of our water resources. We are proud to support the creation of the West Texas Water Research Center at Sul Ross State University — in the heart of West Texas — to help meet this need.”

The West Texas Water Research Center will focus on establishing research priorities and will provide guidance to local municipalities, agencies, and other stakeholders. The new center will also lead the development of curriculum in Water Resource Science which will be multidisciplinary in nature and complement existing SRSU programs.

Fundraising continues to match the $125,000/year pledged by Horizon Foundation. Once those funds are secured, a steering committee composed of water experts and university faculty will help guide the new center. One of its first priorities will be to develop a job description and help recruit, interview, and hire a director, which SRSU officials project will happen by the end of 2024.