Water researcher at irrigation terminal

Conducted by Clemson Cooperative Extension, the South Carolina Agricultural Water Use and Irrigation Survey is designed to collect scientific data on agricultural water use to inform management decisions about South Carolina’s water resources.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

CLEMSON — With the understanding that collaboration is essential, Clemson Cooperative Extension agents will begin visiting agricultural operations across the state this week to understand their water usage.

The South Carolina Agricultural Water Use and Irrigation Survey will collect scientific data that will be used to aid state agencies, legislators, policymakers and others in making informed management decisions about water resources.

“The purpose of this applied research is to comprehensively quantify the full scope of large and small agricultural groundwater and surface water use to obtain critical data and develop tools that will support the preservation and protection of South Carolina’s water resources into the future,” said Calvin Sawyer, associate professor in Clemson’s agricultural sciences department and Extension water resources specialist.

As the state’s primary land-grant institution, Clemson University has a distinct mission — teaching, research and extension — and is now working with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control to update the State Water Plan.

Clemson currently has an array of water programs statewide that address a broad range of agriculture, natural resources and water quality-related issues, but officials hope to expand its expertise to better address emerging issues in resource management and future demand forecasting.

Clemson Cooperative Extension Director Tom Dobbins said the survey is a critical step in the direction of informing state agencies and policymakers with facts.

Irrigation system

Clemson Public Service and Agriculture has an array of statewide water programs that address a wide range of agriculture, natural resources and water quality-related issues. These include partnering with local communities on watershed planning and helping farmers become more efficient and environmentally friendly.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

“Serving as the primary public service arm of the university, our Extension agents have developed close, working relationships with producers in every county of our state, and the trust they have earned from these farmers make Clemson Extension ideally suited to gather this important data,” Dobbins said. “This will be an unbiased, sound science-based report that will allow South Carolina’s policymakers to have the most accurate data at their disposal as they tackle future water decisions.”

The increase of extreme weather events over the past decade has raised concerns about the current level of understanding regarding South Carolina’s water resources. As the state began a concerted effort to develop a comprehensive water plan, government agencies and policymakers required a deeper understanding of surface water in the state’s eight major basins, as well as groundwater in near-surface and deep aquifers.

Concerns over the impact of large surface water and groundwater withdrawals made it clear that a reliable data-driven process for assessing capacity of rivers and aquifers and the impact of current and proposed uses is needed.

To gather the data needed for analysis on agricultural water use and irrigation in the state, the research team will implement a quantitative survey tool. The survey has been designed by experts in their respective fields regarding water management and policy, agricultural water use, irrigation and agribusiness.

“Clemson is poised with its breadth of water resources researchers as well as skilled Extension agents to undertake this much-needed Ag Water Use Survey,” said Jeff Allen, director of Clemson’s South Carolina Water Resources Center. “The information derived from the survey will be critical to statewide water planning and will assist producers, natural resource managers and stakeholders across South Carolina in important decision-making situations to preserve our state’s vital water resources.”