COLUMBIA — Clemson University administrators told a state House Ways and Means subcommittee that they want to expand the university’s water research capabilities so state agencies and municipalities have the information they need to make sound water-policy decisions.

George Askew, vice president of Clemson Public Service and Agriculture, told the subcommittee that a complete understanding of the state’s water resources was the only way to plan for the future and avoid the same water woes experienced in the western U.S.

A massive heatwavea and drought in the summer of 2015 destroyed much of the state's corn crop.

A massive heatwave and drought in the summer of 2015 destroyed much of the state’s corn crop.
Image Credit: David DeWitt / Clemson University

“We are feast or famine when it comes to water in South Carolina,” Askew said. “South Carolina has an opportunity, working with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Forestry Commission and Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), to be prepared long term and understand what we have for water resources, our current demands, future demands and future limitations.”

Clemson already works across programs and colleges on crop irrigation systems, forested watershed management, water quality issues, water treatment and data analysis of the state’s water resources. The university is seeking $2.5 million to hire staff and scientists necessary to fill knowledge gaps and unify its current programs, and $7 million to renovate an existing 34,000 square foot facility to house faculty, staff, labs and virtual meeting spaces.

Askew said Clemson’s water research would support state agencies without duplicating current state programs.

“DNR is doing a very good job of getting the models together and DHEC is doing a very good job educating stakeholders and communities. We want to make sure as a university that we provide them with all the tools they need to be prepared long term to answer questions before the situation becomes critical,” Askew said.

Clemson Extension is also seeking $1.5 million to rebuild statewide extension programs that are still lagging from budget cuts during the recession. Operating costs were reduced by 60 percent in 2008. Forty-one percent of the state’s 46 county extension offices must remain closed for at least part of the day.

“We need to ensure that all of our Extension offices stay open during regular business hours so we can serve all the citizens of the state regardless of what county they live in,” Extension Director Tom Dobbins said.

The money will also be used to hire agents in several areas including 4-H youth education, row crop production, invasive pest control, and livestock production, and to hire staff to assist in meeting new federal food safety laws.

Chester County farmer Rusty Darby told the committee, “Clemson Extension in Chester County right now is bare bones and stretched thin. They’re doing their job, but they just can’t get it all done.”

Darby farms cotton, wheat and cattle, and he said that agricultural research has kept him competitive on world commodity markets.

Clemson’s top funding priorities are $1.3 million in operating expenses for its six Research and Education Centers and $10 million to add a conference center/exhibition hall and additional show space to the T. Ed Garrison Livestock Arena in Anderson County.

The university performs research in crop production, disease and pest control, sensor-based irrigation and nutrient management, forest and wildlife management and cost-effective food production at research centers located throughout the state. Scientists at Clemson’s Pee Dee Research and Education Center use high-tech labs to identify favorable genetic markers and speed up plant breeding.

“When my career began, I could choose a cotton variety and plant that variety for ten years before a better variety could be developed. Now thanks to genetic research there’s a new, better cotton variety every year. We need fast, accurate, unbiased information and we need that information based in science. We need Clemson,” Darby said.

Askew said that expanding the Garrison Arena would allow the Pendleton facility to draw events from other states and keep events from leaving the state for other locations