Soil and Water Assessment Tool having global impact

Developers recognized with Norman Hudson Memorial Award
Writer: Kay Ledbetter, 806-677-5608, skledbetter@ag.tamu.edu
Contact: Dr. Raghavan Srinivasan, 979-845-5069, r-srinivasan@tamu.edu

COLLEGE STATION – When Dr. Raghavan Srinivasan, director of the Texas A&M University Spatial Sciences Laboratory, and Dr. Jeff Arnold, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service at Temple, developed a water assessment tool almost 15 years ago, they wanted it to have impact worldwide.

The 2012 International SWAT Workshops and Conference attracted individuals from around the world with a goal of improving soil and water assessment decisions and regulations. (Courtesy photo).

The pair recently received the 2012 Norman Hudson Memorial Award from the World Association of Soil and Water Conservation, which was a confirmation that the Soil and Water Assessment Tool had reached that goal, Srinivasan said.

Srinivasan, also a professor in the Texas A&M ecosystem science and management department, and Arnold were recognized at the 2012 International SWAT Conference in New Delhi for the development and worldwide application of the Soil and Water Assessment Tool, commonly known as the SWAT model.

Dr. Raghavan Srinivasan, director of the Texas A&M University Spatial Sciences Laboratory and ecosystem science and management professor. (Texas A&M AgriLIfe photo)

The Norman Hudson Memorial Award is given for distinguished service in recognition of international accomplishments in soil and water conservation. The award is named after Norman Hudson, a British soil and water conservationist, whose exemplary professional career was devoted to the cause of global soil and water conservation.

SWAT is a river basin-scale computer model developed to quantify the impact of land management practices in large, complex watersheds, Srinivasan said. The public-domain model is widely used to evaluate the land management and climate change impact on water quality and quantity.

He said the main focus of the model is assessing land management practices and their impact on non-point source or diffused pollution.

“We just finished our 13th annual international conference in New Delhi, where 235 people attended from 25 countries and six continents,” he said. “We have exceeded more than 1,000 peer-reviewed papers globally, all based on the SWAT model. This is the largest collection of publications based on one model.”

Srinivasan said users of the SWAT model include government agencies, universities, researchers, municipalities, consulting agencies, regulatory agencies, as well as other policy and management resource groups for water and natural resources. He said he conducts an average of 10 workshops a year throughout the world.

In addition to having some of the most cited papers, the SWAT model will be used by more than 120 graduate students across the world to advance their careers, Srinivasan said. And more than 150 journal articles per year will be written about how it is used in all different facets of their studies.

“We’ve reached a major milestone. Currently our application is being used throughout the world,” he said. “In the next year, the most emphasis will be in South America and Africa.”

Srinivasan said the SWAT model is constantly being updated and revised as it is utilized in other climates and regions of the world.

“We developed the tool based on U.S. landscapes and cropping systems, so when it is used in, say, Jordan, we get feedback on how it is working and use their data to address any problems in the model through further improvement and then also publish that data so all may benefit,” he said.

“People come from all over to work with us here,” Srinivasan said. “We have the computer code and the GIS (geographic information system) interface that collects the data from the maps, and then we provide a tool to be able to visualize that data. We also provide the technology transfer that they may be needing.”

Before 2000, he said only two to five papers were published a year on this subject, but “after our outreach, it has increased so that more than 20 universities in the Midwestern states are now teaching this model as a part of their graduate course work.”

And most federal agencies are using the one model to address various issues, Srinivasan said, which was the ultimate goal when it started.

“It was our dream to have all federal agencies using a common platform to make decisions on water quality and quantity regulations and management,” he said. “It’s almost come true, because the USDA and many other federal agencies are beginning to use our model to answer their specific questions.”

Srinivasan said the aim of the SWAT utilization has changed for some also; recently more than 10 percent of the publications are on the future and global warming and answering such questions as “What will it do to our water quality and quantity?” and “How do we change our management strategies?”

He said one student is even using the SWAT model to look at glacier melt and how it affects permanent storage of water in the Andes, Alps and Himalayas. In the Himalayas alone, more than 300 million people depend on this water source.

“And most importantly, several government agencies are using it to come together to study trans-boundary water issues or disputes,” Srinivasan said.

SWAT allows them to cross boundaries and all use the same scientific tool, he said. “This is happening on the main Makong River, which involves Vietnam, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia; the Ganges, involving India, Napal, Buton and Bangladesh; and the Nile River, with 10 different countries it travels through involved.”
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