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Sandia experiments may reduce possibility of future water wars

Mexico's water use is agricultural. Over half goes toward growing forage. Most of this is alfalfa.

Similar conditions of water use exist in many places in the world.

Conventional farming methods in arid regions lose huge amounts of water through evaporation and over-absorption by soil. Over time, this can also result in soil salination and loss of agricultural productivity. Neither are factors in hydroponic greenhouses, which do not require high-quality arable land to function in the first place.

Hydroponic greenhouses recently built in the State of Chihuahua have been used by Mexican ranchers during the current drought to grow feed to preserve their herds. However, technical questions regarding optimizing the actual amount of water saved, evaluating the nutritional value of the forage, as well as determining optimum light for best growth, have yet to be determined. Conditions for economic viability also need to be more fully explored.

Thus, Mexican researchers take a keen interest in the U.S. project, taking place just north of the U.S./Mexico border in Santa Teresa, N.M., a few miles west of El Paso. Led by researcher Hector Gallegos and hydroponic forage system fabricator Francisco Aguirre, they have made frequent visits from Ciudad Chihuahua - a drive of about 3.5 hours - to help in the design, construction, and implementation of the project.

"The difference [between our projects and this one] is the sensors Sandia is installing to check things there," Gallegos said in a telephone interview from Chihuahua. "Normally we only use a humidity sensor to know when to run our irrigation."

The Sandia-placed sensors and computer simulations will tell researchers how to grow crops still more efficiently, he says.

"We need to review the amount of water used in the greenhouse; the only way to do this is to determine accurately the amount needed at every step." Als
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Contact: Neal Singer
nsinger@sandia.gov
505-845-7078
DOE/Sandia National Laboratories
8-Sep-2004


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