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Funded Projects

projects funded by the Water Center

The Water Resources Research Act of 1964 authorized the establishment of a water resources research and technology institute or center at a land-grant university in each state. As a result of the Water Resources Act, the Oklahoma Water Resources Research Institute (OWRRI, currently known as the Oklahoma Water Resources Center) was founded in 1965 at Oklahoma State University.

Although headquartered at OSU, the Oklahoma Water Resources Center serves the entire state of Oklahoma. The Center strives to help Oklahoma achieve high levels of water quality and sustainable use of our region’s water through integrated programs of research, education, training, and technology assistance. Our Water Research Advisory Board decides which projects submitted for funding best suit the state's needs.

Read abstracts of projects funded through our Oklahoma Water Research Grants Program in recent years by clicking on the titles below. Project reports and past projects may be found in our searchable Online Journal Systems page.

Learn how USGS seed grants have impacted the researchers and their students in these impact statements.

Projects Selected for Funding in 2019:

  • Rational Design of Solar-Energy-Combined Desalination Systems for Treatment of Produced Water
    (Seok-Jhin Kim, Dave McIlroy, David Lampert, and Clint Aichele)
    • The treatment of PW presents a complex engineering problem as its composition is dependent upon local geology and requires removal of many classes of contaminants including suspended solids, naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM), dissolved solids, and hydrocarbons. Therefore, the utilization of membranes for treatment of complex contaminants found in PW requires further research. Ceramic membrane technologies appear particularly promising for the removal of dispersed oil and grease and reductions in salinity. The team proposes to combine a membrane desalination system with solar thermal energy that is abundantly available and a viable alternative to fossil fuels. A solar evaporation technology is ideally suited for a pretreatment step that saves energy and minimize the membrane fouling.
  • Low-cost Ceramic Membranes for Ultra/Nanofiltration of Produced Water
    (Pankaj Sarin and Khaled Sallam)
    • This project aims to develop low-cost ceramic membrane technology for produced water treatment. The proposed ceramic membranes will be processed using geopolymers, resulting in more than 90% savings in raw material costs, and at least two orders of magnitude reduction in the energy needed for production, when compared to currently used ceramic membranes. It is anticipated that with the developed ceramic membranes, it will be possible to remove oil, suspended solids, pesticides, carcinogenic hydrocarbons, microbes, and trace metals from produced water, and it will also reduce the total dissolved solids (TDS) to <3000 ppm.
    • The low-cost and effective PW treatment enabled through this research could transform produced water to near fresh water levels suitable for power generation (cooling), industrial use (including O&G), agriculture, along with the potential to be discharged for aquifer recharge; thereby making PW an added benefit rather than a liability. In addition to augmenting water supply, minimization of the need for reinjection will also reduce instances of induced seismic activity.
  • Understanding Economic Impacts of Groundwater and Soil Moisture Interactions in Oklahoma – A Decision-Support Tool for Sustainable Water Management
    (Jad R. Ziolkowska and Reuben Reyes)
    • The main goals of this project are to: 1) improve understanding of groundwater and surface water interactions across all aquifers and climate regions in Oklahoma, and 2) evaluate and predict socio-economic repercussions of those interactions; and their correlations with drought events. To achieve these goals we will develop an interactive geospatial and temporal model that will also serve as a decision-support and educational tool.
    • This research is needed by stakeholders, policy makers, researchers, and educators due to extreme and exceptional droughts that have been occurring in Oklahoma for many decades with the record drought in 2011-2014.
  • Effects of Deficit Irrigation on Water Use of Warm Season Turfgrasses under Fairway Maintenance
    (Christopher Reid with Dr. Charles Fontanier)
    • This research will contribute towards a better understanding of water use rates of warm season turfgrasses under drought stress and lead to improved recommendations for deficit irrigation practices. Further, the study will identify turfgrass cultivars showing superior drought resistance and adaption to the dry Oklahoma summers. Ultimately, increased use of deficit irrigation programs and well-adapted cultivars will result in less water used for golf and similar turfgrass sites.
  • Four-Step Produced Water Desalination Process with Zeolite and a-Alumina Membranes
    (Hossein D. Atoufi with Dr. David Lampert)
    • Oil and gas production consumes and generates high volumes of water and wastewater, respectively. This wastewater, known as Produced Water (PW), has a high level of contamination with a complex chemical composition that depends on the recovery process and the geological formation. The most important components in PW are salts, oil & grease (O&G), benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene (BTEX), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), natural organic and inorganic compounds, etc. Salts cause problems in irrigation and create corrosion in materials such as metal pipes or concrete structures. Another problem that is crucial in Oklahoma is induced earthquakes caused by PW injection to disposal wells.
  • Beneficial Use of Petroleum Produced Water to Convert Crude Oil to Methane Gas in Depleted Oil Reservoirs
    (Babak Shabani with Drs. Javier Vilcáez and Mostafa Elshahed)
    • In a previous research, the PI and Co-PIs proved the feasibility of stimulating the microbial conversion of crude oil (n-alkanes) to methane using produced water and crude oil collected from the Stillwater oilfield of Oklahoma. However, in that research, experiments were conducted at ambient pressure conditions using CO2 in the form of NaHCO3.
    • The present research project is to prove the feasibility of stimulating the activity of crude oil degrading and methanogenic microbial communities using supercritical CO2 instead of NaHCO3. As such, the findings of this research will lead to the development of an alternative way to make a beneficial use of not only petroleum produced water, but also CO2 emitted from power plants in Oklahoma.

Projects Funded in 2018:

  • Developing Seasonal Streamflow Forecasts to Inform Surface Water Management in Oklahoma
    (Tyson Ochsner, Erik Krueger, Briana Wyatt, and Eric Jones)
    • The forecasting methods developed here will enhance existing, proven streamflow modeling approaches used by the National Weather Service (NWS) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) through the incorporation of measured soil moisture data. This project aims to determine how the forecast accuracy improves by updating the initial conditions based on in situ soil moisture observations. Recent studies indicate that in situ soil moisture data can significantly improve water supply forecasts in the US Mountain West for lead times up to 3 months.
    • If successful, this project will lay the foundation for implementation of the new forecast methods by the NWS and NRCS for the benefit of water managers in Oklahoma and across the nation.
  • Control of Problematic Halanaerobiales that Limit the Reuse of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluids
    (Joseph M. Suflita and Irene A. Davidova)
    • Oil and gas in Oklahoma are regularly extracted from unconventional plays using a combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques. Such practices use remarkable volumes of water (up to 1 x 106 barrels/d)1 to fracture formations and increase permeability. Roughly 10-60% of the injected water returns as produced water (PW) with total dissolved solids content up to 300,000 mg/liter.
    • This project is designed to explore methods to control the growth and activity of bacteria affiliated with order Halanaerobiales. Control of these organisms will preclude the accumulation of acids and sulfides that are major deterrents to the recycling of PW for subsequent shale fracturing efforts. Thus, less PW will require deep well disposal and reduce the potential for seismic activity. In addition, the reduction of sulfides will render the PW far less corrosive to the prevailing metallic infrastructure and diminish concerns during other PW disposal efforts.
  • Conserving Agricultural Water Resources in Oklahoma using Smart Technologies
    (Sumon Datta with Dr. Saleh Taghvaeian)
    • Irrigated agriculture is a major contributor to the economy of Oklahoma and plays a vital role in supplying the demand in food, feed, and fiber utilizing the State’s limited water resources. In Oklahoma, over 400,000 acres of irrigated cropland contribute to 50% of crop revenues. A sizable portion (41%) of total water withdrawals in Oklahoma goes to crop irrigation, making it a prime consumer of water. Therefore, improving irrigation scheduling will have significant impact on total irrigation withdrawals and can lead to water conservation.
    • Results of this study will provide valuable information on the accuracy, usability, and reliability of several major types of soil water sensors. These results will be helpful in selecting sensors that are suitable for different soils (i.e., clay or loam or sandy soils), or for soils with different salinity levels under different agro-climatic conditions in Oklahoma and will provide growers with local knowledge on best management practices and guidelines when it comes to efficient irrigation management using soil water sensors.
  • Evaluating the Potential of Sentinel-2 and Landsat Images for Mapping Open Surface Water Body Areas and Water Quality in Oklahoma
    (Zhenhua Zou with Dr. Xiangming Xiao)
    • Open surface water bodies are one of the important sources of water for agriculture, energy, commerce, industry, and public water supply. The numerous open surface water bodies across Oklahoma provide ~64% of the total fresh water withdrawal in Oklahoma. Annual maps of surface water bodies at high spatial resolution are critically important for water resource management. At present, annual water body maps at 30-m spatial resolution, derived from Landsat images, are available. However, streams and ponds with a width smaller than 30-m were not well captured because of the spatial resolution issue. Higher resolution, 10-m maps could be produced using techniques developed in our lab.
    • The expected results include: (1) open surface water body maps of Lake Texoma, Lake Thunderbird, and Grand Lake at the spatial resolution of 10-m in 2016 and 2017 and (2) reliable algorithms of chlorophyll-a estimation of Oklahoma lakes using Sentinel 2 and Landsat 7/8 images.

Projects Funded in 2017:

Link to 2017 project reports.

  • Utilizing Native Isopods to Assess the Connectivity and Quality of Oklahoma Groundwater
    (Ronald Bonett and Alexander Hess)
    • Due to their abundance, ease of collection, and wide distribution, aquatic isopods provide excellent utility for mapping watershed connectivity. Stream surveys have found isopods to be one of the most common benthic invertebrates, allowing for rapid detection and robust data collection. Further, groundwater isopods are distinct in appearance from surface counterparts, due to a loss of pigmentation and elongation of appendages. Lastly, isopod species are detritivores, filling a key trophic level in the nutrient cycling of groundwater systems and acting as bio-accumulators of waste products.
    • Article: Predicting Oklahoma Groundwater Hydrology Using Isopod Distributions (by Pamela Abit)
  • Economics of Groundwater Interaction between Producers and Competing Crops
    (Karthik Ramaswamy with Dr. Art Stoecker)
    • The project will estimate the benefits and costs from use of the remaining groundwater in Oklahoma Panhandle when multiple producers compete for a common groundwater source. In most parts of the southern Great Plains, the water-levels been falling steadily since the1970s. Water-levels in the Oklahoma Panhandle Counties of Beaver, Cimarron, and Texas are declining at the rate of 1 to 3 feet per year. In Oklahoma, irrigation accounts for 86 percent of total groundwater use from Ogallala aquifer.
      Read the short article summary, How Crop Arrangement can extend the Life of the Ogallala Aquifer by Abu Mansaray and Kevin Wagner (5/30/2019)
  • The Impact of Drought on Vegetation Water Use in Different Climatic Divisions across Oklahoma
    (Kul Bikram Khand with Dr. Saleh Taghvaeian)
    • Water consumed by vegetation is a major component of surface water budget, having a significant impact on water availability at variable scales. The state of Oklahoma lies between eastern humid and western semi-arid climates with nine climatic divisions delineated based on precipitation and temperature gradients. These climatic differences impact the water use by different vegetation. At the same time, the vegetation water use behavior is impacted by weather extremes such as drought. Therefore, understanding the complex and spatially variable interactions among vegetation water use, climatic conditions, and drought can provide decision maker with critical information required to develop and optimize water management plans to conserve available water resources for agricultural and natural ecosystems.
    • Video: Kul Khand: One of the Water Center's First Funded Students
  • Modeling Soil Moisture under Various Land Cover Types: Using Long-term Grassland Monitoring Data to Estimate Soil Moisture in Oklahoma Forests
    (Briana M. Wyatt with Drs. Tyson E. Ochsner and Chris B. Zou)
    • Soil moisture is an essential variable which affects climatic, hydrological, agricultural, and ecological systems. Due to the impact of soil moisture on important earth processes, in-situ soil monitoring networks are becoming more prevalent. However, the majority of soil moisture monitoring networks consider only one land cover type, usually grasslands, which limits the use of these data for areas with mixed land cover types. The Oklahoma Mesonet has monitored soil moisture at over 100 grassland sites for nearly two decades, but large areas of forest (12 million acres, or 28% of the state’s land area), cropland (~8 million acres, or 18%), and other land cover types have gone largely unmonitored.

More information and reports from previous projects are in our searchable Online Journal Systems page.