Banking on a Rainy Day

Article by Carmon McCain

 Persons traveling through the busy intersection of Southwest 45th Avenue and Teckla Boulevard in Amarillo may take a moment to notice the banking center built there about seven years ago.  However, few realize that it is home to one of the city’s larger commercial rainwater harvesting installations.

 Construction of the FirstBank Southwest (FBSW) Western Banking Center begin in 2012.  Bank officials and Landscape Architects agreed that they could do more to conserve water — even though xeric landscaping was a major component in the original landscape plan.

 Before construction, the 36,252 square foot site allowed 100 percent of rainwater runoff to enter the City of Amarillo’s storm water system.  Addition of an on-site rainwater harvesting system helps reduce the amount of water used for landscape purposes and lessens storm water runoff in this flood-prone area.

 “Residents of our area are Texas tough and Panhandle proud. When you think about it, we are doing the same thing that our early predecessors did.  They had to capture water (in cisterns) in order to maintain a viable lifestyle,” said Smith Ellis, Chairman of the Board, Chief Executive Officer, and President of FBSW.

 It was hot and dry when I visited the bank in late August. David Pace stood in a doorway and pointed toward the tan-colored pavers around the building.  He has served as FBSW properties manager since 2009.

 “Every so often, people will ask to see the system during a rainfall event.  I like to watch the expression on their faces as rain flows across the parking area and eventually disappears into the permeable paving system,” he said.

 Rain falls upon the parking lot and the building’s metal roof. Downspouts channel water from the roof to the pavers. Once below the pavers, it flows through gravel backfill into 530 linear feet of perforated pipe. The pipe conveys water into an underground tank.

 “The tank is basically a rigid ‘milk crate’ with a non-permeable envelope around it,” says Jason Habeger with Turner LandArchitecture in Amarillo. The company designed the rainwater harvesting system.

 “This type of tank doubles the storage capacity at a lesser cost.  The system, as a whole, is not from one company. It is a combination of multiple rainwater collection methods available from different sources. Each can be used independently – it just depends upon what the customer wants to accomplish with their design.”

 The paver system base can hold up to 12,000 gallons of harvested rainwater. An additional 14,600 gallons of rainwater can be stored in the underground tank.  This gives a potential storage capacity of 26,600 gallons. That is the equivalent of 99.6 percent of the rainfall collected from a two-year storm event.

 “This is not a self-sustaining system — even though we have the potential to collect a large amount of water. For example, our last major rainfall was in September and we were out of water by February.  There are backup connections to use city water for the landscape, if needed. This still saves water because of the xeric landscape. We are equipped to handle the ebbs and flows of rainfall events,” said Pace.

 The banking center contains 7,720 square feet of designed landscape area. The perimeter includes a rain garden/swale with boulders from Marble Falls, decomposed granite mulch, and river cobble. This allows rainwater to percolate into the soil.

 Planting the area in tall fescue would require an application of approximately 171,661 gallons of water with an automatic landscape sprinkler system during the growing season.

 Designers incorporated a point source drip irrigation system for efficiency and flexibility.  Each bedded plant receives about one gallon of water per hour through one to five strategically placed emitters.  Trees receive one gallon of water per hour through two bubblers.

 The xeric landscape, combined with the drip irrigation system, will reduce landscape water use by 60 percent as compared to a traditional tall fescue lawn.

 Both Habeger and Pace agree that this project has increased awareness of the use of xeric landscaping. It also prompted a change in the City of Amarillo’s landscape ordinance with the addition of a recommended plant list.

 “People in Amarillo are starting to understand that they can have an attractive landscape with native drought-tolerant plants, rather than relying on traditional turf and trees. This project has inspired them to ask how they can accomplish similar results and be a good steward of our natural resources,” said Habeger.

 Ellis agrees that it is important to lead by example.

 “This rainwater harvesting project has exceeded our expectations.  It was a costly project – but it is worth it for several reasons.  It enhances the community in which we are a corporate partner. Even more importantly, it highlights some of our water issues and provides a way to combat those problems. It is the right thing to do – even though it is the pinnacle of a small effort toward water conservation. Believe me, this isn’t the last drought that we will ever experience,” he said.



Integrating center pivot irrigation control technologies goal of Texas A&M study

By: Kay Ledbetter, AgriLife Today

BUSHLAND – New center pivot irrigation technologies are only beneficial if they are being used, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Research engineer in Amarillo.

Thomas Marek is leading a team from Texas A&M AgriLife and Texas A&M University to ensure the latest advancements in agricultural irrigation management can be readily integrated for applications in the field.

The team is working to design a system utilizing off-the-shelf sensors and components to create a cost-effective and independent platform that will allow producers to realize benefits of irrigation technologies by integrating and automating information and decision support tools.

Their objectives include establishing:

* A wireless sensor network with anomaly detection.

* An irrigation system controller using real-time and forecast data, integration of data from multiple sensor inputs and unmanned aerial systems, models and safety.

* A user-friendly interface.

The multifaceted project integrates in-field data from multiple sensors and uses machine learning techniques plus crop models to automate irrigation scheduling decisions, Marek said.

Additional faculty members on the project include Dr. Dana Porter, AgriLife Extension engineer, Lubbock; and Dr. Jiang Hu, Texas A&M professor of electrical and computer engineering, College Station, along with three team members in his department, Dr. Justin Sun, Yanxiang Yang and Hongxin Kong.

An accompanying soil water sensor installation and placement study with the project involves Dr. Kevin Heflin, AgriLife Extension program specialist, Amarillo; and Dr. Gary Marek, U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service research agricultural engineer, Bushland.

“There are some great advanced irrigation technologies available, but they are complex, underutilized, difficult to use and not well integrated in existing control systems, therefore their benefits are not being fully realized,” Porter said.

She said the cooperative and complementary efforts in several research studies at the Bushland research facilities shared by AgriLife Research and USDA-ARS should help change that.

“We had a water seed grant to work on automated, integrated advanced control of a center pivot irrigation system,” Marek said. “We teamed up with Texas A&M’s electrical and computer engineering researchers and worked extensively with them to develop some advanced automation capabilities.”

He said they have already shown significant improvements over commercially available systems by developing a technology suite that includes:

– Improved center pivot irrigation positioning and speed control.

– Improved variable rate irrigation control with real-time updates using in-field near-real-time data plus predictive crop water-use capabilities.

– A soil-moisture in-field sensor placement method to optimize wireless sensor nodes to balance cost with necessary data reliability.

“In our case, advanced automation includes automated communication of data from soil water sensors to the pivot controller,” Marek said.

“We are using a processing model that looks at recent field data and the status today, plus a machine learning process to integrate data and decisions with an automated controller,” he said. “Together this tells the user and the system what to do and when. The system is also unique in that it logs all of what it does, and all of this happens at the pivot.”

Utilizing tools such as real-time soil moisture monitoring, near-real-time and short-term predictive crop evapotranspiration or crop water use, quantitative precipitation forecasting and an artificial intelligence algorithm, he said they are able to automate the “when, where and how much” decisions of crop irrigation.

Development was conducted whereby the platform-independent control system could be retrofitted into existing center pivot irrigation systems. The project team has several patents pending as a result of the work, Marek said, adding this is one of the best research teams he’s worked with in his irrigation career.

Funding and in-kind support for the project was provided by a Texas A&M University System Water Seed Grant, AgriLife Research, AgriLife Extension, Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station, High Plains Underground Water Conservation District, and the USDA-ARS Ogallala Aquifer Program.


NRCS announces 2019 EQIP funding deadline

TEMPLE, Texas – Feb. 4, 2019 — The USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Texas has announced the first funding application deadline of March 15, 2019 for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).  A second funding application deadline is scheduled for May 10, 2019.

 Applications are taken year around for NRCS programs, but deadlines are announced to rank and fund eligible conservation projects.  Producers interested in signing up for EQIP should submit applications to their local USDA service center or if already a USDA client, on-line via Conservation Client Gateway (CCG). 

 EQIP is a voluntary program that provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers. Technical assistance is provided without a fee from NRCS specialists to help landowners and land managers plan and implement conservation practices to help them meet their land management goals, address natural resource concerns and improve soil, water, plant, animal, air, and related resources on agricultural land and non-industrial private forestland.

 For additional information visit the NRCS Texas website. Applications for EQIP are accepted on a continuous basis. Producers interested in EQIP can contact their local USDA service center or visit


The USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender.

New Speaker, committee assignments at start of 86th Texas Legislature

By Victoria Whitehead, HPWD General Counsel

 The 86th Texas Legislature convened in regular session on Jan. 8 in Austin.  Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives. In recent weeks, both Speaker Bonnen and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced the membership of the House and Senate standing committees.

 House Committee Assignments

Speaker Bonnen selected Representative Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio) to chair the House Natural Resources Committee once again.  Speaker Bonnen also appointed Rep. Will Metcalf (R- Conroe) to serve as Vice Chairman.  Rep. Walter “Four” Price (R-Amarillo) was reappointed to the committee.

 Follow this link for other House Natural Resources Committee members.

 Follow this link for an entire list of House Standing Committees and members.

 Senate Water and Rural Affairs Committee:

Lt. Governor Patrick made some structural changes to the standing Senate Committees by splitting the Agriculture, Water, & Rural Affairs into two committees: 1) the Committee on Agriculture and 2) the Committee on Water & Rural Affairs.  State Senator Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) maintained his Chairmanship of the Water & Rural Affairs Committee. 

 In a statement on his social media, Chairman Perry said, “I am looking forward to fight for West Texas this legislative session. I believe serving on these committees will give West Texas a strong voice as we look to keep Texas the best state in the nation to live, work, and raise a family. I want to thank Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick for trusting me with these important committee assignments.” 

 Follow this link for other Senate Committee on Water & Rural Affairs members.

 Follow this link for an entire list of Senate Standing Committees and members.

 HPWD will provide legislative updates in the electronic and print versions of The Cross Section throughout the session.

CASNR develops new Agricultural Water Management Certificate Program

From Texas Tech Today

JANUARY 9, 2019 — Texas Tech University agricultural experts have expressed the growing need for training students in the latest irrigation technologies to enhance the efficiency of water use.

In response, the university's College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources (CASNR) will offer an undergraduate agricultural water management certificate to provide courses on efficient and profitable management of water for agricultural purposes, with emphasis on irrigation technologies.

"The undergraduate agricultural water management certificate is equally available to degree-seeking undergraduates and non-degree-seeking working adults," said Chuck West, the Thornton Distinguished Chair in the Department of Plant and Soil Science and administrator of the Texas Alliance for Water Conservation (TAWC). "All courses take place on campus, and require enrolling in the university, even if just for one course."

The certificate program was conceived by the TAWC, a water-management outreach project housed within CASNR, to bolster education of the agricultural workforce. Starting this spring, the certificate program will consist of a series of courses, totaling 15 hours, that cover aspects of water management and conservation.

A new course called the Irrigation Management Seminar will be offered every fall semester and is designed to meet the workforce needs of key stakeholders in agriculture such as producers, equipment providers, consultants and government agencies.

The certificate curriculum will provide students with information related to managing water for growing crops and other plants for horticultural and turf uses. The irrigation course will provide technical background on soil and plant sciences, the mechanics of irrigation equipment, use of programs to control and schedule irrigation and exposure to economic and regulatory aspects that guide irrigation use.

West said that while the certificate provides documentation of continuing education for those already in the workforce, it also allows traditional students the opportunity to further emphasize an area in the same department as their major as distinct from a minor, which can only be done in a department outside that of their major.

Dan Taylor receives Texas Agricultural Lifetime Leadership Award

From AgriLife Today

COLLEGE STATION – The Governor Dolph Briscoe Jr. Texas Agricultural Lifetime Leadership, or TALL,  program has honored Daniel Taylor with the Texas Agricultural Lifetime Achievement Award.

The award was presented recently at the Austin Club during a “Tribute to Texas Leadership” reception, hosted by The Governor Dolph Briscoe Jr. TALL program alumni, the Texas A&M University System and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. The event featured Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick as its keynote speaker.

Previous honorees of the TALL Lifetime Achievement Award include former Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe and former Congressman Charlie Stenholm.

Since 2009, Taylor has been president/manager of DLT Enterprises Inc. where he is involved in agricultural investments and land management in Castro, Hockley, Lamb, Llano, Lubbock, Lynn, McCulloch and Terry counties in Texas.

“TALL has benefited greatly from the wisdom and guidance Dan Taylor has contributed,” said Dr. Jim Mazurkiewicz, TALL program director in College Station. “His first-hand knowledge of agriculture operations combined with his passion for education and his sharing that knowledge has made a huge contribution to this state.”

After graduating from Texas Tech University with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture education, Taylor spent 10 years as an agriculture science teacher at Lubbock Cooper High School in Woodrow, where he led students involved in all FFA activities and participated in many state and national contests.

In 1975, Taylor became manager and co-owner of Buster’s Gin and later purchased the gin in 1983. From a humble beginning of ginning less than 2000 bales from only two customers, Taylor each year saw increased production, according to his award nomination. He later updated the gin to a modern, state-of-the art facility, always keeping the quality of ginning and service a priority.

Keeping with his educational roots, Taylor built an expansion on the gin with space for the public to experience the cotton ginning process in person, along with a museum that includes antique ginning equipment and memorabilia Taylor has collected over the years.

Through the years, Taylor has served as president of the Bayer Museum of Agriculture and has been a member of the Texas Tech School of Agriculture and Natural Resources advisory board. He previously served as president of the Texas FFA Foundation Board and is still a board member.

The Governor Dolph Briscoe Jr. Texas Agricultural Lifetime Leadership program is a competitive leadership development program that includes seminars with experts, on-site tours, meetings with business and government leaders, international study and personal skills improvement. It is funded by individuals and institutions through private gifts and grants. Participants pay a participant fee and AgriLife Extension provides administrative support with 100 percent of the program support paid by the agriculture industry.

The TALL program is designed for men and women in the early stages of their leadership careers. Each cohort consists of at least 25 people who are associated with agriculture. Participants come from every sector of agriculture and all parts of Texas.


Water conservation education series scheduled

The first day of spring is just a couple of months away.

With that in mind, it is time to start thinking about adding water saving practices to your 2019 landscape.

Join Randall County AgriLife Extension Horticulture Agent Erin Jones-Gray and a group of local experts in February as they share water conservation techniques for the Texas Panhandle.

Each session is from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the Happy State Bank Academic and Research Building, West Texas A&M University, 600 WTAMU Drive, in Canyon.

The cost is $10 per person. This allows persons to attend one or all six workshops, if desired.

The sessions are as follows:

▪ February 4: “Selecting Plants for the Texas High Plains” with Neal Hinders of Canyon’s Edge Nursery.

▪ February 11: “Rainwater Harvesting” with Katherine Drury of High Plains Underground Water Conservation District.

▪ February 25: “Tree Care in Years of Drought” with Ben Wethington of Wethington Landscape Management.

▪ March 4: “Managing Irrigation Systems” with Roger Gloe, President of the Randall County Master Gardeners. He is a Texas licensed irrigator.

▪ March 18: “Watering Landscapes in the Texas Panhandle” with Larry Bedwell, Grounds/Transportation Manager for West Texas A&M University.

 March 25: “Soil Fertility” with Fred Vocasek of ServiTech.

Additional information is available by calling (806) 468-5543 or emailing

Improving Irrigation Efficiency with Telemetry

By Katherine Drury, HPWD Conservation Connect

There have been many advances in irrigation technology during the past century. Low Energy Precision Application (LEPA) center pivot systems and subsurface drip irrigation have taken the place of furrow irrigation with open, unlined ditches. With irrigation application efficiencies nearing 100 percent, researchers and irrigation equipment manufacturers are turning their attention to improved system monitoring and scheduling.

Telemetry technology, allowing remote monitoring and control of center pivot and subsurface drip irrigation systems, is an emerging trend among producers. The most basic systems allow the producer to remotely monitor an irrigation system and turn it on or off by clicking a button on his phone or computer. The more advanced telemetry systems can incorporate soil moisture information and weather data to help a producer schedule irrigation.

Jonathan James, a cotton and wheat producer in Floyd and Crosby Counties, utilizes monitoring technology on his irrigation systems. He said this equipment has been a valuable addition to his operation. “Mrs. FieldNet,” as James’ wife calls it, frequently sends him text messages about the status of his irrigation systems. This keeps him in the loop, if a system fails.

Earlier this summer, he and his family were about to take a day trip out of town. As always, he checked his irrigation systems that morning before leaving.

“I drove by a system with one of the monitors on it,” James said. “Everything was fine. The monitor said it was fine. Visually, it was running.”

He drove to check on the final center pivot. After ensuring that it was working properly, he turned around to go home before leaving town.

“That one pivot that I had driven by ten minutes earlier texted me that it had shut off,” he said. “I stopped by and had it fixed in about 30 minutes. If I had been without the monitoring system, the pivot would’ve sat there for 24 hours before I made it back again.”

He estimates that he could have lost upwards of half a million gallons of water down the turn row had he not been immediately notified of the irrigation system malfunction.

James manages 19 center pivots. He drives about three hours every day to check on each of his fields and irrigation systems. He said this telemetry equipment helps him prioritize his route.

“I farm from north of Lorenzo to south of Dougherty. It takes me about three hours to make a circle to see every one of them. I still go to every one every day, but if I get up and see that one is off, I know I’m going there first and then make my circle rather than going around and showing up there at 11 o’clock. That’s another four or five hours it might have saved me.”

He said irrigation systems can shut down for a variety of reasons, which range from getting stuck in the mud to power surges. He estimates that on average, one of his systems malfunctions every day during the irrigation season. The ability to remotely communicate with his irrigation systems has been invaluable.

“The amount of time that it saves you and the information you collect from it is such a useful tool.”

Telemetry allows producers to track when their systems were turned on or off and how long they are in operation. This data can be exported and evaluated with each data point serving as an opportunity to learn and refine the process for next season.

“Efficiency is the name of the game in farming. Every year, we’re trying to squeeze just a little more and a little more, and this increases my efficiency of keeping machines running.”

Victoria Whitehead promoted to HPWD General Counsel

Victoria Whitehead has been promoted to General Counsel for the High Plains Underground Water Conservation District (HPWD) in Lubbock.  She previously served as HPWD Governmental Affairs Director.
In addition to some of her previous duties, she will now oversee all groundwater law and policy issues, grant funding acquisitions, HPWD election administration, state and federal compliance, and district representation for other legal matters. 
She will represent the district at various association meetings, groundwater planning meetings, and at committee hearings during the upcoming 86th Texas Legislature.
“We are fortunate to have Victoria as part of the HPWD team. Her training and skills are a valuable asset to the district.  It is nice to have someone with a local background that understands the issues of this region,” said General Manager Jason Coleman.
Whitehead grew up in the Panhandle, and received her bachelor’s degree in political science and her Juris Doctorate degree from Texas Tech University.
She previously worked in the General Counsel’s office at Texas Tech University and for several legislators before joining the HPWD staff in 2016. These include Senator Robert Duncan of Lubbock, Representative Drew Darby of San Angelo, and U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.
Some of her honors include the Texas Tech School of Law’s “Top Extern” award and the Capitol Crowd’s “House Intern Most Likely to be Running the Legislature in 10 years” recognition.  Gov. Greg Abbott appointed her to serve as a Student Regent for the Texas Tech University System Board of Regents for 2015-2016.