Scientists, stakeholders and community members gathered at the Champaign Public Library on Thursday evening for a discussion about increased agricultural irrigation and how it affects the region's water supply.
The event was inspired by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting's series, "Uncharted Waters," which found that the number of irrigation pivots - quarter to half-mile pipe irrigation systems that turn in a circle sprinkling crops - dug by farmers has doubled in the last five years in Champaign County. This increase, coupled with more unpredictable weather patterns and lax regulations of groundwater resources, makes it difficult to know the impact of irrigation on our water supply.
A panel of scientists and stakeholders shared their perspectives on the topic, as well as presentations about Illinois’ groundwater, the effects of agricultural irrigation and emerging research into how plants can more efficiently use water. The presentations were followed by a panel discussion, moderated by Brant Houston, Knight Chair in Investigative Reporting at the University of Illinois, and a question and answer session with the audience.
Read more about Thursday's panelists below, and view the presentations and discussion on our Facebook Live video:
Editor's note: The opinions expressed by panelists are their own, and do not reflect those of the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting or our reporters.
"Uncharted Waters" Panelists
George Roadcap is a hydrogeologist at the Illinois State Water Survey, a division of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois. The Water Survey provides science-based information and analysis to citizens, industry and the state to help Illinois manage water resources. Roadcap’s research focuses on issues relating to groundwater quality and potential impacts of Illinois’ water needs on the Mahomet Aquifer. (Click here to view the video)
Clark Bullard is a research professor and professor emeritus in the Department of Mechanical and Science Engineering at the University of Illinois, where he works to make technology more energy efficient and environmentally safe. A long-time environmental activist, Bullard served as a board member for the Coalition on American Rivers. He currently serves as central vice chair and director of the National Wildlife Federation and is a board member of the Prairie Rivers Network, a nonprofit advocacy group for clean water and healthy rivers in Illinois. (Click here to view slides)
Jack Paxton is an emeritus professor of crop sciences at the University of Illinois, where he worked for 32 years. As a California native and part-time resident of Lake San Marcos, California, Paxton became interested in his home state’s water issues, particularly as they relate to its agricultural history. He has taught courses in agricultural ethics and human impact on the environment at the University of Illinois and UC San Diego. He received his bachelor’s in chemistry at Berkeley and his doctorate in plant pathology from UC Davis. (Click here to view slides)
John N. Ferguson is a plant biologist at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois. He received his doctorate in biological sciences from the University of Essex in the U.K. while working to understand the genetic basis of water use in model plant species. Presently, his research is centered on understanding how stomata, the microscopic pores on the underside of plant leaves, regulate water use at the whole plant and field level. (Click here to view slides)
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