The proposed Irrigation Technology Center is not only needed to conserve water in Texas, but it will also generate income to the state through its activities, according to a recently released study.

Plans are to build the center, which is part of the Texas A&M University System, in or near San Antonio.

According to the study, conducted by Beach Ramirez Inc. of Houston and commissioned by the Agriculture Program at Texas A&M, there is a definite need for the center.

Four water districts and utilities in the San Antonio area provided funds for the Beach Ramirez study, which was used to develop a proposal that was presented to the Texas A&M Board of Regents last month. The regents gave their final approval to the center at their regular meeting on May 23-24.

The Irrigation Technology Center will also coordinate research and Extension programs in irrigation statewide, said Dr. Guy Fipps, agricultural engineer with Texas Cooperative Extension.

Irrigation, whether agricultural or municipal, is the single-largest user of water in Texas, Fipps said.

Seventy-six percent of all groundwater and 35 percent of surface water in Texas was used in irrigating crops in 2000, he said. Texas has about 6.4 million acres of irrigated agricultural land.

Also, it is estimated that from 20 percent to 40 percent of municipal water is used for landscape irrigation, he said. In 2000, about 15 percent of groundwater was consumed for municipal uses and 65 percent of surface water was used by municipalities and industries.

The goal of the ITC is to help the irrigation industry become more efficient by developing design standards and testing for equipment, researching the most effective irrigation techniques and educating industry and consumers about best irrigation practices, Fipps said.

The Beach Ramirez study, which is available at http://itc.tamu.edu, confirmed that there is a pressing need for facilities and programs such as those proposed. Since these could lead to significant water savings from irrigation, the ITC is expected to be a key factor in meeting Texas' future water demands, according to the study.

The ITC could generate significant revenue from irrigation equipment testing, research and development, the study revealed, as well as irrigation and hydraulic labs; marketing and analytical studies; continuing education courses; and support from stakeholders such as irrigation equipment companies. Potential additional revenue is possible from contracts and grants, publications, software sales, technology transfer fees and donations. This reduces the cost of the center to the public.

Beach Ramirez developed design concepts, site selection criteria, a budget and plan to develop the center in six phases. The total capital budget of the center is estimated to be between $26 million and $30 million, with annual operating costs of about $3.2 million.

Seed money for the center is being provided from a portion of a $3.1 million congressional appropriation to the Texas A&M University System and New Mexico for irrigation water conservation.

A funding request due to go before the state legislature during its next session would initiate construction of a major new facility in the San Antonio area. If approved, construction on the center could begin as early as the fall of 2003, Fipps said.

The ITC will also seek state funding to improve other irrigation facilities in the state, including those located near Halfway, which will also be a part of the center's programs.