A&M International Drought Center Broadens Scope, Changes Name

Dr. Kenneth J. Tobin, director of Texas A&M International University's Drought Relief Information Center, jokes that every time it rains in Laredo, someone always says, "Guess we don't need the Drought Center anymore!"

Such comedians will no longer be able to tease Dr. Tobin because effective this month, the Drought Relief Information Center officially changed its name to the Center for Earth & Environmental Studies (CEES). Tobin believes the change will enable A&M International to broaden the scope of the Center and its activities."The mission of the CEES is to qualify water quantity and quality in the South Texas Region and to address various current environmental issues in the A&M International service area," said Tobin.

He explained that the Center's research is important to residents of Laredo and the surrounding area.

"Water availability is the fundamental constraint on economic growth in this region and the Center is equipped to tackle this issue. We're not just doing ivory tower research. The Center fundamentally focuses on researching reliable water resources for Laredo and the surrounding area," Tobin said.

There are two main projects underway for the Center: the installation of 25 environmental monitoring stations (EMS) and a radar system.Currently, there are 14 EMSs throughout Webb County and surrounding areas, with 11 more in place by the end of September. An EMS is a data collection system contained in a green canister, mounted on a long pole. It measures rainfall, temperature, relative humidity, and soil moisture, acquiring data every 15 minutes. The logs are collected monthly and downloaded to the Center's website: www.tamiu.edu/cost/drought.A radar system has also been set up, using refurbished "Weather Service equipment.

"We'll probably do a little better than the National Weather Service in estimating rainfall using this equipment. The radar can register rain every six minutes, so if there is a storm or a hurricane, the Center might take more in-depth data than the planned bi-weekly download. We still have a little bit more tweaking to do until I'm satisfied, but it's basically operational at this point," Tobin said.

With the data collected from the EMSs and the radar, the Center will be able to collect monthly weather data and generate bi-weekly radar precipitation estimate maps. Tobin says the Webb County maps, which should be up on the website by the end of 2001, will be valuable for a variety of area residents.

"This is important because it will help farmers, ranchers, city governments and county governments plan and take stock of the water resources in the region. The Center will generate soil moisture maps, which will be useful to farmers and ranchers and potential groundwater resource maps, which will be of interest to city and county governments in planning. Our soil moisture maps will have better resolution than the National Drought Mitigation Center maps. The smallest scale map they create lumps several counties together. Our maps will show an area as small as ten square miles. They'll be on the scale of someone's ranch," Tobin said.The Center will conduct monthly water quality monitoring of the Rio Grande. To accomplish this, the Center is exploring partnerships with Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, the lead environmental agency for the state of Texas.In addition to the current projects, the Center plans to begin basic research on the arsenic and uranium in the Quad Cities (Mirando City, Bruni, Oilton and Aguilares) drinking water and explore ways to remove it. The contamination is due to uranium mining which ended in the late 1980s and is believed to cause high mortality rates and shorter life expectancy of residents. The Center is also interested in studying the water source quality of the colonias in Laredo and surrounding areas.

The Drought Relief Information Center was established in 1998 by former State Representative and now Secretary of State Dr. Henry Cuéllar (a 1982 graduate of the University), during the severe drought of that time.

For more information, please contact Tobin by phone 326.2496 (or x-2410), visit offices in C Building, room 210 A (or CH 204) or visit the website: www.tamiu.edu/cost/drought. University office hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday.

Journalists who need additional information or help with media requests and interviews should contact the Office of Public Affairs and Information Services at pais@tamiu.edu