Jeff Johnson, Ph.D., Head of the Delta Research and Extension Center, Mississippi State University, was installed as the 2018-2019 President of the UCOWR Board of Directors at the UCOWR/NIWR Annual Conference this June. Click the link below to learn more about Jeff and his thoughts on how UCOWR can continue to build our value and our capacity to serve members.
Dr. Johnson became interested in the multiple disciplinary nature of water resources while working on his Ph.D. in Agricultural Economics and Irrigation Management at Texas Tech University. At that time, the Texas was considering changing its groundwater rules, raising the question of how changes in water laws might impact farmers’ decisions about irrigating their land. Over the course of his career, Johnson’s research focused around that question, studying and modeling the impacts of water laws and changing technologies on farm profitability and stakeholder decision-making. This work, interdisciplinary in nature, remains useful, even as Dr. Johnson has turned his career focus to administration of a large research facility. “A lot of that early work which looked at the impact of changes in water laws on farmers’ decisions, helped inform the legislation discussion. Those same ideas have transferability as we developed models that could be adjusted to fit similar situations in different locations.”
Johnson was hired as the Head of the Delta Research and Extension Center (DREC) Mississippi State University in the fall of 2013, leaving joint research and teaching appointments at Texas Tech University and Texas A&M University for this new challenge. The DREC is currently made up of 23 research and Extension faculty from a wide variety of disciplines and over 100 support personnel. Together they work to support research, innovation, and extension through the sciences of agricultural economics, agronomy and soil fertility, aquaculture, entomology, irrigation and water quality, plant pathology, weed science, meteorology/climatology, and genetics, as well as through technology improvements. The DREC’s primary mission is to produce and disseminate research and development to stakeholders to increase agriculture and aquaculture (catfish, etc.) yields while preserving the environment and natural resources of the Mississippi Delta region. As in many regions of the country, a pressing challenge is to increase the efficiency of water use in agriculture and other applications while simultaneously improving the quality and preserving the quantity of water resources, both surface and groundwater.
This year, Johnson has added the additional challenge of serving as the President of the Universities Council on Water Resources Board of Directors. Active since his first conference in 2004, Johnson was immediately drawn to the organization. “I have been involved and committed to interdisciplinary approaches from the beginning, and that is why I was attracted to UCOWR. It provides that multi-disciplinary forum for water resources discussions – one of the few that does.” He also found the network opportunities throughout the conference invaluable. “It was the interaction with leaders in all things water at the university level. I remember during a presentation looking out and seeing Robert Taylor in the audience. A lot of his work was what I based my project on, and it was exciting to interact one on one. UCOWR conferences pull everybody, from well-established leaders to beginning faculty and graduate students.”
So what does Dr. Johnson hope to do during his year tenure as UCOWR President? He has two clear goals in mind: 1) Continue to work through the Strategic Planning process begun in the fall of 2017; and 2) Make sure that UCOWR is an organization whose value is recognized by research universities across the country. “We can continue to elevate our value through the impact factor on our journal, the quality of our conference, and through our recognition of fine work through awards each year. The conference is key. If we get them to the conference, the true value of UCOWR – the interactions and the connections they make with colleagues – will make them want to stay!”