Grant to expand water testing capabilities for northern Missourians

A USDA grant is funding a new water testing facility at MU’s Lee Greenley Jr. Memorial Research Farm.

Two men in blue jeans and work boots place tubing into the ground of a harvested corn field to collect a water sample
Gurbir Singh collects a water sample from the soil of a research plot at Lee Greenley Jr. Memorial Research Farm in the Northern Missouri Research, Extension and Education Center.

The University of Missouri’s Northern Missouri Research, Extension and Education Center (NM-REEC) expands across the Mark Twain watershed — a drinking source for more than 85,000 Missourians — and thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, it will soon be able to help monitor water quality in the area better than ever before and at a lower cost.

The $150,000 grant will cover the equipment costs to build a water quality lab on the property, which brings many advantages both for Missourians living in the area and for academic pursuits.

“We have been shipping soil and water samples outside because we didn’t have any way of testing it here,” said Gurbir Singh, assistant professor of applied soil science in the Division of Plant Science and Technology, and state extension specialist in soil science, who is managing the project. “We are in the Mark Twain watershed, and this grant funding will allow us to offer water sample testing to the community at a lower rate.”

Singh expects the lab to cut costs dramatically — possibly saving the university as much as $140 per sample.

Gurbir Singh
Gurbir Singh

Singh lives on the property at Lee Greenley Jr. Memorial Farm with his family and diligently monitors his research at the farm including water quality monitoring projects that require him to take samples immediately after rains. Having the lab onsite will expand his capacity to carry on the environmental monitoring projects and answer more questions about water management for area producers.

“We are going to be able to do more types of testing,” Singh said. “Ammonia, for example, has to be tested within a day of sample collection, so right now, we can’t do that at all.”

The lab will also improve the reliability of the information Singh is using in his research as he will have more knowledge and control over the testing process.

“Once the sample is out of our hands, we don’t know what is happening with it because every lab has its own protocol,” he said. “This will strengthen the quality of the research and the quality of the sample analysis.”

Singh is well-versed in water testing procedures because he was fortunate to have hands-on learning in a water testing lab during his own graduate training, and this is another benefit he hopes to see the lab provide to University of Missouri graduate students.

Each year, dozens of University of Missouri graduate students have access to the farms within the REECs to conduct research, and this facility will provide the opportunity to learn a new skill set in testing their own water samples.

“They will know how to use water testing equipment and this process will provide training as a skilled workforce when they graduate out of the program,” Singh said.

The lab is expected to be fully operational this spring.