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OWRC Director Has a Passion for Natural Resources

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Kevin Wagner, Thomas E. Berry Endowed Professor and director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Center, has a unique and varied background.


After receiving a master’s degree in environmental science from Oklahoma State University in 1995, he went to work for the Oklahoma Conservation Commission’s Water Quality Division, then later went on to serve as a liaison between the OCC and the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service.


He also worked briefly for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality before accepting a position with the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board where he worked for five years as assistant director of programs. He worked for the Texas Water Resources Institute at Texas A&M from 2005 to 2017, during which time he pursued his Ph.D. in agronomy.


He returned to Oklahoma in 2017 to serve as the director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Center, Thomas E. Berry professor of integrated water research and associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences at OSU. A role more recently added to his titles is the director of the Oklahoma National Science Foundation’s EPSCoR Program.


“As director of both the OWRC and OK NSF EPSCoR Program, my responsibilities are broad and primarily administrative,” Wagner said. “This allows me to be involved in a wide variety of projects, ranging from leading development of a statewide hydrologic and water quality modeling system to facilitating research to treat and reuse produced water from oil and gas production to collaborating with the USDA-Agricultural Research Service to develop tools and techniques for the rehabilitation of aging flood control dams.”


Wagner leads several research projects to better understand how natural resources and conventional grazing practices impact grazing land water quality and how new grazing tools and technologies can be used to improve the ecosystem benefits of grazing lands. 


“One tool we are working on is using virtual fencing to improve grazing management,” Wagner said. “This exciting project has gotten a lot of attention recently and has been a lot of fun. Our hope is that our research will lead to a better understanding of the water quality issues and provide tools for producers to address them.”


Wagner said he is proud to be involved in the OSU Extension Master Irrigator Program, which helps producers improve irrigation efficiency. He said he plans to continue his virtual fencing and water quality research in the future, and he will soon be launching a new project aimed at understanding the hydrologic and water quality effects of implementing soil health practices. 


“Probably the biggest impact of my research is the demonstration of the impacts of wildlife on bacterial water quality,” Wagner said. “My previous research has shown that approximately 50% of bacteria in streams and rivers can be traced back to wildlife. Prior to this finding, most water quality modelers and regulators did not even consider the impacts of wildlife. This is changing.”


Wagner said his favorite part of working at OSU is the people within and outside the university who he gets to work with and the variety of projects in which he is able to engage.


“I love the land, the water resources that depend on it and the people that care for it,” Wagner said. “Growing up, I spent countless hours exploring, hunting and fishing along the creeks, rivers and ponds on my grandfathers’ ranches. This really gave me a great appreciation for these resources and led me to my vocation.”

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