John Tarleton’s dream to create an institution of higher education for students of modest means today is reality. Tarleton State University offers an affordable, quality education and boasts graduates whose accomplishments would make its founder proud.

This monthly column, by an anonymous university author, looks at the school’s progress, issues of our time, achievements and challenges through the eyes of John Tarleton — a dreamer’s point of view.

Agriculture means everything at Tarleton State University.

For the first half of the 20th century, the university was known as John Tarleton Agricultural College, a name that aptly described its mission.

Although that mission has broadened over the years, agriculture remains a revered Tarleton heritage.

It’s an identity that embraces more than cultivating soil, producing crops and raising livestock. It includes sustainability and environmental studies to safeguard valuable resources.

Like the kind of work that Tarleton’s Texas Institute for Applied Environmental Research (TIAER) does to improve quality of life in North Texas, 35 U.S. states and Canada, and around the globe from Chile to New Zealand.  

Created by the Legislature in 1991, TIAER initially focused on water quality along the North Bosque River, which flows from Stephenville into Lake Waco. TIAER environmental scientists, researchers and agricultural economists still collect data from the Bosque River to create models for testing water quality.

That’s not all.

The team provides scientific data and analysis to elected officials, government agencies, community planners and business leaders worldwide, helping to inform water-quality decisions that affect us and generations to come.

Safeguarding water is critical for human health and the health of our ecosystems.

TIAER is helping improve water-quality research in Ethiopia, a country struggling with access to clean drinking water. Researchers are working with a relatively new university in Ecuador to develop an agricultural research program. They’ve partnered with China and other countries on better management of grasslands and beef cattle production.

Recently, TIAER collaborated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop a free, online Nutrient Tracking Tool that estimates nutrient and sediment losses. Led by Associate Director Dr. Ali Saleh, the project is helping farmers and ranchers conserve resources.

TIAER’s reach is growing, but Texas is its heart and soul.

Scientists collect water samples and run analyses at the nationally accredited laboratory — right here on the Stephenville campus —from more than 15 watersheds across Texas. These projects identify sources of pollution, protecting the water we drink.

After Hurricane Harvey, TIAER sent a team to measure hydrocarbon and bacterial contamination levels, assess water quality in flooded communities, and help protect the health of our neighbors in South Texas. Hurricane flooding can cause major contamination, as brackish water inundates streets and dumps toxic material into waterways.

TIAER Director Dr. Quenton Dokken and his team understand that the world’s water quality depends on a continued commitment from individuals, communities and governments to ensure that resources are managed in a sustainable manner.

It depends on research and education.

Lots of it.

Like that found at the Texas Institute of Applied Environmental Research.