The Land Management and Water Conservation Research Unit (LMWCRU) officially began in October 1972 as a result of combining the USDA Agricultural Research Service Range Science Project and Soil and Water Project. Dr. Robert Papendick was appointed the unit’s first Research Leader. The LMWCRU, however, had its origins long before the merger of these projects.
Beginning in 1930, the Pacific Northwest Soil Erosion and Moisture Conservation Experiment Station was established at Pullman, WA. This experimental station was one of 10 erosion experiment stations authorized by Congress in 1929. The focus of the research at the station was to determine the causes of runoff and water erosion and to identify the most effective and practical methods of mitigating the loss of soil and water from the steep hill slopes of the Palouse region.
The name of the experiment station had several derivations throughout the 1930’s, 1940’s, and 1950’s. In 1953, congress authorized the establishment of the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS). The experiment station was then under the administration of the Soil and Water Conservation (SWC) Research Division, Western Soil and Water Management Research Branch, of the USDA-ARS. Glenn Horner, the superintendent just after the inception of the experiment station, became the Project Supervisor.
In 1961, the experiment station was renamed the Palouse Conservation Field Station (PCFS). This name continues to this day and is managed by the LMWCRU. The PCFS is one of the field locations used by unit scientists for conducting research. It was this same year that congress authorized building a rain tower and laboratory at the PCFS to accelerate research for finding solutions to controlling runoff and water erosion. In 1962, the field station was administered by Northwest Branch of the Soil and Water Conservation Research Division with Stephen Mach appointed as the Research Investigations Leader. The rain tower and
laboratory were completed in 1963; the facility was dedicated in 1964 as the “Soil Erosion Research Laboratory”. In 1966, Leonard Johnson was appointed Station Leader and research conducted at the PCFS changed focus from water erosion to water management. Management of water resources through infiltration, evaporation and crop water use were integral to preventing runoff and erosion.
Although water management is still integral to understanding erosion of the steep hill slopes of the Palouse, water management also affects the sustainability of agricultural lands outside the Palouse. Thus, the scope of the unit research program has expanded to drier regions of the Columbia Plateau to address the needs for land management practices that improve air quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and enhance the economic viability and diversity of dryland cropping systems.
There have been 19 scientists stationed at the LMWCRU since 1930; seven of those scientists have served as Research Leader.