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Missouri Department of Natural Resources Establishes Soil Moisture Network for Missouri

JEFFERSON CITY, MO, MARCH 26, 2021 - The Missouri Department of Natural Resources is developing a Soil Moisture Network for Missouri. The network consists of probes placed in the ground that measure and transmit information about the moisture of the soil at existing groundwater-level monitoring stations across the state. The project began in early 2020, and eight of the 15 stations selected for the initial phase of the project have been installed.

Soil moisture plays an important role in drought and flood forecasting, agricultural needs, water supply concerns, forest fire prediction and other natural resource activities.

Creation of the Soil Moisture Network is a result of conversations among Governor Parson’s Flood Recovery Advisory Working Group members. It is one of many tangible paths the department is taking in enacting flood resiliency priorities to benefit Missouri and its citizens. 

“We are very pleased the soil moisture network is being implemented across the state. Interest in measuring soil moisture heightened during meetings with Governor Parson’s Flood Recovery Advisory Group in 2019,” said Dru Buntin, deputy director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. “Coupled with our Groundwater-level Observation Network, soil moisture data will inform flooding, drought and agriculture planning. Missouri sustained record-level flooding in 2019. More than 80 levees overtopped or breached, 1.2 million acres of agriculture land was flooded, and 470 state highways were closed. Citizens, farmers and businesses were impacted. The result of flooding was devastating and cost millions of dollars in property damage.”

Buntin learned about a network maintained by the University of Iowa and suggested, during meetings with the advisory group, Missouri develop a similar network. The advisory group embraced the idea, and the department began moving forward to make this important network a reality.

Soil moisture probes were placed at eight groundwater-level monitoring stations maintained by staff with the department’s Water Resources Center. “At each station, five probes were placed in the ground at depths of 2, 4, 8, 20 and 40 inches. Site-specific information is collected every 30 minutes and transmitted every hour via satellite and is available on the internet in near real-time,” said Scott Kaden, Groundwater Section chief with the department’s Water Resources Center. “In addition to soil moisture, some of the probes collect and transmit soil temperature. The first probes our Rolla and Jefferson City staff installed are at our groundwater-level observation station near Hermann.” The groundwater-level observation stations and soil moisture probes are supplied power via solar technology (solar panels and a 12-volt battery.)  

Staff determined a total of 50 of the department’s 150 groundwater-level observation stations are suitable for the addition of soil moisture probes. Fifteen of these stations were selected for this initial phase of the project. Probes at eight stations have been installed. In addition to the site near Hermann, the department installed probes near Jackson, Lebanon, Mt. Leonard, Naylor, Steele, St. Joseph and Tarkio.

Soil moisture and groundwater-level data, along with precipitation data (where available) are transmitted to the U.S. Geological Survey, where they make the data available to the public online. Learn more at dnr.mo.gov/geology/wrc/groundwater/gwnetwork.htm.