Southern Ogallala Conservation & Outreach Program


Published June 26, 2023 by Julia Stanford

The best and cheapest water is the water you don’t use. This adage informed the last state water plan to the tune of 31% of unmet water needs in 2070 being supplied by “demand management.” This conservation concept also rings true to those savvy water users who quickly wash up under a low-flow shower head or think twice before watering their yard. However, that’s not what most Texans are thinking about. The Southern Ogallala Conservation & Outreach Program (SOCOP) was created in 2007 to change that attitude in the southern plains by educating residents of all ages on the importance of water conservation through engaging, interactive programs.













Education Coordinator

Three groundwater conservation districts employ a shared education coordinator, Michelle Cooper, to carry out these programs in Gaines, Terry, and Yoakum counties southwest of Lubbock. Michelle has decades of experience in education and a passion for natural resources that makes her the perfect community ambassador for Llano Estacado UWCD, Sandy Land UWCD, and South Plains UWCD. Before beginning this role in 2015, she taught junior high science and high school chemistry for 23 years at several area schools and served in leadership roles at elementary, middle, and high school campuses for 10 years. Michelle’s time in education gave her many connections and relationships that she still maintains today in her role with SOCOP. Some of the teachers and youth group leaders taking advantage of SOCOP are former students of Michelle’s! Michelle has truly established herself as a fixture in the community, known affectionately by many people as “the water lady.”

So who gets to claim this wonderful educator? All three districts do! Llano Estacado UWCD, Sandy Land UWCD, and South Plains UWCD all contribute equally to paying the education coordinator’s salary and an annual budget for supplies and expenses. Michelle reports to each general manager and board of directors. When asked about this unique arrangement, Sandy Land UWCD General Manager Amber Blount (and TAGD President) said “the creation of the Cooperative allows for a uniform message on the importance of the Ogallala and its conservation to be spread across the Southern High Plains area. Being that we are all geographically rural, employing a full-time Education Coordinator individually was not financially efficient for the member districts. SOCOP allows the districts the benefit of having a full-time employee at a third of the cost associated with running the program.”


Community Outreach


SOCOP encompasses approximately 3,500 square miles and includes over 8,000 students enrolled in eight school districts. Add in the five libraries and variety of community groups, and it’s clear that there are many opportunities for involvement. SOCOP programs are offered to groups of any size, age, or interest at no charge.

Most frequently, Michelle is asked to conduct presentations in a classroom setting or during agricultural education days for upper elementary and middle school students. SOCOP lessons are aligned with the state educational standards and she aims to include a literacy component, a hands-on activity or demonstration, and a take-home craft in every water conservation presentation. The cooperative also owns an educational trailer with aquifer models, mini-exhibits, and water cycle information that can be taken on the road to community gatherings and festivals.

In addition to reporting activities and achievements to each of the GCD boards, Michelle Cooper manages the SOCOP Facebook page to share photos of speaking engagements, water-related news, conservation tips, and additional educational resources. Click here to visit the page and hit the “Like” button to see this fun and informational groundwater content in your news feed.


Teen Programs

The districts, SOCOP, and Michelle Cooper have supported the 4-H Water Ambassadors program since its inception in 2017. The 4-H Water Ambassadors program provides high school students an opportunity to gain advanced knowledge and develop leadership skills related to water management in Texas. You can learn more about the program and how other GCDs are involved  here in a previous TAGD feature article. Michelle serves on the Water Ambassador Advisory Committee to offer her expertise to the program staff on topics such as educational content, ambassador recruitment, service requirements, and program funding.

Right: Michelle Cooper with water ambassadors Jesse, Andie, and Mallory. Below: Ambassadors from the SOCOP districts presenting educational programs.

The three districts have sent a combined eight participants through the 4-H Water Ambassadors program, with several of the students completing all tiers of the program. This is not a coincidence – Michelle and the SOCOP district staff and boards are fervent supporters of the students. 4-H Water Ambassador participants are required to perform 40 hours of service in the water world, and helping out with SOCOP activities is a favorite opportunity for those local students in the program. One water ambassador alumna, Riley Calk, completed all four tiers of the water ambassador program and now serves the program as a student employee at Texas A&M University where she studies Agricultural Systems Management and plans to work in a water-related field after graduation. Several participants have interned at Sandy Land UWCD after learning about water careers and water quality testing during their summer water ambassador leadership academies. Michelle enjoys seeing how students’ perspectives shift throughout their time as water ambassadors and watching them grow.

That’s not the only opportunity for area high schoolers to play their part in the water world. SOCOP also manages a scholarship program on behalf of Llano Estacado UWCD, Sandy Land UWCD, and South Plains UWCD. The districts fund a scholarship for every high school in the area. Applicants are asked to write an essay that relates to whatever the United Nations World Water Day theme is that year. Michelle uses her classroom connections to encourage more students to apply. Some teachers require students to write a scholarship essay as a regular class assignment. Michelle promotes the contests on local radio interviews, publishes releases in newspapers, and also sends out letters to counselors and principals at each high school.


To learn more about SOCOP, visit or follow the Facebook page. Michelle Cooper can be reached at If you’d like to learn more about the cooperative arrangement from the district manager perspective, you can talk to Amber Blount, Layne Marlow, or Lori Barnes.