Research Program

Focus Areas

  • Water Information and Accounting Systems

  • Groundwater Institutions, Resources, and Technology

  • Headwater Management

  • Food-Water-Energy Nexus

We define water security as the reliable availability of an acceptable quantity and quality of water for health, livelihoods, ecosystems and production, coupled with an acceptable level of water-related risks. Sustaining water security in the face of interrelated changes in population, climate and land cover requires investments in three tightly-linked areas: information, institutions and infrastructure


How much water is available across California, and how is it being used? Unfortunately, these questions are deceptively simple and largely unanswered. Answers at the scales and accuracy relevant to equitable and efficient water-management decision making are critical both scientifically and for managing this precious resource for California’s future.

Salient, credible, and legitimate information at the proper spatial and temporal resolution is increasingly a critical bottleneck for sound decision making. Development and application of innovative, quantitative water accounting and analysis methods will provide the foundation for better decision making under increasing uncertainties. Tools for high-resolution and real-time monitoring of major water stores (snowpack, soils, groundwater, wetlands, surface waters), flows (evapotranspiration, recharge, surface and subsurface outflow) and human uses (domestic and industrial water accounting, agricultural stocks and flows; water rights) will provide accurate, timely feedback in support of adaptive management and infrastructure investments.

The Information initiative is intended to improve the collection, integration, synthesis, dissemination, and use of water data that is critical to decision making in California. We are working on basic and applied research to address the following problems:

  1. Information for hydrology: Large uncertainties remain in our understanding of the stocks and flows of water in California at multiple spatial and temporal scales. 
  2. Information for water use:  Basic understanding of how much water agriculture uses in California is lacking. Uncertainties that stem from the lack of cost-effective technology for measuring and reporting water diversions, the lack of standard methods to measure and report consumptive use at various scales are challenges to understaning water demand. 
  3. Information for water distribution: Too little is known about water rights and usage across space and time. Proposals could address the integration of rights to water with actual usage at time steps of relevance to water managers. 


The Institutions initiative is intended to address shortcomings in existing institutional approaches to water governance in California. For example, the passage of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, while historic, has left unanswered questions about its implementation. We are working to address legal, regulatory, or institutional challenges that persist throughout California’s water management system.

  1. Sustainable Groundwater Management Act: jurisdictional delineation; governance creation; linking groundwater sustainability to habitat and hydrologic restoration.
  2. Integrated Regional Water Management: next generation approaches to IRWM.
  3. Water rights:  improved integration of various forms of water rights, singularly and in aggregate; improved approaches to curtailment.
  4. Water pricing: economics of water in agricultural, urban, and transboundary sectors.
  5. Environmental justice: disparities in access to safe and reliable source of water; human and environmental health condition.


Understanding of the way water flows through the natural environment, and how it is extracted, conveyed, and stored in a combination of built and natural infrastructure, is fraught with uncertainties. Advances in fundamental hydrologic science are sorely needed. The connections between water storage, conveyance, and water use are central to water security. We define each of these terms broadly, to include interrelated natural and human aspects of California’s physical water systems. Advances in process understanding will improve integrated management of groundwater and surface water. Infrastructure also includes source-water areas, which influence water-quantity, water quality, and ecological outcomes.

From snowpack to groundwater basins, from reservoir operations to impacts of subsidence, California’s water infrastructure is a vast and complex network; the Infrastructure initiative is intended to improve our understanding of stores and fluxes of California’s water resources.

  1. Integrated modeling and cyberinfrastructure:  new tools for basin-scale, surface-ground water integration.
  2. Headwater management:  advances in remote sensing of water balance.
  3. Watershed-scale integration:  overcoming scale and resolution challenges.
  4. Groundwater recharge:  stormwater capture and managed recharge; real-time metering.
  5. Food-Energy-Water Nexus:  water for food and energy production; energy for water distribution; hydropower.