WERA1023: Watershed Processes and Human Water Systems

(Multistate Research Coordinating Committee and Information Exchange Group)

Status: Active

WERA1023: Watershed Processes and Human Water Systems

Duration: 10/01/2019 to 09/30/2023

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Statement of Issues and Justification

This WERA supports a group of educators, researchers and extension specialist who came together to investigate watershed biophysical processes and human water systems across the mountain west. Water is a key natural resource issue that will only grow in importance in the western United States over the coming years. Water availability already limits agricultural (Ag) productivity, environmental health, and recreational amenities, and further threatens to limit the well-being of our economy in coming years as climate change, population growth, and attendant energy needs put pressure on limited and changing water resources. The western US is already experiencing 1) increases in drought severity and duration (e.g., California, Intermountain West 2002- 2010 drought (Cayan et al., 2010; AghaKouchak et al., 2014), 2) increased variability in precipitation and snow pack (Grundstein and Mote, 2010; Pederson et al., 2011), and 3) changes in water resource demands (e.g., water demands for front range of the Rockies and Wasatch fronts, ag- energy demands). Improved management of water resources requires increased understanding of 1) how climate and management impact watershed processes and partitioning and availability of water resources (e.g., surface, groundwater) and 2) the socio- economic drivers of the human water management systems.

We must create new mechanisms and approaches to meet increasing water demands. Additionally, our catchments, particularly forest and rangelands, must be actively managed to both sustain necessary water resources and preserve functioning ecosystems and watersheds. Understanding the links and feedbacks between watershed biophysical processes and human systems and their socio-economic drivers are key for building long-term resiliency in western watersheds. To address current and future challenges, it is imperative to focus on development and assessment of wholistic, integrated management approaches that include both Ag production and environmental system function and health.

The proposed WERA will include representation from 14 western states. Once formed, the team will develop specific output and outcome goals that are complementary to the other existing water-related Western Multi-state Committees and WERAs in particular, WERA102 Climate Data and Analyses for Application in Agriculture and Natural Resources, WERA1022 Meteorological and Climate Data to Support ET-Based Irrigation Scheduling, Water Conservation, and Water Resources Management, WERA103 Nutrient Management and Water Quality, W3188 Soil, Water and Environmental Physics Across Scales, W3128 Scaling Microirrigation Technologies to Address the Global Water Challenge, and W3190 Management and Policy Challenges in a Water-Scarce World.


  1. 1. Hold an annual meeting to a) foster collaborations and develop new approaches, b) create more effective and numerous linkages of expertise and knowledge among researchers and practitioners in multiple disciplines at western LGI and other appropriate public/private agencies, and c) develop specific annual outputs and outcomes
    Comments: .
  2. 2. Identify methods to share data and knowledge bases more effectively; identify challenges and share success stories.
  3. 3. Develop a framework to advance the science and understanding of feedbacks between natural and human systems with a focus on water resource management in the western US, including:
  4. 4Develop and submit integrated, multi-disciplinary project proposals to various funding agencies to address priority water issues in the western US.

Procedures and Activities

Although this will be primarily a LGI-based project, we will encourage representation and participation from other universities, partner agencies, NGOs, and the private sector.


  1. Procedure:An annual meeting of project participants will be held in a western state each year to address the project’s objectives.

Activity: Coordinate with the Administrative Advisor to develop the first meeting (location, agenda, etc.). Subsequent meetings will be planned and coordinated by the Guidance Group and the Administrative Advisor (see below).


  1. Procedure: Teams will be recruited and formed as appropriate to develop proposals in response to targeted RFAs released by state and federal agencies and foundations.

Activities: Seek external funding, through collaborative grant-writing efforts, to develop programs and projects that address priority water resource issues in the West. Develop partnerships with strategic partners and key stakeholders to respond to funding opportunities.Investigate mechanism for supporting organized data sharing and monitoring networks including, but not limited to RCN/WBDIH.


  1. Procedure:The WERA group will meet at least quarterly in person or by conference call and/or webinar.

Activities:Members of this WERA will hold teleconferences throughout the year to find out what is being accomplished regarding the overall committee’s objectives. We will explore possible partnerships with communities, producers, districts, resource groups, water extension; share success stories of research and community interaction/partnerships; and communicate and discuss new directions.

Expected Outcomes and Impacts

  • 1. New multidisciplinary approaches to address specific water challenges in the West including bidirectional feedbacks between biophysical and human water systems.
  • 2. Respond to appropriate request for proposals to seek grant funding.
  • 3. New collaborative research and extension projects and programs that lead to tangible outcomes in terms of water processes and management: Comments: 1) Cutting edge ideas regarding integrated water management that target improved understanding and management of water budgets, storage, aquifer recharge, SW-GW interactions; and improved understanding of how human systems impact these biophysical systems and how the biophysical systems impact human systems. 2) Successful management tools and approaches tested for transferability across the region 3) Active engagement and exchange with stakeholders to improve local community management of watershed resources with newly identified/developed approaches.

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Educational Plan


  1. Annual Meeting.Western water quantity and quality issues, research needs, educational approaches, and novel solutions to water challenges will be topics for discussion at the annual meeting among professionals from multiple disciplines at western region universities and public agencies. The annual meeting will provide a forum for these professionals to discuss issues, dilemmas, and successes, and to take advantage of opportunities for collaboration.
  2. Grant Development. A primary role of this committee will be to write integrated, multi-state grant proposals.



Administrative Advisor:Steve Loring (sloring@nmsu.edu)


The Administrative Advisor will provide administrative support and report to the western regional Deans and Directors. Because a primary objective of this committee is to foster integrated research, teaching, and extension involving all disciplines relating to water resources, we request the Deans and Directors sponsor at least two professionals from each state to attend the annual meetings as voting members; anyone else may participate.


Internal administration will be through a Guidance Group consisting of three to five WERA participants. Graduate assistants from participating land grant institutions will be supported to attend meetings and assist with recording meeting minutes.

Guidance group members will serve on a rotational basis.



Land Grant Participating States/Institutions:

Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming


Non-Land Grant Potential Participating States/Institutions:State Water Resources Research Institutes, West Big Data Hub, Agricultural Research Service, US Forest Service, NRCS, Bureau of Land Management, USGS, Bureau of Reclamation, USDA Climate Hubs, State Departments of Agriculture, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Environmental and Water NGOs, Babbit Center, Commodity Groups, Watershed groups, Watershed councils, Basin planning groups, Western States Water Council, Western Council of Governors, Land and water institutes.

Literature Cited

AghaKouchak, A., L. Cheng, O. Mazdiyasni,and A. Farahmand. 2014. Global warming and changes in risk of concurrent climate extremes: Insightsfrom the 2014 California drought,Geophys. Res. Lett.,41, 8847– 8852,doi:10.1002/2014GL062308


Cayan, D.R., T. Das, D.W. Pierce, T.P. Barnett, M. Tyree and A. Gershunov. 2010. Future dryness in the southwest US and the hydrology of the early 21st century drought. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 107:21271-21276.


Grundstein A. and T.L. Mote. 2010. Trends in Average Snow Depth Across the Western United States,Physical Geography,31:2,172-185,DOI:10.2747/0272-3646.31.2.172

Pederson, G.T.  S.T. Gray, C.A. Woodhouse, J.L. Betancour6, D.B. Fagre1, and J.S. Litt. 2011. The unusual nature of recent snowpack declines in the North American Cordillera Science 15Jul 2011:Vol. 333, Issue 6040, pp. 332-335DOI: 10.1126/science.1201570.


Land Grant Participating States/Institutions


Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

UC Merced
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