S-C5 Lessons from California and the West

The drought in southwestern states has focused attention on water management and the challenges of maintaining urban water uses, ecosystems, and agricultural uses. Groundwater is being relied upon more, but groundwater aquifers are often finite, and their levels are dropping in response to withdrawals.

The policies behind U.S. water use reside in both water institutions and agricultural policies.

Throughout the West irrigated agriculture uses approximately 85% of all water. Water markets are being used to a limited degree to transfer water to higher paying uses, but not on a large scale. Controlling legal systems make transfers difficult, along with other factors.

Agricultural policies drive multiple aspects of western agriculture, and, in turn, western water use. Corn production, for example, is responsible for declining water levels in the Ogallala Aquifer, but federal support for this crop is a greater incentive than federal policies to protect this aquifer.
Something has to change, because the public is becoming more concerned about water shortages and more questions are being raised about its management. This session will examine some of the approaches that have been used in western state and in other arid nations concerning irrigated agriculture.


  • Mekonnen Gebremichael, Associate Professor, Hydrology and Water Resources, University of California, Los Angeles and Solomon Demissie, Postdoctoral Scholar, University of California, Los Angeles and Assistant Professor of Water Resources Engineering and Management, Addis Ababa University


  • James Famiglietti, Professor, Earth System Science and Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of California, Irvine; Senior Water Scientist, National Aeronautics and Space Administration Jet Propulsion Laboratory
  • Denise Fort, Research Professor, University of New Mexico School of Law
  • Steve Lindley, Director, Fisheries Ecology Division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Southwest Fisheries Science Center
  • Brad Udall, Director and Senior Water and Climate Research Scientist, Colorado Water Institute

Mekonnen Gebremichael works on understanding and prediction of hydrological fluxes on a range of spatial and temporal scales, advancing the use of satellite observations for water resource applications, uncertainty analysis of hydrological estimations and forecasts, transboundary river basin management, water resource management and governance in developing countries, and impact of hydrological and climate changes on vector-borne diseases. Dr. Gebremichael recently organized a workshop which addressed the scientific, engineering, and data challenges and opportunities in understanding the coupled food-energy-water systems in California. (310-794-4239; mekonnen@seas.ucla.edu)

James “Jay” Famiglietti and his team have been researching and communicating about water and climate change in academics, in business, in government, and to the general public for over 25 years. He was appointed by Governor Jerry Brown to the California State Water Boards in Region 8. He was the Founding Director of the UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). Before joining UCI in 2001, Jay was on the faculty of the Geological Sciences Department at the University of Texas at Austin, where he helped launch the program in climate and the UT Environmental Science Institute. (949-824-9434; jfamigli@uci.edu)

Denise Fort has grappled with the paradox of agriculture in the desert for a number of years in her work on western water policy. California’s experience of severe drought led to renewed questions about the agricultural sector’s use of water. She has acted as chair of the Western Water Policy Review Advisory Commission, Director of New Mexico’s Environmental Improvement Division, an attorney with New Mexico Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) and Southwest Research and Information Center, Executive Director of Citizens for a Better Environment (CBE, CA), and member of the National Research Council’s Water, Science, and Technology Board. Her research and publications address environmental law, water policy, river restoration, and climate policy. Denise was also Secretary of Finance and Administration for New Mexico and Assistant Attorney General in the Taxation and Revenue Department. (505-238-8539; fortde@law.unm.edu)

Steve Lindley’s research interests include population dynamics, ecosystem ecology, quantitative methods, and the linkages between physical and biological processes. His research with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has focused on endangered anadromous fish such as Chinook salmon, steelhead, and green sturgeon. He chaired the technical recovery team for Chinook salmon and steelhead in California’s Central Valley, has participated in numerous biological review teams to determine the conservation status of anadromous fishes, and led the investigation into the 2007-2009 collapse of the Chinook salmon fishery off California. (831-420-3921; steve.lindley@noaa.gov)

Brad Udall has extensive experience in water and climate policy issues, most recently as the director of the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy, and the Environment and the Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He has authored numerous peer-reviewed publications on water management and climate change, which have been published by the federal government and major journals. He has researched water problems on all major Southwestern U.S. rivers, including the Rio Grande, Colorado, Sacramento-San Joaquin, and Klamath, and has spent six months in Australia studying their recent water reforms. (720-984-2723; bradley.udall@colostate.edu)

Leave a Comment