Future Water

Understanding, Predicting, and Managing the Water Cycle of the Future

The Future Water Grand Challenge takes as its goal to develop transformational capabilities to quantify, predict, and improve water availability and quality at scale in response to a range of gradual and abrupt perturbations and complex constraints. Through our foundational projects, we are developing scalable approaches to simulate hydroclimate perturbations and their influences on watershed dynamics, novel techniques for storing water ‘at scale’ in the subsurface, and new approaches for the treatment of unconventional water sources for proposed reuse. The grand challenge is guided by four research objectives: 1) Predict how future hydroclimate forcings and complex environmental interactions within watersheds contribute to cumulative downgradient discharges of water, nutrients and contaminants. 2) Develop a water science knowledge-base that offers new analytical tools for decision-making. 3) Advance the scientific underpinning of new water management and treatment techniques. 4) Demonstrate the ability to scale developed approaches for application in natural and intensively managed water systems. Over the past three years these four questions have guided EESA’s efforts in developing new staff and new partnerships, launching and shaping new and existing projects, and targeting investments of LDRD resources.

Recent science & program advances

  • Chosen to lead a $100M DOE water-energy Hub to secure the Nation’s energy-water future, called NAWI (National Alliance for Water Innovation)
  • Established ‘community watershed” in the Upper Gunnison East River of Colorado, which nucleates investigators from three national labs, 28 universities, six federal and state agencies, three local stakeholders and six small businesses to tackle together questions that are difficult to do alone
  • Establishing world-first bedrock through atmosphere observatory in mountainous East River watershed of Colorado
  • Used remotely sensed information to develop 4D East River Watershed digital twin, and machine-learning approaches to identify watershed organization, or watershed ‘functional zones’
  • Developing world-first scale-adaptive watershed simulation capability to enable “telescoping” into regions to predict hydrobiogeochemical processes may have an outsized impact on larger watershed behavior
  • Advancing the first systematic approach to use machine learning and toward exascale simulation for advancing prediction of watershed hydrobiogeochemistry
  • Used integrated hydrological model in Sierra mountains to document impact of fire on groundwater recharge and to assess the impacts of end of century climate extremes on water resources in California
  • Developed new approaches for multi-scale assessment of groundwater resources and changes and new computational methods for groundwater recharge siting and implementation
  • Demonstrated coupled subsurface modeling with remote sensing for tracking California groundwater resources
  • Investigated fundamental biogeochemical reactions occurring during membrane treatment of unconventional water sources with the objective of improving energy efficiency and reducing operational costs
  • Investigated biological treatment of high saline wastewater for the purpose of industrial reuse
  • Conducted hazard and risk assessment of how produced waters can be safely and effectively integrated for agriculture and other beneficial reuse
  • Established test-bed facility for integrated modeling and pilot-demonstration of unconventional water treatment technology
  • Initiated critical material recovery from industrial and geothermal waters
  • Developed a comprehensive reaction network to assess the impact of AgMAR strategies on N cycling in the deep vadose zone sediments of an agricultural field site in central California

Relevant Projects


EESA benefits from rich partnerships with our collaborators and sponsors. See project & program links above for more information.

Several projects listed above have multiple partners. Please refer to related pages for more information such as Watershed SFA partners and NAWI Partners.

Publication Highlights

News Coverage

$100M Innovation Hub to accelerate R&D for a Secure Water Future

Microbial strategies for treating produced water


ExaSheds: Advancing Watershed System Understanding through Exascale Simulation and Machine Learning

Viticulture specialists sound off on expanding grape production, efficiency

Lively exchanges on SJV water imbalance, global wine production

Headwaters to Groundwater

Understanding Effects of Climate Change on California Watersheds

Scientists Dig Deep to Track Down California’s Ever-Changing Groundwater Supply

Is this the answer to California’s water whiplash?

Like Oil and Water: The Arroyo Grande oil field and nearby domestic drinking wells

How California Wildfires Can Impact Water Availability

Fire, Then Water: The Landscape After A Burn

Wildfires Affect Water Resources Long After the Smoke Clears

NERSC shuts down supercomputers amid PG&E blackout

NERSC Powers Research on Post-Wildfire Water Availability

There’s a silver lining to California’s wildfires: More snowpack and water storage, study finds (Merced Sun-Star)

There’s a silver lining to California’s wildfires: More snowpack and water storage, study finds (Sac Bee)

Berkeley Lab study finds California wildfires increase runoff, groundwater

Surrogate LDRD

Meet GEM Fellow and EESA Summer Intern Tadewos Getachew

To Pump or Not to Pump: New Tool Will Help Water Managers Make Smarter Decisions (LBNL)

Scientists develop a powerful computational tool for groundwater management

To Pump or Not to Pump: New Tool Will Help Water Managers Make Smarter Decisions (News Wise)

Watershed SFA

Deeply Talks: Drought on the Colorado – Can We Adapt to Changing Runoff?

EESA at AGU 2018

How Drought and Other Extremes Impact Water Pollution (EESA)

How Drought And Other Extremes Impact Water Pollution (Water Online)

Meet a Leaf: Bhavna Arora

Pi me a river: A meandering tale of pi, rivers, and water quality


Student Spotlight: Soils and Biogeochemistry Graduate Student Hannah Waterhouse

A U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratory Managed by the University of California

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