Center for Watershed Sciences

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The Center for Watershed Sciences is dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of critical water challenges, particularly in California, focusing on environmentally and economically sustainable solutions for managing rivers, lakes and estuaries.



Who We Are

The Center for Watershed Sciences is California's leading academic institute in water management. As an interdisciplinary research unit of the John Muir Institute of the Environment, the Center combines the talents of biologists, geologists, engineers, economists, legal scholars and others to help understand and solve California's complex water problems.

Our research is nonpartisan and funded from a diverse portfolio of sources, primarily foundations, public agencies and conservation groups.

The Center was founded in 1998 by two prominent professors who saw that single-issue and single-species approaches to water management were failing to resolve water conflicts. Geologist Jeffrey Mount and fish biologist Peter Moyle designed the Center to develop more integrated and imaginative approaches to water science and policy. The interdisciplinary character began to take shape with the addition of Richard Howitt, an agricultural economist, and Jay Lund, a civil and environmental engineer.

Since then, the Center has grown in size and disciplinary breadth to stay ahead of potential water crises as the climate changes and water demands increase. 


What We Do

The Center conducts problem-solving research and syntheses on restoration and water resource management, mainly in California, but also nationally and internationally. Our research typically involves teams drawn from the physical, biological, social and engineering sciences, often in partnership with agencies and conservation groups.

The Center:

  • Develops and applies quantitative analysis of ecological, economic and social aspects of water management systems
  • Evaluates critical uncertainties in watershed, riverine, riparian, floodplain and tidal marsh restoration efforts
  • Regularly contributes to environmental science journals
  • Produces insightful commentary on California

Our Philosophy 

The Center is committed to providing a welcoming and supportive environment for all people. We are committed to creating a warm and inclusive workplace with room for different people, ideas, and perspectives. Explore our "About Us" tab to learn more about our Philosophy and Code of Conduct, or actions being taken by our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee




Sacramento Perch Project

The Sacramento perch (SP) is a native sunfish that once was abundant, but is now extirpated from almost all of its former habitats throughout the Sacramento-San Joaquin watershed.

Arc of Native Fishes

The Arc project is designed to study how land forms in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta interact with freshwater inputs and tides to create habitat favored by native fishes. The investigation focuses on regions in the North Delta where fish surveys have shown relatively high populations of native fishes - regions including Suisun Marsh, the flooded Sherman Island and the Cache and Lindsey sloughs. The areas together form an arc, inspiring the project name "North Delta Arc of Native Fishes."

Water Quality and Hydrodynamics

Sea level rise, large-scale flooding, and new conveyance arrangements for water exports may increase future water salinity for local agricultural production in California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Increasing salinity in crop root zones often decreases crop yields and crop revenues. Salinity effects are nonlinear and vary with crop choice and other factors including drainage and residence time of irrigation water. Here, we explore changes in agricultural production in the Delta under various combinations of water management, large-scale flooding and future sea level rise.

Integrated Environmental Modeling

The National Science Foundation is sponsoring an Integrated Modeling Workshop to explore ways to improve the development and application of modeling for multipurpose management of changing estuarine systems. The two-day workshop will bring together experts from Europe, Asia and across the U.S. Potential solutions will be identified and discussed from multiple perspectives: government, academia, NGOs, consultants and stakeholders.

Envisioning Futures for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (2007)

Beginning in December 2005, a group of faculty and researchers affiliated with the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences/John Muir Institute of the Environment and the nonprofit Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) began meetings to discuss the future of the Delta. The intent was to complete a major independent report analysing options for managing the increasingly unstable Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The group included Ellen Hanak (Economist) with PPIC and from UC Davis: Jay Lund (Civil and Environmental Engineering), Jeff Mount (Geology), Peter Moyle (Wildlife and Conservation Biology), Richard Howitt (Agricultural and Resource Economics), and William Fleenor (Civil and Environmental Engineering).

Delta Consumptive Water Use Comparative Study

This research project was convened by the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California Davis with financial support from the California State Water Resources Control Board Office of the Delta Watermaster and other agencies. Its objective is to develop a better understanding of consumptive water use in the Delta by coordinating modeling, measurement, and other information from a variety of independent research and estimation efforts.

Cosumnes Phase 3

The Center for Watershed Sciences is partnering with The Nature Conservancy in an experimental floodplain restoration on the Cosumnes River. The Center's role in this Department of Fish & Wildlife funded project, "Wildlife And Vegetation Response to Experimental Restoration of Flooded Riparian Forest Habitat for the Cosumnes River Preserve," is intended to conduct biophysical monitoring of an experimental restoration on approximately 800 acres of flooded riparian forest habitat in the Cosumnes River Preserve.

CosHawk (Cosumnes River Futures Modeling for Swainson's Hawk)

The main objective of this project is to quantitatively assess how changes to the landscape through time will impact Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni) habtiat and other potentially beneficial ecosystem services. Accounting for this type of natural capital and how ecosystem services change through time is not well documented in the literature and developing this methodology was a secondary objective for our research group.

California Water Myths

In collaboration with the Public Policy Institute of California and other researchers, the Center prepared California Water Myths—a report highlighting eight common water myths, focusing on water supply, ecosystems and legal and governance issues. In providing information to combat these myths, the study establishes a more informed approach to water policy and management in California.