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20-5. Fire, floods, and drought: Advancing assessment and prediction of extreme event impacts on water quality


Closing Date: January 6, 2022

This Research Opportunity will be filled depending on the availability of funds. All application materials must be submitted through USAJobs by 11:59 pm, US Eastern Standard Time, on the closing date.



Extreme hydrologic events can cause substantial water-quality impairment with disruptive and costly implications for water availability. A definition of extreme events can include statistical metrics such as return periods (e.g., “1000-year storm”) or impact-based metrics (e.g., economic costs of restoration or adaptation; duration of impairment exceeding a drinking water standard). Examples of extreme hydrologic events with water-quality impacts include wildfires, hurricanes, extreme precipitation, severe drought, or the resulting changes to the landscape. While extreme events may be discrete (e.g., hurricane) or multi-decadal (e.g., long-term drought) in duration, the focus here is on short-duration (i.e., < 3 year) events with impacts that are more readily recognized and characterizable in the existing data record. Extreme events may overlap in space and time, complicating identification of individual effects and creating challenges for assessment and prediction. These events can result in water-quality impairment, including increased turbidity; elevated concentrations of nitrate, phosphorus, suspended sediment and bedload, dissolved organic carbon, and manganese; sedimentation of reservoirs and degradation of water-supply systems; reservoir eutrophication and mobilization of metals from bottom sediment; and impaired water-treatment efficiency. These problems lead to decreased water availability, higher water treatment costs, and impairment to aquatic ecosystems.

Better understanding of the frequency, timing, mechanisms, and impacts of extreme events on water quality will increase the accuracy and timeliness of guidance regarding water availability (including water quality), thus building a stakeholder and advocacy base of water providers and land managers to mitigate threats to the Nation’s water security. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Water Resources Mission Area (WMA) recently prioritized wildfire, drought, and hurricanes as extreme events for which improved assessment and prediction of water availability impacts is needed. These prioritized extreme events complement ongoing WMA work that is focused on longer-term trends and drivers in water quality across the Nation. The WMA also has substantial data-collection activities in Integrated Water Science Basins (such as the Upper Colorado Basin) that can be used to understand ongoing extreme event impacts in the basin. Interested applicants are strongly encouraged to contact the Research Advisor(s) early in the application process to discuss project ideas.

Proposed Duty Station: Boulder, Colorado

Areas of PhD: Hydrology, geochemistry, geology, civil engineering, or related fields (candidates holding a Ph.D. in other disciplines, but with extensive knowledge and skills relevant to the Research Opportunity may be considered).

Qualifications: Applicants must meet the qualifications for one of the following:  Research Hydrologist, Research Geologist, Research Physical Scientist, Research Civil Engineer

(This type of research is performed by those who have backgrounds for the occupations stated above.  However, other titles may be applicable depending on the applicant's background, education, and research proposal. The final classification of the position will be made by the Human Resources specialist.)

Human Resources Office Contact:  Veronica Guerrero-Nunez, 916-278-9405,