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Message from the Associate Director for Water

The USGS Water Resources Mission Area works with partners to monitor, assess, conduct targeted research, and deliver information on a wide range of water resources and conditions including streamflow, groundwater, water quality, and water use and availability.

In 1888, the USGS initiated the National Streamgaging Program on the Rio Grande River near Embudo, New Mexico, under the direction of John Wesley Powell. Congressional appropriations were solidified in 1894, and not long after, reliable and automated water-stage recorders were installed at streamgages. Under Luna Leopold’s bold vision in the 1960’s, investment in research and data interpretation were prioritized, bringing USGS to the forefront of hydrologic science. Today, USGS is the largest provider of in situ water data in the world, and the Water Resources Mission remains committed to observe, understand, predict, and deliver water data and information. 

Water information is fundamental to national and local economic well-being, protection of life and property, and effective management of the Nation’s water resources. The USGS works with partners to monitor, assess, conduct targeted research, and deliver information on a wide range of water resources and conditions including streamflow, groundwater, water quality, and water use and availability. Read on to learn more about USGS Water Resources priority activities.


Strategic Direction

The USGS Water Resources Mission Area (WMA), through integrated activities with other USGS Mission Areas and partners, will serve society through water-resource monitoring, assessment, modeling, and research to provide tools that managers and policymakers can use for:

  • Preserving the quality and quantity of the Nation’s water resource, which is critical to the survival of our society, the support of our economy, and the health of our environment;
  • Balancing water quantity and quality in relation to potential conflicting uses among human  consumption, industrial use and electric power production, agricultural use, mineral and energy extraction, and ecosystem needs;
  • Understanding, predicting, and mitigating water-related hazards such as floods, droughts, and contamination events, as well as understanding the effects of climate variability on the water resource, in order to foster more sustainable and resilient communities and ecosystems; and
  • Quantifying the vulnerability of human populations and ecosystems to water shortages,  surpluses, and degradation of water quality.

To manage water resources and to meet both human and environmental needs, it is necessary to understand the effects of water quantity, timing, and quality on these systems. For more on the USGS Water Resources Science Strategy, see U.S. Geological Survey water science strategy—Observing, understanding, predicting, and delivering water science to the Nation.


Water Mission Area Priorities

In 2018, the WMA identified four priorities for targeted effort and investment in support of the WMA Science Strategy:

  • Next Generation Water Observing Systems (NGWOS) will provide high-fidelity, real-time data on water quantity and quality necessary to support modern water prediction and decision support systems for water emergencies and daily water operations.
  • Integrated Water Availability Assessments (IWAAs) are a multi-extent, stakeholder driven, near real-time census and seasonal prediction of water availability for both human and ecological uses at regional and national extents.
  • Integrated Water Prediction (IWP) is an ambitious federal partnership for developing a national, interagency new capacity for water prediction that combines broad aspects of water science into a compelling suite of products that anticipate critical societal water needs across scales from National to local.
  • National Water Information System Modernization will enhance the WMA's enterprise water information system of systems that allows for the storage, processing, and approval of many forms of water data. This is how the WMA communicates its real-time data.


Organizational Structure

The WMA is organized into five primary offices: Office of the Associate Director, Office of Budget, Office of Planning and Programming, Office of Quality Assurance, and the Office of the Chief Operating Officer.

The organization aligns WMA units around the core science functions needed to achieve the vision for water science described in the Water Science Strategy, while at the same time sustaining our core functions in variable budget climates. By focusing on the end-to-end process represented in the structure – building from observations and analysis, to cyberinfrastructure, to research and development and deploying new tools, applications, and information capabilities, WMA is equipped to nimbly address the diverse array of water challenges that are impacting society right now and in the future.


Budget and Funding

The WMA receives approximately \$500 million each year to monitor and assess the Nation’s water resources. Of this, more than \$200 million is provided directly from Congress through the four WMA budget programs: Water Availability and Use Science Program, the National Water Quality Program, the Groundwater and Streamflow Information Program, and the Water Resources Research Act Program. This amount includes about \$60 million of Cooperative Matching Funds for the WMA to partner with local, State, regional, and tribal agencies to monitor and assess water resources. The remaining approximately \$300 million is received as reimbursable funding for work conducted for or in cooperation with private, State, local, and regional organizations, as well as other Federal agencies, other countries, commercial, and academia.


Accountability and Quality Assurance

The WMA places high value on independent and objective verification of the quality assurance of data collection, interpretive studies, and research, across the wide variety of scientific activities being conducted in the USGS WMA and at Science Centers. For more information, contact Alissa Coes, Chief of the WMA Office of Quality Assurance.