Surface Water Prize


Dr. Jery R. Stedinger Dr. Jery R. Stedinger (Cornell University)

This award recognizes the valuable contributions that Dr. Stedinger and his colleagues have made to improve the statistical framework for understanding and interpreting hydrologic and flood data, including historical and regional information, so that flood risk management and flood control projects can effectively address the real risk of floods to lives, property, economic activities, and society generally.

In particular, the framework he pioneered in the 1980s for use of historical and paleoflood data has endured as the appropriate conceptual paradigm for understanding and interpreting historical records and physical evidence documenting the occurrence of floods that date from before the beginning of regular measurements.

He has also pioneered a sound statistical framework for the regional regression as a tool for the regional analysis of hydrologic data and for network design. His methods are now the standard for such flood frequency estimation procedures for ungauged sites around the world.

He has also pursued regional index flood and other flood quantile estimators that efficiently employ regional and at-site information, as well as historical and physiographic data. Such methods are particularly valuable in flood-prone arid areas, as well as other data-poor regions of the world. Other research has addressed the integration of risk and uncertainty into evaluation of flood protection projects, dam safety concerns, and water resource system operation and system design.

Winner Profile

Dr. Stedinger received a B.A. in Applied Mathematics from the University of California at Berkeley in 1972, and a Ph.D. in Environmental Systems Engineering from Harvard University in 1977. Since that time he has been a professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Cornell University.

Dr. Stedinger was a 1984-89 NSF Presidential Young Investigator, a 1989 ASCE Huber Civil Engineering Research Prize winner, and the 1997 winner of the Julian Hinds Award of the Water Resources Planning and Management Division of ASCE.

In May 2000 he was elected a fellow of the American Geophysical Union, and in 2001 was elected a member of the International Water Academy, Oslo, Norway. 

Dr. Stedinger is the lead author of the frequency analysis chapter in the 1993 McGraw-Hill Handbook of Hydrology and an author of the 1981 textbook Water Resource Systems Planning and Analysis. He has written over one hundred professional referreed papers. 

Dr. Stedinger has served on National Research Council Committees on Dam Safety, Water Resources Research, and Flood Risk Management and the American River, and USACE Risk-Based Analyses; and advisory committees on flood frequency analysis for the World Meteorological Organization and all US Federal agencies, and specific flood risk issues for the US Bureau of Reclamation and the US Army Corp of Engineers (USACE).

Acceptance Speech

It is a great pleasure to accept this award on behalf of my own efforts and that of my graduate students and other colleagues with whom I have worked to advance the field of effective flood control and flood risk management.

In accepting this award I first wish to express by gratitude to His Royal Highness Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz, the Prince Sultan Research Center for Environment, Water & Desert, and King Saud University for their creation of this award, for pursuing its administration, and for the hospitality they have shown me and other award winners. I know also that Dr. Herman Bouwer wanted very much to attend, but his health did not permit a trip of the length required.

I also wish to thank my graduate students who have worked so hard to produced the research and ideas that are recognized today, as well as other colleagues and friends around the world with whom I have worked to improve the scientific basis for flood frequency analysis and flood risk assessment.

I would also like to take this opportunity to complement His Royal Highness Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz and the Research Center for Environment, Water & Desert for their foresight in creating this international prize.

Those of us here appreciate the value and the power of water. While in the arid climate of the Middle East, one expects almost everyone to have that understanding, it is not shared by all people in all places. In fact a danger in much of the western world is that the success of technology has caused our citizens to assume that clean water in the needed amounts will always be available, and that floods and drought can always be controlled. But it is not true; it is particularly not true on a planet whose climate will be changing.

Much of the Middle East is an arid land known for its lack of water. And water is essential for life as we know it on earth. Drinking water is the clearest and simplest vision. But water is essential for agricultural crops as well as the plants and animals that make up the ecosystems found in any landscape.

A growing area of scientific investigation addresses the interaction of water resources and ecosystem functions and values. How societies manage ground and surface water, as well as major water resource projects, will increasingly determine the health of natural ecosystems around the world. In my own country we are placing greater emphasis on the role of wetlands as the nurseries for many bird and aquatic species, as well as sinks for pollutants, and as areas that attenuate flood peaks and provide for groundwater recharge.

Traditional water resource issues, and the talks we will hear this week, address water supply for communities, and industrial and ecological uses, as well as effective flood control, and perhaps also navigation, fisheries, the health of aquatic ecosystems, and hydropower operations.

Consider for a moment the concept of flood control. A dream of many civil engineers has been to build large storage projects and dams that can control the floods on mighty rivers. But God is sometimes too great and flood waters will overwhelm the works of men represented by even the largest reservoir. Levees and flood walls can also provide some protection. But they are more brittle than reservoirs and can break when overtopped, thus having provided a false sense of protection to floodplain occupants.

Thus some enlightened planners now encourage us to expand our concept for flood control into a framework of flood risk management.

Flood risk management seeks to assess the risk of flooding so as to avoid unwise and ill-advised use of floodplains, and thus as a result of intentional planning to minimize the vulnerability of people and property when floodplains are developed. We would also prepare to mitigate damages when floods occur, as well as to protect and enhance the ecosystems and other natural resources that riverine environments support.

Management of a nation’s water resources for the benefit of its people, and the wise use and preservation of a nation’s natural resources, is a great calling. I commend again His Royal Highness Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz, and The Prince Sultan Research Center for Environment, Water & Desert, for their leadership in recognizing the global importance of water resources management and the international value of research that allows us to improve our understanding of the hydrologic sciences upon which water resources management depends.

Finally, I thank each of you very much for this honor and your attention.

Winning Work

Martins, E.S. and J.R. Stedinger, "Historical Information in a GMLE-GEV Framework with partial Duration and Annual maximum Series" Water Resources Research, 37(10), 2551-2557, 2001.

Stedinger, J.R., and L. Lu, "Appraisal of Regional and Index Flood Quantile Estimators", Stochastric Hydrology and Hydraulics, 9(1), 49-75, 1995.

Tasker, G.D., and J.R. Stedinger, "An Operational GLS Model for Hydrologic Regression", Journal of Hydrology, 111(104), 361-375, 1989.

Stedinger, J.R., and T.A. Cohn, "Flood frequency Analysis with Historical and Paleoflood Information" Water Resources Research, 22(5), 785-793, 1986.

Stedinger, J.R., and G.D. Tasker, "Regional Hydrologic Analysis,1. Ordinary Weighted and Generalized least Squares Compared", Water Resources Research, 21(9), 1421-1432, 1985.

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