James, L D (Doug)

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L. Douglas (Doug) James

4.8.1936 (Stockton, California) – 3.4.2020 (Fairfax, Virginia)


Doug James studied at Stanford University, obtaining a Bathelor’s degree in 1957, a Master’s degree in 1958 and a PhD in 1965. He was appointed to the faculty at University of Kentucky and was a professor with the Environmental Resources Center at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He moved to Utah State University in 1976 where he served as director of the Utah Water Research Laboratory from 1976 to 1992. During this time he championed several important initiatives including the Severe Sustained Drought Project on the Colorado River, a program that still impacts Colorado water issues today. In an important move for the Hydrological Sciences in the US, he was appointed to be the first director of the National Science Foundation’s Hydrologic Sciences Program in 1992. His role was to managed federal funding to support and expand research in hydrology and water resources management. He stayed with NSF until his retirement in 2009.

Hydrological Achievements[edit]

Doug James dedicated his life to serving the water resources and hydrology community and leaves an important legacy in the field. He authored many research studies including a 1965 manuscript that was published in the very first edition of Water Resources Research. He also wrote an authoritative 1971 textbook titled, “Economics of Water Resources Planning,” a 640-page book that became a standard text in the field for more than 20 years. James also edited the influential 1974 text “Man & Water: The Social Sciences in Management of Water Resources.” The text was among the first to bridge the social sciences and hydrology toward a better understanding of water resources management. He was also a recipient of the Utah Governor’s Medal for Science and Technology in 1991.

When Doug James joined NSF in 1992-3, his task was to initiate a program guided by the challenges identified in “Opportunities in the Hydrologic Sciences” (National Academies Press, 1991). Over his 17 years at NSF, Doug maintained a strong tradition in traditional hydrologic science and engineering but also initiated significant efforts in emerging aspects of the science. He worked to triple the program budget and built a program that covered a diverse breadth of subdisciplines including (but not limited to) surface water, groundwater, porous flow, river hydraulics, fracture flow, chemical transport and reaction and ecohydrology. His 2006 program description demonstrates his broad and inclusive view of the field that still rings true today:

"Hydrologic Sciences focuses on the flow of water and transport processes within streams, soils, and aquifers. Particular attention is given to spatial and temporal heterogeneity of fluxes and storages of water and chemicals over a wide range of scales, to geolimnology and to interfaces with the landscape, microbial communities, and coastal areas. Studies may also deal with processes in aqueous geochemistry and with the physical, chemical, and biological processes within water bodies. Study of these processes requires expertise from many basic sciences and mathematics, and proposals often require joint review with related programs." (from NSF 06545)

Doug James died after a month-long battle with COVID-19 contracted the virus while on a Nile River cruise together with his wife Zhida Song-James.


Doug James supported many young investigators who have gone on to be leaders in the field

“Doug was a wonderful friend and mentor, so thoughtful of the field and of people,” said Upmanu Lall, a professor of engineering and director of the Columbia Water Center at Columbia University. “I owe the transition in my career to him. He created the opportunity and quietly supported and encouraged my work and that of so many others.”

USU Professor David Tarboton, current director of the Utah Water Research Lab, said James helped develop his career as a new faculty hire in 1990. “He immediately involved me in a very forward-looking interdisciplinary project examining the consequences of drought in the Colorado River Basin,” said Tarboton. “That was a formative experience in my early career and is still relevant to my work today.”

Reference Material[edit]

Selected Publications[edit]

James, L.D., 1965. Using a digital computer to estimate the effects of urban development on flood peaks. Water Resources Research, 1(2), pp.223-234.

James, L.D., 1972. Hydrologic modeling, parameter estimation, and watershed characteristics. Journal of Hydrology, 17(4), pp.283-307.

McCuen, R.H. and James, L.D., 1972. Nonparamteric statistical methods in urban hydrology research, JAWRA Journal of the American Water Resources Association, 8(5), pp.965-975.

James, L.D. and Burges, S.J., 1982. Precipitation-runoff modeling: future directions [Hydrology, water resources management, trends].

James, L.D., 1991. Hydrology: infusing science into a demand-driven art. In Recent advances in the modeling of hydrologic systems (pp. 31-43). Springer, Dordrecht.

James, L.D., 1982. Selection, calibration, and testing of hydrologic models. in Haan, C. T., Johnson, H. P. and Brakensiek, D. L. (Eds.), Hydrologic modeling of small watersheds, Water Resource Publications, pp.437-472. ASAE Monograph No. 5, American Society of Agricultural Engineers

Song, Z. and James, L.D., 1992. An Objective test for hydrologic scale, JAWRA Journal of the American Water Resources Association, 28(5), pp.833-844.

James, L.D., 1995. NSF research in hydrologic sciences. Journal of Hydrology, 172(1-4), pp.3-14.

Droegemeier, K.K., Smith, J.D., Businger, S., Doswell III, C., Doyle, J., Duffy, C., Foufoula-Georgiou, E., Graziano, T., James, L.D., Krajewski, V. and LeMone, M., 2000. Hydrological aspects of weather prediction and flood warnings: Report of the Ninth Prospectus Development Team of the US Weather Research Program. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 81(11), pp.2665-2680.

James, L.D. and Shafiee-Jood, M., 2017. Interdisciplinary information for achieving water security. Water Security, 2, pp.19-31.


Many tributes to Doug James can be found here

Opportunities in the Hydrologic Sciences (NAS, 1991) can be downloaded here