Doug Parker retires from bicoastal career of water research
Working to solve California water challenges, Doug Parker coordinates water-related research, extension and education efforts across the University of California system, other academic institutions and government agencies. Since 2011, Parker has served as director of the California Institute for Water Resources for UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.
From 2011 to 2018, he also led UC ANR's Strategic Initiative on Water Quantity, Quality and Security. After more than 30 years solving agricultural water-related issues in California and Maryland, Parker will retire July 1.
“Doug has been instrumental in the implementation of some of California's new state programs for those who produce our food,” said Amrith Gunasekara, director of science and research for the California Farm Bureau Federation's California Bountiful Foundation.
“He has handled multiple contracts with the state totaling several million dollars, which brought existing and new technologies to farmers and ranchers and helped the state in meeting some of its climate change goals. He put together a boots-on-the-ground, climate-smart agriculture team and served as a subject-matter expert for many years on a scientific advisory body at the state,” said Gunasekara, former director of the Office of Environmental Farming & Innovation for the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
CDFA partnered with Parker and UC ANR to help farmers use the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program, Healthy Soils Program, Dairy Digester Research and Development Program and Climate-Smart Agriculture Technical Assistance through UCCE.
Over his career, Parker has overseen water research and education projects totaling over $42 million. Connecting people has been the part of the job that he has most enjoyed “to help bring science to bear on California water solutions.”
“When I first got here in October of 2011, I spent my first six months researching who was working on water across the state, mostly at the UC system, but elsewhere as well, then going and visiting them, finding out what they were working on and basically building a database,” Parker said. “Having that knowledge allowed me to go to work with CDFA and the Department of Water Resources and say, ‘Oh you're having a problem with this? I know somebody at UC San Diego. Let me connect you two and let you work on this problem together.' That has always been the most rewarding part of this job, making those connections.”
In 2019, through a collaboration between the Strategic Growth Council, CDFA and UC ANR, Parker assembled a team of 10 community educators to provide technical assistance and outreach to promote climate-smart agriculture incentive programs. The climate-smart projects have reduced greenhouse gases equivalent to removing roughly 7,000 gasoline-powered cars from the road.
With his affable personality and ability to simply explain California's complex water issues, Parker has frequently been interviewed by news reporters. He has authored more than 100 articles, reports, books or book chapters and delivered over 230 presentations.
“I've always been interested in water,” said Parker, noting he wrote his bachelor's thesis on New Melones Dam. He earned his bachelor's degrees in economics and environmental studies at UC Santa Barbara and Ph.D. in agricultural and resource economics at UC Berkeley, then began his career at University of Maryland's Center for Public Issues in Biotechnology in 1990 studying the economic benefits of innovation in the burgeoning agricultural biotechnology industry before focusing on water issues.
Parker, who grew up in the Bay Area and San Diego area, returned to the West Coast from 1993 to 1997 to work as a UC Cooperative Extension economist at UC Berkeley studying approaches to dealing with drought and water supply shortages.
His analysis of the California Irrigation Management Information System, or CIMIS, showed that growers using the system run by the state Department of Water Resources reduced agricultural water use by 100,000 acre-feet per year and generated almost $65 million per year in statewide benefits. As a result of the study, the CIMIS program was expanded across the state. A recent study found that CIMIS enables growers to reduce water use by 20% annually and generates $150 million to $422 million in benefits per year.
In addition to his university service, Parker served on the board of the national Universities Council on Water Resources from 2014 to 2021. As UCOWR president in 2016-17, he initiated a strategic planning process. When Parker received the “Friend of UCOWR Award” at the council's annual conference held June 14–16 in Greenville, South Carolina, the presenter noted, “Doug's extraordinary leadership, cooperative spirit and sense of humor helped his cohort and successive UCOWR Board members and staff to accomplish major Strategic Plan goals.”
“Doug was incredibly easy to work with – a wealth of knowledge and walking science dictionary, and tireless problem solver, someone who brought people together with a vision and a great leader,” Gunasekara said. “He will be surely missed and have big boots to fill.”
Even as he enters retirement, Parker is launching a project with Khaled Bali, UC Cooperative Extension specialist, to help growers prevent nitrogen from leaching into groundwater. He plans to spend a year helping the UC Cooperative Extension specialists, advisors and six staff research assistants who will work with growers across the state. With funds from the project, growers will be able to buy equipment such as flow meters to improve management and efficiency of their irrigation and fertilization systems.