"The Quality of Groundwater Used for Public Supply in the Continental United States"


The subjects of Ken’s 2022 Birdsall-Dreiss are “The Quality of Groundwater Used for Public Supply in the Continental United States”, and “Old problems, new approach: Applications of Ensemble-Tree Machine Learning to Hydrogeology”.


Dr.Kenneth Belitz is a Research Hydrologist in the Water Resources Mission Area of the United States Geological Survey (USGS). He received his B.A. in Geology from Binghamton University, and Ph.D. in hydrogeology from Stanford University in 1985.  His dissertation examined the evolution of large-scale groundwater flow in the Denver Basin under the direction of Dr. John Bredehoeft. Throughout his career, Ken has simultaneously pursued two fronts: improving the fundamental hydrogeologic framework of the conterminous U.S., and employing numerical models – and, most recently, machine learning – in novel ways to better understand regional-scale groundwater quality and to project our current understanding into unsampled space.


Upon completing his Ph.D., Ken joined the USGS California Water Science Center, where he constructed a model of the western San Joaquin Valley; this model and its underlying framework became the gold standard and basis for subsequent models of this critically important aquifer system. From 1990-1997 Ken taught at Dartmouth University and Queens College of New York, before returning to the USGS in 1998 to lead an interdisciplinary team studying the water quality of the intensely urbanized Santa Ana River Basin as part of the USGS National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program. In this capacity, Ken began to develop a systematic approach to large-scale groundwater-quality assessment founded on a deep understanding of groundwater flow. From 2003-2012, Ken up-scaled this approach to obtain representative, unbiased water-quality data for the groundwater resources of the entire state of California. This work yielded new insights into the processes behind the spatial distribution of critical contaminants including perchlorate, pharmaceuticals, and hexavalent chrome. Ken then led the design and implementation of the groundwater component for the USGS NAWQA Program’s third decade. The design characterizes water quality in the most productive principal aquifers, cumulatively representing 85 percent of the Nation’s GW-derived drinking-water supplies. Ken’s work has given us an unbiased and surprising perspective on the relative risks of geogenic and anthropogenic contaminants, while evaluating constituents not previously sampled for at the national scale. Ken is a GSA Fellow and has received numerous USGS awards for his publications and service.


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