Birdsall-Dreiss award winner for this year

2023 Birdsall-Dreiss Distinguished Lecturer

Dr. Kenneth Belitz is a research hydrologist in the Water Mission Area at the U.S. Geological Survey.  He received a B.S. in Geology from the State University of New York at Binghamton (1979) and a Ph.D. in Hydrogeology from Stanford University (1985). His career has mostly been with the USGS, but he has also held academic appointments. Most of his work has been at the interface of applied problems and research. His approach has been to bring hydrogeologic understanding, large datasets, quantitative analyses, and empirical neutrality to the problem at hand. His model of groundwater flow in the western San Joaquin Valley (California) has been used by academic researchers and government decision makers to assess alternatives to agricultural drains in the source area of selenium that had been implicated in the death and deformity of migratory waterfowl at the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge. He also designed and implemented a program to assess the quality of groundwater used for public supply in California; this was a 10-year $50 million effort funded by the CA State Water Resources Control Board. Most recently, he was the Chief for groundwater studies for the National Water Quality Assessment program (NAWQA).  In that role, he led the planning and implementation of ~$100 million of monitoring, assessment, and research. Ken, and the teams that he has led, have published more than 200 scientific papers and USGS reports. Ken is a GSA Fellow.


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


2: Old problems, new approach: Applications of Ensemble-Tree Machine Learning to Hydrogeology

Background of the Birdsall-Dreiss Lectureship


The Birdsall Lectureship began in 1978, as part of a bequest left to the Geological Society of America – Hydrogeology Division in memory of John Manning Birdsall. Mr. Birdsall was a prominent geologist, retired from the Water Resources Division of the U.S. Geological Survey. He was a scientist, a dedicated public servant and a gentleman. The bequest was used to provide travel funds for outstanding scientists working in the field of hydrogeology to visit other institutions and give talks on their research. The first lecturer, Dr. Jacob Bear from the Israeli Institute of Technology, visited only the University of Wisconsin – Madison, which hosted one of the premier hydrogeology programs of that era. The subsequent list of Birdsall-Dreiss lecturers includes many outstanding scientists from academia and government. The number of institutions visited by each lecturer grew rapidly, with recent lecturers typically giving 40 to 50 talks, mainly in the U.S. and Canada, but also in Europe, Asia and Australia.

One of the most popular Birdsall Lecturers was Dr. Shirley Dreiss from the University of California – Santa Cruz. Shortly after her very successful 1992 lecture tour, Shirley was killed in an auto accident. Her many friends and admirers honored her by contributing to the GSA Birdsall Lectureship, which was renamed the Birdsall-Dreiss Lectureship. The Birdsall-Dreiss Lecturer is chosen each year by a panel of former B-D lecturers. There are no applications for this position and they make their choice solely on the reputation of perspective candidates for their research excellence and ability to communicate.

The Birdsall-Dreiss endowment pays for part of their travel and candidates typically obtain additional travel funds from their home institution. Universities or other institutions wishing to host a Birdsall-Dreiss lecture send in their application in the fall, with the tour officially starting each January and ending at the fall meeting of the Geological Society of America.

Birdsall-Dreiss Distinguished Lecturer Description: The lecturer shall be selected based on outstanding contributions to hydrogeology or a closely related field through original research and public communication, and the potential for continued contributions to the profession.

How to nominate: 

Include at least one letter of nomination, a copy of the nominee’s curriculum vitae, and at least two supporting letters describing the significant contributions or accomplishments constituting the basis for the nomination.

Submit nominations to:

Deadline: February 1; Extended to March 18, 2022

If you have questions, please contact a member of the Birdsall-Dreiss Committee.

Previous Lectures

Click here to query the Birdsall-Dreiss Lectures Database. The database includes year, lecturer, employer, and lecture title(s).