Richard N. Palmer, Ph.D., P.E., D.WRE, Dist.M.ASCE, an internationally recognized expert in water resources planning, has been honored with inclusion in ASCE’s 2017 class of Distinguished Members for his conceptual and practical contributions to applying structured decision analysis and participatory methods in managing conflict in water resources, including shared vision planning, and for methods addressing potential impacts of climate change in natural resource management.
Palmer’s particular focuses are stakeholder conflict resolution using collaborative modeling processes and the potential impacts of a changing climate on water resource systems, an area in which he has become prominent in the past 15 years. In addition to developing new and innovative methods for addressing complex water supply problems, he has applied these methods to tackling several real-world problems both nationally and internationally. He is widely known for his pioneering work in the 1970s with the Potomac River Basin Commission, where he simulated real-life water crises to engage water managers in drought and water resources systems planning.
Today, he is one of the leading researchers, educators, and practitioners of water resource systems analysis. Within that leadership group he stands out as one of the few who have paid special attention to supporting real decision makers and involving multiple stakeholders in planning and management of complex water systems. The tools he created have had a significant positive impact on water planning and management globally.
Considered the “father” of the concept of shared vision planning, Palmer worked with the Corps of Engineers in implementing these techniques at various locations throughout the U.S. The discipline of shared visioning uniquely combines mathematical modeling within a decision-making process involving a wide range of stakeholders. His notion that computer models of water systems could be used more directly in decision making has transformed the practice.
Palmer currently heads the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, from where he directs the Northeast Climate Science Center. This center supports research on the likely impacts of, and possible responses to, climate change, and is one of eight such institutes funded by the USGS/Department of Interior. Palmer has authored over 66 peer-reviewed publications, 75 conference proceedings, and has presented over 100 papers at conferences.
He has received over $9 million in research funding during the past six years as principal or co-principal investigator. He has also been awarded the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship (2015-16) and the Chancellor’s Medal, University Distinguished Faculty Lecturer (2014). ASCE has recognized him with the Julian Hinds Award and Huber Award for Research Excellence, among others. He is a registered professional engineer in the state of Washington and a member of the American Academy of Water Resources Engineers.
Palmer has served as the academic chairman for over 75 master’s students and six Ph.D. students. During the past eight years, the civil engineering department he chairs has doubled its undergraduate enrollments, tripled the number of doctoral students enrolled, and seen an increase from $5 million to $9 million in sponsored research programs.