It’s easy to imagine how Lejo Flores developed an interest in water. He grew up in Golden, Colorado, where the runoff from the Rocky Mountains was both the talk of the town and its livelihood.
And then there was his dad, who emigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines in the 1960s to attend graduate school, and enjoyed a 35-year career with the U.S. Geological Survey.
“My dad was a coal geologist and anytime we would go somewhere, he would share stories about how those places used to be an ancient seabed or river. He took me to the Grand Canyon when I was in sixth grade and explained how that landscape was shaped by water and time. Geoscience is certainly in my blood,” Flores said.
Flores remembers well his earliest understanding of the clashes that can take place over water rights. It was the 1980s and Two Forks Dam in Colorado was at the center of a fierce debate between a growing city and an agricultural region, both in desperate need of water in an arid landscape. Fast forward a few decades and Flores finds himself interpreting environmental impacts on water supplies throughout the West.
“As an undergraduate student I learned to use computers and numerical models, and now as a geoscientist I’ve developed a niche creating virtual landscapes that you can expose to change and understand its impacts,” he said.
Those models have become increasingly sophisticated at analyzing what will happen if a particular action disturbs a landscape and thereby impacts a water shed that provides water for agricultural uses, energy demands or a municipal water supply. One of his most recent research efforts aims to help a growing number of vineyard operators in the Treasure Valley interpret data relevant to their growing processes and seasons.
While geoscience research traditionally has looked at land surfaces, Boise State’s work is now becoming more focused on atmospheric impacts and changes. That means models can look at the full water system, more effectively determining whether in a dry season, for example, increased irrigation could trigger more thunderstorms.
Flores earned his Ph.D. at MIT in Boston before returning to the West, to a school he first heard about because of its successful football program.
“I had been told about this crazy place with blue turf. They weren’t as widely known then but there were some great people doing some great things,” he said. “I have fallen in love with the place, particularly the culture of collaboration here. In a lot of ways, it has a similar innovation buzz to that at MIT. But we don’t have the history dragging behind us here saying we’ve done it this way for decades.”