Dr. Ajami is the director of Urban Water Policy with Stanford University’s Water in the West program. A leading expert in sustainable water resource management, smart cities, and the water-energy-food nexus, she uses data science principles to study the human and policy dimensions of urban water and hydrologic systems. Her research throughout the years has been interdisciplinary and impact focused.
Dr. Ajami served as a gubernatorial appointee to the Bay Area Regional Water Quality Control Board for two terms and is currently a mayoral appointee to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. She is a member of National Academies Board on Water Science and Technology. Dr. Ajami also serves on number of state-level and national advisory boards. Before joining Stanford, she worked as a senior research scholar at the Pacific Institute, and served as a Science and Technology fellow at the California State Senate’s Natural Resources and Water Committee where she worked on various water and energy related legislation.
She has published many highly cited peer-reviewed articles, coauthored two books, and contributed opinion pieces to the New York Times, San Jose Mercury and the Sacramento Bee. Dr. Ajami received her Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the UC, Irvine, an M.S. in Hydrology and Water Resources from the University of Arizona, and a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Amir Kabir University of Technology in Tehran.

Academic Appointments

Boards, Advisory Committees, Professional Organizations

  • Board Member, San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board (Gubernatorial Appointment) (2013 - 2021)
  • Commissioner, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (2021 - Present)
  • Scientific Advisory Panel, National Research Council Owens Lake Study (2019 - 2019)
  • Board Member, National Academies Board on Water Science and Technology (2018 - Present)
  • Science Advisory Committee Member, Delta Science Program (2018 - Present)
  • Advisory Board Member, Sustainable Silicon Valley (2016 - Present)

Program Affiliations

  • Public Policy

2021-22 Courses

Stanford Advisees

All Publications

  • Building to conserve: Quantifying the outdoor water savings of residential redevelopment in Denver, Colorado LANDSCAPE AND URBAN PLANNING Blount, K., Abdi, R., Panos, C. L., Ajami, N. K., Hogue, T. S. 2021; 214
  • Infrastructure and the Digital Economy: Reinventing Our Role in the Design, Financing, and Governance of Essential Services for Society JOURNAL OF ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEERING Adriaens, P., Ajami, N. 2021; 147 (5)
  • Mining the gap in long-term residential water and electricity conservation ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH LETTERS Bolorinos, J., Rajagopal, R., Ajami, N. K. 2021; 16 (2)
  • Satellites to Sprinklers: Assessing the Role of Climate and Land Cover Change on Patterns of Urban Outdoor Water Use WATER RESOURCES RESEARCH Blount, K., Wolfand, J. M., Bell, C. D., Ajami, N. K., Hogue, T. S. 2021; 57 (1)
  • Diverse paradigms of residential development inform water use and drought-related conservation behavior ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH LETTERS Quesnel, K. J., Agrawal, S., Ajami, N. K. 2020; 15 (12)
  • Trade-offs across the water-energy-food nexus: A triple bottom line sustainability assessment of desalination for agriculture in the San quintin Valley, Mexico ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE & POLICY Smith, G., Block, L., Ajami, N., Pombo, A., Velasco-Aulcy, L. 2020; 114: 445–52
  • Consumption change detection for urban planning: monitoring and segmenting water customers during drought Water Resources Research Bolorinos, J., Ajami, N. K., Rajagopal, R. 2020; 56 (3)

    View details for DOI 10.1029/2019WR025812

  • Shifting landscapes: decoupled urban irrigation and greenness patterns during severe drought ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH LETTERS Quesnel, K. J., Ajami, N., Marx, A. 2019; 14 (6)
  • Goal-based water trading expands and diversifies supplies for enhanced resilience NATURE SUSTAINABILITY Gonzales, P., Ajami, N. K. 2019; 2 (2): 138–47
  • Large Landscape Urban Irrigation: A Data-Driven Approach to Evaluate Conservation Behavior WATER RESOURCES RESEARCH Quesnel, K. J., Ajami, N. K. 2019; 55 (1): 771–86
  • A case-study based framework for assessing the multi-sector performance of green infrastructure. Journal of environmental management Gordon, B. L., Quesnel, K. J., Abs, R., Ajami, N. K. 2018; 223: 371–84


    Green infrastructure is emerging as a holistic stormwater management strategy that can also provide multi-sector benefits. Robust demonstration of project success can help leverage the appeal of green infrastructure to different sectors and open the door to a variety of funding opportunities. Yet comprehensively assessing the performance of these natural systems can be challenging, especially when communicating the benefits to a wide variety of stakeholders. A cohesive, well-described assessment structure may promote a higher degree of investor confidence by more comprehensively monitoring and measuring green infrastructure success. This paper develops a conceptual framework that incorporates a robust assessment component for communicating with potential investors through the inclusion of multiple evaluation methods, performance metrics, and risk categories. The applied performance of this framework is then validated using fourteen U.S. and international case studies. We found that our framework fit a wide range of projects while maintaining a degree of flexibility that did not sacrifice specificity when applied to individual case studies. This suggests that: 1) some GI projects already incorporate one or more evaluation methods; 2) a number of highly specific metrics-particularly social and economic performance metrics-exist that are capable of capturing a wide-range of benefits that can be easily integrated into a framework; 3) the incorporation of risk and risk management technique identification could be emphasized to increase investor confidence; 4) at least some degree of standardization across projects exists already which can help future project implementers design GI strategies that best fit their needs.

    View details for PubMedID 29936350

  • Advancing Water Innovation through Public Benefit Funds: Examining California’s Electricity Public Goods Charge Journal American Water Works Association Quesnel, K. J., Ajami, N. K. 2018; 110 (2)
  • Recent innovations and trends in in-conduit hydropower technologies and their applications in water distribution systems Recent innovations and trends in in-conduit hydropower technologies and their applications in water distribution systems Sari, M., Badruzzaman, M., Cherchi, C., Swindle, M., Ajami, N. K., Jacangelo, J. G. 2018; 228: 416-428
  • Balancing marine ecosystem impact and freshwater consumption with water-use fees in California’s power markets: An evaluation of possibilities and trade-offs Balancing marine ecosystem impact and freshwater consumption with water-use fees in California’s power markets: An evaluation of possibilities and trade-offs Bolorinos, J., Yu, Y., Ajami, N. K., Rajagopal, R. 2018; 226 (C): 644-654
  • Evaluating Environmental Governance along Cross-Border Electricity Supply Chains with Policy-Informed Life Cycle Assessment: The California-Mexico Energy Exchange. Environmental science & technology Bolorinos, J. n., Ajami, N. K., Muñoz Meléndez, G. n., Jackson, R. B. 2018


    This paper presents a "policy-informed" life cycle assessment of a cross-border electricity supply chain that links the impact of each unit process to its governing policy framework. An assessment method is developed and applied to the California-Mexico energy exchange as a unique case study. CO2-equivalent emissions impacts, water withdrawals, and air quality impacts associated with California's imports of electricity from Mexican combined-cycle facilities fueled by natural gas from the U.S. Southwest are estimated, and U.S. and Mexican state and federal environmental regulations are examined to assess well-to-wire consistency of energy policies. Results indicate most of the water withdrawn per kWh exported to California occurs in Baja California, most of the air quality impacts accrue in the U.S. Southwest, and emissions of CO2-equivalents are more evenly divided between the two regions. California energy policy design addresses generation-phase CO2 emissions, but not upstream CO2-eq emissions of methane during the fuel cycle. Water and air quality impacts are not regulated consistently due to varying U.S. state policies and a lack of stringent federal regulation of unconventional gas development. Considering local impacts and the regulatory context where they occur provides essential qualitative information for functional-unit-based measures of life cycle impact and is necessary for a more complete environmental impact assessment.

    View details for PubMedID 29630347

  • A novel search algorithm for quantifying news media coverage as a measure of environmental issue salience Environmental Modelling & Software Roby, N. A., Gonzales, P., Quesnel, K. J., Ajami, N. K. 2018; 101: 249-255
  • An integrative regional resilience framework for the changing urban water paradigm SUSTAINABLE CITIES AND SOCIETY Gonzales, P., Ajami, N. K. 2017; 30: 128-138
  • A Framework for Building Efficient Environmental Permitting Processes SUSTAINABILITY Ulibarri, N., Cain, B. E., Ajami, N. K. 2017; 9 (2)

    View details for DOI 10.3390/su9020180

    View details for Web of Science ID 000395590500022

  • The changing water cycle: impacts of an evolving supply and demand landscape on urban water reliability in the Bay Area Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Water Gonzales, P., Ajami, N. 2017; 4 (6): e1240

    View details for DOI 10.1002/WAT2.1240

  • Social and Structural Patterns of Drought-Related Water Conservation and Rebound Water Resources Research Gonzales, P., Ajami, N. 2017; 53

    View details for DOI 10.1002/2017WR021852

  • Accelerating the Integration of Distributed Water Solutions: A Conceptual Financing Model from the Electricity Sector Environmental Management Quesnel, K. J., Ajami, N. K., Wyss, N. 2017; 60 (5): 867–881


    Modern challenges require new approaches to urban water management. One solution in the portfolio of potential strategies is the integration of distributed water infrastructure, practices, and technologies into existing systems. However, many practical barriers have prevented the widespread adoption of these systems in the US. The objective of this paper is to address these challenges by developing a conceptual model encompassing regulatory, financial, and governance components that can be used to incorporate new distributed water solutions into our current network. To construct the model, case studies of successfully implemented distributed electricity systems, specifically energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies, were examined to determine how these solutions have become prominent in recent years and what lessons can be applied to the water sector in a similar pursuit. The proposed model includes four action-oriented elements: catalyzing change, establishing funding sources, using resource pathways, and creating innovative governance structures. As illustrated in the model, the water sector should use suite of coordinated policies to promote change, engage end users through fiscal incentives, and encourage research, development and dissemination of new technologies over time.

    View details for DOI 10.1007/s00267-017-0914-4

  • Coordinating water conservation efforts through tradable credits: A proof of concept for drought response in the San Francisco Bay area Water Resources Research Gonzales, P., Ajami, N., Sun, Y. 2017; 53 (9): 7662–7677

    View details for DOI 10.1002/2017WR020636

  • Changes in water consumption linked to heavy news media coverage of extreme climatic events Science Advances Quesnel, K. J., Ajami, N. K. 2017; 3 (10): e1700784


    Public awareness of water- and drought-related issues is an important yet relatively unexplored component of water use behavior. To examine this relationship, we first quantified news media coverage of drought in California from 2005 to 2015, a period with two distinct droughts; the later drought received unprecedentedly high media coverage, whereas the earlier drought did not, as the United States was experiencing an economic downturn coinciding with a historic presidential election. Comparing this coverage to Google search frequency confirmed that public attention followed news media trends. We then modeled single-family residential water consumption in 20 service areas in the San Francisco Bay Area during the same period using geospatially explicit data and including news media coverage as a covariate. Model outputs revealed the factors affecting water use for populations of varying demographics. Importantly, the models estimated that an increase of 100 drought-related articles in a bimonthly period was associated with an 11 to 18% reduction in water use. Then, we evaluated high-resolution water consumption data from smart meters, known as advanced metering infrastructure, in one of the previously modeled service areas to evaluate breakpoints in water use trends. Results demonstrated that whereas nonresidential commercial irrigation customers responded to changes in climate, single-family residential customers decreased water use at the fastest rate following heavy drought-related news media coverage. These results highlight the need for water resource planners and decision makers to further consider the importance of effective, internally and externally driven, public awareness and education in water demand behavior and management.

    View details for DOI 10.1126/sciadv.1700784

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5656424

  • Monthly water balance modeling: Probabilistic, possibilistic and hybrid methods for model combination and ensemble simulation JOURNAL OF HYDROLOGY Nasseri, M., Zahraie, B., Ajami, N. K., Solomatine, D. P. 2014; 511: 675-691
  • Complexity in microbial metabolic processes in soil nitrogen modeling: a case for model averaging STOCHASTIC ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH AND RISK ASSESSMENT Ajami, N. K., Gu, C. 2010; 24 (6): 831-844
  • Addressing snow model uncertainty for hydrologic prediction ADVANCES IN WATER RESOURCES Franz, K. J., Butcher, P., Ajami, N. K. 2010; 33 (8): 820-832
  • Reply to Comment by B. Renard et al. on "An integrated hydrologic Bayesian multimodel combination framework: Confronting input, parameter, and model structural uncertainty in hydrologic prediction'' WATER RESOURCES RESEARCH Ajami, N. K., Duan, Q., Sorooshian, S. 2009; 45
  • Sustainable water resource management under hydrological uncertainty WATER RESOURCES RESEARCH Ajami, N. K., Hornberger, G. M., Sunding, D. L. 2008; 44 (11)
  • Multi-model ensemble hydrologic prediction using Bayesian model averaging ADVANCES IN WATER RESOURCES Duan, Q., Ajami, N. K., Gao, X., Sorooshian, S. 2007; 30 (5): 1371-1386
  • An integrated hydrologic Bayesian multimodel combination framework: Confronting input, parameter, and model structural uncertainty in hydrologic prediction WATER RESOURCES RESEARCH Ajami, N. K., Duan, Q., Sorooshian, S. 2007; 43 (1)
  • Multi-Model Combination Techniques for Hydrological Forecasting: Application to Distributed Model Intercomparison Project Results Journal of Hydrolometeorology Ajami, N. K., Duan, Q., Gao, X., Sorooshian, S. 2006; 7 (4): 755–768

    View details for DOI 10.1175/JHM519.1

  • Hydrologic ensemble prediction experiment focuses on reliable forecasts EOS Franz, K., Ajami, N. K., Schaake, J., Buizza, R. 2005; 86 (25): 239

    View details for DOI 10.1029/2005EO250004

  • Overall distributed model intercomparison project results JOURNAL OF HYDROLOGY Reed, S., Koren, Smith, M., Zhang, Z., Moreda, F., Seo, D. J., DMIP Participants 2004; 298 (1-4): 27–60
  • Calibration Of A Semi Distributed Hydrologic Model For Streamflow Estimation Along A River System Journal of Hydrology Ajami, N. K., Gupta, H., Wagner, T., Sorooshian, S. 2004; 298 (1-4): 112-135
  • Reservoir operation optimization: A nonstructural solution for control of seepage from tar reservoir in Iran WATER INTERNATIONAL Karamouz, M., Zahraie, B., Khodatalab, N. 2003; 28 (1): 19–26