Ximing Cai

Ximing Cai
Ximing Cai
  • Colonel Harry F. and Frankie M. Lovell Endowed Professor
  • Ven Te Chow Faculty Scholar in Water Resources
  • Donald Biggar Willett Faculty Scholar
  • Professor
(217) 333-4935
2030 Civil Eng Hydrosystems Lab

Primary Research Area

  • Water Resources Engineering and Science

Research Areas


Professor Ximing Cai’s current research areas include coupled human-natural system analysis with an emphasis on human interferences in hydrological processes, water-energy-food system modeling especially in dry areas, and sustainable water resources management particularly in developing countries. He has authored or co-authored more than 154 peer-reviewed journal papers, three books and several monographs. During 2012-2017, he served as Editor for Water Resources Research the flagship journal of water resources, published by the American Geophysical Union; currently he serves the editorial board of several other major water journals. He has received several awards, including the National Science Foundation CAREER award and best paper awards from Water Resources Research, Water International, and the Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management. He has worked as a consultant to the World Bank, the United Nations and other international agencies. He has been associate director of Institute for Sustainability, Energy and Environment (iSEE), a campus-wide institute at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Cai teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in water resources engineering, surface water hydrology and application of geographic information systems, and river basin management. Before joining the faculty of the University of Illinois in 2002, Cai served as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Research Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, D.C. He is the Ven Te Chow Faculty Scholar in Water Resources and the Donald Biggar Willett Faculty Scholar. He holds a B.S. in Water Resources Engineering (1990) and an M.S. in Hydrology and Water Resources (1994) from Tsinghua University, Beijing, and a Ph.D. in Environmental and Water Resources Engineering (1999) from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a registered professional engineer in Maryland and a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Geophysical Union and the International Water Resources Association. He has served the U.S. Environmental and Water Resources Institute as committee chair and the IRWA as a member of its board of directors.


  • B.S., Hydraulic Engineering, Tsinghua University, P.R. China, 1990
  • M.S., Hydrology and Water Resources, Tsinghua University, P.R. China, 1994
  • Ph.D., Civil Engineering, University of Texas at Austin, 1999

Academic Positions

  • Colonel Harry F. and Frankie M. Lovell Endowed Professor in Civil Engineering, Aug. 2014 -
  • Professor, U of I, May 2013 - May 2014
  • Visiting Professor, ETH - Zurich, June - Aug. 2012
  • Associate Professor, U of I, Aug. 2009- July 2013
  • Assistant Professor, U of I, Sept. 2003-July 2009

Major Consulting Activities

  • International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), providing consultancy on the impact of extreme climate events on agriculture, 2014, 2016
  • Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development(OECD), writing a review paper on climate change, water and agriculture, 2013
  • NBI, advisor for the Regional Agricultural Trade and Productivity Project (RATP), 2011, 2012
  • World Bank/NBI, organizing workshops for stakeholders, 2010
  • World Bank/Nile Basin Initiatives (NBI), developing Nile Basin decision support system, 2009
  • McKinsey & Company, working on global water and food projection, 2008
  • Drainage Department, Fort Bend County, Texas, developing a floodplain webtool, 2008
  • The Brookings Institution and Columbia University, authoring a report on water resources sustainability in China, 2008

Professional Registrations

  • Professional Engineer, Civil Engineering, Maryland, since 2001.

Journal Editorships

  • Associate Editor, J. of Wat. Resou. Plan. Managt., , (ASCE) (2009-)
  • Editor Board, Wat. Intl., Intl. Wat. Resou. Assoc. (IWRA) (2010 - )
  • Editor, special issues on systems analysis for watershed management, J. of Wat. Resou. Plan. Managt., ASCE, 2011-2012.
  • Co-Editor, special issues on water engineering economics, J. of Wat. Resou. Plan. Managt., ASCE, 2006
  • Editor, Water Resources Research, Am. Geo. Union (AGU), 2013-2017
  • Section Editor, Biuofuel, Current Sustainable/Renewable Energy Reports, 2014

Professional Societies

  • Member, American Geophysical Union (AGU), 1999-; committee member, water management and society (2011-2014)
  • Member, American Water Resources Association (AWRA), 1998-
  • Member (2003-), Secretary (2005-2007), Vice Chair (2007-2009) and Chair (2009-2011), Past-Chair (2011-2012), International Council, Environmental and Water Resources Institute (EWRI), ASCE
  • Member (2003-), Secretary (2010-2011), Vice Chair (2011-2012), Chair (2012-2013) of Environment and Water Resources System Committee, EWRI
  • Chair for Task Committee on Systems Analysis for Watershed Management, Environment and Water Resources System Committee, EWRI, 2006-
  • Track Chair, World Water and Environment Congress, EWRI/ASCE, Orlando, Florida, 2007
  • Co-chair for the sessions on water management and policy, Am. Geo. Union meeting, San Francisco, CA, 2005, 2007; long-term science and sustainability, 2010; hydrologic forecast and systems operations, 2011
  • Chair on sessions on system analysis for watershed management, World Water and Environment Congress, EWRI/ASCE, every year starting from 2008.
  • Scientific Committee member, Intl. Wat. Resou. Assoc. (IWRA) Conference in 2011
  • Member and Board Director, Intl. Wat. Resou. Assoc. (IWRA), 2012-2015

Service on Department Committees

  • Member (2003-) and graduate coordinator (2007-), Information technology (IT) Committee
  • Graduate Coordinator, Environmental Hydrology and Hydraulic Engineering (EHHE), 2004-2005, 2011-2012
  • Member, Graduate Affairs Committee, 2004-2005, 2008
  • Member, Curriculum Committee, 2005-2009
  • Member, Advisory Committee, 2010
  • Member, faculty search Committee, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2019
  • Member, Committee on Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure Systems (SRIS) Program, 2011 - and coordinator 2014-2016, on SRIS program
  • Member, Committee on Global Leadership, 2011-2013

Service on College Committees

  • Member of a committee for international water and food research and education, appinted by Dean, College of Engineeirhttps://my.cee.illinois.edu/biodata/editC.asp#ng, 2010

Service on Campus Committees

  • Faculty affiliation with Environmental Council (2004-), Center for Water As Complex System (2005-), Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies (2005-), and Department of Agricultural and Consumers Economics (2007-)
  • Faculty fellow, Freeman Fellows Program, Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies, 2006-2008
  • Member of International Achievement Award Committee, Intl. Programs and Studies, 2007-2008
  • Steering member, Science and Technology in the Pacific Century (STIP), Center for Advanced Study (CAS), 2007-2009
  • Steering member, committee for international workshop on water resources, International Programs and Studies, 2005
  • Executive board member, Environmental Change Institute (ECI), 2008-2013

Service to Federal and State Government

  • Proposal panel, Sustainable Energy, NSF, 2012
  • Proposal panel, Integrated Assessment, Department of Energy (DOE), 2010
  • Proposal panel, CAREER, Environmental Sustainability Program, NSF, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016, 2017
  • Proposal panel, Environmental Sustainability Program, NSF, 2014
  • Proposal panel, Agricultural Program, NASA, 2008
  • Proposal panel, Water Resources Program, NASA, 2008, 2012

Other Outside Service

  • Reviewer for Nature, Science, PNAS and 10 journals in water resources, environmental economics, and agriculture
  • Board member (2005-2009), President (2016-2017), Chinese American Water Resources Association

Research Interests

  • Policy analysis of local, regional and global water problems
  • Analysis of human interferences to hydrologic processes
  • Evaluation of hydrological forecasts for water system operations
  • Hydrologic-economic modeling
  • Agent based modeling of complex water and environmental systems
  • Integrated assessment of water-food-energy-environment nexus

Research Statement

Dr. Cai’s research interests include large-scale system optimization, river basin planning and management, drought management, water resources economics and policy, geographic information system and spatial statistics, and international water resources development.

Primary Research Area

  • Water Resources Engineering and Science

Research Areas

Books Authored or Co-Authored (Original Editions)

Chapters in Books

  • Cai, X. and M. W. Rosegrant (2003). Water productivity and food security, current situation and future options, in Water productivity in agriculture: limits and opportunities for improvement, by J.W. Kijne et al. (eds). CABI Publishing, Wallingford, UK. 163-178.
  • Cai, X. and M.W. Rosegrant. (2003). Water availability and the future of irrigated and rainfed cereal production, in Land Quality, Agricultural Productivity, and Food Security, by Wiebe,K.D. (eds.), Elgar Publishing, 370-401.
  • Rosegrant M.W. and X. Cai (2004). Implications of water development for food security, in Water science, policy, and management, by R Lawford et al. (eds). Amer. Geophysical Union (AGU) Water Resources Monograph Series, Vol. 16, 422 pages, Washington DC.
  • Levy, M., S. Babu, K. Hamilton, V. Rho, A. Catenazii, W. Reid, D. Sengupta, and X. Cai (2005). Ecosystem conditions and human well-being, Chapter 5 of Ecosystems and conditions and human well-being: current condition and trends, vol. 1, Millennium Ecosystems Assessment, p125-142, Island Press, Washington (the group of authors won the Zayed Int. Prize for the Environment).
  • Cai, X. and M.W. Rosegrant (2007). Future prospects for water and food in China and India, Chapter 10, pp 207-234, in The Dragon and the Elephant: Agricultural and Rural Reforms in China and India by A. Gulati and S. Fan (eds), 576 pages, Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Moraes, M., C. Ringler and X. Cai (2011). Polices and instruments affecting water use for bioenergy production, Chapter 5 in The Bioenergy and Water Nexus, UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Paris, France.
  • Cai, X. and U. Lall (2012), The sustainability of water resources in china, Chapter 11 in A New Economic Growth Enigne for China, edited by Woo et al., World Scientific Publishing Company (In both English and Chinese).
  • Cai X. and M. Miro (2014), Sustainable Water Resources Management in China: Critical Issues and Opportunities for Policy Reforms, Chapter 58, The Oxford Companion to the Economics of China, ed. by S. Fan, R. Kanbur, S. Wei and X. Zhang. Oxford University Press.
  • Bauer-Gottwein P., N. Riegels, M. Pulido-Velazquez, J. Harou, XM Cai, C. Davidsen, S. Pereira-Cardenal (2016). Chapter 37. Hydroeconomic analysis, Handbook of Hydrology, V. Singh (eds.), McGraw-Hill Inc.

Selected Articles in Journals

  • Rosegrant, M., C. Ringler, D.C. McKinney, X. Cai, A. Keller, and G. Donoso (2000). Integrated economic-hydrologic water modeling at the basin scale: the Maipo River Basin, J. of Ag. Econ. (IAEA) 24(1): 33-46 (senior authorship shared).
  • Cai, X., D.C. McKinney and L. Lasdon (2001). Solving nonlinear water management models using a combined genetic algorithm and linear programming approach, Adv. in Wat. Resou., 24(6): 667-676.
  • You J. and X. Cai (2008). Hedging rule for reservoir operations: (1) A theoretical analysis, Wat. Resour. Res., 44, W01415, doi:10.1029/2006WR005481.
  • Yang Y., X. Cai and DM Stipanović (2009). A decentralized optimization algorithm for multi-agent system based watershed management, Wat. Resour. Res., 45, W08430, doi:10.1029/2008WR007634
  • Wang, D. and X. Cai (2009). Detecting human interferences to low flows through recession analysis, Wat. Resou. Res., 45, W07426, doi:10.1029/2009WR007819.
  • Hejazi, M. and X. Cai (2011). Building more realistic reservoir optimization models using data mining – A case study of Shelbyville Reservoir, Adv. in Wat. Resour. 34 (2011) 701–717.
  • Ng, T. L., J. W. W. Eheart, X. Cai, and J. B. Braden (2011), An agent-based model of farmer decision-making and water quality impacts at the watershed scale under markets for carbon allowances and a second-generation biofuel crop, Wat. Resour. Res., doi:10.1029/2011WR010399.
  • Zhang X. and X. Cai (2013). Climate change impacts on global agricultural water deficit, Geophysical Res. Letter, 40, 1–7, doi:10.1002/grl.50279 (Featured article at AGU Blogosphere).
  • Housh, M., X. Cai et al. (2014) System of systems model for biofuel development analysis (SoS - Biofuel), J. of Infrastructure Systems, 10.1061/(ASCE)IS.1943-555X.0000238 , 04014050.
  • Cai, X., R. Zeng, W.H. Kang, J. Song, and A. J. Valocchi (2015). Strategic planning for drought mitigation under climate change, J. Water Resour. Plann. Manage., 10.1061/(ASCE)WR.1943-5452.0000510 , 04015004.
  • Zeng, R., and X. Cai (2016), Climatic and terrestrial storage control on evapotranspiration temporal variability: Analysis of river basins around the world, Geophys. Res. Lett., 43, doi:10.1002/2015GL066470.
  • Marston, L. and XM Cai (2016). An overview of water reallocation and the barriers to its implementation, WIREs Water 2016. doi: 10.1002/wat2.1159.
  • Majid Shafiee-Jood, M. and XM Cai (2016). Reducing food loss and waste to enhance food security and environmental sustainability, Environ. Sci. Technol., DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b01993.

Invited Lectures

  • Drought Preparedness - Reflective Thoughts
  • Coupling agent-based models with environmental models for watershed planning
  • Managing many demands of water and land in the global scope
  • Water for Biofuels: Implications for Energy, Food and Environment
  • Human Interferences to Hydrologic Processes: Implications for Hydrology and Water Resources Management
  • Integrating Institutional Decision-Making and Emergent Environmental Phenomena
  • Wat. resou. re-allocation (Keynote)
  • Nile basin decision support systems (Keynote)
  • Implementation of holistic hydrologic-economic models
  • Arid region water management
  • Water managt. in China (Keynote)

Magazine Articles

  • Cai X. (2009). Water transfers from agriculture: China's challenge. Water Front Magazine, No. 2:13-15.
  • Zhang X. and X. Cai (2011). Climate change impact on agricultural land, Research Highlights, Nature-Climate (2011) doi:10.1038/nclimate1113.
  • Yang Y. and X. Cai (2012). Reservoir re-operation for fish ecosystem restoration, Global Water Forum.
  • Lawford R. et al. (2013). NASA Satellite and Modeling Products Improve the Monitoring of the 2012 Drought, Global Energy and Water Exchanges News, 23(2)
  • Cai, X.M. and Paolo Gardoni (2015). Preparing for the worst, Huff Post, Sept. 15, 2015.

Teaching Honors

  • Listed as Excellent Graduate Advisor, College of Engineering, UIUC. (2007 )
  • Listed in the incomplete list of teaching excellence, CEE 598 RVB, CEE 450, CEE 552, CEE 535 (2006,2007,2010, 2012, 2015, 2016 )

Research Honors

  • NSF CAREER award (2008)
  • Provost's recognition for outstanding promotion (2009)
  • Best Research Paper Award, J. of Wat. Resou. Plan.  Managt. (ASCE) (2011)
  • Donald Biggar Willett Faculty Scholar, College of Engineering, UIUC (2013)
  • Colonel Harry F. and Frankie M. Lovell Endowed Professorship in Civil Engineering (2014)
  • Environ. and Water Resources Institute (ASCE) 2015 Service to the Profession Award (2015)
  • Award for UIUC Sesquicentennial Celebration Culminating Research Symposia (2017)
  • American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fellow (2019)