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Nothing is more important than the careful stewardship and development of our water resources.” — Mrs. Athalie Richardson Irvine Clarke, co-founder of NWRI

Consisting of a medallion and $50,000 check, the Athalie Richardson Irvine Clarke Prize is one of only a dozen water prizes awarded worldwide. It has been distinguished by the International Congress of Distinguished Awards as one of the most prestigious awards in the world.

History of the Clarke Prize

The Clarke Prize is named after Mrs. Athalie Richardson Irvine Clarke, a native Southern Californian who was active in both business and philanthropy.

Nicknamed the "First Lady of Orange County," Mrs. Clarke was a savvy investor who managed publishing, farming, and commercial real estate investments. She was also a major shareholder of the Irvine Company (founded by her father-in-law, landowner James Irvine II) and served as a director for many years.

Among her philanthropic activities, Mrs. Clarke and her daughter, Mrs. Joan Irvine Smith, were the motivating forces behind the establishment of the City of Irvine and the University of California, Irvine (UCI). Together, they donated millions to expand UCI and its programs. Mrs. Clarke was also a leader and fundraiser for medical sciences at UCI, Chapman University, Pepperdine University, and others.

Mrs. Athalie Richardson Irvine Clark

Mrs. Athalie Richardson Irvine Clark

Mrs. Clarke was no stranger to politics. Notably, she held living room chats with Richard M. Nixon and Ronald Reagan in which she encouraged them to run for President. She also took an active role on the Washington scene: Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Carter each appointed her to the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, and President Ford appointed her to represent the White House at the 37th International Conference on Education in Geneva, Switzerland. She was also founding director of the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace Foundation, as well as served on the State Board of Agriculture and the Fine Arts Committee of the U.S. Department of State.

In 1991, Mrs. Clarke and her daughter established the Joan Irvine Smith and Athalie R. Clarke Foundation, which has since supported local nonprofits such as the Irvine Museum, Crystal Cove Conservancy, and Mission San Juan Capistrano.

The National Water Research Institute (NWRI) is also one of the recipients of the Foundation's generous support. Because of her ties to the land, Mrs. Clarke recognized the vital importance of water and strongly promoted better water science and technology. With the encouragement of Mrs. Clarke and her daughter, as well as significant financial support from the Foundation, NWRI was created in 1991 to fund research projects and activities that create new sources of water and protect the freshwater and marine environments.

Mrs. Clarke passed away in May 1993 at the age of 90. In honor of her vision, NWRI established the Clarke Prize to recognize scientists who best exemplify Mrs. Clarke's dedication to finding solutions to the nation's water resource problems.

The first Clarke Prize was awarded on May 23, 1994, to Dr. Bruce E. Rittmann of Arizona State University, who at the time was the John Evans Professor of Environmental Engineering at Northwestern University and an active researcher in the field of environmental biotechnology. Mrs. Joan Irvine Smith presented him with the award — a $50,000 prize and gold medallion bearing her mother's image — at the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center of the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering, located next to the UCI campus in Irvine, California.

at Oaks Classic equestrian jumping event in 1994

In 1994, the first Clarke Prize recipient, Dr. Bruce Rittmann, was a special guest at the Oaks Classic, an equestrian jumping event hosted by the Irvine Family that raised funds for nonprofits like NWRI. From left: Former NWRI Director Peer Swan, NWRI co- founder Mrs. Joan Irvine Smith, 1994 recipient Dr. Bruce Rittmann, and late NWRI Executive Director Ron Linsky.

Selecting the Clarke Prize Recipient

The Clarke Prize is awarded annually to an outstanding individual residing in the U.S. who has implemented exceptional water science research/and or policy development to solve real-world water challenges.

The Clarke Prize is one of the greatest honors I have received in my life ... it is an inspiration for generosity, integrity, and world affirmation — the idea that the world can be a better place and we can do something about it by contributing to broader access to safe and affordable water.” — Pedro Alvarez, Rice University, 2012 Clarke Prize Recipient

Nominations are accepted at the beginning of the year, and consist of a statement of accomplishments, in-depth resume, and three letters of support. On average, 15-20 candidates are considered by our five-member Executive Committee. As part of the selection process, the Executive Committee reviews and ranks each nomination, then meets by conference call to determine the winner.


  • The recipient must be currently active in research (science- or policy- related) that focuses on the discovery, development, improvement, and/or understanding of the issues associated with water quality, quantity, technology, or public policy.
  • The recipient must be currently practicing within the United States or must have built a significant body of work within the United States.
  • The recipient must be available to attend the Clarke Prize Conference and Award Ceremony, which is held in early November in Southern California.
  • As part of the award, the recipient must deliver the annual Clarke Lecture. Downloadable versions of past lectures are available by clicking here.

Selection Criteria:

The fields of interests of Clarke Prize nominees include, but are not limited to, engineering, physical and chemical sciences, biological sciences, health sciences, political sciences, and planning and public policy.

The Executive Committee will review nominees based on the following criteria:

  • Professional career achievements.
  • Active engagement in current research and/or policy endeavors.
  • Accomplishments in the increase of public knowledge/awareness of water issues.
  • Proven leadership in the advancement and production of safe and sustainable water supplies.

Award Ceremony and Lecture

The annual Clarke Prize Award Ceremony and Lecture has enjoyed many different formats and settings since its establishment in 1994, each with its own unique character and memorable moments.

The earliest award ceremonies featured the Clarke recipients as special guests at the Oaks Classic, a Grand Prix horse jumping event held at The Oaks, the equestrian training facility of NWRI co-founder Mrs. Joan Irvine Smith, located in San Juan Capistrano, California.

One year, we held the ceremony at lunchtime on the distinguished campus of the University of Southern California, located in the heart of Los Angeles. Another year, our guests enjoyed dinner outside on the 200-year old grounds of Mission San Juan Capistrano, a famous Orange County historic landmark.

In 2005, our recipient was surprised and delighted when his teenage daughter took the stage as a special guest performer to sing a moving rendition of "Wind Beneath My Wings" in his honor.

At other times, we shared greetings from the White House, such as President Bush's 2008 message that "By developing solutions to water management issues, NWRI helps ensure that Americans have reliable sources of water. [The Clarke Prize] is an opportunity to renew commitments to wise environmental conservation so we leave our children and grandchildren flourishing rivers, lakes, oceans, and waterways."

In 2012, we were inspired to expand the reach of the Clarke Prize by reformatting it as a conference focusing on innovative research in the water industry. The award ceremony became the highlight of the conference.

The award ceremony features a black-tie reception and dinner. Later, members of the Irvine Family take the stage to present the Clarke Medallion and $50,000 check to the winner. The Irvine Family manages the Joan Irvine Smith and Athalie R. Clarke Foundation. They have supported and participated in the Clarke Prize every year since its establishment.

As another special feature of the award ceremony, the recipient delivers the annual Clarke Lecture on a critical issue in the water industry.

For instance, in his 2012 Lecture, Pedro Alvarez of Rice University highlighted the opportunities of nanotechnology to develop next-generation applications for drinking water disinfection and safe wastewater reuse, while 2010 recipient Jerald Schnoor of the University of Iowa spoke about challenges facing our ability to provide a sustainable supply of clean drinking water for future generations.

The award ceremony ends with hearty applause and many group photos, as well as a newly inducted Clarke Prize Laureate.

Clarke Prize Laureates

We are pleased to present our esteemed Clarke Prize Laureates, who include groundbreaking pioneers and global leaders in the fields of civil and environmental engineering, microbiology, aquatic chemistry, hydrology, environmental biotechnology, and many others.

  • 2017  Charles N. Haas Ph.D., Drexel University
  • 2016 Mark D. Sobsey Ph.D., University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
  • 2015 John C. Crittenden Ph.D., P.E., N.A.E, C.A.E., Georgia Institute of Technology
  • 2014 David L. Sedlak Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley
  • 2013 R. Rhodes Trussell Ph.D., P.E., BCEE, NAE, Trussell Technologies, Inc.
  • 2012 Pedro J.J. Alvarez Ph.D., P.E., DEE, Rice University
  • 2011 Mark R. Wiesner Ph.D., P.E., Duke University
  • 2010 Jerald L. Schnoor Ph.D., University of Iowa
  • 2009 Bruce E. Logan Ph.D., Pennsylvania State University
  • 2008 Nancy N. Rabalais Ph.D., Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium
  • 2007 James L. Barnard PH.D., PR.ENG., BCEE, Black & Veatch Corporation
  • 2006 Philip C. Singer Ph.D., P.E., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • 2005 Menachem Elimelech Ph.D., Yale University
  • 2004 Vernon L. Snoeyink Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • 2003 George Tchobanoglous Ph.D., P.E., NAE, University of California, Davis
  • 2002 Harry F. Ridgway Ph.D., AquaMem Consultants
  • 2001 Joan B. Rose Ph.D., Michigan State University
  • 2000 Charles R. O'Melia Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University
  • 1999 James J. Morgan Ph.D., California Institute of Technology
  • 1998 Rafael L. Bras Sc.D., University of California, Irvine
  • 1997 Perry L. McCarty Sc.D., Stanford University
  • 1996 Walter J. Weber, Jr. Ph.D., P.E., DEE, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor
  • 1995 David C. White M.D., Ph.D., University of Tennessee-Knoxville
  • 1994 Bruce E. Rittmann Ph.D., Arizona State University

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