There were several key events happening over a span of several years that led to the forming of CUAHSI to advance a community approach for basic and applied research in water science. In 1984, during a reorganization of the Engineering Directorate at the National Science Foundation, the Hydrology and Hydraulics Program was discontinued. Proposals in this area were transferred to the Environmental Engineering Program.A small meeting was held at NASA Goddard in summer 1986, involving Peter Eagleson (MIT), Marhsall Moss (USGS), Vijay Gupta (University of Mississippi), E. Waymire (University of Oregon), and Robert Gurney (NASA) to approach the National Research Council (NRC) with a proposal to write a report to assess the state of Hydrologic Sciences. Eagleson volunteered to approach NRC and lead the effort. The Committee on Hydrologic Sciences was established in 1987 with full blessings from NRC. NRC, USGS, NOAA-NWS, NSF, NASA, ARO, USFS, and the Mobile Corporation sponsored the study. The report of the committee, "Opportunities in Hydrologic Sciences," was published in 1991 by the National Academies Press. It is now commonly referred to in the hydrology community as the "blue book." Within the Division of Earth Sciences, NSF-GEO established a core program in 1992 in hydrologic sciences with an initial funding level of $2M. Dr. L. Douglas James (formerly of Utah State University) was hired to run the program. In 1997-98, R. Corell (AD-GEO) announced a planning study of the GEO directorate with a 10-year horizon involving the broad geoscience community. V. Gupta was invited to serve on the committee and represent hydrologic sciences. The NSF report, called GEO-2000, can be seen on the NSF Web page.

In 1998, when GEO-2000 was just getting underway, V. Gupta spent the summer at NSF, to plan a course of action for hydrology that can complement GEO-2000. It became clear through many discussions with I. MacGregor (NSF), and D. James that an implementation plan for hydrology was needed. An interdisciplinary workshop, to capture the spirit of the blue book, was organized in Albuquerque with NSF funding under the leadership of Gupta. This led to the Water, Earth, Biota (WEB) 40-page report (WEB Report) in July 2000, which focused on defining an implementation plan. Concurrently, four independent reports involving hydrology appeared on the scene. D. James wrote an article in EOS (81(28) 310, 316) giving his perspective on various studies underway in 2000. V. Gupta, with input from K. Potter (University of Wisconsin), and U. Lall (Columbia University), presented a two-page white paper to the AGU executive committee, December 2000, on the need to establish infrastructure for hydrology. In January, 2001, a community meeting was held at NSF to focus on common needs of scientific hydrology. The community decided to organize a consortium of universities to address common infrastructure needs and the overall research and education agenda. R. Bales (University of Arizona) as chair and an ad-hoc steering committee, U. Lall (Columbia University), C. Duffy (Penn State University), M. Parlange (Johns Hopkins University), G. Salvucci (Boston University)) volunteered to write a proposal by March 29, 2001. J. Selker (Oregon State University) and M. Williams (University of Colorado) were added to the steering committee afterwards. Marshall Moss (now an independent consultant) agreed in March 2001 to lead the organization of the consortium and to move the process forward. The NSF proposal was submitted in June 2001, and it was funded beginning August 1 for two years to plan a phased implementation. The Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science, Incorporated (CUAHSI) was incorporated in the District of Columbia on June 25, 2001 and its governance was established on August 10, 2001 in a telephone conference with 27 of the 33 Representatives of the member Universities. All 33 Representatives of the Member Universities were elected as the consortium's Board of Directors.