In 1991 the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) established a National Research Program (NRP) facility on the East Campus of the University of Colorado in Boulder near the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR). That was the start of increasing collaboration between the USGS and INSTAAR. Since that time, INSTAAR students have done research in USGS labs. USGS researchers have served on the committees of INSTAAR graduate students, and USGS and INSTAAR researchers have attended each other’s seminar series. Researchers from both organizations are involved in the University of Colorado’s Hydrologic Sciences Graduate program, which was established in 2004.

In 2007, then INSTAAR director, James Syvitski, initiated discussions to strengthen ongoing INSTAAR-USGS interactions through the establishment of a center. INSTAAR director, James White, carried these efforts forward, and during the winter of 2011-2012, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the USGS and the University of Colorado was signed. CWEST Founding director, Diane McKnight, guided the center through the University of Colorado’s establishment process, and in February 2014, the Center for Water, Earth Science, and Technology or CWEST was officially approved. When Diane took a Program Manager position with NSF in the summer of 2015, Noah Molotch took over as Direcor of CWEST.