Hydrology and Water Resources

Kaye Savage,
Wofford College


This course is divided into three parts -- surface water, ground water, and regional studies. We meet jointly for the regional studies part with an economics class (Water: Law, Economics and Policy) and cross-course teams lead these class meetings.

Course Size:
less than 15

Course Format:
Integrated lecture and lab

Institution Type:
Private four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

This course counts as an elective for all environmental studies majors, and for B.S. Environmental Studies students it counts towards the lab science elective requirement. About 75% of the students in this course are working toward the B.S. degree. It is occasionally taken by students from other science majors (Biology, Physics).

Course Content:

The Hydrology and Water Resources course has four principle approaches:

1 - Readings from three source texts offering different perspectives on water resources
2 - Conceptual, graphical, and mathematical models for water flow
3 - Joint meetings and regionally-focused projects with students in related economics course
4 - Experiences in the field

Course Goals:

-Hydrologic cycle and relationships between hydrosphere and other "-spheres"
-How streams perform work of erosion and transportation; relationship to stream energy
-Depositional environments of streams (stream channel, pools, bars, levees, flood plains, deltas)
-Characteristics of floods including probability of recurrence
-Impacts of "hard path" engineering (dams, channelization)
-Water quality parameters: pH, dissolved oxygen, temperature, turbidity, macroinvertebrates
-Relationship of load to concentration and discharge
-Definitions of common terms related to ground water
-Characteristics of porous media (including fractures) and how they influence ground water flow
-Interactions between surface water and ground water
-Influence of pumping wells on ground water flow paths and shape of potentiometric surfaces; implications for supply
-Approaches for representing ground water scenarios: mathematical, graphical and conceptual models
-Major issues in different regions around the globe

-Obtain discharge data from USGS or other agencies; plot a hydrograph in excel; interpret hydrographs
-Measure stream flow parameters and calculate discharge
-Use flood data to estimate recurrence intervals and probabilities
-Evaluate water quality by measuring and interpreting in-stream water quality parameters
-Interpret flood zone maps and apply to land use planning
-Read and interpret a topographic map, including delineating the boundaries of a watershed
-Calculate surface and ground water discharge; estimate when limited data are available; develop a flownet
-Recognize key features of differential equations representing groundwater flow through porous media

-water supply: quality and quantity of water resources (surface and ground water)
-acknowledge various perspectives and values towards water supply held by others
-effects of overuse and contamination on water supply and the health of ecosystems
-hydroelectric power as an alternative or supplement to other sources of energy
-how flood and dam hazards affect vulnerable communities
-support acquisition of long-term data sets

Course Features:

We use three books with different perspectives and approaches. Joint projects and meetings with an economics course are used to develop regional knowledge and to consider how different values contribute to choices about development of water resources. Field trips (water treatment plant, hydroelectric power plant, kayaking in relatively undisturbed area) contribute to broader knowledge and appreciation of different kinds of values we place on water.

Problem sets and in-class problems provide practice in quantitative skills. Field work develops skills in measurement and interpretation of data. We are spending four of our lab periods making measurements and analyzing maps for a local neighborhood watershed that is scheduled for redevelopment. The data will be used in a larger project focused on stream restoration in this area.

A literature-based research paper supports acquisition of depth in a topic of the student's choosing related to their regional study area.

Course Philosophy:

An interdisciplinary approach is integral to all of the courses in our Environmental Studies program. Most students who take this course will not be exposed to additional hydrology courses so it is important to include both surface and ground water as well as a humanistic context.


Through performance on assigned work (field experiences, problem sets, paper, class presentation) and quality of in-class discussion.


Syllabus: Hydrology and Water Resources (Acrobat (PDF) 357kB Apr25 13)

Teaching Materials:

References and Notes:

Anisfeld, Shimon. Water Resources, 2010. Harter & Rollins. Watersheds, Groundwater & Drinking Water, 2008. Ball, Phillip. Life's Matrix: Biography of Water
Anisfeld provides a good overview of water resource issues that integrates science concepts with social contexts. Harter and Rollins is one of the few inexpensive texts that treats both surface water and ground water at a mathematical level that is accessible to students and provides a broad overview. Ball's book provides a whole different kind of approach that supports appreciation of water at scales from molecular to universe.

Students choose readings for the class related to their regional topics, along with questions for discussion.