Groundwater Engineering

Gretchen Miller
Texas A & M University


Groundwater Engineering is a lecture-based course designed to provide graduate students with both the background information and quantitative tools they will need to work in the water management and environmental consulting fields or to conduct related research. While the course generally follows a traditional lecture-homework-exam format, it has several additional activities designed to provide opportunities for student directed learning, such as a highly interactive field trip and a literature review.

Course Size:

Course Format:
Lecture only

Institution Type:
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs

Course Context:

Groundwater Engineering is a graduate level course for MS and PhD students in our Civil Engineering, Biological and Agricultural Engineering, and Water Management and Hydrological Science programs. Although not required, it serves as one of five regularly offered core courses for civil engineering students specializing in water resources engineering, and as one of the main electives for those in environmental engineering. Most of the students taking this course have had little exposure to groundwater related topics and no prior experience in geology. Students may continue on to take more specialized courses in this area, including Subsurface Contaminant Transport, Groundwater Modeling, Vadose Zone Hydrology, and Multi-Phase Flows.

Course Content:

In this course, we survey the fundamental science of hydrogeology, the study of the distribution and movement of water through geologic formations, i.e. soil, sediments, and rocks. We then explore, in depth, the mathematical models of fluid flow in porous media and methods for solving these equations (e.g., analytical, numerical, and statistical approaches). Finally, we use all of these tools to address practical groundwater engineering problems: characterizing the subsurface using aquifer tests, transport and remediation of contaminants, and innovations in groundwater management, as time permits.

Course Goals:

After successfully completing this course, students should be able to accomplish the following types of engineering tasks:
  • Create a simple conceptual model of an area's hydrogeology that can be used to guide a site investigation or engineering design project.
  • Compare methods for solving groundwater flow equations under a variety of situations, selecting the most appropriate modeling techniques based on an engineering project's goals and evaluating how their weaknesses may impact the final conclusions.
  • Develop a preliminary consulting report for a groundwater development or remediation project.
Additional course objectives are listed in the syllabus on a unit-by-unit basis (see attached).

Course Features:

The class features two synthesis-type activities: a consulting report and a literature review paper. For the first, the class visits the Texas A&M Hydrogeology Field Site, a well field about 10 miles from campus, on the TAMU Experimental Farm. There, students work together, guided by the professor and teaching volunteers (students from prior classes and the professors research group), to collect data about the site. Each group of 3-5 students rotates through field stations, where they learn how to measure water levels (manually and using an automated system), conduct a slug test, obtain samples for water quality and isotopic analysis, and collect soil samples. The students are then asked to analyze their data and data from past field trips and use it to compile an extended laboratory reported, written in the style of a consulting report to their client. The students are given some direction on conducting the data analyses, but otherwise are only given support or advice when specifically requested. Students are allowed to complete the report individually or in groups of 3-4.

The literature review is a 10-15 page paper, written in the style of a peer-reviewed review article for a journal, on a groundwater related topic. Many students choose topics related to their thesis or topic on recent developments in groundwater science or remediation (e.g., GRACE satellite findings, groundwater on Mars, conjunctive use). Several intermediate assignments are required before the final paper is submitted, in order to keep the students making progress in their writing; these include: a topic proposal, completion of the library's academic integrity tutorial, and a draft version. Students give a short oral presentation on their topic during the last week of classes. Students are also awarded extra credit on their presentations for asking appropriate questions during the presentations of others.

Course Philosophy:

This course was designed to introduce engineers to groundwater topics, to improve their quantitative problem solving abilities, and to challenge their writing abilities. The activities were chosen to complement those in our other graduate classes; students needed more exposure to field methods and technical writing. My teaching interests fit this niche well, allowing me to make a distinctive contribution to our program.


Student learning is assessed via traditional means, primarily a midterm and a final exam which represent 50% of a student's total grade. The scores on five homework assignments and the consulting report constitute 15% and 10%, respectively. The paper and oral report are worth the final 25%. Both quantitative and qualitative grading rubrics are used to assign points. For writing based assignments, emphasis is placed on assisting the students to develop clear, organized, on-topic writing (as opposed to focusing on grammar and other style issues).


Syllabus for Groundwater Engineering (Acrobat (PDF) 142kB Feb21 13)

Teaching Materials:

Project Specifications for Groundwater Engineering (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 26kB Feb21 13)

References and Notes:

Todd, D. K., and Mays, L. (2005). Groundwater Hydrology, 3rd Edition. Wiley Interscience: Hoboken, NJ, Chapters 1-5, 8, 9.

Fetter, 2003, Applied Hydrogeology, 4th Edition, Chapter 8: Geology of Groundwater Occurrence.

Fetter, 1999, Contaminant Hydrogeology, 2nd Edition, Chapter 2-3.

Domenico and Schwartz, 1998, Physical and Chemical Hydrogeology, 2nd Edition, John Wiley and Sons, Sections 4.1 and 4.2.

Other Texas specific water resources and geology publications.