Water Resources Engineering

Anne Ronan, Civil and Urban Engineering,
Polytechnic Institute of NYU


This is a lecture-based course that introduces students to a wide range of water-quantity (as opposed to quality) topics relevant to civil engineering design. Fundamental hydrologic concepts are taught first to establish the context for design of water resources engineering facilities such as water supply and storm drainage systems. Lectures, homework assignments and two class projects are strongly weighted with real-world examples.

Course Size:

Course Format:
Lecture only

Institution Type:
University with graduate programs, primarily masters programs

Course Context:

This is a junior-level required course. Fluid mechanics (which includes a laboratory) is a prerequisite. This is a fast-paced course because of the wide range of somewhat disparate topics that are covered.

Course Content:

This course covers the traditional topics offered in an undergraduate water resources engineering course: fundamentals of hydrology with a strong emphasis on rainfall-runoff processes, introductory groundwater definitions and equations, water supply system design, pump selection, open channel flow concepts, storm water drainage. Contemporary issues are introduced at various points throughout the term: integrated water management, green infrastructure, storm surge, climate change.

Course Goals:

I want students to understand that natural hydrologic processes are spatially and temporally variable, and cannot be perfectly quantified. Students are exposed to several alternative means of quantifying the rainfall-runoff process, with the understanding that all of the techniques are empirical and should be applied with engineering judgement. I want students to be able to have a technical conversation, using the correct terminology, in areas of surface and subsurface hydrology, municipal water supply system design, open channel flow, and storm drainage. This knowledge of correct terminology should accompany students' ability to apply standard design procedures in these areas. I also want students to be aware of the wide range of hydrologic data that are available on the Internet from public agencies.

Course Features:

Students always comment on the weekly homework assignments - they are not traditional back-of-the book assignments that have a single right answer. Although these home-made multi-step questions usually do actually have a single set of correct answers, students are challenged by the real-world nature of the problems. One non-traditional assignment has students visit the USGS website to download recent streamflow data. They are asked to describe the hydrographs and comment on how their shapes meet their expectations. Exercises of this sort help students to develop a broader understanding of concepts, rather than relying on so-called plug-and-chug solution of problems.

Course Philosophy:

This course has evolved over the years - I taught a similar course many years ago at San Jose State University (but with the advantage of also having a lab period), then started teaching it again three years ago. After such a long hiatus, I felt the need to re-educate myself on some topics and found that best to do by reading current trade journals, public agency websites, ASCE news blogs, and even articles in the New York Times. I enthusiastically shared much of this knowledge with my students in both a conversational mode during class and within the context of specific lectures and homework assignments, and the method was successful so I have retained that approach. Students admit that they are somewhat intimidated by the reputation of the heavy courseload, but they enjoy it because of my enthusiasm and the tie in to so many things they see in the real world themselves.


Assessment takes place in a relatively traditional manner. Paper homework submittals are collected weekly (some digital uploads of essays and spreadsheets are required) and are graded with a strict point-based rubric that includes some points for presentation style, completeness of presentation, and adequacy of addressing written interpretation questions. Two longer projects are also graded on a similar basis. Three closed-book exams (two during the term and one final) each have two parts: the first part has many objective questions (T/F, multiple choice, fill in blank, short answer) to assess students' understanding of fundamental concepts and terminology, the second part is more problem-solving oriented.


Course syllabus - Spring 2013 (Acrobat (PDF) 158kB Feb22 13)

References and Notes:

Water Resources Engineering, 2nd ed., by Larry W. Mays
The text covers too much, so I only assign some chapters. I also post all of my Powerpoint lessons online and encourage students to review them to help determine which concepts I focus on in each chapter of the text.