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Watershed Hydrology

GEOS 697-003 Special Topics: Watershed Hydrology  (3 credits)
Class Time:    
T TH  9:00-10:30  [Room: ERB 2100]
Instructor:       Jim McNamara [, (208) 426-1354]
Office Hours:   T Th  1:00-3:00 or by appointment [Room: ERB 4165]
Teaching Assistant:  TBD

Course Description


Filetype-PDF-iconCourse Schedule

In this course we will move beyond the study of individual hydrologic fluxes and stores to investigate the integrating nature of watersheds. We will review basic physics of hydrologic processes and then investigate how these properties interact and manifest as runoff generation, plant-soil water relations, and the coevolution of geomorphology and hydrologic response.

Activities to promote learning include lectures, guided readings and discussions, student presentations, and projects. Students will complete approximately 6 projects related to the topics below. Most projects will involve acquisition, analysis and interpretation of data available online from several experimental watersheds throughout the country with an emphasis on Dry Creek and Reynolds Creek in southwest Idaho.

Proposed Schedule of Topics
  1. Course introduction: Summary of goals, objectives, and expectations
  2. Hydrologic process review: A brief review of the physics governing individual hydrologic processes operating in watersheds including precipitation, snowmelt, infiltration, lateral surface and subsurface flow, groundwater flow, and streamflow.
  3. Water Balance: An advanced treatment of mass balance concept operating a hillslope, watershed, basin, and continental scales
  4. Watershed Geomorphology: Quantitative analysis of the shape of watersheds, hillslopes, and channel networks; geomorphologic evolution of watersheds
  5. Advanced concepts in watershed hydrology: Integrated hydrologic processes and emergent hydrologic properties in watersheds. Topics include
    • Water residence time
    • Runoff generation
    • Storage, thresholds, and connectivity
  6. Ecohydrology-Relationships between hydrology, vegetation, and geomorphology in catchments
  7. Watershed biogeochemistry: An introduction to the role that hydrologic processes play in governing the export of mass from watersheds
  8. Hydrologic modeling concepts: A capstone topic reconciling our knowledge of watershed hydrology with current hydrologic modeling approaches


Permission of instructor is required. Students must have an understanding of basic hydrologic principles typically obtained by taking a introductory hydrologic science or hydrologic engineering course. Students should enter the class with a solid understanding of the physical processes controlling precipitation, evaporation, snow and snowmelt, infiltration, groundwater flow, and streamflow. Students should have basic computational competence, and an understanding of probability and statistics. Familiarity with ArcGIS other or spatial analysis platforms is highly desirable, as well as experience with MATLAB MSExel or other tools capable of handling large time-series datasets.

Learning Outcomes

A key goal is that students leave this course and enter their professions or advanced studies with proper “hydrosense”  enabling them to critically examine hydrologic research, evaluate hydrologic model assumptions, and apply the scientific method to hydrologic studies.

Upon completing this course, students will be able to:

  1. Conduct comparative hydrologic analyses of watersheds
  2. Conduct geomorphologic analyses of watersheds
  3. Understand the principles governing the coevolution of watershed geomorphology and hydrologic response
  4. Understand basic ecohydrologic principles

Course Structure

This course requires active participation by all students. The instructor will use lectures to introduce each new topic. Subsequent class periods will be composed of student-led discussions and project work.  To get the full experience students must attend all class periods, complete all reading assignments, and stay caught up on class projects. We will use publicly available data from several research watersheds throughout the US for most projects.

Required Reading

There is no required textbook for this course, although I expect each student to own a basic hydrology text from a previous course. I recommend the following:

  • Physical Hydrology . S. Lawrence Dingman
    Prentice Hall, 2nd edition, 2002.
  • Elements of Physical Hydrology.  Hornberger, Raffensperger, Wiberg, and Eshleman, John Hopkins
    Press, 1998.
  • Hydrologic Analysis and Design. Richard McCuen
    2nd edition, Prentice Hall, 1998.

Evaluation Methods

Grades will be based on the following:

  • Projects                 70%
  • Midterm Exam       10%
  • Final Exam            10%
  • Participation           10%


I will use your official university email address if I need to communicate with you electronically. If you do not use your university email, please use an automatic forward to the email that you do use.

Student Conduct

Students are expected to attend class, be prepared, and participate in discussions and in-class exercises. Students are also expected to conduct themselves in a professional manner in accordance with the Boise State University student code of conduct. According to Boise State University policy, “You are responsible for attending courses for which you are enrolled. You are also responsible for making up any work you may have missed by failing to attend class, even if the absence was approved by the university, necessitated by illness, or necessitated by a personal emergency. In this sense, then, there are no “excused” absences.” Please note that absences reduce your potential for class participation, and therefore, may reduce that portion of your grade.

Academic Honesty

Cheating or plagiarism in any form is unacceptable. The University functions to promote the cognitive and psychosocial development of all students. Therefore, all work submitted by a student must represent her/his own ideas, concepts, and current understanding. Beware the internet; if you can find it, so can your professor. Academic dishonesty also includes submitting substantial portions of the same academic course work to more than one course for credit without prior permission of the instructor(s).

For further information regarding definitions and procedures for this and other sections please review the Code of Conduct. Any student caught cheating/plagiarizing will receive a failing grade (F) for the course and an Academic Dishonesty Report Form will be submitted to the Student Conduct Officer.