CIVE 781: Principles of Hydrologic Modelling
UW Graduate Course (0.5 credit) and Professional Short Course
May 7-Jun 11 [Fridays Only], 2021, offered exclusively online
Waterloo, ON
Sponsored by the Canadian Society for Hydrological Sciences and the Canadian Water Resources Association
Sponsorship and Support


Course Description

This course addresses the development of computational models of watershed hydrology in support of water resources management and scientific investigation. The full model development and application cycle is considered: pre-processing, understanding, and generating input forcing data; system discretization and algorithms for simulating hydrologic processes; parameter estimation; and interpreting model output in the context of often significant system uncertainty. The course will include practical applications of models to alpine, boreal forest, prairie, and agricultural settings in Canada.

Course Objectives

By the conclusion of this course, students will:

  • Understand the internal functioning of lumped and semi-distributed models of surface water hydrology, (principles of mass and energy balance, means of representing storage-flux relationships, algorithmic descriptions of critical hydrologic processes)
  • Choose modelling approaches appropriate to the region being investigated, for supporting specific model goals, including water resource management decisions or scientific hypotheses
  • Be able to intelligently apply concepts from the course to inform, build, and interpret hydrological models of watersheds.
  • Be able to apply a number of standard and advanced software tools to manipulate and analyze hydrologic data, calibrate and evaluate models, and assess model uncertainty
  • Have a greater appreciation of the difficulties inherent in prediction of hydrologic phenomena and the challenges specific to Canadian landscapes, their hydrological processes, and the availabiilty of data to describe them
Students will be exposed to a number of useful hydrological modelling software tools, including R, Ostrich, Raven, and GRASS GIS. Hydrologic modelling practitioners will present both complex and simple modelling case studies demonstrating the challenges confronted in real-world modelling applications.

Course Prerequisites

This course is intended for hydrology, engineering, and water resources graduate students and early-to-midlevel career water resource engineers and hydrologists who are looking to improve their capacity to apply models and critically evaluate model output. The course is very quantitative in nature and requires a background in hydrology, high competency with computer software, and a basic foundation in mathematics and physics at the undergraduate level.


  • Module 1: Hydrologic Modelling Overview
    - the hydrological cycle as a mass balance problem - component models - integrated/differential models – conceptual vs. physically-based models - the modelling process - basic model numerics - the challenge of predictive modelling - upscaling - survey of commonly used Canadian models
  • Module 2: Inputs & Data Preprocessing – Temporal
    - common forcing data - rain/snow partitioning - ET estimation - radiation/potential melt estimation - spatial Interpolation - dealing with missing data - generating future scenarios - time series basics - timestamp woes - Canadian forcing data – data issues - downscaling
  • Module 3: Inputs & Data Preprocessing - Spatial
    - terrain and drainage analysis – subbasin & HRU delineation - contributing areas - system discretization - Canadian data resources overview - land use and soil data - - spatial data issues – value of information - parameterization
  • Module 4: Model Operation & Application – Single Basin
    - energy balances - snowmelt models - soil infiltration and redistribution models - Canadian hydrologic landscapes - hypothesis testing - case studies from industry
  • Module 5: Model Operation & Application - Distributed Modelling
    - routing methods - overland flow and travel times - reservoirs, lakes, and managed systems - challenges in cold regions – flood prediction - hydropower application - case studies from industry
  • Module 6: Model Interpretation
    - model skepticism - data support & model justification - hypothesis testing with models - uncertainty analysis
  • Module 7: Model Calibration and Evaluation
    - data and model uncertainty - model quality metrics - calibration targets - importance of validation - calibration algorithms - model evaluation - multioobjective optimization
  • Module 8: Hydrologic Forecasting
    - forecasting strategies - forecast uncertainty - ensemble modelling- forecast evaluation
(note: details tentative; modules do not have equal weight)


If taken as a for-credit graduate course, participants will be evaluated via three assignments (50%) and a final modelling project (50%).


Graduate students from the University of Waterloo or other Ontario universities must only pay regular tuition costs to their home institution and formally register in the course. Graduate students from other Canadian Institutions (outside of Ontario) will have to pay tuition fees directly to the University of Waterloo. Graduate students may not take the course for audit.

Professionals may take the course without having to register with UW but have to pay registration fees instead.

Option 1: Register as Graduate Student

Graduate students at UW or another University must first register online through the CSHS registration here. Please be sure to indicate your student status.

Graduate students at a Canadian Univeristy other than University of Waterloo must then contact their department's graduate studies coordinator to arrange tuition and course credit transfer. If at an Ontario University, they will need to fill out the Ontario Visiting Graduate Students (OVGS) form found here. Otherwise, they would fill out the Canadian Universities Graduate Transfer Agreement (CUGTA) form. These forms would then have to be processed through their University's Graduate Studies Office, usually after initiation with the department's graduate studies office. Note that students will not have to formally apply to the University of Waterloo to register, however non-Ontario students will have to pay Waterloo tuition at the part-time research student rate (see here).

University of Waterloo students may register as with any other graduate course.

Status Cost
Waterloo Graduate Student [local tuition costs]
Ontario Graduate Student [local tuition costs]
Graduate Student outside Ontario (Canadians and Permanent Residents) $1351 (+fees)

Option 2: Register as Professional or Non-credit Student

Non-students or those who don't wish to take the course for graduate credit only have to register online through the CSHS registration here and indicate their status as a professional (CSHS member or non-CSHS member). Since only CSHS members are eligible to take the course, the registration site will charge the additional membership fee to current non-members. Professional registrants must pay the following registration fees:

Status Cost
CSHS Member $1200
CSHS Non-Member (eligible for young professional status) $1265
CSHS Non-Member $1330
CSHS Member Full-time Student non-credit $600
CSHS Non-Member Full-time Student non-credit (eligible for student status) $625


Registrants who cancel will only be refunded 90% of the registration fees, and only if notification of cancellation is recieved in writing prior to April 15, 2021.

  • April 15 - 90% cancellation deadline
  • April 24 - University registration deadline (for course credit only)
  • May 1 - Final registration deadline

Online Offering

The course will be held on Fridays only from 9:00AM-5:00PM on the GoTo webmeeting platform with breakout groups in Zoom.


For further information, please contact James Craig with questions about content and registration as a graduate student, and Stephanie Streich for queries about professional registration.