Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Name


Other Degree Name/Area of Focus


Department or School/College

Department of Geosciences

Committee Chair

William W. Woessner

Commitee Members

Marc S. Hendrix, Jim Sears, Vicki Watson, Marv R. Miller


GIS, Groundwater/surface water exchange, Hydrogeology, Land use planning, water resources, Watershed management


University of Montana


This dissertation contains three papers describing an approach to classifying aquifers and groundwater systems. The three papers bring together the development of a basin scale groundwater classification system that integrates the literature, data gathering, and data analysis and testing. The classification system is a comprehensive method designed to improve interdisciplinary communication and standardize how groundwater systems are compared in watersheds across in the west and potentially beyond.

Aquifers and groundwater systems can be classified using a variety of independent methods to characterize geologic and hydraulic properties, the degree of connection with surface water, and geochemical conditions. In light of a growing global demand for water associated with population growth, land development, and the expected effects of climate change, a standardized approach for classifying groundwater systems at the watershed scale is needed. To this end, a comprehensive classification system is developed that combines recognized methods and new approaches into one system. The purpose of this approach is to provide groundwater professionals, policy makers, and watershed managers with a widely applicable classification system that reduces sometimes cumbersome complex groundwater databases and analyses to straightforward graphical representations. The proposed classification system uses basin geology, aquifer productivity, threats and impacts posed by humans, water quality, and the degree of groundwater/surface water exchange as classification criteria. The approach is based on literature values, reference databases, and basic hydrologic and hydrogeologic principles. The proposed classification system treats data set completeness as a variable and includes a tiered assessment protocol that depends on the quality and quantity of data. In addition, it assembles and catalogs groundwater information using a consistent set of nomenclature. It is designed to analyze and display results using Geographical Information System (GIS) mapping tools, while standardizing descriptions of groundwater conditions and to support resource managers as they make land use decisions at the watershed scale.

Together, the three papers describe a method for comparing and contrasting aquifer properties and systems needed by watershed managers. It is argued that the proposed methodology is needed to assist managers and planner in understanding the role of aquifers in watersheds as well as for the broad multi-basin comparison of aquifer data . The classification method does not replace current standard practices traditionally used to assess or characterize aquifers and groundwater systems. However, it does provide a standard methodology by which existing and new hydrogeologic data can be organized, easily communicated, and broadly compared on a watershed scale of 1:100,000 to 1:250,000. It is believed this classification system will promote an improved technical understanding between groundwater professionals and natural resource managers. Three appendices are included in this dissertation. The appendices provide supporting information for the three papers and results for four case studies.

AppendixAElectronicDatabase_paper_1.xls (1266 kB)
Appendix A: Electronic Database



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