Principles of Hydrological Modelling

Registration for the 2024 course is now open!

Important information:

  • Date: May 13 to 17, 2024
  • Location: University of Waterloo
  • The course will be given in English

Course Description

The CSHS Principles of Hydrologic Modelling course, offered annually since 2017, addresses the development of computational models of watershed hydrology in support of water resources management and scientific investigation. Participants learn from Canadian experts about a range of topics, including:

  • The full model development and application cycle (pre-processing, understanding, and generating input forcing data)
  • System discretization and algorithms for simulating hydrologic processes
  • Parameter estimation
  • Interpreting model output in the context of often significant system uncertainty.

The in-person course involves lectures and hands-on exercises. The course will include practical applications of models to alpine, boreal forest, prairie, and agricultural settings in Canada.

Objectives of the course

Upon completion of this course, participants will be able to:

  • 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

Participants will be exposed to a number of useful hydrological modelling software tools, including ROstrichRaven, and GRASS GIS. Hydrologic modelling practitioners will present both complex and simple modelling case studies demonstrating the challenges confronted in real-world modelling applications.


This course is intended for early career water resources professionals with some background in hydrology, undergraduate-level math/physics, and a competency with computer software.  The course can be taken by graduate students for credit (see website for details) or by practitioners.

All participants will receive a certificate from the CSHS to recognize their participation in this course.


This course is open to everyone. Space is limited and will be treated on a first come, first served basis.


  • Students (for credit): $0 (local tuition costs and registration to be confirmed by course faculty)
  • Students (non-credit and CWRA Member) : $600
  • Students (non-credit): $625
  • Professional (CWRA Member): $1200
  • Professional : $1330

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.

Registration includes a 1-year CSHS & CWRA membership (if not already members).

Course Content

  • 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 – climate change assessment
  • Module 6: Model Calibration and Assessment
    • data and model uncertainty – model quality metrics – calibration targets – importance of validation – calibration algorithms – model evaluation – multioobjective optimization

(note: details tentative; modules do not have equal weight)


Schedule and Venue

The course will be held from 9 am to 5 pm EST, daily from Monday, May 13 to Friday, May 17.

The class is located in the Ron Eydt village building on the University of Waterloo Campus. Parking accommodations are available for $25/week (pay in lot S, park in lot S or V) or for free with UW housing.


Dormitory-style lodging on campus is available.  See university course website for details.

Nearby hotel accommodations within easy driving range include the Inn at Waterloo, Delta Waterloo, and Four Points Waterloo.


Lunch, Coffee, and a light breakfast will be provided throughout the week. Full breakfast is available from the nearby residence cafeteria, and we will try to pick a new local restaurant to meet up at every night.

What to bring

Bring regular personal items as for a workshop, as well as your own computer.