If you need to get a state or local permit for an upcoming project, regulatory agencies will likely need to know how groundwater is flowing throughout the area before they’ll approve a design. 

Groundwater flow is not as mysterious as some people make it out to be. In fact, it’s fairly well understood. However, getting an accurate prediction depends on numerous variables and complex equations. And it’s important that it’s done correctly — the ultimate success of your project depends on it. 

But first, let’s go over the basics…

What Is Groundwater Modeling?


Groundwater modeling is an important tool that’s used in hydrogeology — the study of groundwater. Modern groundwater modeling methods use software to simulate the behavior of water as it flows through an aquifer, including where it’s going, its rate, and its volume.  

Groundwater modeling is just one piece of the puzzle that helps inform broader conceptual site modeling (CSM) — a representation of the chemical, physical, and biological processes in a specific site and how a change to that site will impact them. 

What Questions Can Hydrogeology Modeling Tools Answer? 

Groundwater modeling can help you answer important questions like these: 

Wastewater Disposal

  • How high will the groundwater mound under the disposal area?
  • How long will it take for the effluent to reach a drinking water well?
  • What will the concentration of nitrogen in the groundwater be when it reaches the property line?

Well Water Pumping 

  • Is that factory within the area of land that contributes water to the well?
  • Will the withdrawal affect a nearby surface water body?

Groundwater Contamination 

  • Will the contamination plume reach a drinking water well?
  • How long will it take for that chemical to reach a certain concentration at a given point?

Common Uses of Groundwater Flow Models 

In addition to proving your project will meet environmental permitting requirements or providing insights that may necessitate changes to design, groundwater flow models are commonly used in the following ways: 

  1. To evaluate site impact, a baseline simulation is conducted, which establishes existing groundwater flow conditions.
  2. A proposed simulation is conducted to predict the groundwater flow after the proposed project is constructed.

Differences between the results of the first and second models — such as groundwater elevation, surface water elevation, or streamflow volume — quantify the potential impact of the proposed project. With this data, measures can be taken to lessen the impact, whether that requires reconfiguration of specific project details or of the overall redesign. 


For contamination projects, a different model that predicts chemical interactions can use the results of the previous groundwater model to calculate the concentration distribution of dissolved chemicals.

How Engineering Firms Use Conceptual Site Modeling to Help Clients Save


Anytime you need a permit that requires answers to any of the questions we listed earlier, you’ll need groundwater modeling. However, even if a permit isn’t required for your project, groundwater modeling can help eliminate guesswork and reduce potential delays — delays that can add significantly to the overall cost.

As a full-service hydrogeologic/engineering company, we don’t do just groundwater models — we do it all. 

For over 35 years, we’ve helped our clients with restoration, new construction, redevelopment of existing assets, and much more. To us, complex problems are merely disguised opportunities to protect our ecosystem, preserve natural resources, and use our unique skills to make the world a better place — one project at a time. 

We recently worked with one municipality in southern New Hampshire to reduce contaminant migration in one of its landfills and, therefore, successfully renegotiate with state and federal environmental regulatory agencies. Click the link below to read the full case study! 

Read Case Study

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