A great blue heron wades through the shallows along the shoreline of a wetland stalking its next meal

The Water Resources Management (WRM) program is an interdisciplinary graduate program leading to a master of science (MS) degree in water resources management. The program addresses the complex, interdisciplinary aspects of managing water resources by helping students integrate the biological and physical sciences (which identify and assess problems) with engineering (which defines technological alternatives) as well as law and the social sciences (which assess needs and potential for institutional response). Through the WRM program, a student gains breadth in relevant planning and management areas while developing depth in an area specialty.

The water resources management degree is designed to prepare students for employment as water resources management professionals. Rather than conduct individual research projects, WRM students participate in a group practicum workshop with a water resources management focus. Students who wish to add individual research credentials to their records frequently arrange to complete a second, simultaneous master's program in one of the university's traditional departments. Those interested primarily in individual research may wish to consider the Nelson Institute's Environment and Resources program as an alternative. The WRM program does not offer a doctoral degree.

Any person who attended an accredited institution and earned an undergraduate degree there in the biological sciences, earth sciences, economics, education, engineering, history, journalism, landscape architecture, law, mathematics, physical science, political science, urban and regional planning, or other relevant field may apply for admission to the WRM program.


Please consult the table below for key information about this degree program’s admissions requirements. The program may have more detailed admissions requirements, which can be found below the table or on the program’s website.

Graduate admissions is a two-step process between academic programs and the Graduate School. Applicants must meet the minimum requirements of the Graduate School as well as the program(s). Once you have researched the graduate program(s) you are interested in, apply online.

Fall Deadline January 15
Spring Deadline October 15
Summer Deadline January 15
GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) Not required.
English Proficiency Test Every applicant whose native language is not English, or whose undergraduate instruction was not exclusively in English, must provide an English proficiency test score earned within two years of the anticipated term of enrollment. Refer to the Graduate School: Minimum Requirements for Admission policy: https://policy.wisc.edu/library/UW-1241.
Other Test(s) (e.g., GMAT, MCAT) n/a
Letters of Recommendation Required 3


Application materials for Water Resources Management must be received by the fall deadline for admission to the following summer session or fall semester and by the spring deadline for admission to the following spring semester.


Graduate School Resources

Resources to help you afford graduate study might include assistantships, fellowships, traineeships, and financial aid. Further funding information is available from the Graduate School. Be sure to check with your program for individual policies and restrictions related to funding.

Program Resources

In most cases, Water Resources Management is unable to guarantee any funding to students. However, many of our students obtain funding through other departments on campus, and we recommend that students contact faculty or departments directly if they have teaching skills in specific areas. Individual faculty members occasionally have their own sources of support for project assistants, though we strongly urge students not to depend on these as guaranteed sources of funding.

Minimum Graduate School Requirements

Review the Graduate School minimum academic progress and degree requirements, in addition to the program requirements listed below.

Major Requirements

Mode of Instruction

Face to Face Evening/Weekend Online Hybrid Accelerated
Yes No No No No

Mode of Instruction Definitions

Accelerated: Accelerated programs are offered at a fast pace that condenses the time to completion. Students typically take enough credits aimed at completing the program in a year or two.

Evening/Weekend: ​Courses meet on the UW–Madison campus only in evenings and/or on weekends to accommodate typical business schedules.  Students have the advantages of face-to-face courses with the flexibility to keep work and other life commitments.

Face-to-Face: Courses typically meet during weekdays on the UW-Madison Campus.

Hybrid: These programs combine face-to-face and online learning formats.  Contact the program for more specific information.

Online: These programs are offered 100% online.  Some programs may require an on-campus orientation or residency experience, but the courses will be facilitated in an online format.

Curricular Requirements

Minimum Credit Requirement 45 credits
Minimum Residence Credit Requirement 16 credits
Minimum Graduate Coursework Requirement 23 credits must be graduate-level coursework. Refer to the Graduate School: Minimum Graduate Coursework (50%) Requirement policy: https://policy.wisc.edu/library/UW-1244.
Overall Graduate GPA Requirement 3.00 GPA required. Refer to the Graduate School: Grade Point Average (GPA) Requirement policy: https://policy.wisc.edu/library/UW-1203.
Other Grade Requirements Grades of BC or C are not typically accepted toward program requirements unless the grade is allowed by the student’s faculty advisory committee and the program chair. Grades of BC and C may not be used in the area specialty category. A maximum of 3 credits graded S may be counted toward program requirements if approved by the student’s faculty advisory committee and the program chair. Courses that are audited or graded pass/fail or credit/no credit will not count toward program requirements.
Assessments and Examinations All students must hold an evaluation and guidance conference with their faculty advisory committee, preferably no later than their third semester in the program.
Language Requirements No language requirements.

Required Courses

Breadth Requirements
Category A: Natural Science Technology (see course list below) 19
Category B: Water Resources Institutions Public Decision-Making Processes (see course list below) 29
Category C: Analytical Design Tools in Water Resources (see course list below) 36
Area of Specialty 415
Interdisciplinary Group Practicum
ENVIR ST/​CIV ENGR/​URB R PL  718 Water Resources Management Practicum Planning Seminar II2
ENVIR ST/​CIV ENGR/​URB R PL  719 Water Resources Management Summer Practicum4
Total Credits45

Students choose any biological sciences and/or physical sciences courses in the 300–999 range. This course list is not meant to be all-inclusive. Students are not restricted to the courses listed here. This is a sample of appropriate courses for this category that are offered through various departments/programs. At least three credits must be from UW-Madison.


Students choose any social sciences and/or arts & humanities courses in the 300–999 range. This course list is not meant to be all-inclusive. Students are not restricted to the courses listed here. This is a sample of appropriate courses for this category that are offered through various departments/programs. At least three credits must be from UW-Madison.


Students choose any measurement/analysis/tools/methods courses in the 300–999 range. This course list is not meant to be all-inclusive. Students are not restricted to the courses listed here. This is a sample of appropriate courses for this category that are offered through various departments/programs. At least three credits must be from UW-Madison.


Students choose courses, in the 300–999 range, in a cohesive area of study pertaining to their intended career path. This is coursework required for completion of the degree. At least nine credits must be from UW-Madison.

Category A: Natural Science & Technology courses

AGROECOL/​AGRONOMY/​ENVIR ST  724 Agroecosystems and Global Change3
AGRONOMY/​ATM OCN/​SOIL SCI  532 Environmental Biophysics3
AGRONOMY/​ENTOM/​F&W ECOL/​M&ENVTOX  632 Ecotoxicology: The Chemical Players1
ATM OCN/​BOTANY/​CIV ENGR/​ENVIR ST/​GEOSCI/​ZOOLOGY  911 Limnology and Marine Science Seminar1
BOTANY 330 Algae3
BOTANY/​ENVIR ST/​F&W ECOL/​ZOOLOGY  651 Conservation Biology3
BOTANY/​F&W ECOL  402 Dendrology: Woody Plant Identification and Ecology3
BOTANY/​GEOG  338 Environmental Biogeography3
BOTANY/​ZOOLOGY  725 Ecosystem Concepts3
BSE 571 Small Watershed Engineering3
BSE/​CIV ENGR/​SOIL SCI  372 On-Site Waste Water Treatment and Dispersal2
BSE/​ENVIR ST  367 Renewable Energy Systems3
CIV ENGR 310 Fluid Mechanics3
CIV ENGR 311 Hydroscience3
CIV ENGR 320 Environmental Engineering3
CIV ENGR 415 Hydrology3
CIV ENGR 500 Water Chemistry3
CIV ENGR 618 Special Topics in Hydraulics and Fluid Mechanics1-3
CIV ENGR 619 Special Topics in Hydrology1-3
CIV ENGR/​ENVIR ST/​URB R PL  717 Water Resources Management Practicum Planning Seminar I1
ENVIR ST 901 Graduate Orientation Seminar1
ENVIR ST/​F&W ECOL/​ZOOLOGY  360 Extinction of Species3
ENVIR ST/​GEOG  339 Environmental Conservation4
ENVIR ST/​GEOSCI  411 Energy Resources3
ENVIR ST/​LAND ARC  361 Wetlands Ecology3
ENVIR ST/​POP HLTH  471 Introduction to Environmental Health3
ENVIR ST/​SOIL SCI  324 Soils and Environmental Quality3
ENVIR ST/​SOIL SCI  575 Assessment of Environmental Impact3
ENVIR ST/​ZOOLOGY  315 Limnology-Conservation of Aquatic Resources2
ENVIR ST/​ZOOLOGY  510 Ecology of Fishes3
ENVIR ST/​ZOOLOGY  511 Ecology of Fishes Lab2
GEOG 342 Geography of Wisconsin3
GEOG/​GEOSCI  420 Glacial and Pleistocene Geology3
GEOSCI 875 Advanced Topics in Geology1-3
GEOSCI/​G L E  627 Hydrogeology3-4
LAND ARC 668 Restoration Ecology3
SOIL SCI 301 General Soil Science3
SOIL SCI 321 Soils and Environmental Chemistry3
ZOOLOGY 316 Laboratory for Limnology-Conservation of Aquatic Resources2-3
ZOOLOGY 955 Seminar-Limnology1

Category B: Water Resources Institutions & Public Decision-Making Processes courses

A A E/​ECON/​ENVIR ST  343 Environmental Economics3-4
A A E/​ECON/​ENVIR ST/​URB R PL  671 Energy Economics3
A A E/​ECON/​F&W ECOL  531 Natural Resource Economics3
A A E/​ENVIR ST/​POP HLTH/​PUB AFFR  881 Benefit-Cost Analysis3
ANTHRO 477 Anthropology, Environment, and Development3
C&E SOC 375 Special Topics1-4
C&E SOC/​CURRIC/​ENVIR ST  405 Education for Sustainable Communities3
C&E SOC/​SOC  541 Environmental Stewardship and Social Justice3
C&E SOC/​SOC/​URB R PL  617 Community Development3
CIV ENGR/​ENVIR ST/​URB R PL  717 Water Resources Management Practicum Planning Seminar I1
CSCS 460 Civil Society and Community Leadership3
ECON/​ENVIR ST/​POLI SCI/​URB R PL  449 Government and Natural Resources3-4
ENGL/​ENVIR ST  305 Rhetoric, Science, and Public Engagement3
ENVIR ST 349 Climate Change Governance3
ENVIR ST 402 Special Topics: Social Perspectives in Environmental Studies1-4
ENVIR ST 901 Graduate Orientation Seminar1
ENVIR ST/​F&W ECOL  515 Natural Resources Policy3
ENVIR ST/​GEOG  337 Nature, Power and Society3
ENVIR ST/​GEOG  339 Environmental Conservation4
ENVIR ST/​GEOG  439 US Environmental Policy and Regulation3-4
ENVIR ST/​HISTORY/​LEGAL ST  430 Law and Environment: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives3
ENVIR ST/​JOURN/​LSC  823 Science and Environment Communication3
ENVIR ST/​PHILOS  441 Environmental Ethics3-4
ENVIR ST/​POLI SCI/​PUB AFFR  866 Global Environmental Governance3
ENVIR ST/​SOIL SCI  575 Assessment of Environmental Impact3
ENVIR ST/​URB R PL  843 Land Use Policy and Planning3
ENVIR ST/​URB R PL  865 Water Resources Institutions and Policies3
ENVIR ST/​URB R PL  917 Public Participation for Planning and Policy Making3
GEOG 340 World Regions in Global Context3
GEOG/​HISTORY  932 Seminar in American Environmental History3
I SY E/​M H R  729 Behavioral Analysis of Management Decision Making3
INTER-HE 801 Special Topics in Human Ecology1-3
JOURN 566 Communication and Public Opinion4
LAW 845 Water Rights Law2-3
LAW 848 Introduction to Environmental Law3
LAW/​URB R PL  830 Land Use Controls3
LSC 560 Scientific Writing3
POLI SCI/​PUB AFFR  871 Public Program Evaluation3
POLI SCI/​PUB AFFR/​URB R PL  874 Policy-Making Process3
POLI SCI/​PUB AFFR/​URB R PL  878 Public Management3
PUB AFFR 974 Topics in Public Affairs3
URB R PL 590 Contemporary Topics in Urban and Regional Planning1-3
URB R PL 601 Site Planning3
URB R PL 731 Introduction to Regional Planning3
URB R PL 741 Introduction to Planning3
URB R PL 841 Urban Functions, Spatial Organization and Environmental Form2-3

Category C: Analytical & Design Tools in Water Resources courses

A A E/​ENVIR ST/​POP HLTH/​PUB AFFR  881 Benefit-Cost Analysis3
BSE 571 Small Watershed Engineering3
CIV ENGR 310 Fluid Mechanics3
CIV ENGR 415 Hydrology3
CIV ENGR 416 Water Resources Systems Analysis3
CIV ENGR 515 Hydroclimatology for Water Resources Management3
CIV ENGR/​ENVIR ST/​GEOG  377 An Introduction to Geographic Information Systems4
CIV ENGR 516 Hydrologic Data Analysis3
CIV ENGR/​ENVIR ST/​LAND ARC  556 Remote Sensing Digital Image Processing3
ECON/​PUB AFFR/​URB R PL  734 Regional Economic Problem Analysis3
ENVIR ST/​F&W ECOL/​G L E/​GEOG/​GEOSCI/​LAND ARC  371 Introduction to Environmental Remote Sensing3
ENVIR ST/​GEOG/​LAND ARC/​URB R PL  532 Applications of Geographic Information Systems in Planning3
ENVIR ST/​LAND ARC/​SOIL SCI  695 Applications of Geographic Information Systems in Natural Resources3
ENVIR ST/​SOIL SCI  575 Assessment of Environmental Impact3
F&W ECOL/​HORT/​STAT  571 Statistical Methods for Bioscience I4
F&W ECOL/​HORT/​STAT  572 Statistical Methods for Bioscience II4
GEOG 378 Introduction to Geocomputing4
GEOG 500 Qualitative Strategies in Geography3
GEOG 579 GIS and Spatial Analysis4
GEOG 970 Seminar in Geographic Information Science1-3
GEOSCI/​G L E  627 Hydrogeology3-4
GEOSCI/​G L E  724 Groundwater Flow Modeling3
M H R 728 Bargaining, Negotiating and Dispute Settlement for Managers3
PUB AFFR 818 Introduction to Statistical Methods for Public Policy Analysis3
PUB AFFR 819 Advanced Statistical Methods for Public Policy Analysis3
REAL EST/​URB R PL  720 Urban Economics3
SOC WORK/​URB R PL  721 Methods of Planning Analysis3
STAT 301 Introduction to Statistical Methods3
URB R PL 841 Urban Functions, Spatial Organization and Environmental Form2-3

Graduate School Policies

The Graduate School’s Academic Policies and Procedures provide essential information regarding general university policies. Program authority to set degree policies beyond the minimum required by the Graduate School lies with the degree program faculty. Policies set by the academic degree program can be found below.

Major-Specific Policies

Prior Coursework

Graduate Credits Earned at Other Institutions

With faculty advisory committee and program chair approval, students are allowed to transfer up to 15 credits of graduate coursework from other institutions. Students must have at least three UW-Madison credits in each of the three breadth categories, and at least nine UW-Madison credits in the Area of Specialty category. Coursework completed ten or more years prior to admission to the program is not allowed to satisfy graduate degree or graduate coursework requirements.

Undergraduate Credits Earned at Other Institutions or UW-Madison

No credits from an other institution or UW–Madison undergraduate degree are allowed to count toward the program.

Credits Earned as a Professional Student at UW-Madison (Law, Medicine, Pharmacy, and Veterinary careers)

Refer to the Graduate School: Transfer Credits for Prior Coursework policy.

Credits Earned as a University Special Student at UW–Madison

Refer to the Graduate School: Transfer Credits for Prior Coursework policy.


Refer to the Graduate School: Probation policy.

Advisor / Committee

All students must assemble a three-member faculty advisory committee that represents a minimum of two departments, preferably no later than their second semester in the program. To meet the interdisciplinary requirement the committee must include members tenured in one of the natural sciences divisions (Biological Sciences, Physical Sciences) and one of the social sciences divisions (Social Studies, Arts & Humanities).

Credits Per Term Allowed

15 credits

Time Limits

Refer to the Graduate School: Time Limits policy.

Grievances and Appeals

These resources may be helpful in addressing your concerns:

This document was reviewed by the Graduate Student working group and approved by vote of Nelson Institute Governance with subsequent review by campus HR; please note that this was prior to the revision of GAPP by campus in 2019-20, as well as present and expected changes in 2020 after to Title IX, Office of the Dean of Students, etc.


Any student who feels that they have been treated unfairly by a faculty or staff member has the right to seek redress and to receive a hearing of the grievance following these procedures. It applies only to grievances about those persons who are employees of the Nelson Institute, who teach for the Nelson Institute or otherwise are subject to administrative oversight by the Institute. The complaint may concern course grades, program admission, classroom treatment, hostile or intimidating behavior, or any other issue. Note that these procedures are for students bringing grievances to the Nelson Institute, they do not cover issues relating to the classroom behavior of students which must be referred to the Dean of Students.

The procedures outlined below are used in the Nelson Institute to ensure a prompt and fair hearing of complaints, and to protect the rights of both the student and the person at whom the complaint is directed. These policies describe formal procedures. A student is free to bypass these procedures if they do not wish for an Institute sanctioned resolution. 

A complaint covered here may involve issues that either require or that would benefit from being directed to one of the campus programs or offices addressing complaints and grievances. See https://compliance.wisc.edu/ and https://compliance.wisc.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/102/2018/09/Safe-Learning-and-Work-Guide.Fall_.FY19-Accessible.pdf (Accessed Oct. 2020). Please review the most recent information on Title IX on campus, as guidelines and contacts may change. Graduate students should review information at https://grad.wisc.edu/documents/grievances-and-appeals/ (Accessed Feb. 2019) Undergraduate students may wish to review information available in the undergraduate course catalog. There they will find this option presented: “For assistance in determining options, students can contact the on-call dean in the Dean of Students Office, 608-263-5700, Room 70 Bascom Hall, Monday– Friday, 8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m.”

Also, students should know that academic administrators may be required to report instances of sexual harassment or violence in accordance with university policy and the Clery act. (See: http://uwpd.wisc.edu/crime-data/clery-act/ Accessed Oct. 2018). 

State law contains additional provisions regarding discrimination and harassment. Wisconsin Statutes 36.12 reads, in part: "No student may be denied admission to, participation in or the benefits of, or be discriminated against in any service, program, course or facility of the system or its institutions or center because of the student's race, color, creed, religion, sex, national origin, disability, ancestry, age, sexual orientation, pregnancy, marital status or parental status." In addition, UW–System prohibits discrimination based on gender identity or gender expression. Students have the right to file discrimination and harassment complaints with the Office for Equity and Diversity.

Questions about Nelson Institute procedures can be directed to the Associate Dean for Research and Education.


  1. If possible, the student (complainant) should first talk with the person against whom the grievance is directed to advise them of their complaint and to determine if resolution is possible.
  2. If the student is not satisfied, or if they do not feel comfortable addressing the person to whom the grievance is directed, they should ask to speak to the immediate supervisor of the person involved. If the complaint is directed against a teaching assistant, the student should talk to the TA's supervisor, who is usually the course professor. If the student grievance concerns a faculty or staff member in Nelson, the next formal step is for the student to meet with the Associate Dean for Research and Education. If the complaint is not resolved at this level, the student may continue to the next step (4).
  3. It is recognized that a student may be reluctant to bring their grievance to the person against whom the complaint is directed, or to their supervisor, or to anyone else in the administrative hierarchy. In that case, the student should seek out a person who can guarantee confidentiality to the extent allowed by the law and university policy and provide non-judgmental advice as to appropriate next steps. Note that if criminal activity is involved confidentiality cannot be guaranteed. If a student does not know of any suitable person, they may approach any member of the Nelson Institute Academic Programs staff who will be able either to serve as a confidential discussant or who will be able to direct the student to someone who can assure confidentiality. Their role is to be that of Ombuds, meaning that they are not to take a position with respect to the validity of the grievance. Their role is to advise the student as to appropriate next steps.
  4. To start a formal grievance process, the student must submit the grievance in writing to the Nelson Institute Associate Dean for Research and Education (hereafter Associate Dean) as soon as possible. An email for which receipt is acknowledged will be considered a written submission.
  5. On receipt of the written complaint, the Associate Dean will acquaint themselves with the issues. This may involve face to face meetings or other means of establishing the facts in dispute. The Associate Dean will have the option of proposing a resolution. If the proposed resolution is accepted by parties directly involved, the matter will be considered settled at this level. Relevant documents will be archived by the Office of the Assistant Dean for Administration. At any point in the proceedings after the receipt and acknowledgement of the grievance by the Associate Dean, the complainant or the compliance will have the option of requesting that the matter be referred to an ad hoc committee. This request must be submitted in writing and acknowledged by the Associate Dean.
  6. If the matter cannot be settled through the mediation of the Associate Dean, or if the Associate Dean has concluded that the case merits further attention, or if the complainant has requested that the matter be referred to an ad hoc committee an ad hoc committee will be appointed by the Dean of the Nelson Institute or their designee. The committee will consist of at least three members. Within 10 working days, the student will be allowed to revise the complaint or to add material to the complaint document to be provided to the committee. The complainant may request a change in committee membership, but the final decision on the committee will remain with the Dean. The committee may request a written response from the person toward whom the complaint is directed. This response shall be shared with the person filing the grievance. The ad hoc committee will meet to discuss the case. They are authorized to seek additional information if they feel it is necessary. They will convey their written decision regarding the case including any recommendations for remediation or mediation to the Associate Dean within 30 working days from the charge to the committee. The Associate Dean will provide a copy of the committee’s written decision to the student regarding the case within 10 working days of receiving the committee’s report; the Associate Dean will also confirm that the past record on file of any grievances regarding the parties involved has been investigated; and, the Associate Dean will provide the student a statement outlining the formal plan of steps that will be taken officially on the part of the Nelson Institute.
  7. The complainant then has the option of taking their grievance to the university level. There are several options available. Consult websites referenced above.  
  8. The written documents relevant to the grievance will be archived in hard copy and electronic form as appropriate in a “Grievance Record” by the office of the Assistant Dean of Administration and will be maintained for a minimum of five years.
  9. The cumulative record involving any of the parties to a grievance will be reviewed each time a formal grievance is presented as in Step 4, above, in order to determine whether the pattern of grievance, such as past filings, indicates any actions are warranted.



Professional Development

Graduate School Resources

Take advantage of the Graduate School's professional development resources to build skills, thrive academically, and launch your career. 

Learning Outcomes

  1. Expand their knowledge of the physical, chemical, biological, and social sciences and learn how to apply this knowledge to the management of water resources.
  2. Understand water resource decision-making at governance levels from local to national.
  3. Use a wide range of analytical tools to sustainably manage water resources.
  4. Participate in as well as lead interdisciplinary teams.
  5. Orally and in writing communicate to stakeholders the findings and recommendations of interdisciplinary projects.
  6. Have an understanding of professional and ethical responsibility.


Faculty Executive Program Committee

Anita Thompson (Program Chair), Francisco Arriaga, Paul Block, Michael Cardiff, Caroline Druschke, Kenneth Genskow, Matthew Ginder-Vogel, Steven Loheide, Daniel Wright, Steph Tai (Ex Officio)