The course

Full-time, Part-time, Distance learning
Course type
Edinburgh, Online
Entry date


Postgraduate Taught Funded places available

This programme has been selected to support the skills demand in Scotland's key economic growth areas. A number of full fee bursaries are available to applicants permanently resident in Scotland. Download an application form and submit to


Recent floods and droughts across the world highlight the need for our natural water resources to be better managed. In addition, the provision of secure clean water supplies and the treatment and disposal of wastewater and other contaminants require innovative and sustainable solutions to ensure that their environmental and socio-economic impacts are minimised.

The Water and Environmental Management programme provides a multi-disciplinary understanding of these water resources and environmental issues through the development of knowledge and skills necessary for the planning and management of these resources to meet the needs of society and the environment within the context of climate change.

The programme is delivered by experts in the field of water and environmental management, covering a wide range of relevant disciplines including: environmental hydrology; computer simulation of river flows; water supply and drainage for buildings; environmental geotechnics; environmental and energy economics; urban drainage and water supply; water and wastewater treatment; marine wastewater disposal; environmental statistics; innovative technologies and global water challenges; flood inundation modelling; integrated water resources management, irrigation water management.

Our students

The programme is designed for graduates in civil engineering, earth sciences or other related disciplines that are typically looking to broaden their knowledge base, extend their technical expertise or gain further learning to meet the needs of the professional institutions.

Applicants from other backgrounds planning to develop a career in water resources may also be considered.

Career opportunities

Training is provided in water resources engineering, environmental engineering, flood risk management, integrated water resources management, environmental implications of water engineering schemes, and industrial software packages. On completion, graduates will be able to offer employers a broad range of skills and advanced knowledge in a number of important areas of water engineering. Primary employment destinations include:

  • Leading UK and international consultants (e.g. Jacobs, HR Wallingford, JBA, Halcrow, Hyder Consulting and Fairhursts)
  • Local and National Government (in the UK and elsewhere)
  • Environmental regulators (e.g. SEPA & EA)
  • Academic institutions (including PhD study and research associate posts)
  • Non-Governmental Organisations

Professional recognition

This MSc degree is accredited as meeting the requirements for Further Learning for a Chartered Engineer (CEng) for candidates who have already acquired an Accredited CEng (Partial) BEng(Hons) or an Accredited IEng (Full) BEng/BSc (Hons) undergraduate first degree. See for further information.

Flexible study options

This programme can be studied full-time, part-time or online via Independent Distance Learning (IDL) which is ideal for those in employment or with other commitments and provides flexible study options that fit around work or family.

Programme duration

Mode of study Duration



Independent Distance Learning (IDL)

1 year

2 years

2-7 years*

*An IDL programme - whether at PgDip or MSc level - can be completed in a minimum of 2 years. On average, our PgDip programmes studied via IDL are completed in 2-3 years, while MSc programmes are completed in 2.5-7 years. Most students intend to complete their studies via IDL within 2-3 years.

Industry links

Heriot-Watt's Water Academy has strong links with practitioners in industry, local authorities and government. As part of our commitment to preparing our students to contribute to solving ‘real world’ issues, high achieving students on our Water and Environmental Management MSc programme have an opportunity to undertake their dissertation research for an external organisation such as The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), the Scottish Government, or for a private consultancy such as Royal HaskoningDHV or Grontmij.

Industry Advisory Committee

The Water and Environmental Management programme is supported by the Civil Engineering Industry Advisory Committee, which includes representatives from major multi-national employers AECOM, ARUP, Balfour Beatty, Halcrow, Jacobsand WSP Group. This committee convenes regularly and advises on the programme content and structure, ensuring quality, up-to-date content and relevance to industry needs.

Course content

   Detailed course guide

This programme, led by Dr Alan Cuthbertson, consists of eight courses. MSc students also complete two research projects.

On-campus (full-time/part-time) students study eight courses from a range of optional courses. Independent Distance Learning (IDL) students study four mandatory courses in Semester 1 and four optional courses in Semester 2.

Programme structure for on-campus students:

Semester 1 Semester 2

Students choose 4 courses from the following optional courses:

  • Environmental Hydrology and Water Resources
  • Computational Simulation of River Flows
  • Water Supply and Drainage for Buildings
  • Environmental Geotechnics
  • Environmental and Energy Economics
  • Innovative Technologies and Global Water Challenges

Students choose 4 courses from the following optional courses:

  • Urban Drainage and Water Supply
  • Water and Wastewater Treatment
  • Marine Waste Water Discharges
  • Statistical Modelling of the Environment
  • Irrigation Water Management
  • Environmental Planning
  • Flood Inundation Modelling

Programme structure for IDL students:

Semester 1 Semester 2

Students study the following 4 mandatory courses:

  • Environmental Hydrology and Water Resources
  • Computational Simulation of River Flows
  • Water Supply and Drainage for Buildings
  • Environmental Geotechnics
  • Innovative Technologies and Global Water Challengess

Students choose 4 courses from the following optional courses:

  • Urban Drainage and Water Supply
  • Water and Wastewater Treatment
  • Marine Waste Water Discharges
  • Statistical Modelling of the Environment
  • Irrigation Water Management

Course descriptions

Please find below the course descriptions. For more information on courses, please contact the Programme Leader.

Environmental Hydrology and Water Resources

Semester 1 (optional)

The aim of this course is to provide the students with a thorough understanding of the hydrological basis of water resources assessment, planning and management. In this regard, the course is designed to provide the learners with a board introduction to hydrological modelling, as well as a detailed appreciation of the following topics:

Methods of meteorological data collection & analysis techniques; surface water resources; collection and analysis of low stream-flow data; reservoir planning & design; uncertainty analysis in water resources planning; groundwater occurrence, evaluation & management.

Computer Simulation of River Flows

Semester 1 (optional)

This course will help students to develop an understanding of the theory under pinning and application of one-dimensional computer models for river flow prediction, as well as an understanding of the concept of sustainability applied to the design of flood protection schemes. Topics covered in the syllabus include:

Introduction to river modelling; GIS in river modelling; Governing St Venant equations; Data requirements; Model calibration; Hydraulic structures; Conveyance estimation system; Explicit finite difference schemes; Implicit finite difference schemes; Mathematical properties of finite difference schemes.

Water Supply and Drainage for Buildings

Semester 1 (optional)

This course aims to enable students to understand the drivers for water conservation and how conservation measures are best implemented at the small-scale end of the spectrum (i.e. at the property or development scale). The course will focus on both the technologies available for water conservation, as well as on the implications of implementation. Students will be encouraged to develop skills in tailoring water conservation solutions designed not only to comply with legislation but that also provide best benefit within the context of their use.

Drivers for water conservation; relevant legislation; implications of climate change; in-building consumption and implications for systems; attenuation principles; rainwater harvesting; greywater recycling; green/living roofs; storage, control and distribution of reclaimed water; treatment of reclaimed water.

Environmental Geotechnics

Semester 1 (optional)

This course aims to give students an appreciation of the role of contaminated land within geotechnical engineering, developing understanding of current UK legislation and government policy relating to methodologies for dealing with contaminated land. In this regard, the course enables learners to understand the practical relevance of the remediation technologies within the context of site contamination and to gain knowledge of the engineering measures adopted at landfill sites for the safe disposal of waste. Subjects and topics covered include:

Historical pollution sources and extent; qualitative and quantitative risk assessment; site investigation; remediation methods; legislative background; characteristics of landfill sites and wastes.

Environmental Energy and Economics

Semester 1 (optional)

This course looks at how particular analytical techniques can be applied to understanding energy markets and environmental issues - carbon emissions and climate change in particular. It also look at how to use the results from this analysis are used to understand, critique, and formulate policy relating to environment issues, carbon emissions and energy markets.

Innovative Technologies and Global Water Challenges

Semester 1 (optional)

This course aims to provide students with a thorough understanding of the global water issues and challenges, developing knowledge and understanding of currently available sustainable, innovative technologies and solutions to confront these challenges. Through examples of the Instructor’s project implementations across 4 continents, the students will develop understanding of barriers to technologies implementation and roadmap for their validation, market deployment and adoption.

Global water issues (e.g. water availability, water pollution, geopolitics, effects of climate change); water/energy Nexus (water use for energy production; risks, challenges and opportunities in the water/energy relationship); innovative technologies for water pollution mitigation; water governance; barriers to innovation; and solutions for overcoming these barriers.

Urban Drainage and Water Supply

Semester 2 (optional)

This course introduces the learner to the broad theme of Urban Drainage and Water Supply, with the aim of providing understanding of the following topics: runoff estimation, rainfall estimation, system layout/design, pump system design, sediment transport, Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems, the role of computer simulations, service reservoirs, water distribution practice and groundwater supply. The course includes instruction on the use of Infoworks CS. Subjects covered in the course syllabus include:

Performance requirements (e.g. technical, public safety, whole-life operational, amenity and sustainability); combined and separate sewerage systems; rainwater quantification/climate change; overview of sewer sediments; storm Sewer Design; hydrodynamic flow models; SuDS; service reservoirs; water distribution practice; groundwater supply; leakage.

Water and Wastewater Treatment

Semester 2 (optional)

The aim of this course is to enable learners to understand the processes and technologies for water treatment including conventional and advanced wastewater treatment and the sizing of various treatment units. The course also provides awareness for the learner of the importance of effective wastewater treatment for river pollution control. Specific topics covered in the course syllabus include:

Introduction to water & wastewater characteristics; fresh water treatment (e.g. coagulation and sedimentation, filtration, disinfection); desalination technologies for sea water treatment; wastewater treatment (e.g. preliminary treatment design, primary tank design/secondary treatment, advanced wastewater treatment); land-based, low-energy and sustainable wastewater treatment systems; sludge handling, treatment & disposal; effluent disposal (including re-use).

Marine Wastewater Discharges

Semester 2 (optional)

This course will provide students with a good understanding of the underlying physical processes controlling wastewater disposal in the marine environment and an awareness of commercial software available (e.g. CORMIX) for modelling wastewater discharges. It will also demonstrate the role of marine outfalls as part of a wastewater management strategy and provide students with an awareness of the relevant legislation controlling wastewater disposal. Topics in the syllabus include:

Introduction to turbulent buoyant jets and plumes (e.g. jet trajectories and dilution equations); Multi-port diffuser discharges in the marine environment (e.g. near-source merging of multiple 3D jets, dilution characteristics); Integral methods for buoyant jet modelling; Commercial software available for wastewater discharge modelling); Specific characteristics associated with hypersaline and particulate-laden discharges; The hydraulics of sea outfall design and performance (e.g. hydraulic requirements, outfall pipe sizing and diffuser arrangement, prevention of sea water intrusion, purging flows); The role of marine outfalls in wastewater management strategies; Legislative and social issues associated with marine wastewater discharges.

Statistical Modelling of the Environment

Semester 2 (Optional)

The aim of this course is to learn and apply a range of Statistical Modelling and Time series analysis techniques for analyses and modelling of environmental related topics. This course has been designed to exploit R (software environment for statistical computing and graphic) for effective learning and application of theoretical methods and techniques. The emphasis is on incorporating elements of critical thinking and reasoning for solving real world problems in the area of environmental science.

Exploratory data analysis, data collection and experimental design, descriptive statistics, statistical dispersion, random variable, probability, expectation, probability distribution (discrete) and density (continuous), joint and multivariate distribution and density, statistical model, explanatory and response variable, correlation, linear and multiple regression model, logistic regression, binomial regression and Poisson regression, time-series analysis and forecasting, moving average and smoothing, stationary, seasonality, Box-Jenkins model.

Irrigation Water Management

Semester 2 (optional)

This course is designed to equip the students with the background knowledge and techniques required for managing soil and irrigation water in their own nations for crop production. After successfully completion of the course, students will be able to describe basic irrigation systems, assess plant water requirements in terms of water quality and quantity, and implement basic hydraulics principles for irrigation systems. The course will also focus on the evaluation of irrigation systems in terms of efficiency, economy, energy-use and environmental impact, defining the advantages and disadvantages of major irrigation systems and recognising the importance of efficient irrigation drainage as well as water supply.

The importance of irrigation and drainage for agriculture worldwide; water supply potential for the development of irrigation systems; climatic factors including rainfall, evaporation, evapotranspiration in irrigation development; irrigation and hydrology relationship; plant water use and crop water requirements, soils and water, soil moisture retention and movement, soil moisture measurement; irrigation scheduling; types of irrigation systems, deciding the most suitable irrigation system; irrigation drainage; re-use systems, management of irrigation systems.

Environmental Planning

Semester 2 (optional, on-campus only)

The course aims to provide students with an understanding of environmental management within planning systems both in the UK and internationally, within a context of climate change and improving the environmental and social sustainability of cities. The specific learning outcomes are to understand (i) different theoretical approaches to understanding the challenges of environmental sustainability, including theories of sustainable development, welfare economics and theories of governance; (ii) contemporary challenges to delivering and improving environmental sustainability in terms of water management, conservation and natural heritage, urban green and open space, pollution control and contaminated land; and (iii) the management and governance of these challenges across the globe and important contextual differences between developed, rapidly developing and developed nations. Students will also gain professional skills in presenting complex technical information to a lay audience.

Theories of sustainable development, governance and management; relationship between urban development and green space; design and management of urban green space for people and nature; inter-relationship between biodiversity and human well-being; organisational and financing models; management of ecosystems and rural space; urban water management and integrated water resource management; sustainable urban drainage systems; pollution and risk management in the urban context.

Flood Inundation Modelling

Semester 2 (optional, on-campus only)

The course aims to develop an understanding of the various techniques available to simulate flood inundation in two-dimensional space. Students will create an appreciation of the role of the various types of two-dimensional flood models in different areas of decision-making, for example, uncertainty analysis, catchment flood management, dam break simulations, flood mapping, and the design of flood defences. The course will also provide understanding of the role of two-dimensional models in underpinning simulation of other processes such as sediment transport and water quality.

Two-dimensional shallow wave equations and numerical solution methods; the representation of turbulence and parameter estimation; the importance of grid generation and its impact on accuracy and model run time; simplifications of the shallow wave equations; application of two-dimensional flood inundation models in practice; sediment transport simulation; water quality simulation; limitations of two-dimensional flood inundation models.

Research projects

MSc students complete two research projects. The research projects aim to enable learners to develop a capacity to research and report in depth on a subject of relevance to the student's academic or professional career.


In the MSc marks are gathered from a combination of examination and project work – overall 66% examination and 33% project work. Students are supported and guided by coursework to prepare them for taught course examination assessments.