The John Harshbarger Story

John Harshbarger, Key Figure in the Creation and Development of the University of Arizona's Hydrology and Water Resources Program

The University of Arizona's Hydrology and Water Resources Program has been unique among the world's universities and colleges. Created as an integrated and comprehensive program for the study of water, the program has awarded over 1,000 Bachelor of Science, Master of Science, and Doctor of Philosophy degrees specifically in Hydrology and Water Resources. Elsewhere, hydrology has been and continues to be included as a minor fraction of a geoscience, geography, or civil engineering degree program.

How did an entire, focused, comprehensive, and integrated program in hydrology and water resources with multiple dedicated and adjunct professors come to be and not only survive but grow? In November 1993 at the dedication of a building in John Harshbarger's name on the University of Arizona campus, then Department Head Soroosh Sorooshian said that great and enduring institutions often constitute the long shadow of a great person, and, in the case of the Hydrology and Water Resources program, that person was John Harshbarger.

In 2016, the University of Arizona enhanced and expanded upon the strength of two leading water-related departments when faculty from Hydrology and Water Resources merged with faculty from Atmospheric Sciences to create the Department of Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences. As an inspiration for continued excellence in the integrated study of water, the following tribute to John Harshbarger is offered.

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John Harshbarger was born on May 13, 1914 in Lewistown, Pennsylvania. John expressed a desire to study engineering at the university level, which his father opposed. Nevertheless, after graduating from high school, John rode a motorcycle out to southern California where he had relatives and attended a junior college for a time. He then left his studies at the junior college to go to Alaska. John enjoyed tremendously his work on fishing boats and panning for gold in Alaska. After returning to southern California, he met the football coach from what would become the University of Texas at El Paso. The coach took one look at John--often called Big John by colleagues later in his life--and offered him a full scholarship to play football.

John moved to El Paso where he played tackle on the University of Texas football team and met his future wife, Margaret.  He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Mining Engineering in 1942 and immediately commenced his career as the Assistant Mine Development Engineer with the Inspiration Consolidated Copper Company Mine just west of Globe, Arizona. In 1943, John took a job with the Union Mines Development Company in Grand Junction, Colorado. John was also drafted into the Army in 1943 and was assigned to the Corps of Engineers. During World War II, John and others at the Corps and Union Mines worked on the challenge of providing uranium for the Manhattan Project.

John came to the University of Arizona in Tucson in 1946 and entered the Geology Department where he earned Master's (1948) and Doctoral (1949) degrees in Geology. He served as a Shell Oil Fellow from 1947 to 1949 and performed duties as a graduate research and teaching assistant. After earning his Doctoral degree in 1949, John served as an Assistant Professor in the Geology Department until 1950.

John left the Geology Department and joined the USGS Groundwater Branch where he worked from 1950 to 1959. He was named District Geologist of the USGS Groundwater Branch for the State of Arizona in 1955. The University of Arizona awarded John a professional degree in geological engineering in 1957 in recognition of his outstanding professional achievements.

John returned to the University of Arizona in 1959 to become a Professor of Geology and Director of Hydrogeologic Research. John became Department Head of Geology in 1961. John's ties to the USGS remained close, and, in the early 1960s, John arranged for USGS scientists, such as John Ferris and Herb Skibitzke from the USGS Water Resources Division (WRD) to be Visiting Lecturers and Professors in the Geology Department. William Walton, a distinguished groundwater scientist and author of the book, Groundwater Resource Evaluation, a textbook used in one of John's classes, also came to lecture.

John collaborated with the leadership of the USGS WRD in the early 1960s to design a new academic program in hydrology. John also brought in representatives from the United Nations and the National Academy of Sciences to help define course requirements for the new program, which included a unique Hydrology Field Camp course. The Water Resources Research Center, established at the University of Arizona by federal legislation in 1964, was brought into close cooperation with the new program from the start.

The first professors hired for the new program in 1963 were Dan Evans, Gene Simpson, and Sol Resnick. The Hydrology and Water Resources Department was physically established on the UA campus in the Old Psychology Building in 1966 with John Harshbarger as Department Head. Also in 1966, Chester Kisiel was hired full-time and Lucien Duckstein was given a joint appointment. Chester and Lucien brought a novel, systems engineering emphasis to the program. John clearly established the concept of integrating a broad range of interrelated fields to study hydrology, and the UA program, as well as the larger field of hydrology, were strengthened by this broad integration.

While the new department was starting up, John continued to be a major influence in the USGS WRD by writing two landmark USGS publications:  Arizona Water (Water-Supply Paper 1648, 1966) and, as second author, The Regional Hydrogeology of the Navajo and Hopi Indian Reservation, Arizona New Mexico and Utah (Professional Paper 521-A, 1969). He also created annual 4- to 6-week training courses for USGS staff taught in Tucson under the direction of John Ferris which continued until 1970. From July 1966 through 1967, John took a sabbatical leave from his work building the UA Hydrology Department and then resigned as Head.

From 1967, John continued as a part-time Professor in the department while building his consulting firm, Harshbarger & Associates. The first three employees were John Harshbarger, Bill Ganus, and Ken Schmidt. The office was run out of John and Margaret's home for many years. Harshbarger & Associates worked with C.E. Jacobs's firm (another outstanding former USGS leader in groundwater) in Utah on joint projects. John continued to select promising students to work with him at his firm. Examples of earlier employees drawn from the department include David Hargis, Errol Montgomery, Peter Schreuder, Bud Smith, and Daniel Stephens. Many of these early employees went on to found and grow their own successful hydrologic consulting firms.

During the 1970s, John attended faculty meetings, taught courses and seminars, and advised students and faculty. He adopted a scientific approach to hydrology and specifically promoted the development and application of "Hydrology Judgement," which is still a mark of his students, employees, and those that they have gone on to train. Because of his clear, forceful, and economic writing style, he became known as the "Hemingway of Hydrology."

In 1980, John retired formally with the title Professor Emeritus. He continued to visit the department, attend official department functions, and serve on graduate examination committees. During the 1980s, John continued consulting in association with his former student's new firm, Errol L. Montgoemery & Associates.

John and Margaret established the first endowed fellowship in the department in 1983 which has since recognized 29 doctoral students studying hydrogeology. The University of Arizona honored John Harshbarger with its Distinguished Citizen Award in 1982. John passed away on October 10, 1991.

In November 1993, the UA re-dedicated and renamed the Geology Building (#11) the John W. Harshbarger Building. The title is often applied to the physically connected Mines Building (#12). A brass tablet designed, created, and donated by David Hargis, was unveiled in November 2005, and its placement on campus commemorates John's stature on campus. The International Centre for Scientific Culture (ICSC)-World Laboratory in Lausanne, Switzerland established the JW Harshbarger Doctoral Fellowship and supported six students from Africa, South America, and the Middle East during the years 1995-2002.

The depth and breadth of John Harshbarger's experience and contributions to Hydrology and Water Resources are as impressive and unique as the program that he founded and developed. To gain further understanding of John Harshbarger's influence, we recommend the remembrances of his students, provided on the following pages.

Remembrances: John W. Harshbarger