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UC Berkeley Press Release

Renowned hydrologist David K. Todd dies at age 82

– David Keith Todd, a University of California, Berkeley, professor emeritus of civil and environmental engineering and a leader among modern groundwater engineers, died of acute leukemia at Alta Bates Medical Center on April 23. He was 82.

David Todd
David Keith Todd

A pioneer in the field of groundwater engineering, Todd and his students carried out, during the late 1950s, some of the earliest work on seawater intrusion into aquifers and chemical contamination of groundwater.

"David Todd was an outstanding civil engineer who specialized in the extraction of groundwater for beneficial purposes, and its wise and efficient management.," said T.N. Narasimhan, professor of materials science and engineering and of environmental science, policy and management at UC Berkeley. "He was highly respected in the groundwater profession for his thoughtfulness. As a person, he was cultured, soft-spoken, and very constructive."

The author of more than 120 technical papers and seven books on hydrology, Todd had a remarkable ability to translate technical information into language that could be understood by people outside the field, Narasimhan said.

"His real forte was that he was exceptionally meticulous in detail, and whatever he wrote was written with great care and clarity," said Narasimhan, who was a student of Todd's in the 1970s.

Todd's most widely read book, "Groundwater Hydrology," was published in 1959. Revised in 1980 and 2005 and translated into numerous foreign languages including Turkish, Persian and Malaysian, this textbook served as the standard in its field for over two decades. Breaking the mold of many texts published at the time, it was not only readable and understandable, but went well beyond the practice of presenting only the scientific fundamentals of the field to address real-world issues of groundwater hydrology and management, said Iris Priestaf, a former student of Todd's and president of Todd Engineers Inc., in Emeryville, Calif.

Two other books of Todd's that are regarded as major reference works are "The Water Encyclopedia," published in 1970 and "Groundwater Resources of the United States," published in 1983.

"These two books are very well-compiled reference works for anybody who wants to study water," said Narasimhan. "Here again, he combined his clarity of expression with his profession. He was not only an exceptionally good engineer, but he was also a great teacher."

As a professor, Todd combined work on practical engineering problems with an emphasis on academics and research. He was particularly proud of the achievements of his students. In 2002, in a brief autobiography he wrote for the journal Ground Water, Todd stated, "It is a matter of no small pride for me that men such as Jacob Bear, John Cherry, Allan Freeze, T.N. Narasimhan and Shlomo Neuman, all students of mine, have gone on to become world renowned leaders in the ground water field."

David Keith Todd was born in 1923 in West Lafayette, Ind. The son of a professor of civil engineering at Purdue University, he skipped his last three months of high school in 1942 to enroll in the wartime academic program established by Purdue after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He spent one year at Purdue, then enlisted in the Army Air Corps and entered a 15-month cadet training program for meteorologists that had been established to help fill the military's urgent need for weather forecasters. After completing the program, he served in the Air Corps for two years as a weather forecaster.

After his discharge, Todd returned to Purdue, completing his studies in civil engineering in 1948. In 1949, he received a master's degree in meteorology from New York University. He joined the civil engineering faculty at UC Berkeley in 1950 and divided his time between studying and teaching courses in hydrology and fluid mechanics until receiving his Ph.D. in hydrology from UC Berkeley in 1952.

Todd's thesis, which examined how the water from floods in rivers percolated into groundwater, was considered an important advance and was widely used, said Robert Wiegel, UC Berkeley emeritus professor in civil and environmental engineering.

As the faculty member responsible for graduate courses in surface water and groundwater, Todd soon ran into a problem. The only groundwater textbook was 25 years old and out of print. He tackled the dilemma during a sabbatical leave in Europe in 1957. Supported by a National Science Fellowship, Todd spent the year reading, researching and writing his own textbook, "Groundwater Hydrology."

In 1961, President John Kennedy's science advisor asked Todd to join a team investigating waterlogging and salinity problems caused by high water table conditions in Pakistan's Indus Valley. Todd followed this project with numerous short-term assignments from the United Nations, teaching or consulting - usually during the summer term - in many foreign countries including Cyprus, Lebanon, India and Thailand.

In 1980, Todd retired from the university and turned his attention to Todd Engineers Inc., a small consulting firm specializing in groundwater that he founded in 1978. In his work with the firm, he championed the idea of perennial yield of groundwater basins. He served as chairman of the board and participated actively in the firm's consulting projects until late March of this year.

Todd has received wide recognition for his lifetime of work, including a Distinguished Alumnus Award from Purdue University, the John Hem Excellence in Science and Engineering Award from the National Groundwater Association, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Groundwater Resources Association of California. In 2005, he presented a keynote address to the 25th Biennial Groundwater Conference, providing a retrospective of 50 years of progress in groundwater management.

Todd is survived by his wife of 57 years, Caroline "Rolly" Todd, of Piedmont, Calif.; sons Stuart Keith Todd of Medford, Ore., and Brian Wesley Todd, of Los Angeles; and brother Norman Todd of Wilmington, Del.

A memorial celebration of Todd's life will be held on Tuesday, June 6, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Faculty Club on the UC Berkeley campus.

A fund in memory of Todd is being established at UC Berkeley's College of Engineering. Memorial contributions may be sent to the David K. Todd Memorial Fund, c/o College of Engineering, University of California, Berkeley, 201 McLaughlin Hall, MC 1722, Berkeley, CA 94720-1722. Checks should be made payable to the UC Berkeley Foundation with the word "Todd Memorial" in the memo line. Online gifts can be made at the website: https://colt.berkeley.edu/urelgift/engineering.html by clicking on Berkeley Engineering Annual Fund, and adding the words "For Todd Memorial" in the Special Instructions Box.