Memorial Tributes: Volume 27
IsNew No
Tribute Author
  • Michael King
Membership Directory

Search this Publication

  • JOHN D. BREDEHOEFT (1933-2023)



    JOHN DALLAS BREDEHOEFT, a consummate geoscientist and educator, passed away on Jan. 1, 2023, at age 89. John was born in St. Louis, Missouri, to John and Gladys Bredehoeft on Feb. 28, 1933. He showed an early interest in and aptitude for engineering that he pursued throughout his life.

    John earned a Bachelor of Science degree in geological engineering from Princeton University in 1955. In 1957 he earned a master’s degree in geology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Following a brief position with Humble Oil and the Desert Research Institute of the University of Nevada, John earned a Ph.D. in geology at the University of Illinois. His educational research set the stage for his distinguished geological engineering career with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and with The Hydrodynamics Group, LLC.

    John contributed 32 years of public service at the USGS. He served for many years as chief of the National Research Program of the USGS Water Resources Division (WRD), which during his tenure employed close to 300 scientists and engineers. In this position, John substantially increased the relevance and visibility of the USGS hydrologic research program. He later served for several years as regional hydrologist for the operational program in the eight-state Western Region of WRD. His successful efforts to create a “research-in-the-District” program led to a better balance between scientific investigations and data collection throughout WRD. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of his time with the USGS was his ability to remain a productive scientist and researcher while serving as a division manager. While at the USGS, John testified before Congress on a national policy regarding the geologic disposal and management of nuclear waste in the western United States.

    John collaborated with Michael King (NAE 2003) to form The Hydrodynamics Group, LLC, in 1997, with the vision that a team of nationally recognized experts in hydrogeology, geology, and geological engineering could provide principal-level consulting expertise for a wide spectrum of groundwater resource development and energy storage problems. John’s 25 years of experience with Hydrodynamics includes oversight research on the Yucca Mountain High-Level Nuclear Waste Repository for Nye County, Nevada, and research on energy storage in deep geological structures for numerous projects around the world.

    As an educator, John was a visiting professor at the University of Illinois. There, he served as academic advisor for George Pinder (NAE 2010) from 1967-68. Together John and George developed and published the first widely utilized numerical groundwater flow model. John received the Robert E. Horton Medal of the American Geophysical Union in 1997 for “outstanding contributions to the geophysical aspects of hydrology.” John and George also developed the first widely used contaminant transport model. Their paper on mass transport in flowing groundwater1 received the O.E. Meinzer Award of the Geological Society of America in 1975. John was a consulting professor at Stanford University for eight years and at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco State University for many years. He served on numerous national advisory committees for the National Research Council, National Science Foundation, and Department of Energy. John was known for his ability to explain complex theories on the study of mass and energy transport in the earth to the U.S. Congress, the Nuclear Regulatory Agency, and other colleagues.

    Most scientists get sufficient satisfaction from seeing their research results published and recognized by their peers. John’s contributions to hydrogeology, the storage of nuclear waste, and the development of groundwater resources are preserved in his numerous professional publications. John strived for more, and he recognized the need for society to benefit from federally funded research. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council (NAS/NRC) Committee on the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant and of the NAS/NRC panel that reviewed groundwater concerns for the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Repository. John was also a member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences.

    John’s distinguished career has been acknowledged through receipt of the Penrose (1997) and Horton medals. John also received the M. King Hubbert (1991) and Boggess (1984) awards. In 2013 he was awarded the American Geosciences Institute’s Marcus Milling Legendary Geoscientist Medal “for his lifetime of contributions to the scientific, engineering, and water management aspects of hydrogeology that are unique and groundbreaking.” Additionally, John received the Meritorious Service and Distinguished Service Awards from the Department of the Interior. Other honors include the Walter B. Langbein Lecture (1999), the Michel T. Halbouty Distinguished Lecturer (2001), and the Life Member Award (1997) from the National Ground Water Association.

    John enjoyed his mini-vineyard in Sonoma, where he grew several kinds of grapes. He enjoyed learning about and making wine and riding his tractor. John and his wife, Beth Garbutt, spent summers in a remote cabin they built in Wyoming, where he once encountered a cougar. John truly enjoyed classical music. He is survived by Beth, his former wife, Laura Larson Bredehoeft, and their four children, John, Paul, and Chris Bredehoeft and Martha Clemensen.

    John was a brilliant geoscientist who was at the forefront of many of the most important developments in the field of hydrogeology. He was also a generous friend and colleague who touched the lives of many. He loved his work at the USGS and was deeply honored to be a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

    1 Bredehoeft JD, Pinder GF. 1973. Mass transport in flowing groundwater. Water Resources Research 9(1):194-210.