Review of Groundwater Vistas 2.15

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This review was written Feb 2, 1999.

Last updated on Tue 02 Feb 1999 at 09:13 PM

I have not received payment of any sort for this review. I did receive a free copy of Groundwater Vistas but I gave that to my employer (the USGS) because of conflict-of-interest regulations.


This review is based on Groundwater Vistas 2.15 as updated on Jan. 1. 1999. Although I received documentation, my initial tests were performed without consulting the documentation. This was so I could evaluate how user-friendly the software was. I did, however, consult the context-sensitive help whenever I ran into something that wasn't immediately obvious. I then went through the tutorial and checked the documentation to see what features I might have missed.

Overall, I think Groundwater Vistas is a well-designed program. I was able to set up models with little difficulty even without reading the manual. The context-sensitive help is extensive and useful. The contour maps are of publication quality. However, if you don't like the appearance of a map, you can export it to a variety of graphics formats so it can be edited in a graphics program.

Groundwater Vistas supports MODFLOW, MODFLOWT, MODFLOW/SURFACT, MODPATH, MT3D, RT3D, PATH3D, and PEST and acts as a preprocessor and postprocessor for all of them.

Operating System:

According to the documentation, GWVistas works under Windows 95, 98, and NT. I tested it under Windows NT 4.0.


As best I could determine, GWVistas imposes no limits on the number of model rows and columns although if the model is too big you won't have enough memory. The number of layers is limited to 80 (the limit in MODFLOW-88).

You can move row and column boundaries by dragging them with a mouse or by editing the row or column width. You can also subdivide rows and columns. It is possible to expand a grid by subdividing rows or columns and then editing their widths.

GWVISTAS allows you to enter boundary conditions either as properties of individual cells or as "analytic elements" which are independent of the cells. I prefer the latter option because it means that if you change the grid, you don't need to re-enter or edit the boundary conditions. Aquifer properties are entered as a series of zones. Each cell is assigned a zone number and each zone number has a particular value. This makes it easy to change the values of all of the cells in a zone at once. Because the zone number is a property of the cell, you may have to edit the zone assignments if you modify the grid.

Aquifer properties and boundary conditions are displayed in both cross section and plan view but can only be edited in plan view.

There does not appear to be any way of interpolating aquifer properties from a series of known points within GWVistas. However, according the to documentation, you can import interpolated values generated by external programs. I did not try to import interpolated values.

Each property zone will be assigned a color. You can edit the colors used to suit your own preferences.

Normally, you would not create quasi-3d with Groundwater Vistas. However, it is possible to set up quasi-3d models with Groundwater Vistas. You may need to specify VCONT directly instead of having it calculated.

Boundary conditions can be steady state or transient. To set up transient boundary conditions you generally enter a starting stress period and ending stress period for a particular stress. For recharge and ET, you set up rates for each stress period.

The units used in the model must be consistent for all input. There isn't any method of performing unit conversions.

Groundwater Vistas doesn't support specifying the layer for recharge; recharge is either to the top layer or to the top active layer. I think this is the only case where it doesn't provide a mechanism for specifying one of the options for a MODFLOW package that it supports.

Horizontal Flow Barriers are properties of individual cells but can have barriers on all for horizontal cell walls.

I had trouble figuring out how to set the horizontal anisotropy when I wasn't using the variable anisotropy package included with Groundwater Vistas' version of MODFLOW. It turns out that GWVistas uses the anisotropy of the cell at row 1, column 1 when the variable anisotropy package is not used.

It looks like ZONEBDGT is not supported directly by Groundwater Vistas but it does provide a means to get equivalent information.

Both transient and steady-state particle tracking are supported by Groundwater Vistas.

Groundwater Vistas includes a comprehensive and useful set of help files including a pair of help files that reproduce most of the text of the original MODFLOW publications. As far as I could tell, the help files include everything that was in the original publications except the detailed descriptions of the source code. The context-sensitive help for Groundwater Vistas is good. I found it useful on those few occasions when something wasn't intuitively obvious.

Whenever, you create the input files for a model, GWVistas checks for errors in the data you have entered. It doesn't detect every possible error but it does catch many common errors such as having a constant head cell with a head lower than the elevations of the bottom of the cell.

You can view and edit the MODFLOW input files in Groundwater Vistas. You must be an expert on the MODFLOW input file format to make effective use of this option.

I didn't test the following features but they are mentioned in the documentation.

Modflow Execution:

In addition to the packages present in the original version of MODFLOW, GWVistas supports the following MODFLOW packages: The version of MODFLOW included with GWVistas contains additional packages not supported by GWVistas. These include the following.

When running MODFLOW, the maximum head change is displayed on the screen as MODFLOW executes.

According to the documentation, it is possible to run the MODFLOW executable independently of the preprocessor/postprocessor. I didn't test this feature.


Groundwater Vistas allows you to plot heads, drawdown, concentration, or velocity vectors along layers rows or columns. The output is good. Although the contours are not completely smooth, they are comparable to competing programs. In addition, you have a lot of control over the appearance of the contour maps including the fonts of the contour labels and the spacing between them along the contours. It's not hard to get publication quality diagrams from Groundwater Vistas.

One of the things about Groundwater Vistas that I liked the most is its calibration statistics and auto-calibration. With calibration statistics, you first enter a number of target values (heads, drawdowns, flux, concentrations, gradient or difference in head). Groundwater Vistas then calculates statistics that summarize how well your model met those targets. You can also plot observed vs. modeled or observed vs. residual. GWVistas can do sensitivity analysis automatically. It has a built in calibration routine that can be used to calibrate up to 50 parameters. It also has an interface for PEST, an independent calibration program. Groundwater Vistas can exports graphics in DXF, and WMF formats. Thus, if you don't like the graphics, you can export them to a graphics program to clean them up. It can also export the data on which the graphics are based to a variety of sophisticated graphical analysis programs.


I did encounter some bugs during testing that caused GWVistas to cease operation. I reported them and they were fixed promptly. None of the bugs would have caused incorrect model results.


Groundwater Vistas can be purchased from

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