PhD grant vacancy: Water conservation with adjustable weirs in drainage ditches

Katholieke Universiteit Leuven


October 22, 2022


PhD grant vacancy: Water conservation with adjustable weirs in drainage


(ref. BAP-2022-704)

Last modification : Monday, September 19, 2022

In the context of a VLAIO-funded project on the use and impact of adjustable weirs, the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences of KU Leuven is looking for a PhD student for research on the impact of adjustable weirs in drainage ditches. The main mission of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences is to carry out state-of-the-art scientific research with respect to the functioning of geo- and ecosystems at different spatial and temporal scales, including the interaction between humans and the environment and the sustainable management of natural resources.


Agriculture in Flanders and many areas in Europe needs to rapidly evolve because of the occurrence of more frequent droughts. An obvious strategy is to ensure that more water infiltrates and gets stored in soil and groundwater in rain periods to use that water in periods of drought. One way to do so is by the installation of small adjustable weirs in agricultural drainage ditches to raise the drainage level in periods when there are no field operations. Farmers adjust the drainage level by adding or removing boards to the weir. If one of the boards moreover contains an orifice (hole), the position of that orifice controls the drainage level in periods of low flow. During stormflow events, the orifice cannot handle all the discharge, so the water level in the ditch rises to the overflow level of the weir. An orifice-weir in this way temporarily stores stormwater in the ditches and ditch banks, thus also protecting downstream areas against pluvial floods. Weirs and orifice-weirs are increasingly installed in agricultural drainage ditches in Flanders, but very little is known about their impact. There are no data on whether it really can increase water availability in drought periods. That lack of evidence and insight makes it difficult to know where to install such weirs.

The key to assessing the impact of weirs in drainage ditches is to be able to calculate their effects on water levels in the ditches and (phreatic) groundwater levels in the surrounding area. Once the effect on groundwater levels is known, one can assess the effect on water availability to crops in dry periods. One can also calculate how much water can be temporarily buffered in ditches and banks during heavy rain showers. All these assessments will be made in this PhD research project by combining field monitoring with groundwater and soil water modelling.

The field monitoring campaign will be set up in close collaboration with researchers and technicians from the Belgian Soil Service (BDB) and the NGO ‘Boerennatuur'.

It is estimated that 3/4 of this PhD research will consist of modelling and data analysis and 1/4 of fieldwork that will involve designing, installing and managing a field monitoring network in collaboration with BDB and Boerennatuur. The doctoral student will also be involved in educational activities at KU Leuven.


We seek a candidate with a master's degree in Bioscience engineering, Water resources engineering, Physical geography, Geology or with an equivalent master's degree that is relevant for the above-mentioned tasks.

The successful candidate will have the following profile:

  • Creative with a strong interest in research
  • Good academic performance at the MSc and BSc levels, with good performance on the master thesis in particular
  • Good knowledge of the water flow processes in the soil-plant system and in the phreatic groundwater
  • Experience with simulation modelling and computer programming (e.g., Python, Fortran, C, Matlab, R, etc.).
  • Demonstrated capacity to write (scientific writing) and communicate in English. Being fluent in Dutch is an added advantage but not a must (communication with farmers).
  • Good interpersonal skills: able to work in a team and to communicate with both farmers and other researchers.
  • Offer
  • Full-time doctoral scholarship for 4 years (conditional upon a positive evaluation after 9 and 24 months).
  • Multi-disciplinary and international professional environment in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.
  • Leuven is a charming historical university town, with a central location in Western Europe.
  • The PhD student will be embedded in a project team consisting of the three supervisors at KU Leuven (Jan Diels, Jos Van Orshoven, and Marijke Huysmans) and researchers from the Belgian Soil Service (BDB) and the NGO ‘Boerennatuur'.

    At KU Leuven, PhD students are expected to obtain their PhD degree within 4 years. More information on the remuneration with a doctoral scholarship can be found at the following link:

    https: // www. conditions


    Only persons strictly matching the above profile should apply. Submit your CV, along with a motivation letter, and two names for references online. For more information please contact Prof. Jan Diels, tel.: +32 16 32 97 44, mail:

    The position will remain open until a suitable candidate is identified.

    KU Leuven seeks to foster an environment where all talents can flourish, regardless of gender, age, cultural background, nationality or impairments. If you have any questions relating to accessibility or support, please contact us at

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