The study of groundwater was pretty much “out of sight, out of mind’’ when James J. Geraghty began plying the field in the 1950s. Few schools offered courses, let alone degree programs. Even after forming a successful engineering partnership with David W. Miller and pioneering the study and practice of groundwater geology and contaminant flow, Geraghty once admitted that the much-ignored niche still “bored everybody” in his firm.

 Geraghty (left) wth partner Miller pioneered in a field considered a stepchild and set the standard.
Geraghty (left) wth partner Miller pioneered in a field considered a stepchild and set the standard.

Geraghty, former chairman of Syosset, N.Y., consulting firm Geraghty & Miller, who co-wrote some of the field’s defining guidelines and texts, died May 14 of pneumonia in The Villages, Fla. He was 90.

Geraghty, a geologist who first toiled at the U.S. Geological Survey to hone skills in water study rather than in oil extraction, joined with Miller in 1957 to form their consulting firm. Business was slow at first, but things picked up after the Love Canal environmental disaster in the 1970s, creation of the federal Superfund waste cleanup program and subsequent boom in contaminant regulation.

The firm’s reputation and bottom line both grew. A top U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official remarked in the 1980s that the principals “were a decade or more ahead of everyone else in terms of technology.”.Geraghty expanded the firm nationally and became chairman in 1988, when it went public. Five years later, after a project venture with Dutch design giant Heidemij, Geraghty & Miller was acquired by the globally-focused firm and Geraghty retired. Heidemij became ARCADIS after the acquisition.

“Jim was a true scientist,” says Miller. “He was one of only a handful of people in private industry that understood how groundwater works and was able to teach others by taking complex information and making it simple.” In 1999, ENR named Geraghty one of its Top 125 People of the past 125 years for his contributions to the industry.

“Jim was one of the ’grandfathers’ of the environmental movement in the U.S., says Steven Blake, CEO of ARCADIS U.S., Highlands Ranch, Colo. “His pioneering groundwater work shaped the industry and is still meaningful for environmental engineers and scientists today.”