How Do I Become a Hydrology Engineer?

Research what it takes to become a hydrologist. Learn about the education requirements, job outlook, salary and job duties to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Science, Technology, and International Security degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Hydrology Engineer?

Hydrology engineers, or hydrologists, are usually civil or environmental engineers who specialize in projects that involve using and/or controlling water, as well as water quality. They may focus on water in watersheds, floodplains and reservoirs. They are concerned with the state of water in relation to the Earth and the impact of such factors as rain and snow. They examine the state of the environment, how water affects it and vice versa, in addition to the quality and quantity of water. The following chart gives you an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Required Master's degree preferred
Education Field of Study Civil engineering, environmental engineering; concentration in hydrology
Key Skills Water measurements and analysis, computer modeling, report writing, presentations
Job Growth (2014-2024) 7% (for all hydrologists)*
Median Salary (2015) $79,550 (for all hydrologists)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Degree Programs Are Available for Aspiring Hydrology Engineers?

Schools across the U.S. offer civil engineering or environmental engineering programs with a hydrology specialization at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree levels, but a majority of employers prefer to hire engineers who hold master's degrees. Typically, you'll need six years to gain the necessary education - four years for a bachelor's degree in physics or engineering and two more for the master's degree.

Civil engineering master's degree programs emphasizing hydrology examine the processes by which water circulates through the environment and infrastructure systems that drain, channel and collect water. Courses and seminars cover such topics as watershed modeling and analysis, water chemistry, fluid dynamics, ground water recovery, natural resource management and waste water treatment. Some programs will provide you with thesis and non-thesis options. The former requires you to conduct original research and write a thesis on some aspect of hydrology. The latter requires you to complete a heavier course load.

Where Could I Work?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that 6,580 people were employed as hydrologists as of 2015, with about 28% employed by the federal government and roughly 22% by scientific consulting firms in 2014. Employment is projected to grow 7% for hydrologists over the years 2014-2024, which is about as fast as average for all U.S. occupations. The need for better water management in the face of population growth, climate change and energy resource extraction is expected to drive demand. In addition, the BLS reports that the median annual salary for hydrologists in May 2015 was $79,550; those in the architectural, engineering and related services field made the highest salaries, at a mean annual wage of $93,330.

What Will My Job Duties Be?

You'll contribute to finding solutions for design and operational problems on engineering projects that control or use water. This will involve conducting watershed studies to measure soil infiltration, runoff, flood frequency, erosion or sedimentation, as well as preparing reports and presentations of your findings. You'll also create models of reservoir systems and hydroelectric systems, and you'll assist with permit applications. Flow sensors and ground penetrating radar are among the measuring tools you might use.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Geoscientists deal with the study of various physical aspects of the Earth and its composition. They carry out field studies and prepare maps and reports of what they find. There are a number of types of geoscientists, including geologists, oceanographers, seismologists, geophysicists and geochemists. They may be concerned with land reclamation, the environment and/or the development of natural resources. A bachelor's degree in the field or a related major is needed.

The results and information reported by hydrologists and various geoscientists can go hand-in-hand with the information provided by surveyors. Surveyors take measurements and recordings of an area's boundaries to aid in real estate transactions and construction projects. Such measurements could include bodies of water and various other physical characteristics of a certain area. Surveyors often need a bachelor's degree in a related field.

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