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Hydrology Engineer: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Learn about the educational preparation necessary for jobs related to hydrology engineering, and find out what you can expect if you choose to pursue a career in the field.

Hydrology engineering is a subspecialty within civil engineering. Students who study hydrology may find jobs as civil engineers or as general hydrologists, who conduct specialized research in the field and work with engineers and public officials to apply their knowledge in the real world.

Essential Information

Hydrology is a discipline that incorporates sustainable water resource management, watershed modeling and fluid mechanics. The minimum educational requirement for both hydrology engineers and hydrologists is a bachelor's degree, but there are also educational opportunities at the master's and doctoral levels. State licensing is required of engineers who work on public projects. Voluntary professional certifications are available to those who can demonstrate their expertise by passing an exam.

Civil Engineer Hydrologist
Required Education Bachelor's degree Bachelor's degree
Median Annual Salary (2015) $82,220 $79,550
Projected Job Growth* (2014-2024) 8% 7%

Source *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Hydrology Engineering Career Information

Civil Engineer / Hydrology Engineer

Civil engineers who focus on hydrology apply scientific information about the properties, distribution and circulation of water in particular locations to real-world problems, such as how to supply water to a city, treat wastewater, prevent the spread of pollution, redirect rivers and safeguard coastal areas. They may also be involved in dam construction and maintenance, flood mitigation and urban drainage. Engineers in this field use cutting edge software and hardware to test and implement the water management strategies they develop.

Hydrologist

Hydrologists conduct the basic hydrology research that engineers apply to real-world problems. Their duties involve measuring properties such as stream volume and flow, collecting and testing water samples, evaluating the environmental impacts of pollution and natural disasters and predicting the future effects of water-related phenomena, such as erosion and sedimentation buildup. Based on their findings, they are often asked to prepare written analyses of water project proposals for engineers and governmental bodies.

Employment Outlook and Salary Statistics

As of May 2015, the median annual salary for civil engineers was $82,220, and for hydrologists, it was $79,550. Job growth in both fields is predicted to be about as fast as average from 2014 to 2024; the BLS estimates 8% job growth for civil engineers and 7% for hydrologists.

Hydrology Education Requirements

To become a civil engineer or a hydrologist, individuals must have a minimum of a bachelor's degree. Undergraduate civil engineering programs are common, while specific hydrology programs are harder to find. Rather than a major, hydrology may be offered as a concentration within Bachelor of Science program in a broader subject, such as Geosciences.

Specific studies in hydrology are more commonly available at the graduate level, and even though a master's degree is not required for a hydrologist job, it may improve job prospects. Interested students may find Master of Science programs in Hydrologic Science or Hydraulic and Hydrologic Engineering. Ph.D. programs in areas such as Earth Science and Geosciences also allow candidates to focus their dissertation research on a specific aspect of hydrology.

There are also both master's degree and Ph.D. programs in civil engineering. While students will likely take advanced courses in a broad range of civil engineering topics, such as the construction of buildings, roads, airports and bridges, they can take electives that focus on water systems. Also, they can focus their master's thesis or doctoral dissertation research on hydrology.

Licensure Requirements

Most states require hydrology engineers to become licensed if they work on public projects. Engineers must complete a bachelor's degree program approved by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). Graduates can take the basic engineering exam to earn training licensure. Several years of engineering experience are required to qualify for the advanced test to become a professional engineer.

Continuing Education

The National Institute of Certification for Engineering Technologies (NICET) offers voluntary professional certification options in wastewater plant construction, land erosion control, water system inspection, sewer lines and geotechnical engineering (www.nicet.org).

Individuals who are interested in hydrology can pursue careers as civil engineers or hydrologists. There are a variety of educational options for those who want to pursue a job in this field.


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