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No one really has the title groundwater professional; instead, it describes any of a number of different positions within the groundwater industry. These include different types of scientists, engineers, and technicians employed in government, private industry, and nonprofit organizations at various tasks designed to ensure safe, effective, and lawful use of groundwater supplies. In earlier times, geologists were often called upon to do groundwater work, and they continue to be important players in the field today. Geology is the science of the earth's history, composition, and structure. Specialties in the groundwater field today include hydrogeology and hydrology. Hydrogeologists study the science of groundwater supplies. Hydrologists study underground and surface water and its properties, including how water is distributed and how it moves through land, and the relationships between surface waters and the atmosphere. They provide advice on the best places to drill wells for drinking water, where to build waste disposal sites so that the waste does not contaminate the groundwater, and how to prepare for droughts or floods. Other professionals in the groundwater industry include chemists, geological engineers, water quality technicians, computer modelers, environmental engineers, chemists, bioremediation specialists, petroleum geologists, and mining engineers.
Employers of groundwater professionals include local water districts, government agencies, consulting firms, landfill operations, private industry, and others with a stake in successful groundwater management. What groundwater professionals do depends on the employer.
For example, local or regional authorities usually are responsible for ensuring a safe and adequate water supply for people in the area. Any time people want to make a new use of water or do something that might affect water in the area (like building a road, drilling a well, or laying a sewer), they have to get a permit. Before it will issue a permit, the authority has groundwater professionals check the site and decide if the use is safe. Typically, geologists do the necessary fieldwork, while engineers handle the actual obtaining of permits.
For a local or regional authority, groundwater professionals might help locate new sources of water in the area, which typically involves surveying the area, drilling for samples, and measuring the capacity of any water reserves found. They find the source of the groundwater and determine its ability to replenish itself if tapped for use, decide how the water would best be used, and make a recommendation to the authority. If the authority approves, a new well system is designed to tap the groundwater, and wells are drilled.
States are big employers of groundwater professionals. What groundwater professionals do for a state depends greatly on what part of the country it is in. The mapping of known groundwater supplies, often using computer modeling to show groundwater flow and possible effects of contamination, is often part of their efforts.
For both state and local or regional authorities, combating the effects of contamination is a critical task. The nature and extent of contamination, combined with the geologic and hydrologic characteristics of the surrounding land, determine whether the water supply is permanently tainted or can be made usable again in the future. Groundwater professionals design systems to reduce or stop contamination.
Another big employer is consulting firms. Regulations for waste treatment and disposal are becoming more and more strict, and that means that more technical expertise is required. Lacking that expertise themselves, many waste generators in the public and private sectors turn to consulting firms for help. Consultants may be called in to help with a hazardous waste cleanup around a landfill, at a Superfund site (an abandoned hazardous waste site), or at another cleanup, or they may help a private industrial company devise a system to handle its waste. Groundwater professionals can be very useful to such consulting firms. For example, if a landfill is leaking waste into a source of groundwater, a groundwater specialist could devise solutions, such as digging new drainage systems for the landfill or building new containment facilities. A groundwater professional with a consulting firm might work close to home or travel to job sites around the country or even around the world.
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