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Green Jobs in Hydrology

Nothing is more essential to a healthy, sustainable environment and community than water. As such, anyone considering a green career transition should consider hydrology. Hydrology is the study of water, which is both one of the most abundant resources on earth (covering 71 percent of its surface) and one of the scarcest (in the form of drinking water). An eco-conscious job search will reveal many different opportunities in hydrology—as many possibilities in a career as there are uses for water itself.

In addition to providing all living organisms, including humans, with life, water is a dissolving agent, a heat transfer fluid, a way to put out fires, a chemical, a location for recreation, a key component of industrial manufacturing, and a source of power. Water also plays a key role in linking ecosystems across the planet; moving food, organisms, and waste from one ecosystem to the next.

The science of hydrology assesses the quantity and quality of water by studying the movement of water, the quality of water, and how water is distributed over time and space throughout the Earth. The study includes the biological, chemical, and physical properties of water and how these properties interact with the environment and living organisms during the water cycle. Subspecialties include hydrography, hydrogeology, glaciology, limnology, surface hydrology, hydrometeorology, ecohydrology, and hydroinformatics.

What's happening now in the hydrology field

According to the Web site of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the EPA protects “over 3 million miles of rivers and streams; over 40 million acres of lakes, over 87,000 square miles of estuaries; 95,000 miles of coastal waters; and marine waters.”

The EPA’s recent Strategic Plan contains several key goals regarding water. Primarily, the Clean and Safe Water Goal strives to keep drinking water safe, protect human health, support economic growth, and promote recreational activity by restoring water systems and aquatic ecosystems.

By 2011, the EPA expects to increase the number of people who have access to safe drinking water through community water systems. In addition, it has plans to rehabilitate and restore rivers, lakes, and streams in watershed areas, coastal areas, and wetlands to protect water quality and improve recreational locations. The EPA is also committed to reducing the toxic nature of fish and shellfish that have been a risk for public health recently.

The Healthy Communities and Ecosystems Goal targets the following estuaries for restoration and rehabilitation: the Mexico Border area, the Gulf of Mexico, the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, the Pacific Island Territories, Long Island Sound, the Puget Sound Basin, and the Columbia River Basin.

To achieve these goals, the EPA plans to implement national programs and partnerships with states to strengthen water standards and reduce pollution. Furthermore, the EPA is committed to creating sustainable and efficient water practices and strengthening the water infrastructure. Through a variety of practices such as water quality trading and watershed permitting, the goal is to use a watershed approach to restore polluted waterways.

Future trends in hydrology

In June 2009, President Obama put forth a presidential memorandum to create an interagency task force to develop a national ocean policy to protect the ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems. Part of the task force’s mission is fitting proposals for offshore energy projects into a cohesive marine spatial plan. Right now these oceanic ecosystems are protected by 140 laws and 20 different agencies that often produce conflicting goals and plans.

Global warming is expected to change the hydraulic cycle, adding more variability to the system. Environmentally sensitive regions may receive too much water, in the form of more frequent and intense storms and flooding, or too little water by way of drought conditions. Understanding the dynamics of these changes is of critical importance for accurate forecasts, proper planning, and adequate policies by the government and private companies.

Freshwater needs will increase due to population growth. Creating adequate supplies of fresh water is a challenge that scientists and engineers are working on. Recycling waste water and creating fresh water through desalinization systems are two strategies. Without consistent ways to produce potable (drinkable) water, conflict may erupt in areas with limited water supplies.

Sample jobs in hydrology

Consider the following jobs if a career in hydrology is calling your name

  • Hydrologists conduct research with the help of field technicians, research technicians, biologists, foresters, ecologists, and geographers

  • Some professionals trained in hydrology teach in higher education

  • A variety of engineers plan, analyze, design, construct, and operate projects that control, use, and manage water resources. Job functions include hydraulic engineer, structural engineer, water resources engineer, civil engineer, hydrology engineer, consultant, and engineering hydrologist

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