Careers in Water Resources Planning and Management
Water resources careers in the early twenty-first century, particularly in planning and management, will offer great interest, large challenges, outstanding opportunities for peer recognition, and great personal satisfaction for young professionals. Rapid population growth, land-use changes, and perhaps global climatic change are among the factors that will place further demands on an already stressed global fresh-water supply and influence career directions of new water resource professionals.
Water resources planning and management career opportunities are found with government agencies at the federal, state, and local levels; on the faculties of colleges and universities; in the private sector with environmental or engineering consultants; with environmental groups; and with companies that use significant water resources in their manufacturing or extracting processes.
Depending on the employer, water resources job opportunities involve resource assessment, resource development or utilization, or resource protection. For example, at the federal level, planning or management opportunities may be with the following:
- U.S. Geological Survey or Agricultural Research Service (resource assessment);
- U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Bureau of Land Management, Army Corps of Engineers, Forest Service, or Natural Resources Conservation Service (resource development or utilization); or
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Fish and Wildlife Service, or National Park Service (resource protection).
Planning and management opportunities are also available in other countries, both in developed and developing nations.
The qualifications needed for entry into the fields of watershed planning and management vary with specific positions and employers. Generally a baccalaureate degree from a college or university in physical science, biological science, engineering, hydrology, or forestry will qualify a student for an entry-level position with a consulting firm or government agency. A master of science (M.S.) degree or doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) degree will assure a student a better starting position, salary, and advancement potential. In most cases, a Ph.D. is required for a position in academia.
The academic background commonly determines the career direction of the student. For example, a career in floodplain management may require a civil engineering background, whereas management of a major aquifer may require a background in groundwater hydrology. Nearly all water resources planning and management careers require computer literacy and many require a background in geographic information systems (GIS).
Other Relevant Disciplines and Experience
Students interested in water resources can approach this field from many disciplines. University departments commonly offering water resources curricula include civil and environmental engineering, geography, geology, fisheries, forestry, soil science, biochemistry, and others. Some programs at the graduate level offer a combination of education and experience to their students by providing them with opportunities to work in the field with practicing nonuniversity water resources professionals.
In recent years, water resources planners and managers have found it increasingly necessary to have at least some knowledge of other disciplines including sociology, economics, and law. Students may wish to utilize courses from these disciplines as electives. For example, a career in watershed planning, especially in a developed watershed, may require the planner to deal not only with water resources issues but also with biological issues, and with social, economic, or legal issues of the human population of the watershed. The planner must understand the impact of all issues as they relate to the conservation or development of the water resources of the watershed.
Educating an often skeptical public about the necessity for controversial water resources decisions often becomes a major part of the career of the water resources professional. All water resources professionals must keep the tenet firmly in mind that there is no substitute for being able to explain aspects of science in terms that the public can readily understand.
Expectations of personal satisfaction and recognition and respect by the public and by peers are major reasons for considering a career in water resources planning and management. The opportunity to improve the quality of life for persons locally, nationally, or worldwide by providing adequate sources of fresh water for human needs—while being aware of the needs of other plant and animal species—is highly rewarding.
Planning and management professionals contribute greatly to the knowledge base of water resources on a variety of scales from the smallest local basin to the global Earth. Recognition may be based on presentation of research or case studies at scientific meetings, or publication of research and studies in the many journals and publications devoted to water resources.
Richard A. Engberg
Doyle, Kevin, Tanya Stubbs, and Sam Heizen. The Complete Guide to Environmental Careers in the Twenty-First Century. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1998.