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Water Resource Engineering: Trends and Careers in Civil Engineering

Water resource engineer adjusts treatment pump.

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The United States is in need of various specialized engineering professionals to deal with the
to improve the nation’s infrastructure. Civil engineers are largely responsible for maintaining roads, bridges, railways and the nation’s water supply. Water resource engineers, in particular, ensure that the water supply infrastructure is effective and able to withstand natural disasters caused by climate change, aging and a growing population.

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the infrastructure in the United States in 2017 was given a D+ in its annual Infrastructure Report Card. The report gave American waterways and drinking water a grade of D. Water resource engineers are tasked with maintaining and improving American water supply systems in the face of rising challenges — thus contributing to a growing demand in the field.

What Is Water Resource Engineering?

The main responsibility of a water resource engineer is to manage a population’s water use and ensure that the treatment of water is safe for human consumption. The typical day of a water resource engineer may entail charting out a community’s water needs and frequently analyzing water resources. They are also responsible for designing treatment plants, supply systems, pipelines and pump systems to effectively manage wastewater for both private and public consumption.

Wastewater, if not treated and managed correctly, can have negative health effects on the environment and a community. This requires water resource engineers to work with manufacturing and industrial corporations to develop systems to effectively deal with all facets of wastewater operations. Examples include utilities (such as Orlando Utilities Commission and Tampa Bay Water) and water management districts (such as St. Johns River Water Management District and Southwest Florida Water Management District).

In 2018, the community of Montecito, California, was faced with massive mudslides in wildfire-affected areas due to a storm that caused a half inch of rain to fall in five minutes. The community was not prepared for this disaster, and many unfortunate outcomes occurred as a result. For at-risk flood areas, it is critical that local and state governments hire water resource engineers to effectively manage drainage systems that address water flow, as well as implement flood-control systems to divert water and prevent mudslides.

According to the ASCE, there are more than 240,000 water main breaks in the United States each year. Broken water mains can cause millions of dollars of damage to roadways and affect local economies. Water resource engineers are hired to manage these issues by charting plans for new pipelines and using technology to identify at-risk areas. They are also responsible for allocating water to certain areas within the community to ensure that water resources remain sustainable.

Trends in the Industry

One of the major responsibilities of water resource engineers is “water-resource recoverability,” which requires them to recover reusable elements in wastewater. Engineers are able to filter out valuable nutrients from the water that can be used for fertilizer, or obtain particles as a substitute for sand. In other cases, engineers are able to capture heat from wastewater. This heat can be used to heat buildings, while other organic wastewater material can be utilized as renewable energy.

Updating Wastewater Treatment Facilities

Engineers are able to treat wastewater so that it can be used for irrigation, potable water or even as cooling water for industrial plants. Moreover, engineers are beginning to implement treatment facilities in communities with aging infrastructures so these communities can benefit from the recycling of wastewater. Upgrading treatment facilities, especially in rural areas, ensures that communities can benefit from nutrient reduction, thus ensuring water-resource sustainability.

UV Disinfection Technology

To provide clean drinking water, water resource engineers are integrating ultraviolet disinfection technology into water treatment plants. UV technology is an environmentally safe option that provides sanitary water to communities. The technology is able to sterilize water without using potentially harmful chemicals such as chlorine.

Cooling Waterways and Oceans

Water resource engineers are helping confront global warming through the process of cooling waterways and oceans. Cooler water is better equipped to trap carbon dioxide. CO2 and other greenhouse gases are the main reason for global warming. Water resource engineers are at the forefront of geoengineering, which is a field dedicated to reducing the negative effects of global warming.

To cool waterways and oceans, water resource engineers have been collaborating with scientists to develop innovative ways to trap CO2. Scientists and engineers have hypothesized that if they are able to refreeze more of the North Pole and South Pole, this could reduce the level of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere. It is also hypothesized that if we could pump salt into the atmosphere, it would make clouds more reflective toward heat. This reflection could reduce temperatures directly related to the CO2 in the atmosphere.

A Career in Civil Engineering

To pursue a career in water resource engineering, most candidates earn a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. Civil engineers perform in a range of environments, including local, state and federal government. They are responsible for maintaining a community’s infrastructure and managing maintenance issues.

To become a water resource engineer, candidates must have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in civil engineering and must apply to receive a certificate from the American Academy of Water Resources Engineers.

There are several factors that are driving up the demand for water resource engineers in today’s world. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 6th Drinking Water Infrastructure Survey and Assessment stated that more than $472.6 billion will be needed to sustain the nation’s drinking water infrastructure in the next 20 years. That means that during the next two decades, the country will need an influx of water resource engineers to meet the demand at the local, state and federal levels.

The Benefits of a Master’s Degree in Civil Engineering

Pursuing an advanced degree in civil engineering prepares students to tackle the global environmental challenges facing communities at home and abroad. Job opportunities for professionals in the field of civil engineering are expected to grow by 6% from 2018 to 2028, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This growth is correlated to the rapid growth of cities and aging infrastructure. Civil engineers with a master’s degree have a competitive edge over those with a bachelor’s degree in obtaining leadership positions in the field. The median annual wage for civil engineers was $87,060 in 2019 and the top 10 percent earned more than $144,560, according to the bureau. Furthermore, a professional with a master’s in civil engineering can elect to specialize in transport engineering, structural engineering, geotechnical engineering or water resource engineering.

Learn More

Those who are considering a career as a water resource engineer would do well to explore the University of Central Florida’s online Engineering degrees. These programs are designed to prepare students to deal with the nation’s aging infrastructure. UCF’s Online Master of Science in Civil Engineering Water Resources specifically prepares students to tackle the water challenges the world faces. Through an innovative curriculum, students can deepen their knowledge of emerging technology and techniques to assist them in developing innovative systems to address these challenges.

Learn more about how the program can help you pursue your professional goals as a water resource engineer today.