Water Resource Engineer Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

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A water resource engineer's median salary is about $82,000, but is high pay worth the education requirements? Get the truth about the job duties and career prospects to decide if this is the right career for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being a Water Resource Engineer

As a subset of the civil engineers category, water resource engineers develop and improve water treatment, distribution and waste-water disposal methods. Read on to learn about the pros and cons of a water resource engineering career.

Pros of a Water Resource Engineering Career
High average salary (about $87,000 in 2014)*
Can work almost anywhere in the country*
Involved in improving the country's infrastructure*
Opportunity to obtain professional recognition through certification**

Cons of a Water Resource Engineering Career
States may lack funds for projects*
Projects may require long work hours*
Some positions require a master's degree or higher*
Licensure is necessary for certain positions*

Sources: *The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **American Academy of Water Resource Engineers

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Water resource engineers are responsible for designing, implementing and upgrading water and waste treatment systems. This includes flood management systems at dams and reservoirs. They must consider cost, efficiency, safety and government regulations for each project. They typically draft and present a plan to the organization or agency in charge of a project. Acceptance could mean overseeing the project's construction. Water resource engineers generally work 40 hours a week, but certain projects and goals may lead to longer hours. They typically work in offices, but some jobs require travel and outdoor work.

Career Prospects and Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn't collect data specifically for water resource engineers, but it does gather information for civil engineers. Projections for 2012-2022 show civil engineers having a faster-than-average 20% employment growth rate, which is fueled by the need to maintain infrastructures. As populations continue growing, bringing the need for water systems that sustain them, the need for water resource engineers should continue. According to May 2014 BLS statistics, civil engineers earned median salaries of $82,050. The lowest 10% earned about $52,000, and the highest 10% earned roughly $128,000.

What Are the Requirements?

Education

Most water resource engineering positions require at least a bachelor's degree in civil engineering or a related field, according to the BLS. Some civil engineering programs allow you to choose a specialization in water resources. You may learn about water control, water quality and water use through classes such as hydrology, geology, hydraulic engineering, physics, chemistry and fluid mechanics. The BLS suggests you seek programs accredited by ABET (formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) because these programs help you meet the requirements for a professional engineer (PE) license.

Licensure

If you sell services to the public, you need to acquire state licensure, according to the BLS. In addition to having an ABET-accredited degree, you must successfully complete the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam, which qualifies you to become a civil engineering intern or engineer-in-training. After meeting your state's requirements, which may include obtaining a specific amount of experience and passing more exams, you may qualify to receive licensure.

What Employers Are Looking For

Most employers are looking for water resource engineers with experience in the field. Positions with management responsibilities may require candidates to have graduate degrees. Below are some job postings found in March 2012:

  • A Texas company advertised for an experienced water resource engineer with a bachelor's degree in civil engineering and a water resources specialization. Candidates should have been able to conduct hydrologic and hydraulic analyses, prepare reports, scope projects and train junior engineers.
  • A Denver company sought a licensed water resource engineer with at least 10 years of experience to work on projects for water and wastewater treatment, storage, disposal and distribution.
  • A Washington, D.C., company advertised for an experienced water resource engineer with a PE license and a graduate degree to manage public projects and personnel.

How to Stand Out

Become a Professional Engineer (PE)

Not all engineers are required to have PE licensure, according to the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying. Unlicensed engineers typically work under the supervision of a PE. If you want more opportunities available to you that may include supervisory or other advanced positions, you may want to consider getting licensed.

Get Certified

The American Academy of Water Resource Engineers (AAWRE) offers the Diplomate, Water Resource Engineer (D.WRE) credential, which helps you validate your expertise and ethical values regarding the field. To qualify, you must be a PE with at least 10 years of water resource engineering experience and have either a bachelor's degree with at least 30 hours of graduate-level coursework or a graduate degree. You must also pass an oral exam in order to receive the certification.

Develop Related Skills

Water resource engineers typically work with clients from different professional backgrounds so excellent written and verbal communication skills are a must. In addition, employers look for water resource engineers with:

  • Managerial skills
  • Problem-solving abilities
  • Computer-aided drafting and mapping software familiarity
  • Report writing capabilities
  • Project planning knowledge

Alternative Career Paths

Environmental Engineer

If you want to be an engineer, but you're more interested in environmental issues, consider becoming an environmental engineer. As suc, you would develop solutions to environmental problems, such as air and water pollution, waste disposal and public health issues. The education and licensing requirements for this profession are similar to water resource engineering. According to May 2011 BLS data, the median salary for environmental engineers was about $79,000. Employment for these professionals was expected to grow faster-than-average at 22% between 2010 and 2020.

Civil Engineering Technician

If the education and licensing requirements are too much for you, consider a career as a civil engineering technician. According to the BLS, most civil engineering technician jobs require a 2-year degree or less, and you can help engineers plan large projects, such as bridge, road and dam construction. The BLS predicted employment for these workers should grow an average 12 from 2010-2020, and the median salary for civil engineering technicians was approximately $47,000, as of May 2011.

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