Becoming a Hydrology Engineer: Job Description & Salary Info

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A hydrology engineer's median annual salary is around $76,000. Is it worth the education and licensure requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a hydrology engineer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career in Hydrology Engineering

Hydrology engineers, also known as hydrologists or hydrologic engineers, study the movement and distribution of water and its effects on the environment. Read on to discover the pros and cons of a hydrology engineering career and decide if it's right for you.

Pros of a Hydrology Engineering Career
Possible high salary (top earners made more than $113,000 in 2013)*
Average job growth (employment predicted to rise 7% over 2014-2024 decade)*
Hydrology engineers may have a high sense of accomplishment (solving problems, predicting floods and droughts, conserving water and protecting marine wildlife)*
Can work in various specializations*

Cons of a Hydrology Engineering Career
May require a graduate degree (42% of hydrologists had master's degrees in 2015)**
Licensing requirements in some states*
Possible long hours or irregular schedule when doing field work*
Requires physical stamina (ability to carry equipment and supplies to remote locations)*

Source:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*NETOnLine

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Hydrology engineers measure the properties of water, collect water and soil samples for pollution analysis, research environmental issues concerning water and predict events related to water supply and pollution. In this position, you may also determine the possibility of hydroelectric power plants and waste treatment facilities. You may work closely with other scientists or public officials. Some specialization areas include groundwater, surface water and hydrometeorology.

Most of your work will be done in the field or in an office or laboratory. You'll collect samples and analyze them using computers. You'll also write reports based on your research and work with computer models.

Job Salary and Prospects

Hydrology engineers earned a median annual salary of $78,000 as of 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The highest-paid hydrology engineers worked for scientific research and development services, social advocacy organizations and engineering firms, according to the BLS.

The BLS reported that hydrology engineering jobs are expected to grow at an average pace (7% increase between 2014 and 2024). Demand should increase in this field due to population growth, climate change and other environmental issues. These issues will affect water supply and the impact of floods and droughts, resulting in the need for more hydrology engineers.

What Are the Requirements

Education Requirements

Hydrology engineering positions usually require at minimum a bachelor's degree, although many employers prefer to hire candidates with a master's degree. Specific degree requirements vary, but most employers usually look for candidates with a degree in an engineering and hydrology-related field. Many schools offer civil or environmental engineering degree programs that focus in hydrology. Some employers require hydrology engineers to have experience in digital mapping, computer modeling and data analysis.

Licensing Info

Different states have different licensing requirements for hydrologists. For example, hydrology engineers in California can gain licensure through the state's Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors and Geologists. In Wisconsin, hydrologists must have professional experience, pass an examination and fill out an Application for Professional Hydrologist License form to undergo board review and gain licensure.

Hydrologists who fall under the category of civil engineering can also become licensed professional engineers (PE) in order to work with the public. According to the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), engineers must meet education and experience requirements and pass exams to become licensed. Exact requirements vary by state. For civil engineers (the most common engineering specialty to focus in hydrology), you'll need four years of work experience, and you must pass an exam to become licensed, according to the BLS.

What Employers Are Looking For

Many employers look for hydrology engineers with at least a bachelor's degree and some work experience. Job skills and qualifications vary depending on the position. Take a look at few job postings that were open in April 2012:

  • An Arizona company in the mining and drilling industry sought a hydrology engineer with a bachelor's degree and at least four years of experience in the field. The engineer was expected to provide technical support and conduct inspections. Some additional qualifications included mining experience and knowledge of SAP or 1SAP.
  • A Pennsylvania water resource management agency looked for a hydrology engineer with a bachelor's degree and five years of experience to work in its planning and operations program. Some job duties included analyzing data, performing computations and preparing reports and documents. Other requirements included a professional licensure, GIS experience, excellent communication skills and MS Office proficiency.
  • An international mining company looked to hire a geological/hydrologist engineer in California to oversee hydrology support to a pit mine. Candidates were required to have a bachelor's degree in geological engineering or a similar field, experience with AutoCAD and knowledge of water well drilling practices.

How to Maximize Your Skills

Although employers usually look for candidates with a bachelor's degree, you can stand out in the field by earning a master's degree or higher. A graduate degree can open up teaching, research and development positions within the engineering hydrology field.

Employers look for candidates that keep up with advancing software and technology in the field. Extensive computer modeling skills can be beneficial to aspiring hydrology engineers, as can experience with GIS and GPS equipment. Math, speaking and writing classes can also help increase your chances of employment.

Alternative Career Paths

Environmental Science and Protection Technician

If like the idea of solving environmental issues but not the idea spending several years in school, a career in environmental science and protection technology may be right for you. The BLS reported that most environmental science and protection technology positions require an associate's degree, and the field is growing faster than the average (24% increase between 2010 and 2020). The median annual salary of environmental science and protection technicians was $41,000 in 2010, according to the BLS.


If you're interested in all geological aspects of the earth and want to spend more time outdoors and on the field, a career in geoscience may be a good alternative. According to the BLS, most geoscientist positions require at least a bachelor's degree and licensing, but they earned a median annual salary of $83,000 in 2010. The BLS reported that jobs were expected to grow faster than the average (21% increase between 2010 and 2010).

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