Imagine life without water. We would have nothing to drink. Plants
could not grow. And sea life would have no place to live. Water is a huge
part of our everyday lives. We use it to cook food, take showers and wash
Did you know that the human brain is 70 percent water? That human blood
is 82 percent water? That the entire human body is 60 percent water? Water
has important uses in our bodies. It is used to digest food, transport waste
and control body temperature.
But if it's not properly treated, water can be very harmful. Because we
live, work and play so close to water, we can infect it with very dangerous
substances. Harmful things like poison and bacteria can get into our water
and make it unsafe to use and drink.
For example, if a factory dumps harmful chemicals into rivers and streams,
fish and other marine life will not be able to live. This has an effect on
humans and animals that depend on marine life for food.
Harmful substances in rivers and streams can also get into our drinking
water sources. Unsafe drinking water can seriously affect our health. In Walkerton,
Ontario, Canada, an unclean water supply contributed to seven deaths.
What Are They and What Do They Do?
Water quality specialists are the people who work to ensure the quality
of water in our communities.
A big aspect of the job is monitoring water supplies. Water quality specialists
regularly test water supplies to make sure that harmful substances are not
at dangerous levels. Samples are taken at water sources like rivers and lakes,
then tested in labs using specialized instruments and technology.
Problem solving is the next step. When water is found to be unsafe, water
quality specialists take steps to treat it.
This is a big part of the job. Water quality specialists have to identify
the sources of water contamination. They also have to assess its dangers and
work towards treating the problem.
Gathering and understanding data gives water quality specialists the tools
they need to establish guidelines and standards for water quality. Only with
standards in place can laws and regulations be made to ensure water quality
will be protected.
Water quality specialists perform many different tasks. Sharon Reedyk is
a water management specialist. Besides monitoring and testing water, her job
includes various other duties. "Designing water quality monitoring programs,
writing research proposals, publishing educational material for the public
and giving information talks and lectures," she says.
The work is very exciting and mobile. Reedyk says her workplace often changes
between the "office, field and land work."
Paul Baker agrees. He is a water quality technician. "The great thing is
that I'm never stuck on one thing for too long," he says.
Who Employs Them?
Water quality specialists are hired at a variety of different places. These
include government agencies, international organizations, consulting groups,
universities and private businesses.
They are often found working for government agencies that are responsible
for protecting water quality. These include the Environmental Protection Agency,
the United States Geological Survey and the National Wildlife Council.
Private companies also hire water quality specialists. Take forestry companies,
for example. Before trees can be cut down, companies need to study the impact
of logging on the water quality of nearby streams and rivers. Private companies
also need water quality specialists to help them follow the many laws and
regulations that are water-related.
Jobs are also available in other parts of the world. A report called Careers
in Water Resources says foreign aid programs are an excellent place of employment
for water quality specialists.
Foreign aid programs are designed to help poorer countries in need. Some
of the most important needs in these countries include clean water supplies,
flood control and waste disposal. All of these involve the use of water and
require the skills of water quality specialists.
There are also many teaching and research jobs at universities, community
colleges and technical institutes. Stephan Grattan is a plant-water relations
specialist in California. "There are opportunities with universities and private
consulting groups [that often fund research projects]," he says.
Other places where water quality specialists work include construction
companies, public works, nuclear power generation plants, water filtration
plants and water treatment plants.
So What Does it Take to Be a Water Quality Specialist?
The first step is to get a university education. Prepare yourself for lots
of courses in the life sciences, such as geography, biology and chemistry.
Math is important, too.
Teri King is a marine water quality specialist with the Washington Sea
Grant Program. King believes that the best way to prepare is to take courses
in fisheries, forestry and oceanography. Grattan adds that courses in the
environmental, soil and water sciences are also helpful.
Bryan Karney is a civil engineering professor. He believes an engineering
background would be a great asset. "If you want flexibility in what you do
with water, becoming a civil, chemical or mechanical engineer is likely your
best option," he says.
Moving higher up in the environmental sector will mean higher levels of
education and training. Grattan notes that quite often, "a graduate degree
How Strong is the Demand?
In the U.S., the environment sector is growing. The Occupational Employment
Statistics (OES) the number of jobs for environmental scientists is expected
to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2014. That's
because people want the environment to be cleaner, and more businesses and
governments will hire these scientists to help do that. Grattan believes there
will be continued demand for water quality specialists. "Water quality problems
will only continue in the future," he says.
Water quality specialists earn solid salaries. In the U.S.,
environmental scientists earn an average annual wage of $51,080, while hydrologists
can expect to earn an average of $61,510 per year, according to the OES.
Working as a water quality specialist offers a challenging career with
rewards that go beyond money. It's a great way to make a difference and contribute
to society in a positive way. The work they do protects the environment and
improves the quality of human life. And, in some cases, it even saves lives.
What could be more rewarding that that?
Water Environment FederationVisit the job bank to read profiles of water-related jobs
Water Quality AssociationAn excellent collection of research findings
World Health OrganizationLearn more about water quality issues from around the world