Public health careers cover a number of subjects that relate to how communities interact with their environment, as well as how environments affect populations.  While medical interventions and programs address the spread of diseases and how to promote health with services and preventive measures, environmental considerations can often be less apparent in their impact on public welfare.

As one of the fastest growing areas of employment, public health also includes ecological and environmental health and safety concerns.  This incorporation of natural sciences into public health concerns has helped advance job opportunities, such as the option of becoming a hydrologist.

What Is A Hydrologist?

Hydrologists are scientists who study water.  This can be bodies of water such as rivers and lakes, or underground streams, watersheds, and public natural water supplies.  These studies will be used to ascertain possible risks that are presented to and by communities regarding water resources, and will also examine how remediation and public usage affects the health of the environment and the health of the population.

As a hydrologist, you would be required to perform the following duties within your community:

  •   Study critical aspects of bodies of water, such as volume and flow rates.
  •   Gather samples from ground and surface water to analyze for chemical composition and contaminants.
  •   Generate theories about how these findings can impact public health.
  •   Propose public intervention solutions for the prevention of contamination.
  •   Model water movement to track sources of contamination and the possible outflow of this water.
  •   Consult with developers whose projects will impact the public water supply.
  •   Report findings to the public and to municipal governing boards.
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Hydrologists can also cultivate personal qualities to aid in job performance and career advancement:

  •   Analytical thinking:  You will need to use scientific process and lab skills to analyze samples and gather data for modeling and extrapolation.
  •   Problem solving:  Determining the best methods of overcoming obstacles that are presented by your findings can be a large part of balancing public health and public fiscal needs.  Creative means of arriving at such conclusions are integral to job performance. 
  •   Communication:  Although you will need to be able to collaborate with the public and report your findings to the public health department, you may also be required to speak at hearings, and argue for environmental and public safety legislature. 
  •   Cooperation: You will be required to interact with a number of professionals from different fields, as well as with the general public.  This can include sharing information as well as getting permission to access sampling sites. 
  •   Physical endurance: This is a very labor intensive position which will require you to be in extreme environmental and weather conditions.  It is important that you maintain your physical strength and health in order to perform your duties.

Nature Of The Work

Hydrologists will mainly work in the field, which can include both the natural environment and manmade facilities for treatment and water holding.  This aspect of the work is necessary for collecting samples and monitoring treatment processes that can affect the ground water.  Once samples have been collected and documented, you will work indoors in the lab and the office.

Water analysis that is conducted in the lab will yield data that you will then record and input into computer modeling programs.  These protocols will also be used when entering flow rates and vectors and charting movements.  This gives you the chance to visually interpret the larger picture of your collections and make interpretations and predictions based on them.  Further office based work can include writing reports and proposing solutions and outcomes that may be considered by legislative boards.

Education And Training

For an entry level position as a hydrologist, you would require at least a Master’s degree in either natural sciences, geology, or even engineering.  Further background in environmental law and government policies can also be helpful for successful advancement in this career.  Many municipalities, or state and federal level hydrologist jobs will require post-graduate education as well, but depending on positions in your area you may be able to find employment while completing this degree.

Although some states require licensing for this job, there is no national expectation for this position.  Having certificates in computer skills and software modeling can also be of benefit when applying for employment as a hydrologist, and experience or training in general engineering is also a plus. 

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This career path has an average growth rate at about 10% which is still higher than most jobs across the nation.  However, this projection may change as population growth and resource demands increase across the country.  The incorporation of this position into the field of public health has also gained attention with energy concerns that could affect community welfare through water contamination.

The average salary for a hydrologist is around $75,000 per year.  Entry level positions for local municipalities can start at $50,000, but advancement with experience and education increases this number.  If you are interested in preserving public health and finding valid solutions for resource concerns, employment as a hydrologist on a local, state, or federal level could offer you a lifelong career.

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