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How to Become a Surface Water Hydrologist in the US

Being a hydrologist can have numerous rewards if you have the right qualifications and qualities. Hydrologists can be categorized as groundwater hydrologists, surface water hydrologists and environmental scientists. Here are the things you need to know about becoming a surface water hydrologist.

What Does a Hydrologist Do?

When you become a surface water hydrologist, you will be entrusted with the following duties:

  • Measuring the volume, stream flow and other properties of aboveground water bodies, such as snow packs, lakes and streams
  • Testing for PH or pollution levels and other properties of water and soil
  • Analyzing the environmental impacts of problems, such as pollution, erosion and drought
  • Carrying out research on methods of mitigating the environmental effects of pollution, sedimentation or erosion
  • Forecasting events, such as future water supplies, the spread of pollution and floods using computer models
  • Evaluating the viability of hydroelectric power plants, irrigation systems and wastewater treatment facilities and other water-related projects
  • Preparing reports and presenting their findings


To qualify as a surface water hydrologist, you need to satisfy certain requirements:

  • Master’s degree
  • Bachelor’s degree is usually enough for some entry-level positions. However, you should have trained in a related field of study related to hydrology, such as engineering.
  • You need a Ph.D. if you want a university faculty position or to carry out advanced research

Since many universities do not offer an undergraduate degree in hydrology, you may opt to take hydrology concentrations in engineering, geosciences or earth science programs. Then, you can do extensive coursework in subjects such as:

  • Math
  • Statistics and physical
  • Computer science
  • Life sciences
  • Economics
  • Environmental law
  • Computer modeling
  • Data analysis
  • Digital mapping

In addition to these qualifications, you should have additional qualities such as:

  • Interpersonal skills to enable you interact effectively with engineers, technicians, and other scientists
  • Physical stamina, which you will need in the field where hiking long distances while carrying heavy equipment may be necessary
  • Analytical skills to be able to analyze data and examine the lab test results
  • Communication skills to enable you to prepare detailed reports and present findings to government officials, the general public and other people with no technical background
  • Critical-thinking skills to help you assess the threat posed to the water supply


The salaries of surface water hydrologists depend on the industry in which they are employed.

Entry Level



Mid Career







Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Work Environment

Although working as a hydrologist may be exciting, you should prepare for certain circumstances that may seem challenging. You may work full time when you become a hydrologist but variations in the length of daily shifts may occur when you are in the field. You may be compelled to wade into streams and lakes to collect samples. You may also spend much time in front of your computer analyzing data and modeling their findings. Doing so may cause eyestrain and other health problems. You will also have to write lengthy reports. Sometimes, local and international travel is necessary.

Career Prospects

The number of hydrologists to be employed was projected to increase 10 percent from 2012 to 2022. The demand will be fueled by an increase in construction, mining, and hydraulic fracturing. In addition, environmental concerns may increase the demand for hydrologists because the need for professionals to manage the country’s water resources will be important. Your ability to assess the threats posed to water supplies by global climate change will ensure that you remain marketable. However, you must ensure that you gain computer-modeling experience because it will provide the best opportunities.

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