Hydraulic Engineer

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Hydraulic Engineer


When it comes to systems that collect, store and distribute water like reservoirs, dams, dykes and channels, hydraulic engineers play an important role. People often take for granted that engineers maintain the cleanliness of our water systems. For example, water and sewage treatment plants, which provide people with safe drinking water require the expertise of a hydraulic engineer. Hydraulic engineers design, organize and supervise the building, maintenance and repair of projects such as dams and canals, and analyze natural water flow systems such as rivers and lakes. Closely related to civil and environmental engineers, they examine the physical, chemical and biological attributes of flowing water, seeking to protect and enhance the quality of the water environment.

Hydraulic issues are now closely related to the environment because our water can easily become contaminated with materials hazardous to our health. Hydraulics engineers also study bodies of water and the different effects they have on our environment. For example, some areas that hydraulics engineers may specialize in are: coastal and lake ecosystem management, where they study water levels, currents, winds, waves and breakwater configurations; river and watershed management; flood management; chemical and oil spills; water quality and pollutant transport; erosion and sediment deposits. Each one of the former factors has an effect on our future physical environment and it is important that hydraulic engineers analyze and produce this data.

Hydraulic engineers meet with architects, lawyers, marine specialists and contractors in order to make sure that design plans are safe and will withstand a number of conditional and seasonal variables. Safety is one of the most important issues that hydraulic engineers must contend with. They create engineering plans on computers which test and predict possible problems with a structure and in this, they generate solutions. Although much of the work takes place on the computer, most hydraulic engineers travel to the sites to see their work in progress and to conduct experiments.

They research and evaluate each water-related project to find the most cost-effective solutions to problems while still maintaining recognized standards.
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  Interests and Skills  
Hydraulic engineers must be knowledgeable about math and science. They are expert decision-makers and have good drawing and design skills. They possess good communication skills because they work closely with government officials, contractors, architects and clients. Hydraulic engineers can analyze data, review calculations and prepare cost estimates and have the ability to visualize three-dimensional objects from two-dimensional drawings. They must be dedicated to their projects, be creative in their designs and be as knowledgeable as possible in the hydraulics field. Computer skills are imperative, including hydraulic modeling software. Finally, they should enjoy being innovative, doing work that requires precision and making solid decisions.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Assess the feasibility of developing hydroelectric power plants, irrigation systems, flood warning systems and water supplies
  • Analyze existing river and hydraulics systems
  • Develop water systems designed to supply water to irrigation projects, prevent flooding, protect beaches and manage rivers
  • Design and oversee the construction and maintenance of dams, reservoirs, hydroelectric power plants, canals and locks
  • Predict and analyze patterns of water-flow (run-off and flooding) and evaluate their potential effects
  • Design holding areas and storm sewers to accommodate water overflow and flooding conditions
  • Study water flows in rivers and streams, survey underground supplies of water and their movement, and study precipitation rates
  • Test designs for faults
  • Examine the effects of water flows and floods on the environment
  • Work out the efficiency and cost of the design
  • Write reports, proposals and budgets for the proposed water-related structures
  • May use computer modeling software to design and assess storm water systems, and river and flood behavior
  • May appear as expert witnesses in court hearings.
  • Working environments for hydraulic engineers are as varied as their projects. When hydraulic engineers are not in the office on the computer, outdoor workplace conditions can sometimes be a bit hectic. For instance, when inspecting proposed dam sites or dams, engineers have to travel to isolated areas and may even have to walk miles to the site. Some inspections can involve working in confined spaces including wet, dark tunnels and at great heights.
  • They also get to travel to work sites and they sometimes must testify in front of a public hearing. They usually work anywhere between eight and 10 hours each day and longer hours may be required if there are any emergencies. They often work with a team that may include professionals from other engineering and scientific disciplines, contractors, project owners, architects, bankers, lawyers or government officials.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Hydraulic engineers work in both the public and private sectors. They are employed by government agencies, especially in the municipal sector, hydraulic engineering consulting firms, research and educational institutions, communications companies, water and hydraulics companies and many other related industries. Some hydraulic engineers are self-employed and own their own hydraulic engineering consulting firm.

  Long Term Career Potential  
With experience, hydraulic engineers can become project managers and eventually advance to the management of very large projects such as a reservoirs or dams. Some experienced hydraulic engineers may decide to branch off on their own and establish their own hydraulics consulting companies. Those with PhDs might teach at a university or conduct research in this specialized field.

  Educational Paths  
Due to the nature of the job, hydraulic engineers require a university degree in hydraulic engineering or in a related field of civil engineering. They must also become registered as a professional engineer (PEng) within an association of professional engineers to secure employment and practice in their field. Some hydraulic engineers also get master's degrees in their specific area, which gives an engineer more options when looking for a job.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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