Water chemists are strongly committed to the environment. They are objective, highly practical people with good analytical skills.

Typical Job Functions

Water chemists are concerned with analyzing and maintaining the quality and condition of water. Chemists in this field can work as bench chemists or data review chemists. They can typically be found in government, or with private sector environmental management companies.

Water chemistry is an interdisciplinary field, and water chemists can take on a variety of responsibilities. Their titles vary, often reflecting the interplay of disciplines (e.g., hydrologist, hydrogeologist, and hydrobiogeochemist). Other titles include water purification chemist, wastewater treatment plant chemist, surface water chemist, and groundwater chemist.

Water chemists often use their specific knowledge about water for applications that affect entire ecosystems.

Typical job duties of a water chemist include:

  • Ensuring that water processed at filtration plants is safe.
  • Evaluating ecosystems by collecting samples; monitoring the condition of streams, lakes, and other bodies of water over time.
  • Analyzing data to review trends and make projections.
  • Reviewing and evaluating data and making recommendations for regulations and policy.
  • Studying groundwater that has been contaminated by crude oil or gasoline leaks.
  • Monitoring radioactive elements in groundwater and water flow in aquifers.
  • Investigating surface, watershed, and regional water contamination (research hydrologists).
  • Developing processes to remove contaminants from water (water remediation).

Most positions include fieldwork. (Caveat: industrial water chemists spend most of their time in the lab.)

Career Paths

Water chemists generally start out working in the field or at the bench. As they progress in their career, they may take on higher profile and more complex projects, or they may supervise more people.

Some positions in water chemistry or hydrology may require an advanced degree (master’s or Ph.D.). For those willing to live overseas, industrial opportunities exist in developing countries that need to build water treatment facilities.

Getting Started

Students interested in this area should take as many courses as possible in environmental policy to supplement their technical expertise and understand how the data they collect affects public policy. Also important are:

  • Familiarity with a wide range of disciplines (e.g., microbiology, geology, etc.).
  • Laboratory and hands-on experience.
  • Experience with computer modeling, data analysis, and digital mapping is desirable

Some states require hydrologists to obtain a license to practice.

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