What sort of work could you expect to do if you became a hydrogeologist? Practising hydrogeologists from a variety of backgrounds share their experiences:
Lucy Lytton, Senior Hydrogeologist, Veolia Water Partnership
After completing an honours degree in Applied Geology in Australia, I started my career as a hydrogeologist with a consultant that specialised in the investigation and remediation of contaminated land and groundwater. A year later I moved to the Water Resources Department of the New South Wales government where I worked on dryland salinity research projects as well as long term aquifer management plans and groundwater resource investigations.
Some years later, after moving to England, I did a Masters in Hydrogeology at UCL. Following this I went straight into a job with my current employer, a public water company in the UK. Initially doing site supervision and management of borehole drilling contracts and analysis of multiple time series datasets (rainfall, groundwater level, abstraction and river flow), I then worked on a research project into pollution risk assessment and collaborated with German and French colleagues on a research project in Berlin. Now I cover a wide variety of tasks during the course of my normal working life, continuing my involvement in research and development and also managing water resources projects, covering yield, water quality and environmental issues. My role also includes the supervision of consultants, students and junior staff. I also contribute to the strategic plans for Company water resources over the next 25 years and participate in external steering groups (currently the Company representative on a groundwater modelling group and a water industry climate change group).
In recent years I have become active in humanitarian hydrogeology, initially training in 2003 with the French Red Cross to become a member of their water and sanitation emergency response unit. I participated in early 2004 in a drilling project for a community medical centre in Senegal, supporting a local NGO. Then, after spending three months in Chad in late 2004, working for Oxfam to find water supplies for refugees living in camps on the Darfur border, in early 2005 I went to Sri Lanka to work with local counterparts on well-decontamination procedures following the Tsunami of 26th December 2004. I hope to continue working in the humanitarian arena as hydrogeological expertise has great relevance in both emergency and development contexts and I enjoy working in these challenging situations.
Mark Morton, Policy Advisor (Groundwater Protection), Water Quality Policy Team, Environment Agency
My job involves the production and dissemination of Agency policy in relation to protection of groundwater. This is achieved through the production of written material, commenting on documents from a wide range of groups both within and outside the Agency, and liaison. My work includes supporting and advising government and other parts of the Agency's head office and liaising with industry. Although this may sound a little dull it is in fact varied, interesting and worthwhile. There are times when a very rapid but accurate response is needed, for example, to support government departments in answering Parliamentary Questions. At other times, there is the chance to consider and map out the course the Agency will follow to achieve protection and improvement of groundwater quality. There is a broad mix of roles and responsibilities and it means my job is never dull, if at times a little hectic. In terms of using my technical skills and knowledge it is mainly about looking at the bigger picture and taking a more strategic approach. But I still need to apply the fundamentals and principles of geology and hydrogeology to produce workable solutions. Having come from a practical and applied background, I know it is important not to lose sight of the need to make policy workable whilst complying with legislation and government policy.
To get to my current job I followed the usual mix of twists and serendipity. An Honours degree in Geology with Geochemistry in Manchester was followed by an MSc in Geochemistry at Leeds. An interview just down the road at the National Rivers Authority led to a job in York as a Hydrogeologist. I then moved to provide groundwater support to the Regional abstraction licensing team before becoming a Contaminant Hydrogeologist. I then moved to become Regional Hydrogeologist for the North East Region. Most recently, the Environment Agency reorganised and I now work as a Policy Advisor in the Head Office Water Quality team, as part of the small Groundwater Protection group.
There are a number of key aspects to working in hydrogeology: there is the need to maintain a good technical understanding whilst being able to assimilate lots of other information outside of the specialisation. The ability to communicate to non-geologists is crucial, and finally the ability to make decisions based on inadequate data is very important.
Richeldis Robb, Consultant
I started my career working for a consultancy after graduation, where I spent three days of the week doing independent fieldwork looking at the impact of recharge and land use on groundwater levels. I was also exposed to other projects that the company was working on, including the impact of landfills on groundwater, groundwater modelling and international work. Within five months I had applied to do an MSc in Hydrogeology. The MSc was a hard year. All the warnings of extensive maths, physics and chemistry came true, but there was extra help when needed, and the pain was eventually worth it. I have used almost everything we were taught on the course and wouldn't be able to do the work I do today without it.
After the MSc I started working for the Environment Agency (EA), looking at their water quality data, assessing contaminated land investigations and getting involved in the development of the groundwater regulations. It gave me a good insight into the variety of work a hydrogeologist can get involved in, from developing policy to more practical work. I then moved on to the British Geological Survey (BGS), where I mainly worked on two projects to investigate the natural groundwater quality of UK and European aquifers. In the UK this involved fieldwork, data interpretation and reporting to establish a baseline that would help identify pollution and protect groundwater quality of different aquifers. The results were compared to aquifers throughout Europe to help establish groundwater quality guidelines for the Water Framework Directive. Many of the projects at BGS are research orientated and relatively long-term, which was in contrast to my next job at Thames Water.
The groundwater team at Thames Water consists of nine people, who provide a specialised service within a huge organisation. Work is therefore dynamic and demand driven, but I really enjoyed working in a small team to overcome both immediate and long-term issues. Most of the work involves groundwater resource exploration, development and source protection. This included drilling and testing new boreholes, applying for abstraction licenses, rehabilitation of old sources and regular monitoring.
I now live in Mumbai, India, and work for a non-governmental organisation (NGO) specialising in hydrogeological research. Every couple of weeks I spend a few days doing fieldwork in areas you would never visit as a tourist. The work is varied and challenging. I have never had a problem finding work as a hydrogeologist, and have found all the jobs I have done very rewarding.
Sally Harris, Hydrogeologist, Thames Water Utilities
I currently work within the Groundwater Resources Team at Thames Water in Reading. We are a large team, which reflects the fact that about a quarter of the water supplied to our customers comes directly from groundwater sources. My job is varied, and covers the entire supply area from Gloucestershire in the west to Kent in the east. It ranges from looking into source specific issues, which may involve operational testing of the boreholes, to more strategic issues that may, for example, require modelling using the London Basin Groundwater Model. Consequently, I spend my time both in the office and out in the field. Other office-based work includes, but is not limited to, assessing our existing and future groundwater capability, abstraction licence applications, and ensuring our sources are protected against development impacts. Fieldwork also includes drilling and testing of new sources, and routine water quality and groundwater level monitoring. There's always plenty to do and I very much enjoy the diverse nature of the work.
I did an honours degree in Environmental Science of the Earth and Atmosphere, which incorporated Geology, Meteorology and Soil Science. This was followed by an MSc in Hydrogeology and Groundwater Quality. Both degrees were at the University of Reading. After graduating I worked as a Hydrogeologist for the Halcrow Group in Swindon. I spent my time on a variety of projects, ranging from research to commercial projects for a variety of clients, including the Environment Agency, UKWIR, DETR and County Councils. I was fortunate in that I gained experience in both contaminated land and water resource based projects, which then allowed me to decide which direction I wanted to go in, leading me to Thames Water.
Steve Brown, Hydrogeologist, Environment Agency
I did my first degree at Manchester University in Geology and it was then that I decided to concentrate on pursing a career in hydrogeology and groundwater geochemistry. This led to a Master's degree at Huddersfield in surface and groundwater resources where I was involved with many aspects of applied field hydrogeology and hydrochemistry looking at aquifers in Yorkshire and Derbyshire.
My first job was in consultancy with Hydro-Logic Ltd at their Herefordshire based office. Here I was involved in a number of national hydrogeological and hydrological based projects. I also got the opportunity to use a variety of instrumentation and computer modelling packages.
However, I always wanted to work for the Environment Agency and a job came up in the Regional Groundwater and Contaminated Land team at Olton Court, Solihull as a Regional Hydrogeologist covering the whole of the Midlands Region. I was there for three years working on the Groundwater Quality Network (GWQN) across the region and on other hydrochemistry based projects like the natural groundwater 'Baseline' study with the British Geological Survey.
During an internal re-structure, I made the move to an Area Environment Agency office and moved across into the Area Groundwater and Contaminated Land team at Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire, who cover a wide area from Gloucestershire into Warwickshire and parts of Worcestershire. Currently, I am an Area Hydrogeologist providing technical advice and support on groundwater protection and contaminated land issues to both internal and external customers and stakeholders on a daily basis. This role is very challenging and requires a high degree of organisation, with the ability to prioritise workload as I could be managing numerous projects at any one time. I review and provide technical comments on contaminated land planning consultations in terms of protecting the groundwater environment in particular. I also work in groundwater resources and this includes working on the Catchment Abstraction Management Strategy (CAMS), which is reviewing the abstraction licensing policy for the Agency for surface and groundwater abstractions in particular. Also, I am involved with the determination and issuing of consents for drilling any potentially new groundwater abstractions. The work is varied and technically very challenging and no two days are ever the same!
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