UK Groundwater Forum. From left to right Images Copyright Derek Ball BGS ©NERC 1999, Jude Cobbings BGS ©NERC 2003, Terry Marsh CEH ©1991, Emily Crane BGS ©NERC 2004
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Employers, Nature of the work and the Demand

Groundwater specialists (hydrogeologists) are employed by a wide range of organisations, including:

Environment Regulators – the government organisations (Environment Agency, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, local government, central government) who advise on, plan and police water legislation;

Water supply companies – in some areas of the UK, groundwater provides a major component of the water supplied. Many water supply companies employ groundwater specialists, enabling them to identify and address groundwater-related issues internally, gathering data, assessing options and implementing solutions;

Consultants – from companies employing a few people, to departments of international companies with hundreds of employees, consultancies work for private and governmental clients in the UK and overseas; work may require a specialism in certain fields (e.g. landfill, dewatering) or the capability of dealing with many types of project;

Government research institutes – organisations, e.g. the British Geological Survey and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, who undertake fundamental research as well as providing information and expertise to regulators and private clients in the UK and overseas;

Universities – several universities undertake specialist teaching and research in groundwater, employing lecturers and researchers;

Other companies – groundwater is central to a number of companies (e.g. bottled water companies, waste disposal companies, radioactive waste disposal concerns, civil and geotechnical engineering consultancies), and as such they employ groundwater specialists. Large industries, e.g. steel, chemical and pharmaceutical, with significant contaminated land issues may also employ their own groundwater related staff.

Many UK hydrogeologists work overseas, either for UK/International companies including aid organisations or for overseas companies and governments.

The type of work undertaken by hydrogeologists is wide-ranging, including:

  • water resources (regional water supply, irrigation);
  • water quality (groundwater protection, contaminated land, clean-up);
  • waste disposal (landfills, radioactive waste disposal); and
  • engineering (dewatering, consolidation, reservoirs, barrages).

The work often involves a mixture of field and computer-based tasks, but can also include laboratory work. Some hydrogeologists get involved with all aspects of the subject, but others concentrate on a specific aspect, for example modelling, chemistry, drilling or environmental impact assessment.

Whatever the employer, the job of a hydrogeologist requires an advanced level of understanding across several fields – geology, hydraulics, environmental chemistry, technology, and computer modelling. Hence it is usual for hydrogeologists to have some sort of specialist graduate training, and often, but not always, this involves completing an MSc course.

At present, there is a shortage of hydrogeologists in the UK, as was made very clear by evidence presented by various bodies to the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology in 2003. For many years, all those graduating from MSc Hydrogeology courses who wanted jobs in the industry (almost all graduates!), obtained jobs.

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