Employment Statistics and Major Employers for Groundwater Professionals

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Employment opportunities for groundwater professionals are expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through the years to come. The search for new sources of water for expanding populations and the adoption of strict environmental protection and regulatory practices, such as the national Safe Drinking Water Act, Superfund, and individual state initiatives, have made the groundwater profession a high-growth field. Activities associated with clean drinking water supplies will provide many new jobs for the next several years. By most estimates, the high demand for geoscientists and particularly hydrologists will continue to increase well into the foreseeable future. There is presently a shortage of qualified groundwater professionals, and the number of new graduates will be far less than the number of new and replacement job openings.

More than half of all groundwater professionals work for private consulting firms. These firms, commonly known as environmental service firms, conduct tests and perform remediation services for government agencies, private and public water utilities, mining and lumber companies gasoline retailers, and other manufacturing and retailing companies. Many of these environmental service firms prepare environmental impact reports (EIRs), which are required by state and federal agencies for many public and private projects. For a detailed discussion of EIRs, see Part VII of this Book. Most preliminary studies and actual cleanup work directed by the federal and state governments are done by these service firms.

The next largest employers are the federal, state and local governments. In the federal government, groundwater professionals work primarily for the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy, Department of Defense, the U.S. Geological Survey, Soil Conservation Service, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Peace Corps. These individuals enforce federal regulations, monitor site remediation work, help establish present and future public policy, and assist developing nations with their water needs.

During the next several years a large number of military bases will close, and preliminary reports indicate that many of these bases have for years released toxic and hazardous chemicals into the local and surrounding water-table. The cleanup of these bases for civilian use will cost billions of dollars and create employment opportunities for thousands of environmental science professionals and technicians for many years to come. Also, the growing number of Superfund projects (now totaling more than 10,000) will offer similar opportunities.

State agencies provide groundwater professionals employment opportunities in department's of public health, water and sewage management, environmental protection, and in irrigation districts. In addition, nearly half of all water utilities are owned by local government agencies where a good number of groundwater professionals are employed.

Other groundwater professionals work for large companies in private industry, research companies, and private foundations, or are self-employed. Colleges and universities hire a good number of groundwater professionals to teach and conduct research. Normally, a Ph.D. is required for these positions.

Salary Statistics

According to the College Placement Council, starting salaries for entry-level geo-science majors was $25,705 in 1992. The average entry-level salary for master's degree holders was $36,333, and $47,827 for doctorate holders. A recent report issued by the Michigan State University listed the average salary for hydrologists and related geoscientists as $41,580.

In the federal government, entry-level geoscientists with a bachelor's degree can expect to earn $22,717 to $24,231 per year, depending upon experience. The holder of a master's degree will earn between $27,789 and $29,641, while those with a Ph.D. can expect a salary of $33,623 to $35,865.

According to the American Association of University Professors, the average starting salary for a geo-science professor in 1992 was $37,012. The average salary for a tenured professor was $62,531, while part-time instructors earned about $27,000.


Groundwater professionals work in a variety of settings. While some spend a majority of their time in an office, others divide their time among fieldwork, office work, and laboratory work. They may spend time in the field drilling, mapping, and sampling in all types of climates and weather conditions. Generally, less-experienced groundwater professionals do the majority of fieldwork, while those with more experience remain indoors. Groundwater professionals sometimes travel to remote field sites by helicopter or four-wheel-drive vehicles and cover large areas on foot. Some groundwater professionals work overseas or in remote areas where frequent job relocation is not unusual.

Working hours are also highly variable. Groundwater professionals working in offices or laboratories work a regular 40-hour week. Deadlines or the need to monitor projects in the field may require overtime. Those conducting fieldwork are usually on no fixed time schedule. While a 40-hour week is not unusual, many field professionals work overtime and irregular hours.

Sources of Further Information
  • American Geological Institute 4220 King St. Alexandria, VA 22302

  • American Geophysical Union 2000 Florida Ave., NW Washington, DC 20009

  • American Institute of Hydrology 3416 University Ave., SE Suite 200 St. Paul, MN 55144

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