Water engineer

A water or wastewater engineer could...

Design an engineering solution that will protect a town from the devastating effects of flooding. Water barrier Oversee daily testing on a city's water supply to ensure that it is safe for the population to drink. Water fountain
Figure out the best place to locate a municipal water treatment facility. Water treatment facility Help design park water features in ways that will maximize both fun and water conservation. Water park
Find out more...

Key Facts & Information

Overview When you think about a city that is a great place to live, what do you consider? Probably a community where the citizens are happy, healthy, and comfortable. Part of being all three is having a clean, safe, and constant water supply. Many of us take for granted that when we turn the faucet on we will be able to get a glass of water or that when we flush the toilet our waste will be carried away and treated somewhere. Well, that is what a water or wastewater engineer does. Their job is to design and build the tools and infrastructure that provide us with clean water as well as to monitor the safety of our water.
Key Requirements Good written and verbal skills, ability to work on a team and independently, self-motivation, attention to detail
Minimum Degree Bachelor's degree
Subjects to Study in High School Biology, chemistry, physics, algebra II, geometry, calculus; if available, computer science, environmental science
Median Salary
Water or Wastewater Engineer
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
Min Wage
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) More Slowly than Average (3% to 6%)
  • Miles Moffatt is an environmental engineer who works on big water and wastewater projects.
Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

Training, Other Qualifications

All 50 states and the District of Columbia require licensure for engineers who offer their services directly to the public. Engineers who are licensed are called professional engineers (or PEs). This licensure generally requires a degree from an engineering program approved by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, four years of relevant work experience, and completion of a state examination. Recent graduates can start the licensing process by taking the examination in two stages. The initial Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) examination can be taken upon graduation. Engineers who pass this examination commonly are called engineers in training (EITs) or engineer interns (EIs). After acquiring suitable work experience, EITs can take the second examination, called the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam. Several states have imposed mandatory continuing education requirements for relicensure. Most states recognize licensure from other states, provided that the manner in which the initial license was obtained meets or exceeds their own licensure requirements. Many civil, mechanical, and chemical engineers are licensed PEs. Independently of licensure, professional organizations offer various certification programs to demonstrate competency in specific fields of engineering.

Education and Training

A bachelor's degree in civil, mechanical, or chemical engineering is required for almost all entry-level water or wastewater engineering jobs.

Most engineering programs involve a concentration of study in an engineering specialty, along with courses in both mathematics and the physical and life sciences. Many programs also include courses in general engineering. A design course, sometimes accompanied by a computer or laboratory class or both, is part of the curriculum of most programs. Often, general courses not directly related to engineering, such as those in the social sciences or humanities, also are required.

Graduate training is essential for engineering faculty positions and some research and development programs, but it is not required for the majority of entry-level engineering jobs. Many experienced engineers obtain graduate degrees in engineering or business administration to learn new technology and broaden their education. Numerous high-level executives in government and industry began their careers as engineers.

Admissions requirements for undergraduate engineering schools include a solid background in mathematics (algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus) and science (biology, chemistry, and physics), in addition to courses in English, social studies, and humanities. Bachelor's degree programs in engineering typically are designed to last four years, but many students find that it takes between four and five years to complete their studies. In a typical four-year college curriculum, the first two years are spent studying mathematics, basic sciences, introductory engineering, humanities, and social sciences. In the last two years, most courses are in engineering, usually with a concentration in one specialty. Some programs offer a general engineering curriculum; students then specialize on the job or in graduate school.

Watch this video to find out how engineers work to detect, prevent, and treat contamination in water systems.

Nature of the Work

Water or wastewater engineers design and supervise the construction of water supply and water treatment/sewage systems. These engineers design infrastructure that processes and delivers water efficiently and safely. They must consider many factors in the design process, from the construction costs and expected lifetime of a project to government regulations, environmental impacts, and potential environmental hazards such as earthquakes and hurricanes.

Water or wastewater engineers test water samples to make sure that the water is safe for public use. They help design reservoirs and treatment tanks that remove harmful particulates. If contamination levels are unacceptable, then water and wastewater engineers work toward finding the source and eliminating the problem.

Some water or wastewater engineers are involved in conservation efforts and work on educating and encouraging the public to protect the natural resources in their communities.

Work Environment

Most water and wastewater engineers work in office buildings, laboratories, or industrial plants. They spend time outdoors where they monitor or direct operations or solve on-site problems. Some water or wastewater engineers travel extensively to plants or work sites in the U.S. and abroad.

Many water or wastewater engineers work a standard 40-hour week. At times, deadlines or design standards may bring extra pressure to a job, requiring engineers to work longer hours.

On the Job

  • Design domestic or industrial water or wastewater treatment plants, including advanced facilities with sequencing batch reactors (SBRs), membranes, lift stations, headworks, surge overflow basins, ultraviolet disinfection systems, aerobic digesters, sludge lagoons, or control buildings.
  • Design pumping systems, pumping stations, pipelines, force mains, or sewers for the collection of wastewater.
  • Design sludge treatment plants.
  • Design water distribution systems for potable and non-potable water.
  • Design water or wastewater lift stations, including water wells.
  • Design water runoff collection networks, water supply channels, or water supply system networks.
  • Design water storage tanks or other water storage facilities.
  • Analyze and recommend chemical, biological, or other wastewater treatment methods to prepare water for industrial or domestic use.
  • Analyze and recommend sludge treatment or disposal methods.
  • Analyze stormwater or floodplain drainage systems to control erosion, stabilize river banks, and repair channel streams, or to design bridges.
  • Analyze the efficiency of water delivery structures, such as dams, Tainter gates, canals, pipes, penstocks, and cofferdams.
  • Conduct cost-benefit analyses for the construction of water supply systems, runoff collection networks, water and wastewater treatment plants, or wastewater collection systems.
  • Conduct environmental impact studies related to water and wastewater collection, treatment, or distribution.
  • Conduct feasibility studies for the construction of facilities, such as water supply systems, runoff collection networks, water and wastewater treatment plants, or wastewater collection systems.
  • Gather and analyze water-use data to forecast water demand.
  • Oversee the construction of decentralized and on-site wastewater treatment systems, including reclaimed water facilities.
  • Perform hydraulic analyses of water supply systems or water distribution networks to model flow characteristics, test for pressure losses, or identify opportunities to mitigate risks and improve operational efficiency.
  • Perform hydrological analyses, using three-dimensional simulation software, to model the movement of water or forecast the dispersion of chemical pollutants in the water supply.
  • Perform mathematical modeling of underground or surface water resources, such as floodplains, ocean coastlines, streams, rivers, and wetlands.
  • Conduct water quality studies to identify and characterize water pollutant sources.
  • Design or select equipment for use in wastewater processing to ensure compliance with government standards.
  • Develop plans for new water resources or water efficiency programs.
  • Identify design alternatives for the development of new water resources.
  • Provide technical direction or supervision to junior engineers, engineering or computer-aided design (CAD) technicians, or other technical personnel.
  • Provide technical support on water resource or treatment issues to government agencies.
  • Review and critique proposals, plans, or designs related to water and wastewater treatment systems.
  • Write technical reports or publications related to water resources development or water-use efficiency.

Companies That Hire Water or Wastewater Engineers

Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...

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Science Fair Project Idea
Do you filter your tap water before drinking? Many commercials claim these filters make your drinking water cleaner and safer. But what, exactly, are these filters doing and is the water really cleaner afterwards? The cleaning power comes from their filling material, called activated carbon. It exists in all kind of forms: powder, granules, foams, and blocks. Do you think it matters what type of activated carbon is inside the filter? In this activity you will investigate whether larger or… Read more
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It is important to ensure that we all have good clean water to drink that is not contaminated by heavy metals or chemicals. One common pollutant in a water supply is lead in old pipes or paints that can leach into the water and cause lead poisoning. There are different kits available for testing the presence of lead and other contaminants in water. Test your water supply, and also the water in some local ponds, lakes or streams. The same contaminants that can harm you can also harm wildlife. … Read more
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How can seawater from the oceans be turned into fresh water that is suitable for people to drink? Through a process called solar desalination! In this science project, you will make a solar desalination apparatus using readily available materials, and a power source that is free. How much water can the device produce, and is it still salty at all? What factors affect how effectively saltwater is turned into fresh water? Read more
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Have you ever thought about how fortunate you are to have safe and clean water coming out of your faucet? Many people in undeveloped nations don't have this luxury. But does that mean they can't have clean water at all? Is there an inexpensive way they could use to make their own clean water? In this microbiology science fair project, you will investigate whether or not sunlight can disinfect contaminated water. Read more
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Amaze your friends and family by moving water with just a few turns of your wrist! Nope, it's not a magic trick. It's simply an Archimedes screw. In this science project, you will build a very simple pump, called an Archimedes screw, to transfer water from a low-lying location to a higher location. Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
Pennies are bright and shiny when they are new, but become quite dull with time. What causes such a drastic change? Oxygen in the air combines with the copper in the penny to form copper oxide, which makes the penny look dull and dingy. You can make the pennies look like new again by soaking them in water that is corrosive enough to strip off the copper oxide layer. It turns out, however, that the same process that makes the pennies shiny has bad consequences when it comes to copper pipes: it… Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
Living in the industrialized world, like the United States, we are fortunate because we don't have to worry about the quality of our drinking water. Your community has the means to clean and provide water to you. But in many parts of the world, people don't have this luxury. Whether it is due to war or poverty, the lack of clean water leads to many health and social problems. In this environmental engineering science project, you will learn about different methods to filter out impurities in… Read more
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One way to conserve water is to find safe ways to use it more than once. Here is a project to test whether greywater (water that has been used for washing or bathing) can be used for watering ornamental plants. Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
To survive, we need oxygen in the air we breathe. Oxygen is also essential for most aquatic organisms, but there is much less oxygen available in water than in air. How much oxygen can dissolve in water? Does the temperature of the water matter? Learn how to measure dissolved oxygen and then see how oxygen concentration changes with water temperature. Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
One way to test for the presence of toxic compounds in a water sample is a bioassay. In a bioassay, a living organism serves as a detector for toxins—the same way canaries were used in coal mines to detect invisible toxic gases. In this project, water fleas (Daphnia magna), a freshwater crustacean, are used in a bioassay to monitor water quality. Many variations of this experiment are possible. Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
Did you know that there is plastic in the ocean? It probably isn't too hard to imagine that some of the plastic that litters roadways, sidewalks, and parks finds its way into the ocean. So, how much do you think is in there? Hundreds of pounds of plastic? How about thousands of pounds? No one knows for sure, but estimates, based on scientific surveys, suggest the amount is in the range of millions of pounds of plastic! Of course, the ocean is big, over 300 million square kilometers, so… Read more
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Do you know that many consumer products, such as sports clothes, cosmetics, and even food containers contain tiny silver particles? These so-called nanoparticles—usually 1–100 nanometers (a billionth of a meter) in size—are toxic to bacteria and fungi and therefore, are used to prevent them from growing on everyday items you use. But what happens if the silver nanoparticles get into the water; for example, when you wash off your makeup or clean your clothes? Do they… Read more
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Have you ever thought about being stranded on a desert island? How would you find water to drink? What would you need to survive? In this science fair project you'll discover how to turn the ocean into a source of freshwater by using the power of the Sun. Read more
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We are all familiar with the nursery rhyme, "Rain, rain, go away, come again some other day...", or the song "Singin' in the Rain." Numerous songs and stories describe our feelings about rain. Why so many? Because we humans understand how important rain is to our well-being. Rainfall, as part of the water cycle, brings water back to Earth that had previously evaporated or transpired from the surface. When water vapor in the atmosphere condenses into clouds and falls back to Earth as rain,… Read more
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When pesticides are applied to protect crops, run-off of potentially harmful pesticides is a major problem. Can water plants such as hardstem bulrush, common cattail, parrotfeather and smooth scouring rush promote pesticide breakdown? If so, diversion of irrigation run-off into plant-filled ponds could help reduce pesticide pollution. Mix malathion at 12.5% of the recommended application strength (to simulate dilution by rain or irrigation water). Use 5-gallon buckets for testing various… Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
Reclaimed (treated) wastewater can be used for many purposes, including landscape watering and freeing up valuable fresh water for other purposes (like drinking water). It's a great way to conserve water, but is it really safe? This science fair project is designed to find out. Read more

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Free science fair projects.