A man holds a glass of water in front of a building

A water or wastewater engineer could...

Design an engineering solution that will protect a town from the devastating effects of flooding. Aerial photo of a large dam in a valley Oversee daily testing on a city's water supply to ensure that it is safe for the population to drink. A child drinks water flowing from a pipe
Figure out the best place to locate a municipal water treatment facility. Aerial photo of wastewater treatment tanks Help design park water features in ways that will maximize both fun and water conservation. Children play in a tunnel made of blue rings that shoot water
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) Average (7% to 13%) In Demand!
  • 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.

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.

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

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

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