Civil Engineering is a term that covers a lot of space. It’s a field that allows for a lot of specialization, but today I want to talk about my own little corner of that giant space. Hydraulic Engineering, these days better known as Water Resources Engineering.
Since the beginning of my career I’ve been in hydraulic engineering. In this case ‘hydraulic’ means ‘related to water. The industry and most practicioners have been moving toward ‘water resources’ in the intersts of avoiding confusion related to the other uses of the word ‘hydraulics’. Also, when you get into the nitty gritty (which I’m avoiding for the moment) of it, water resources covers a wider range of topics than hydraulics. In the 1960’s and 70’s water was only an impediment to get away from your building as quickly as possible or a tool to make electricity, these days it’s so much more complex.
So what does a water resources engineer do? The title encompasses anything related to water, and water is 70% of the earth’s surface and vital to every form of life we’re aware of, so it’s a pretty broad spectrum of resonsibilities. So here’s a bullet list:
- Designing water and waste water treatement plants.
- Flood modeling to determine those pesky 100 year floodplains that journalists like to talk about when it rains a lot.
- Road drainage so we don’t have to stay in the garage on rainy days.
- Bridge design to make sure the Walmart upstream doesn’t get flooded.
- Restoring damaged and polluted streams.
- Designing levees to make land more useful.
- Land development that turns forest or pasture into your local Target.
- Water distribution systems so something wet comes out when your turn the faucet. (including those awesome water towers)
- Erosion control on construction sites to keep dirt out of streams.
That’s just a list off the top of my head. Nearly every civil engineering has a water component of some sort and most civil engineers have a working knowledge of the basic principles no matter what area they practice in.
Me personally? I’m a specialist. I work for an organization that builds a lot of roads so my primary job is to keep the roads above flood waters and making sure the good taxpayers of this state don’t get blamed for roads that flood people who live nearby. When something goes wrong and water gets in someone’s house my colleagues and I are the ones that get the call to figure out what went wrong. (It’s important to note though, water resources engineering is one of the few specialties where catastrophe can happen even if no one screws up.) It’s a rewarding job, but it does involve a lot of routine design work to keep things from going wrong. Unfortunately though, when my workday is at its most interesting it probably means someone else had a really bad day. I sometimes feel guilty about deriving the most enjoyment out of the parts of my job based on someone else’s bad fortune, but I do take a lot of satisfaction in fixing what’s broken so it won’t happen again.
I’m planning some future posts with details about some of the projects I’ve been involved with (mostly from that bullet list above), but for today I just wanted to give an overview for anyone who might be interested.