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Chapter 2, Section 2:
Water Quality Management

Water comes in many forms. Oceans are distinct saltwater ecological systems. Springs, lakes, creeks, rivers, bogs and swamps make up surface water, and are among the most sensitive and vulnerable environments. Groundwater is usually invisible and underground, in aquifers and reservoirs for our wells and springs. These can be depleted by over-pumping and can become contaminated by surface dumps and spills that seep into the Earth. Wastewater is human sewage: water we have used to flush away our various wastes. This water should not be ‘thrown away,’ but can be treated, cleaned, sterilized and reused, especially in areas where water is scarce. All sources of water are easily polluted and the protection of this source of life requires constant vigilance. The water quality management field is divided according to the type and purpose of the water resource management. Some of the larger categories are described below.

Drinking Water Supply and Treatment:
There are more than 55,000 drinking water systems in the United States. Management and treatment of these systems includes identification of surface water and groundwater supplies, extraction and transport the water, purification, regulation of drinking water standards, operation of treatment facilities, promotion of water conservation efforts and maintenance of the drinking water supply infrastructure.

Wastewater Treatment:
Over 16,000 wastewater treatment plants employ professionals throughout the nation. Professionals in this area include scientists and technicians working at industrial and municipal wastewater treatment plants, people who design, build, and equip the plants, chemists and technicians who collect and test water samples and many others.

Groundwater Protection:
Groundwater protection professionals identify the misuse or pollution of groundwater, measure levels of risk to human, plant, and animal health, design computer models to predict the contamination of pollutants, carry out cleanup and restoration activities where resources are polluted, and design strategies to prevent groundwater contamination.

Surface Water Management:
Management of surface water resources identifies sources of pollution to lakes, springs, streams, and rivers and finds ways to reduce or eliminate them. In addition, surface water managers also work with other environmental professionals to protect water resources for fish and wildlife habitat, as well as for human use. Irrigation systems that support agriculture divert wild surface waters, requiring engineers, builders, farmers and very careful planning.

Wetlands Protection:
Wetlands are complex, flourishing ecosystems when allowed to function naturally. Invading foreign plants can choke springs and streams, displacing indigenous species that wildlife needs in order to survive. Besides being important habitats for fish and wildlife, wetlands can moderate flooding and drought and stabilize human water supplies. This part of the water quality management field includes wetlands ecologists, surveyors, botanists, fish and wildlife scientists, planners, chemists, and water quality specialists.

Employment Breakdown:
Over 300,000 nationwide
Public sector - 40% (5% federal, 35% state and local)
Private sector - 55%
Nonprofit sector - 5%

Key Job Titles:
  • Aquatic Environmental Scientist
  • Aquatic Toxicologist
  • Attorney
  • Chemist
  • Civil Engineer
  • Wastewater Engineer
  • Public Health Officer
  • Drinking Water Quality Control Scientist
  • Environmental Engineer
  • Water Supply and Transport Technician
  • Water Quality Specialist
  • Watershed Planner
  • Hydrologist
  • Risk Analyst

Entry-level salaries range from $18,000 to $35,000 annually. The lower end of the range represents operators at smaller wastewater systems and the higher end includes scientists and engineers at larger consulting firms. Maximum salaries range widely ($50,000 to $100,000 and higher) for managers and directors in government and industry, senior scientists and engineers, consultants, and academics.


Almost a Tribal Resource Manager
Jason McCabe is affiliated with the Colorado River Indian Tribes, the Hopis and Dine'. He is working on his Master’s Degree in Northern Arizona University’s School of Ecosystem Science and Management where he is enrolled in the Geography and Public Planning Department.

Jason is impatient to join in the important work of tribal resource planning. He worries that agriculturally based tribes in arid environments are not exercising satisfactory planning. He believes he is qualified to bring some order to the confusion created by disputed or overlapping jurisdictions.

Jason’s advice to students is to keep up on their work and to stay focused on their studies.



Environmental Education Outreach Program (EEOP)
Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals (ITEP)
PO Box 5768     Flagstaff, AZ 86011-5768     Phone: (928) 523-1275     Fax: (928) 523-1280
E-mail: eeop@nau.edu

Last updated: May 27, 2005