Watershed Management: Academic Requirements, Professional Outlook

Watershed Management

A "watershed" is an area where all the water running off the land drains into a specific body of water. Watersheds are everywhere, and they are all ultimately connected to the oceans. Activities that impact one watershed are likely to impact another one; problems like contaminated drinking water and soil erosion can affect many people, even people who are not near the original problem site.

Watershed protection involves monitoring water and runoff for contamination, ensuring adequate vegetation cover to prevent runoff, and monitoring fish, wildlife and plants for signs of stress. Watersheds are important because they provide us with water for drinking, cleaning, recreation, navigation, power, and manufacturing.

Watershed management is socially important because we are very dependent upon having a clean, well-functioning watershed where we live. Watershed managers make decisions that affect the environment and our health.

The Academic Requirements

Students will learn how watersheds work and the interactions between the geological, biological, chemical, and socioeconomic factors that affect watershed management. They will also learn about the management of other natural resources, as these fields are closely linked with watershed management. Some field and laboratory work will probably be required.

Students can expect to learn a good bit about hydrology, the study of how water moves in and on the Earth. Hydrology is closely linked to geology, because water travels through many different kinds of soil and rock, as well as the air. Everything that water travels through is a potential source of contamination; students will learn about different contaminants, their persistence in the environment and their effects on plant, animal and human health. They will also learn about how this contamination is prevented and mitigated. There is also a strong emphasis on ecology; on how chemical systems, water, and living organisms all affect one another.

Here are some courses that we've seen:

  • Economics
  • Geomorphology
  • Soil Science
  • Wildland Hydrology
  • Federal Land Politics
  • Land Reclamation Seminar
  • Watershed Water Quality Management
  • Stream Habitat Management
  • Building and Interpreting Watershed Management Plans
  • Legal, Financial and Institutional Frameworks for Watershed Management
  • Environmental Perspectives
  • Urban Watershed Management
  • Agricultural Watershed Management
  • Fish Conservation and Management

Professional Outlook

Resource managers, such as watershed managers, often spend a lot of their time outside, collecting data and doing research. They also spend time in labs, analyzing samples and conducting experiments, and in office settings, preparing reports and sharing results with others. Watershed managers need to be able to work well independently and in a team. They may have to deal with many different interest groups when trying to resolve watershed issues. There are also other challenges, especially for recent graduates; "new, less experienced workers spend the majority of their time outdoors overseeing or participating in hands-on work. The work can be physically demanding. Some foresters and conservation scientists work outdoors in all types of weather, sometimes in isolated areas," states the Bureau of Labor website.

Resource managers work with a team to consider all aspects of complex best-management decisions. They must consider economic factors and environmental impacts. Managers try to conserve wildlife habitat, maintain water quality, ensure soil stability, and also comply with government regulations. Watershed managers are subject to Federal mandates that public lands be open to all kinds of purposes, including resource extraction, recreation, wildlife preservation, and development.

Watershed Management can be a very rewarding field for those interested in helping others and helping the environment. People need clean, functioning watersheds for a variety of purposes, and Watershed Managers help to ensure that watersheds work well for everyone, now and in the future. Watershed Managers also help out the environment by using resources wisely to provide clean water, flood management, animal and plant habitat, and more.

According to the Bureau of Labor, resource management jobs generally require a bachelor's degree to enter the field, experience and a master's degree to hold a position of responsibility (such as planning and oversight of projects) and a Ph.D. to conduct research for the government or private firms.

Here are some job titles that we've seen, including some of the organizations that offer them, all of which included a requirement for experience in Watershed Management:


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