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What Is Water Resources Engineering?

By Jo Dunaway
Updated May 21, 2024
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The uses, control, and conservation of water resources is the focus of civil engineers who specialize in water resources engineering. This profession bears responsibility for both underground aquifers and above ground water. Engineers plan and help build the infrastructures that maintain safe drinking water. They are also involved with water drainage and maintaining reservoirs, devising methods for the disposal and treatment of wastewater, and planning storm sewer management networks. Hydraulic water engineering professionals design dams, dikes, and levees and may be responsible for the conservation of wetlands and marine waters.

Areas of water resources engineering include the analysis of surface runoff, groundwater and seepage, and sediment and contaminant transport. Engineers often use computer-aided design (CAD) programming tools to predict flow characteristics using computational fluid dynamics modeling. Another area of responsibility is the study of methods to detect, identify, and eliminate the threat of diseases or poisons that terrorists may try to introduce into a nation's water supplies. River engineering and river morphology, as well as ice-covered rivers and streams, are of interest to engineers in this profession as well.

Hydraulic water resources engineering is primarily concerned with flow and conveyance of fluids, as well as fluids at rest. Engineers make use of gravity and other physics properties to design canals, sluice gates, irrigation projects, and cooling-water facilities in nuclear plants. Flood predictions, flood mapping, and planning catchment basins for diverting floodwaters are all done by water resources engineers. Coastal waters and wetlands are often surveyed and analyzed by these engineers for environmental effects; several geographical information systems (GIS) and remote sensing (RS) tools are used for locations of headwaters and mapping fluvial modifications.

During storm surges or flooding, downstream effects need to be determined speedily to warn residents of these areas. Risk and vulnerability analyses for water infrastructures often use two-dimensional (2D) or three-dimensional (3D) modeling to study the impact of potential floodwaters in an emergency situation. Where rivers run into seas, combined impact studies predict sea level rises to determine if dams or levees will be affected and to design any needed river catchment basins that might be needed for higher mean tides.

Watershed pollution and remedial treatments are also a concern for a water resources engineering professional. It is often necessary to test for heavy metals, disease microbes, and contaminants in all waters. Hydro-electric dam construction must be carefully evaluated beforehand to determine if it will be truly beneficial to an area's combined water and power needs.

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