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Careers in Fresh-Water Chemistry

Careers in Fresh-Water Chemistry

As water reacts with rocks, minerals, or biological materials, or is impacted by pollution or a land-use practice, the chemical composition of the water may be changed in a predictable way. Chemical analysis of water allows both natural processes and human-influenced changes to be characterized, and may enable the chemist to determine the "history" of a water parcel. In addition, the analytical results provide a means of comparing the quality of water to a particular chemical and/or biological criteria (for instance, drinking-water standards and ecological indices).

Water chemists are involved in projects such as collecting and analyzing water samples; designing new analytical techniques; evaluating the composition of waters from different watersheds (basins) or from different aquifers ; monitoring how water from a particular source changes with time; predicting the movement of polluted groundwater ; using water trapped in minerals or in ice to determine past conditions; and determining the impact of a land-use practice on water composition and the impact it might have on the environment .

Water chemists often work as part of an interdisciplinary team with other specialists; for instance, biologists, foresters, geologists, hydrologists, meteorologists, ecologists, and toxicologists. Each of these disciplines requires water analyses that are accurate and representative. Similarly, water resource management often involves careful collection and interpretation of water composition, as do research projects dealing with climatic conditions, the transport of chemicals in water, and the sensitivity of organisms to the composition of water in which they live. Water and wastewater utilities rely on chemical analyses to ensure the safety of their drinking water and the adequate treatment of wastewaters being discharged to the environment. Power plants and various industries monitor the quality of water used in cooling processes and as a manufacturing component.

Chemists commonly find employment with water, wastewater, and power utilities; industries; commercial laboratories; consulting firms; state and federal agencies; and academic and research institutions. With the growing emphasis on the use of water chemistry to assess the overall "health" and "history" of water, career positions in water chemistry will continue to be in demand, and most likely will increase in numbers.

Academic preparation for such a career includes a strong background in the sciences, mathematics, and statistics. In addition to an emphasis on theoretical and analytical chemistry, many water chemists choose to obtain academic training in one of the sciences in either their undergraduate or graduate work. Having skills in one discipline (for instance, biology, forestry, or geology), while being able to apply chemistry on the job makes one even more desirable to an employer.

see also Chemical Analysis of Water; Chemicals from Agriculture; Chemicals from Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products; Clean Water Act; Drinking-Water Treatment; Fresh Water, Natural Composition of; Fresh Water, Natural Contaminants in; Land Use and Water Quality; Pollution Sources: Point and Nonpoint; Safe Drinking Water Act; Utility Management.

Dennis O. Nelson


Hem, John D. Study and Interpretation of the Chemical Characteristics of Natural Water, 3rd ed. Alexandria, VA: Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, Water-Supply Paper 2254, 1985.

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