To become a wastewater engineer, you'll need a college degree in engineering, preferably in environmental, civil, chemical, or sanitary engineering. Additionally, taking courses that focus on the chemistry and movement of water typically is important for this career choice. Developing expertise in the processes and systems used in wastewater engineering also may help further your qualifications.
Wastewater engineers design and optimize wastewater treatment processes and systems. They are knowledgeable about water chemistry and the mechanical, chemical, and biological processes that are used to remove contaminants from water. Wastewater engineers typically work in various industrial areas, for government agencies, or for consulting firms.
The two main categories of wastewater are industrial wastewater and sanitary wastewater. Industrial wastewater may be contaminated with chemicals used by industries in their production operations. Sanitary wastewater includes sewage and other non-industrial wastewater, such as discharges from kitchens and bathrooms.
Wastewater engineers typically have college degrees in engineering. If possible, before you attend college you should prepare yourself to become a wastewater engineer by studying science and math. Helpful science classes include chemistry, biology, geology, physics, and environmental studies. Likewise, mathematics courses that build a foundation for engineering studies include algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus.
Few colleges offer undergraduate degrees specifically in wastewater engineering. A typical first step to become a wastewater engineer is to obtain an undergraduate degree in a traditional engineering discipline, such as civil engineering, environmental engineering, or chemical engineering. If you're interested in sanitary engineering, some colleges do offer specific undergraduate degrees in that discipline. Sanitary engineers are wastewater engineers that specialize in sanitary wastewater treatment.
During college you can expect to take required courses in mathematics, science, and subjects related to your chosen field of engineering. It generally is advisable to take any courses that focus on water resources and water chemistry as well. It is also important to study hydrology and hydraulics. Hydrology is the science of water movement in the environment, such as river or stream flows. Hydraulics is the study of the behavior of liquids under varying circumstances, such as the effects of pressure and temperature on water.
Once you have an undergraduate engineering degree, you will need to either attend graduate school or obtain relevant work experience to become a wastewater engineer. Some colleges offer graduate degrees in wastewater engineering or related fields, such as water resources engineering. These programs provide specialized courses that focus specifically on designing and optimizing wastewater treatment processes and systems.
If you already work in a traditional engineering field and want to become a wastewater engineer, you might consider seeking out projects at your existing job that expose you to wastewater processes and systems. Entry level positions in the wastewater engineering field often focus on the technological aspects of wastewater treatment. As you progress up the career ladder, you will be called upon to manage projects, supervise employees, and develop relationships with new and existing clients.