What do environmental engineers do?

by P&N Environmental Engineer Barbara Marczak, PE

I hear this question often. What is an environmental engineer? What does one do? What does a typical day look like?

Environmental engineering focuses on cleaning water and air, and protecting habitat and ecosystems. At Prein&Newhof, our environmental engineers design water and wastewater treatment systems, wells and intakes that supply drinking water, pumping and transmission systems to move water from one place to another, and groundwater clean-up. They study watersheds and use computerized modeling to study and improve water flow and drainage; and investigate soils and water for contamination. See some examples.

Typical Environmental Engineer Projects

Typical projects include drinking water treatment plant and clean water plant design; upgrades to drinking water, sanitary sewer or storm sewer transmission lines; landfill design and closure (how to seal off a landfill and what to do with the land afterwards); underground storage tank removals (think gas stations), and testing for regulatory compliance and State permits.

Environmental engineers do Phase I and Phase II Environmental Site Assessments (ESAs), to determine if an area is contaminated. Prospective property buyers request ESAs to avoid acquiring unexpected responsibility for pollution problems with huge clean-up fees.

Typical Environmental Engineer Clients

Your clients may include state and local governments, attorneys, developers, lending institutions, and realtors.  A typical day involves fieldwork, report writing, meetings with clients or your team, drawing plans, and research. You will need excellent communication skills. Your expertise in solving problems can be difficult to explain to clients. Sometimes your client will have considerable stress over the issue you they hired you to resolve, as often they stand to lose a lot of money or opportunity.

Is the work rewarding? Definitely. Improving the environment helps everybody by protecting our natural resources.

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