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What Are the Duties of a Hydrologic Technician at USGS?

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Hydrology is the study of surface and underground water and its movement, and it's used in civil engineering projects such as road construction to identify water resources for cities, and by meteorologists in flood and river forecasting. Hydrologic technicians perform work to assist hydrologists. Thorough knowledge of water data and its collection go with the territory. A hydrologic technician should be a science-minded person in decent physical condition, as technology is heavily employed in the job. Some of the work is done outdoors at remote locations.

Hydrologic Technician Outline

The United States Geological Survey employs hydrologic technicians to help senior hydrologists examine and interpret reams of data. Some of the output given to the public by the senior hydrologist includes river flood forecasts and stream flow information during flash floods. Technician duties will send them into the field to troubleshoot equipment malfunctions, or it might have them in the office performing quality control for data to be reviewed by the hydrologist, or archiving completed work.

Technician Federal Grade

The USGS is a federal agency. As with all federal agencies, specific requirements must be satisfied to increase pay grade and responsibility. For a hydrologic technician to attain a grade GS-04, which is a first-year level, she must have one year of specialized experience related to the duties of this position. Specialized experience for a hydrologic technician as described at consists in part of: "1) performing minor repairs at gauging stations, to water level recorders and other equipment used in hydrologic investigations; 2) assisting in making measurements of stream flow or making simple current meter measurements on small streams; 3) recording routine measurements of water levels at specified observations wells; 4) collecting water quality samples and assisting in making laboratory determinations of water quality parameters by predetermined methods; 5) maintaining and assisting in readying current meters and sampling equipment for field work."

Beginning Hydrologic Tech

Hydrologic technicians perform a wide range of services in support of hydrologists. They gather and investigate data concerning water depth, flow, and quality. They use computers and state-of-the-art electronic devices such as satellite telemetry and remotely operated vehicles to collect and share hydrologic information. Hydrologic Technicians collect water data using accepted industry procedures and equipment. They collect groundwater, stream and lake samples for chemical or biological analysis and conduct field tests on these waters. They keep notes, check computations, and gather information for computer software analysis, and they enter data prepare data for publication. Much of the USGS technician's work is done outdoors in undeveloped and sometimes difficult terrain that might require considerable physical effort to reach. The nature of the work sometimes demands overnight shifts and multiple long workdays during crisis events.

Experienced Hydrologic Technician

Supervisory Hydrologic Technician Kevin M Hubbs said in his biography on the USGS site: "As hydroacoustics specialist for the state of Arkansas I oversee all hydroacoustics work. This includes overseeing ADCP (acoustic Doppler current profilers) measurements and ADV (acoustic Doppler velocimeter) measurements. I also advise staff members on new policy memos and techniques for hydroacoustics measurements. I have experience in collecting water quality samples under a variety of conditions with a wide range of equipment." His oversight duties, water reviews and Doppler stream work would not be performed by a beginning hydrologic technician -- this work reflects his acquired on-the-job skills.

Examples of Work

If a flash flood were developing, a hydrologic technician might be sent to the field to inspect river gauges if data seems inconsistent. The tech might perform quality control on incoming remote rain-gauge data before sending it to the hydrologist, where river forecasts are made. A hydrologic technician may interact with emergency management and weather service personnel to distribute timely alerts during flood events. A hydrologic technician might also aid the hydrologist in performing a field study to determine chemical contamination from a gasoline spill.


Steve LaNore has written and produced broadcast reports/specials and printed literature since 1985 and been a Web writer since 2000. His science blogs/reports can be seen on the Web site of KXII-TV. LaNore is a five-time award-winning meteorologist and member of the American Meterological Society as well as a Certified Broadcast Meteorologist sealholder. He holds a Bachelor of Science in meteorology from Texas A&M University.

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