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What does a Drainage Engineer do?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A drainage engineer is a skilled civil engineer who specializes in creating blueprints and implementing improvements for water drainage systems. A professional may specialize in directing rainwater runoff from highways and roads, controlling irrigation and flooding on farmlands, or diverting sewage and pollution away from water sources. Many engineers spend significant amounts of time at construction sites to oversee the building or maintenance of a structure. A drainage engineer might work for a municipal government, private consulting firm, or a nonprofit environmental organization.

Effective drainage systems are necessary to prevent flooding, conserve resources, and ensure that water reserves do not become tainted with chemicals. A drainage engineer is consulted to design an effective method of controlling water. He or she usually visits a site to decide what type of system is needed, then returns to an office to create a blueprint. Many engineers rely on computer-aided drafting (CAD) software to help them design and simulate structures and ditches. They use their expert knowledge of physics, fluidity, and math to design new systems and improve existing ones.

While conceptualizing a system, an engineer must consider how much it will cost to build, the potential negative environmental impacts it may have, its aesthetic qualities, and local laws regarding construction. Engineers perform careful calculations to determine the costs of materials and labor, and estimate how long it will take to finish a project. They are frequently involved in acquiring the funding and labor necessary to implement large-scale projects.

It is common for a drainage engineer to be very involved with the on-site construction of his or her design. A professional often works closely with site supervisors and construction workers to ensure that systems are built and ditches are dug to exact specifications. Upon the completion of a project, the drainage engineer typically inspects area and considers any final touches that may add to the aesthetics or functionality of a system.

A bachelor's degree or higher in civil engineering is usually the basic requirement to becoming a drainage engineer. Many people choose to pursue master's degrees in specialized programs that focus on the principles of water management and drainage systems design. Most states and countries require new engineers to obtain certification or licensure by passing written exams related to legal matters, the fundamentals of drainage engineering, and safety precautions. Once an engineer has gained certification, he or she typically works as an assistant for several months or even years to gain the experience necessary to eventually manage entire projects.

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Discussion Comments
By croydon — On Sep 10, 2011

I think more and more often drainage engineers are going to have to take water storage into account when they design their systems.

At the moment, they generally just want to divert rainwater somewhere else, like the ocean or a river or something. But there are a lot of cities that are starting to use up their water supplies more quickly than they replenish them.

And when rain falls on a city it mostly has to be collected into underground drainage and directed away, since the concrete doesn't let it be absorbed.

If they could figure out a way to process all that water so that it could be used by the city instead of just wasted like that, it would make much more sense. Better than trying to develop desalination plants for processing seawater.

By KoiwiGal — On Sep 09, 2011

I had an engineer friend who went overseas to Africa and did this. He didn't design the complex systems they have around here, of course.

Their drainage solutions were just a system of ditches, or maybe drainage pipe running from buildings.

But, it made a huge difference. He was showing me some before and after photos of what the streets looked like when they finally completed the project. There had been a lot of water around before, and after the street seemed completely dry.

It might not seem important, but having large puddles of water around allows mosquitoes to breed, so in theory he was saving lives by putting in drainage systems.

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