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What Does a Hydraulic Engineer Do?

Some hydraulic engineers work on oil platforms.
Hydraulic engineers help design dams and other structures.
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  • Written By: Andrew Kirmayer
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Images By: Eyeidea, Harvey Barrison
  • Last Modified Date: 28 August 2014
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A hydraulic engineer specializes in the effects of water in one or many disciplines. The nature of water in regard to flow, runoff, flooding, and how it is affected by weather can be used from an engineering perspective to help in the design of civil engineering projects. Hydraulic engineers help design dams and bridges, analyze the path of waste water in the ground, and study the effects of the ocean on the shoreline and offshore structures like oil platforms. They can also assist with human development or disaster planning in flood zones. Often assisted by powerful computer programs, hydraulic engineer duties sometimes involve working with other engineers and scientists as well as public officials.

The physical nature of the environment needs to be generally understood by a hydraulic engineer. Water flow and the forces that go along with it are often studied so that structures can be designed accordingly. Supports for bridges, and the capacity for a dam to support the weight of water in a reservoir, usually require the ingenuity of an engineer to be designed correctly. In agriculture, irrigation systems driven by gravity, pumps, or valves are typically designed according to engineering principles involving water.

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Hydraulic engineer jobs can also be at industrial facilities. Industrial machines such as turbines, pipes, and pumps often operate on the flow of water. The design of car engines typically requires some analysis of the flow of gasoline. Engineers sometimes analyze the runoff of sewage in urban areas and the operation of hydraulic systems in water treatment plants. Knowledge of how to manage water resources is usually required to operate such systems, so a hydraulic engineer may work as part of the plant staff.

As part of the general workday, the hydraulic engineer job description often includes the need for computer skills. Software programs that specialize in data analysis and hydrologic modeling are used in many cases. Business meetings are sometimes a part of the routine, both with teams and external customers. Engineers specializing in hydraulics may need experience in aerodynamics if they are working for an aerospace company. They usually need to know how the hydraulic power components and actuators interact with other systems.

For many jobs, hydraulic engineer requirements include a degree in civil or agricultural engineering. Coursework in concepts related to a specialized field, such as oceanography, geophysics, or meteorology, may also be required. Skills in using computer aided design software or geographical information system programs are sometimes necessary as well.

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