Become a hydrogeologist

Institutions offering formal qualifications in groundwater

DR KAI Witthüser and Jude Cobbing are hydrogeologists working for a consulting firm.


Though they dreamt of being famous soccer coaches or players, they decided to follow this exciting career and have never looked back.

They say there is a skills shortage in this industry and encourage anyone interested to consider hydrogeology as a career.


A hydrogeologist is also known as an environmental geologist or a geo-hydrologist.

Someone with a BSc (Honours) can earn R15000 a month and with 10 years experience, the monthly salary can go up to R45000.

Job description

Kai explains that as a junior you will do fieldwork, where you will supervise pump traffic contractors and drillers, as well as take samples and perform site visits for environmental impact assessments.

Senior hydrogeologists do risk assessment, hydrogeological modelling and interpretation of experimental data to conceptualise the geographical unit of water in the subsurface. They don't really work in the field - except when dealing with client liaison.

Jude describes the job as varied.

"You do a little bit of everything, from being outdoors, collecting samples, to working in the office or the lab. There is also a fair bit of travel. This industry is very diverse, so you can start off with geology and then do chemistry, mathematical modelling and environmental legislation, to mention a few. Essentially, it is the study of ground water in all shapes and sizes, its quality, and how much there is, and so on."

Pros and cons

"The pro is that you deal with a hidden resource that you have to conceptualise, preferably in 3D. Other pros are that it is a mixture of fieldwork and office work and you deal with a wide range of sciences - geophysics, chemistry, hydrology and geology," Kai says.

"The diversity of it, working indoors and outdoors, and there is a lot of work, as there aren't many people in the industry yet," Jude says.

"The cons are that it is sometimes difficult to prove your conceptual understanding and the red tape," Kai says.

"In South Africa it's still a new profession, though it is changing quickly, and sometimes our concerns are not taken seriously," Jude says.

Required studies and experience

Jude says an MSc in Hydrogeology is not the only qualification needed and there are various routes you can take.

Kai says the qualifications required vary across the country. At the University of Pretoria you would need to do a BSc in Geology, with an Honours in Hydrogeology, as well as further studies.

To follow this profession, you will have to register with the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions.

Qualifications in a related environmental field and sufficient experience in hydrogeology are some of the requirements for registration.

Personality types

You need to have an open personality and enjoy teamwork. You should also be willing to compromise and be dedicated to your work.

Jude laughs, "You need a multiple personality disorder for this job".

An average day

There is no average day. Jude says it depends on what you are working on and you should expect the unexpected.

Kai says, "A junior's day will consist of fieldwork early in the morning, followed by returning to the office in the afternoon to collate data.

A senior will have meetings in the morning and then gather data to analyse, model and interpret. You would also have to write reports."

The best thing about the job

"Trying to make a difference with regard to environmental impacts on our water resources," smiles Kai.

"It's very interesting. There is never a dull day. You're working with a fundamental thing (water) and it's fun to work with," beams Jude.

The worst thing about the job

"Seeing your environmental concerns not taken seriously," Kai says.

"The lack of recognition in South Africa, the long travel and sometimes you work on site with extreme challenges," Jude says. -

SA Careerfocus