Land Use vs Watershed Management Degrees

Feeding ducks at a beautiful wastewater reclamation pond set up as a public park - Los Angeles County.
Feeding ducks at a beautiful wastewater reclamation pond set up as a public park - Los Angeles County. | Source

Droughts are becoming more prevalent in certain parts of the world, while floods are becoming stronger and more devastating in other parts of the world. The public has become aware that many of these extremes are exacerbated by human activities. And governments are responding by asking universities, nonprofits, and private consultants to provide them with research they can use to guide them in regulating more carefully and in watershed restoration.

All of this leads to job opportunities for young people looking for a career. Whereas land use planning used to focus on utilizing municipal lands wisely - choosing between manufacturing, white collar business, residential, and sometimes agricultural land use - now a need has emerged for people who also understand how to preserve a watershed. To find out if you are one, or know someone who is, you can ask yourself some questions.

Do You Care About Water?

Do you recognize the integral part that water plays in maintaining earth's natural systems and helping it thrive? Are you determined to do something positive for the environment - be part of a new way of conducting business that honors the ways of Nature? Are you tired of seeing the destruction and pollution caused by those who would exploit, rather than respect Nature? Are you willing to acknowledge Nature as having its own intelligence and be a partner to that? Humanity needs more people like you, who care about managing water supply wisely.

Rio Grande Canyon in New Mexico - a gorgeous river still plagued by water rights lawsuits.
Rio Grande Canyon in New Mexico - a gorgeous river still plagued by water rights lawsuits. | Source

Wise Water Management

Where are our watershed wisdom providers going to come from? Experience is showing that wise water management is key to the success of a civilization, since water is at the center of physical, community, and economic health. We can't live or conduct business without it.

When we destroy a watershed, we hurt the environment, our work, and ourselves. This is happening now all over the world, including California's San Joaquin Valley and Louisiana's New Orleans area with floods, droughts, and land subsidence. Land use planning skills are no longer enough when it comes to deciding where and how to build and where not to, but considering them is a start.

Land Use Planning Careers

Land use planning is a well established discipline that has focused on allocating land based on dominion. Who has the most "right" to use it? What will contribute most to (human) economic growth? Except in extreme cases, Nature's needs are seldom considered.

Because the practice of land use planning is integral to many jobs, to some degree, this would be a worthy discipline to take on. Let's consider the types of jobs available to a land use planner.

The most obvious job available as a Land Use Planner is in city, county, or state planning departments. With the decline of land and water quality everywhere, the value of this job is starting to gain recognition. However, other industries also use land use planning types of skills. In the following sections, you will see some of the decisions land use planners have to make in different types of jobs.

Explaining Albuquerque's recreation trails along  the Rio Grande River.
Explaining Albuquerque's recreation trails along the Rio Grande River. | Source

Private Consulting - Government bodies, at the urging of citizens who see the destruction, are beginning to develop plans that protect land, rather than using it purely for economic growth. Those that don't have experts on staff are increasingly hiring private consultants to help with planning and research. The Pacific Institute in Oakland, California is one such consultant. They produce research that promotes a sustainable environment, healthy economy, and social equity.

Real Estate - Your title may be different, but land use planning skills can be invaluable when selecting land to buy or develop, planning how to develop a parcel of land, and marketing that development to financiers, government permitters, or buyers. Clarion Associates based in Chicago, Illinois is a good example. The company is a land-use consulting firm that is particularly known for its expertise in plan implementation (including zoning laws), according to their website.

Banking - Banks are in positions of great power when it comes to land use. Your skills can be invaluable when evaluating a project for funding. Who will the bank finance for what type of project? Can they require a change in development plans to make a project more water and/or environmentally friendly? A number of leading banks have started environmentally friendly lending practices recently.

There are also banks set up specifically to work with land acquisition and/or renovation. These types of banks are called "land banks" and Cuyahoga Land Bank in Cleveland, Ohio is a good example.

Part of the San Francisco Delta aquaduct that carries water to Southern California.
Part of the San Francisco Delta aquaduct that carries water to Southern California. | Source

Utilities - Utilities have more power than they realize. If a new coal mine couldn't get water or electricity, they couldn't operate. A land use planner is trained to know all the land use rules and regulations. They could be invaluable to utilities to help them make choices between resource use and economic priorities.

Law - Then there are all the lawsuits filed every year for illnesses and deaths caused by corporate water pollution, and another set of lawsuits that resolve conflicting water rights claims. Law firms all over the country benefit from land use expertise, especially if an understanding of the watershed is part of the mix. Eisenhower Carlson PLLC in Tacoma, Washington is a good example of a law firm that specializes in this kind of litigation.

Note that any one of these organizations could be entrenched in old ways of doing business and resistant to your ideas. That just means there's an in-house education component you might need to take care of first. They would not have hired you if they didn't need your land use skills (assuming you told the truth about yourself during job interview/s).

Watershed Management

Expanding the vision of land use planning, watershed management focuses on preservation and wise use of our most essential and precious natural resource . . . water.

Instead of looking only at a particular area's land use, the watershed management expert looks at how development of land affects, and is affected by, the entire watershed. Will it help or hurt the area's water supply? Use it up, balance it, or provide more of it (rain harvesting)? Will it pollute or help clean up the environment? Will it block the aquifer or open it to water absorption?

Watershed management also takes habitat and aesthetics into account. Will this land use contribute to habitat restoration and/or provide additional habitat? Or will it destroy habitat and/or scare wildlife away with intense noise, lights, or chemicals?

Graph of a simple watershed.
Graph of a simple watershed. | Source

Definition of a Watershed

A watershed is an area bounded by higher ground where water collects from rain or snow melt. The water typically runs down hills or mountains and forms streams at the bottom, which come together into rivers leading to a lake or an ocean. Much of the water is also absorbed into the aquafir, becoming "groundwater," which replenishes the streams as they run out (unless its level is lower than the streams). This replenishment is how streams stay full even when it hasn't rained for awhile.

Watershed Management Training

To give you a feel for what jobs like this entail, here are some factors that government-employed watershed managers must consider when making decisions, and which you can expect to learn more about, if you choose to prepare for this career. The first set are also studied by land use planners.

  • Water flow and cleanliness

  • Natural resource conservation

  • Wildlife habitat

  • Aesthetics

  • Public safety

Land Uses/Environmental Issues

  • Agriculture

  • Manufacturing & mining

  • City expansion

  • Water and energy supply
  • Recreation

As a major part of land use planning, a manager must understand and prioritize (or help others prioritize) all of these different components in a way that best utilizes and preserves the health of the land and its inhabitants, long term.

Some proponents of a project will push you into believing that theirs is the only project of value, but in reality it's not that black and white. When the health of the environment is placed first, accepting that our own health is necessarily secondary, then all of the uses above can be met to one degree or another, in one place or another. Here are potential upsides and downsides of each use that you will likely have to consider:

Component
Upside
Downside
Agriculture
Provides food, increases community resilience.
Strips soils, contaminates water, uses up available water supplies.
Manufacturing/Mining
Provides minerals & products, income from taxes, employment.
Contaminates water, big buildings block aquafir, strips vegetation, can reduce air quality, drives away wildlife, compacts soil.
City expansion
Provides housing, employees, income taxes.
Blocks aquafir, uses water, reduces air quality, too much noise & lights, drives away wildlife, compacts soil.
Water & energy supply
Provides life, electricity, expansion.
Drains aquafir, encourages overuse, enables foreign plants, destroys ecosystem.
Recreation
Variety available, lots of space.
Reliance on sports can ruin environment, light & noise pollution.
Habitat Preservation
Improves health & safety, magic in working with nature, increases sensitivity and satisfaction, opportunities for photography & art.
Withholds resources that could be used to make money, fewer taxes.
Economics
City can save $ with conservation, federal/state funding available.
Costs money to protect or restore, can lose tax potential of polluters, may be too far gone, too costly.
Electioneering
Can use concern to attract voters.
Can use lack of concern to attract corporate money.

Your training should prepare you for all of these decisions - not just to make them, but also to back them up with relevant research. It should also prepare you to work with other specialists and to deal with the general public.

Graduating with a degree in a subject you are passionate about is tantamount to starting you on a career you will like. Your interests will then shape whatever type of job you end up with.
Graduating with a degree in a subject you are passionate about is tantamount to starting you on a career you will like. Your interests will then shape whatever type of job you end up with. | Source
Technical university in Germany
Technical university in Germany | Source

Schools for Environmental Studies

Some universities that are well known for their comprehensive studies in watershed management are:

Colorado State University - Known worldwide, this undergrad/graduate program is interdisciplinary, not only among the various ecological sciences, but also requiring practical application courses in water resources planning and management, as well as communication.

Portland State University - This is a certification program focusing on watershed issues for the professional. In addition to watershed health, science, and technology, the program offers courses in law, policy, and the economics of water.

Pennsylvania State University - Graduate studies in Watershed Stewardship include watershed-relevant disciplines, in addition to management and an interdisciplinary team project working in a Pennsylvania community on watershed issues. The project gives students experience in working with government, nonprofits, landowners, and businesses.

University of British Columbia - This Canadian program is geared toward working professionals, including government and industry. It provides them with the practical and technical skills to respond to water resources issues, giving them the tools to resolve water resource conflicts.

Online College Training

Environmental Protection Agency - The U.S. EPA offers Watershed Management Training and certification online free of charge, through their Watershed Academy Web program. Here is their flyer.

Michigan State University - Offers a cross-disciplinary watershed management program, presented in four modules, that culminates in a professional certificate. The modules are: Watershed Concepts, Building & Implementing Watershed Management Plans, Watershed Assessments & Tools, and Legal, Financial & Institutional Frameworks for Watershed Management. Here is the link to their Virtual Watershed Program.

Watershed Management Job Preparation

Any of the courses of study above should prepare you well for applying watershed management principles to the work you do, whatever kind of job you end up acquiring. With all of the many ways that these studies can be applied, you should be well prepared for the upcoming job market. After all, they say that, "Water is the new oil" and you know how profitable that industry has become.

Albuquerque Botanical Garden - the pool is actually part of the Rio Grande River.
Albuquerque Botanical Garden - the pool is actually part of the Rio Grande River. | Source

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Comments 3 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

Suzette, I really enjoy and appreciate your hubs about water and natural resources. As a former science and geography teacher, this is a subject that is near and dear to my heart, so thank you for raising awareness about this important subject. You are doing a great job here; keep it up.


rfmoran profile image

rfmoran 4 years ago from Long Island, New York

This is a comprehensive treatment of an important topic, including career resources. Great contribution. Voted up useful and interesting. Well done Susette.


watergeek profile image

watergeek 4 years ago Author

Thank you billybuc and rfmoran. I doubly appreciate comments from people like you that I know to be experts. :-)

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