You’ve probably heard the expression, “when you love what you do, a job never feels like work”. A career in environmental consulting can be that way for people who are passionate about science, enjoy spending time outside, and have a desire to protect our natural resources for future generations.
Amber Warden-Plum fits that description. She is a Staff Hydrogeologist based in Southern California. In this blog, Amber shares how her passion for earth sciences and love of the outdoors led her to a fulfilling career in environmental consulting and what’s next in her professional evolution.
What does a hydrogeologist do?
There are many exciting career paths available for hydrogeologists. Hydrogeologists study groundwater and how it moves through the rocks and soil of the subsurface. That’s different from hydrologists who study water above ground (surface water) like lakes and rivers.
Hydrogeologists can find careers in research, government agencies, public water utilities, consulting, environmental remediation, and teaching.
How does hydrogeology fit into environmental consulting?
At Hargis, our hydrogeology staff work closely with private industry and public agencies on issues like environmental remediation, sustainable water supplies, and regulatory compliance.
My general responsibilities include the management and implementation of groundwater monitoring programs, investigation and assessment of soil and groundwater contamination, in-situ chemical reduction remediation, water quality monitoring and data evaluation, creation of groundwater figures, and preparation of technical reports and data submittal to various agencies. I also coordinate with subcontractors to support our field tasks, like environmental labs, equipment rentals, and construction and drilling contractors.
My typical field work activities include conducting groundwater sampling events throughout Southern California using a variety of methods such as low-flow purging, high-volume purging, and discrete sampling. In the field, I collect groundwater samples and field measurements like temperature, pH, conductivity, and turbidity from existing groundwater wells. After laboratory analysis of the groundwater samples collected, I perform laboratory data review and prepare reports that include summaries of monitoring activities, water quality data summary tables, water level elevation and contaminant plume figures, and data assessment. I also conduct soil vapor sampling, soil sampling, waste characterization, and profiling for projects in Southern California and Arizona and prepare similar reports.
I create figures in GIS, ArcMap, and Golden Software Surfer and Strater in support of hydrogeologic assessments, including contaminant plume and water level elevation contour figures, lithologic logs, cross sections, and water quality posting figures.
What challenges do you help clients solve?
My typical clients include aerospace and defense companies, industrial manufacturing companies, superfund sites, and Native American tribal communities.
I help them better understand their area of concern, whether that be groundwater investigation, monitoring and reporting to ensure our clients are meeting their remediation goals and agency requirements, or soil characterization for the purpose of understanding the area’s lithology for well installations.
What drew you to an environmental career?
There were many different factors that ultimately led me to a career in environmental consulting. I grew up immersed in agriculture, so sustainable water use and water quality have always been front of mind, but I didn’t see myself staying in the livestock or farming industry for life. It took several years in community college exploring biological and cultural anthropology, archaeology, and biology before I took an intro geology class and knew within a week of lectures that I had found the perfect combination of my interests.
I have a deep passion for earth sciences and the environment, and wanted to pursue a career that not only let me spend a lot of time outdoors, but also let me work in partnership with like-minded people who have a common goal of bettering the planet.
What education, training, or certifications were required for your career path?
I graduated from San Diego State University in 2021 with my bachelor’s degree in Geological Sciences with an emphasis in Hydrogeology. I currently hold my OSHA 40-Hour HAZWOPER and HAZWOPER Supervisor certifications, which is required and very important for my field work. Additionally, I hold a Trenching & Excavation Competent Person certification. I will be sitting for my ASBOG Geologist-in-Training (GIT) Fundamentals of Geology (FG) exam in October of 2023.
What is your long-term career goal?
I envision spending a few years in my current role, gaining as much experience as I can with different aspects of the environmental consulting industry, and expanding my knowledge of groundwater management and remediation, while working towards obtaining my Professional Geologist (PG) license.
In the long run, I’d love to transition to a more project management-focused role, as well as learning more about project development and marketing.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
I find it very rewarding knowing I’m working to clean up our planet and groundwater supply for future generations. Specifically, seeing real-time progress each quarter with groundwater remediation for projects spanning decades is especially gratifying.
If you’re ready to launch your career or find a home with small environmental consulting firm, check out our current job openings at https://www.hargis.com/careers/.