When Kenyatta Otieno joined the University of Nairobi almost two decades ago to study geology, he knew little about the course. That was then, today, he could write a book or two about it, specifically about the field of hydrogeology. Otieno is a hydrogeologist.
Why did you want to become a hydrogeologist and how did you find your way into this line of work?
I actually didn’t know that such course existed until I joined the University of Nairobi. Then, I didn’t have a specific career path in mind though I had been called for a science course. I, however, bumped into a lecturer who advised me to study Bsc Geology. When I learnt that there were several specialisations of geology and that hydrogeology had something to do with water, I was hooked. My father’s job involved treating water and repairing and maintaining water treatment equipment, so the choice felt right. There are different fields in geology, including engineering geology, marine geology, paleontology, pedology and petroleum geology.
What exactly do hydrogeologists do?
The work of hydrogeologists is to study underground water, water held in pores of rocks and sediment beneath the earth surface. Our research is mostly sought during construction projects and for aquifers protections. We are also the experts who advise where a borehole should be drilled, as well as its depth. Hydrogeology should not be confused with hydrology, which mainly focuses on surface water such as rivers and lakes.
What is a typical day like for you at work?
My days involves juggling many duties, which include testing wells, surveying, collecting water samples for laboratory analysing and writing reports. Sometimes, you will find me supervising site work and making recommendations. One of the most interesting factors about this field is that no day is similar even when one is working on the same location. With every drill is a new adventure.
What does one require to become a hydrogeologist? What subjects should one learn and which skills should one possess?
If in secondary school, a foundation in subjects such as geography, chemistry, physics and math is necessary. Writing is also important in this line of work, therefore one needs to have a good understanding of English. Other skills that are essential include attention to detail because you need to identify and study minerals and give a proper recording of figures. You also need to love the outdoors because most activities take place in the field. The course is offered at graduate level. It is the most common branch of geology and is offered in institutions such as the University of Nairobi and South Eastern Kenya University in Kitui County.
What is the job market like for hydrogeologists? Who are your employers?
With the many buildings coming up and the need to have diverse sources of water, the services of hydrogeologists are highly demanded. In my case, I got a job as soon as I graduated. In 2015, I decided to go into self-employment. One has to be registered with the Geological Society of Kenya and the Geologists Registration Board before they can offer services independently. To be registered, one ought to have practiced for more than five years. However, even in employment, this is a career that pays well. I advise those pursuing or wishing to pursue this course to seek internship as they study to amass more skills. The most crucial aspect in this industry is experience.
What’s the best part of your job?
As a hydrogeologist, you can work independently without having to depend on other experts. Your report is final. Also, I get to travel widely since seldom will I be required to visit the same site twice.
Why are the services of a hydrogeologist important?
Construction of, say, boreholes, is an expensive investment, hence must be well maintained to uphold the integrity of the aquifer and to prevent contamination of the groundwater. A hydrogeologist will tell you how to do this.
What are some of the challenges you face in your line of work?
Proliferation of people who masquerade as hydrogeologists and clients who don’t appreciate the work we do. Some clients think that this job can be done by anyone as long as one has a geophysical machine.
Does this career path offer room for advancement?
The services you can offer are diverse, and include environmental impact assessment. One can also go into the energy sector, which involves using groundwater for thermal regulations such as installation of solar energy power in boreholes and nuclear waste disposal.
Are there misconceptions surrounding your job?
Since we are required to test at least two sites in a particular field, some think that we work on the basis of guess work. Since we are required to test at least two sites in a particular field, some think that we work on the basis on guess work. What we do involves a great level of science.