The useful software to master for Environmental Engineering majoring in hydrology and water management

I started studying Environmental Engineering because the earth is getting ruined as a result of our everyday human activities and it was making me feel guilty and worried about the future of the children I saw around me and other species who had no say in it. That is why I wanted to do my share to postpone the earth’s doom as I think it’s already too late to save it completely.
A pond
Beauty of waterbodies in Finland

Use of Technology in Environmental Engineering

Assuming you have already decided to choose the Environmental Engineering field as you are here to read about this topic, you must share some of those feelings with me. Environmental Engineering is vast. It is essentially anything that emphasizes protecting the environment by minimizing pollution and waste. The practice of remediation focuses on enhancing environmental conditions. It deals with the creation of tools and procedures for limiting pollution emissions and eradicating contamination that already exists.

Environmental engineers plan, design, and carry out actions to mitigate, regulate, or prevent environmental risks. They might work on technologies for pollution control, site remediation, wastewater treatment, or waste management.

Nowadays, technology is present in practically every aspect of human existence so a technically sound engineer will always benefit from being an expert in related software.

90% of the issues that can arise while learning or practising environmental engineering can be resolved using software programmes.

Water management structure in cooperation with urban design

The management and development of industrial processes with an influence on the environment is a concern for environmental engineers. In the hydrology and water management major, engineers typically work in wastewater treatment, reservoir management, planning for dams and coastal developments, and industrial water management.

Initial 1st year courses related to software

My focus here is to get you a bit readier for your courses. I will talk about which software was essential for the 1st year of my studies for the master's in Environmental Engineering majoring in Hydrology and water management here at the University of Oulu. Also, I will tell you which one is complementary to your studies and give you a better opportunity in finding a job in the future.

The 1st software we learned in the Integrated water resources management course was ArcGIS. Geographical information systems (GIS), in particular, have grown as a result of the demand for precise, current data for managing natural resources, the environment, disasters, and biodiversity. These systems combine spatial analysis and digital mapping with computer hardware, software, and data-handling techniques.

By utilizing data and information from satellites and aerial pictures, paper maps, and statistical tables, they support the management, analysis, and display of spatially referenced data to resolve complex planning and management challenges.

Other software that can also be useful are

  • qGIS : Open source GIS software
  • LEAM : Land use evolution and Impact assessment model

In the same course, we were also to do assignments with CropWAT software, which calculates crop water requirements and irrigation needs utilizing data about the soil, the climate, and the crops.

The other necessary software is AutoCAD. AutoCAD is used for 2D and 3D drawing, design, and modeling with mesh objects, solids, and other objects. Coming from a Civil-engineering and architecture background, I was already an expert in it but knowing how to use it in different projects is a basic necessity. In the course Water distribution and sewage networks, we were given DWG. file to draw our swage system on.

In the same course, after designing our sewage system, to do the calculation for sufficient flow and slope in the water distribution system, we had to work with EPANET. EPANET simulates hydraulic and water quality behaviour over a long period in pressurized pipe networks of pipes, nodes (joints in the pipes), pumps, valves, and reservoirs or storage tanks. In a simulation period consisting of several time steps, EPANET monitors the water flow in each of these parts across the network.

Using plants as natural systems to manage rainfall runoffs

In the course Urban water management, the Storm Water Management Model (SWMM) software was introduced for designing a water management system, including planning, analysis, and designing of drainage networks on a local scale for stormwater. SWMM simulates the quantity and quality of runoff in urban areas for single events or continuous ones by defining sub-catchment areas to calculate precipitation and generate runoff and pollutant loads accordingly.

Programming Software in Environmental Engineering

The Data analysis for water resources course was one of the most challenging ones for me. We had to learn the data analysis concepts and how to do them with R-Studio, which was a completely new experience for me. R-Studio is a programming language used for statistical computing and generating results in graphical plots.

Despite a huge load of assignments, learning R-studio through doing them won me my summer job at SYKE (Finnish Environment Institute), which I am grateful for.

In many other universities, MATLAB, Python, Microsoft Excel, etc. are used for the same purpose. Several open-source and specialized software packages are also accessible online to handle specific tasks in environmental engineering in addition to these usual ones.

Software for our Ultimate Goal?

Some believe that Environmental Impact Assessment course is where the actual work of an environmental engineer begins. Although I am just taking this course in the 1st period of the 2nd year of my studies, up until now, we have not needed to use any software, as the EIA course here at Oulu university is mostly theoretical. But here is some software used for evaluating environmental impacts in projects.

  • SimaPro or GaBi - for Life Cycle Assessment, Assessing Carbon Footprints
  • STAN : To compute material flow analysis (MFA)
  • WebHipre: (online open source) for Multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA)

In conclusion, there are a plethora of open-source and specialized software programs accessible to solve particular environmental engineering-related issues.

If you want to master just a few ones, then I would pick Microsoft Excel, R-Studio/MATLAB, and ArcMap/qGIS, knowing these three would solve 90% of problems one might face while studying or practicing environmental engineering.

Resources: Materials presented in Moodle in each of the mentioned courses.

About the author

Fatereh Ashabi has studied Civil Engineering and Architecture and now for her second master, she studies Environmental Engineering majoring in Hydrology and water management. According to her, if a god can give her infinite energy to dance forever, she might reconsider her atheism.