Water Quality Specialist

Water quality specialists are crucial to public health by ensuring water safety. They test environmental water for contaminants, assess how environmental factors and distribution systems affect water quality, and study their impact on public health. Their efforts guarantee a safe water supply, prevent pollution, and protect drinking water—essential for human health and the well-being of aquatic ecosystems.

At a Glance

Imagine you are an environmental water quality analyst for the municipality's water treatment facility, tasked with investigating water pollution in the area. It is early morning, and you are at the river that runs through several communities, preparing to conduct an environmental site assessment.

Your goal is to identify the potential sources of contamination affecting the water quality. You collect water samples from various locations along the river. To establish a baseline, you measure pH, temperature, and dissolved oxygen levels. These initial tests are crucial for understanding the extent of the pollution.

While conducting the assessment, you engage with local community members. They express concerns about the river's declining health, vital for their daily needs and the local ecosystem. Their observations and experiences provide valuable insights into possible pollution sources, including recent industrial developments upstream.

From the data collected and community input, you determine industrial runoff might contribute to pollution. The water sample shows low dissolved oxygen levels and higher temperatures, supporting your hypothesis. You compile a report of your findings and recommendations, including further investigation of industrial activities and community engagement in monitoring efforts.

Your work today is a critical step towards identifying the source of pollution and implementing solutions to restore the river's health. It underscores the essential role of water quality specialists in protecting water resources and supporting community well-being.

Job Duties

Job duties vary from one position to the next, but in general, water quality specialists are involved in the following activities:

  • Collect and analyze water samples from various sources, including lakes, rivers, wastewater, and industrial outflows, to assess quality and identify contaminants.
  • Record, manage, and interpret data from water quality tests to track trends and identify potential issues.
  • Analyze test results to determine water quality and assess compliance with environmental standards and regulations.
  • Investigate water pollution and contamination sources to mitigate risks and prevent future occurrences.
  • Prepare reports on water quality findings, including analysis results, trends, and recommendations for improvement.
  • Implement strategies and treatments to eliminate contaminants, safeguarding public health and the environment.
  • Conduct environmental impact assessment on water supply and quality, including the effects of climate change and industrial activities.
  • Communicate with government agencies, community groups, and industry stakeholders about water quality issues and solutions.
  • Establish and maintain water quality monitoring programs to detect changes over time and prevent future contamination.
  • Conduct educational programs and workshops to inform the public and stakeholders about water conservation, pollution prevention, and water quality maintenance.


Work Environment

Water quality specialists operate within the office, field, and laboratory. In each of these settings, individuals in this occupation carry out various duties.

The office:

  • Prepare reports on water testing results, analysis interpretations, and recommendations for water treatment or policy changes.
  • Use specialized software to analyze water quality data, track trends over time, and manage large datasets for easy retrieval and review.
  • Stay current with federal, provincial, or territorial environmental regulations; ensure water quality practices and documentation compliance.
  • Plan and coordinate water quality projects, including sample collection, laboratory analysis, and field assessments, ensuring efficient workflow and project timelines.
  • Communicate with stakeholders, including governmental agencies, community organizations, and the public.
  • Develop educational and outreach materials to raise awareness about water quality issues and conservation practices.

The field:

  • Collect water samples from diverse sources following strict sampling protocols.
  • Conduct environmental site assessments to identify potential sources of contamination and understand the impact on water quality.
  • To obtain immediate assessments, perform on-site water quality tests for dissolved oxygen, temperature, and pH.
  • Use GPS equipment to map sampling locations and collect geospatial data on water sources and potential pollution sources.
  • Investigate and document potential sources of pollution, including industrial discharges, agricultural runoff, and sewer overflows, to inform mitigation strategies.
  • Engage with communities during field visits, providing education on water conservation practices and gathering information on water usage and local concerns.

The laboratory:

  • Conduct advanced laboratory tests to analyze water samples to identify contaminants, such as bacteria, chemicals, and heavy metals
  • Implement and maintain quality control measures to ensure the test results are accuracy and reliability.
  • Calibrate laboratory equipment and perform maintenance to ensure optimal performance and accurate measurements.
  • Participate in research projects to develop new testing methodologies or improve water treatment processes.
  • Interpret laboratory test results, comparing them against regulatory standards and historical data to assess water quality trends and anomalies.
  • Ensure compliance with laboratory safety protocols and procedures to protect staff from chemical hazards and prevent contamination of samples.

Where to Work

Many water quality specialist jobs are with government agencies, where the focus is on managing and protecting public waterways. Some work for private sector companies and research organizations, such as:

  • Municipal water treatment facility
  • Government public health and the environment
  • Private environmental consulting firm.
  • Public health department
  • Non-governmental organization
  • Research institutions and universities
  • Utilities corporation
  • Watershed management organization
  • International development agencies
  • Aquaculture and fisheries.

Search for jobs on the ECO Canada Job Board.

Education and Skills


If you are considering a career as a water quality specialist, you should have a keen interest in:

  • Public health.
  • Environmental science and protection.
  • Water resource management
  • Water treatment technologies and chemistry.
  • Regulatory compliance and sustainability practices.

If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as a water quality specialist, the following undergraduate programs are most applicable:

  • Public health, with a focus on environmental health.
  • Water chemistry, microbiology or biogeochemistry.
  • Aquatic ecology and nutrient dynamics.

In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as a water quality specialist is an undergraduate degree. Pursuing a master’s or doctoral degree in public health, environmental studies, or water quality engineering enhances your expertise, career prospects, and ability to contribute to the field. These advanced degrees offer specialized knowledge and skills highly valued in the professional and academic worlds.

Professional certification and license for a water quality specialist establishes a recognized standard of competence and ethical practice in the public health, environmental sciences, and engineering communities. It enhances credibility and career advancement opportunities and demonstrates a commitment to maintaining the field's highest professional and technical standards.

  • Certified Water Quality Analyst: Granted by the Canadian Water Quality Association, this certification targets professionals in water quality analysis and validates their expertise and skills.
  • Professional Engineer (P.Eng): This license from Engineers Canada is aimed at environmental engineers specializing in water quality. It showcases advanced expertise and professional standards in water management and treatment.

Our Environmental Professional (EP) designation can also help you progress in your chosen environmental career.


Technical Skills

  • Public health principles
  • Water sampling techniques
  • Microbiological testing and chemical analysis techniques
  • Statistical and data analysis software
  • Geographic information system
  • Environmental regulations knowledge
  • Water treatment processes
  • Pollution control strategies
  • Risk assessment
  • Sustainable and conservation practices

Personal and Professional Skills

  • Analytical thinking
  • Attention to detail
  • Communication
  • Teamwork
  • Adaptability
  • Project management
  • Critical thinking
  • Time management
  • Ethical judgment
  • Problem-solving

Environmental employers look for professionals who can combine technical knowledge with soft skills. Watch our free webinar Essential Not Optional: Skills Needed to Succeed in Canada’s Environmental Industry or take our Essential Skills courses.

Role Models

Your Impact

Water quality specialists protect the environment by ensuring water sources are safe for human consumption and ecological health. This occupation monitors water bodies for pollutants and contaminants, which can harm aquatic ecosystems and biodiversity.

As an environmental role, it involves assessing the effects of human activity on water quality, implementing measures to prevent pollution, and promoting sustainable water management practices. The sustainability impact of this role is significant, as specialists work to conserve water resources, reduce the consumption of treated water, and advocate for the protection of natural water bodies.

Economically, their work helps avoid the high costs associated with water pollution, such as health care expenses for waterborne diseases and the restoration of polluted water systems. Socially, ensuring access to clean water supports community health and well-being, reduces the burden of water-related diseases, and promotes social equity by making safe water accessible to all.

Water quality specialists are critical to pursuing a sustainable future, balancing environmental protection with economic and social needs.


Occupational Classification

The focus areas of water quality specialists are often specific to their positions. Based on their work, water quality specialists can be classified into the following occupational groupings:

NOC Code: 21101 - Chemists

NOC Code: 21110 – Biologists and related scientists

NOC Code: 21120 – Public and environmental health and safety professionals

The National Occupational Classification (NOC) provides a standardized language for describing the work performed by Canadians in the labour market. It gives statisticians, labour market analysts, career counsellors, employers, and individual job seekers a consistent way to collect data and describe and understand the nature of work within different occupations.

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