2016 Challenges & Opportunities in Hydrometry

2016-challenges-opportunities-hydrometry

Incremental change is an insidious thing.

Like a frog in a pot of water on the stove it can be difficult to know what’s going on when your attention is moment-to-moment. It could be that from day-to-day there is no noticeable change, but year-to-year there is major change, and decade-to-decade there is transformative change.

The business of water monitoring is vastly different than when I was in the field.

Much of my acquired skill is with technologies that don’t even exist anymore. When was the last time anyone saw a mercury manometer? In fact, about the only technology that I used that hasn’t changed much is the field truck. I can probably still drive one of those 🙂 I may also still be able to handle an ice chisel and shovel but that remains to be proven.

Understanding change and its impact on your life, your work, your productivity, your safety, and your health requires stepping back once in a while and looking at how your reality today is different than it has been along a continuous time frame. That retrospection can inform what you can expect in coming months, years, and decades.

It’s easy to point to technologies that are transformative but change isn’t always just about devices and the internet.

I’ve been noticing fewer and fewer grey beards amongst stream hydrographers. This is for two reasons. One is that a large number can’t grow beards because of a positive change in gender composition. The other is that even those who can grow beards haven’t turned grey yet.

Having more women in the field is good. It turns out that brute force is not always the best solution for every problem.

A whole-scale demographic turnover changes everything. You can teach a newcomer how to gauge a stream, but you can’t teach them to be a ‘good’ stream hydrographer. To be ‘good’ at it you have to learn it. Learning it takes experience. Experience takes time. Those greybeards had a lot of time in the field and that experience was valuable. The loss of that accumulated wisdom means that the opportunity to observe all of the peculiar habits that translate into successful field visits is not available for new trainees.

I don’t have actual data to refer to, but subjectively I would guess that the average age in a hydrometric office is about 20 years younger than during the years when I was working in a field office. If true, then it is literally a generational change. Kids that grew up with technology are infuriating for people my age. How is it that devices just work for them, where I just get ‘helpful’ messages telling me that what I am trying to do didn’t work?

Hydrometry is a very desirable job and it seems recruiters have the pick of the crop to hire a lot of very clever and talented trainees. From what I’ve seen the newbies are well-educated, well-motivated, and highly capable. They might not have the benefit of experience, but they have the benefit of something else that seems to be working for them.

The demographic turnover has been anticipated for a long time and there was a lot of hand-wringing about how everything would come unglued if the old guys were not around to train the newbies. The change has happened and everything hasn’t come unglued.

I may be biased (OK, I am definitely biased) but I think software may have something to do with my perception of a successful transition. My recent experience is mainly obtained in delivering training sessions on AQUARIUS and in those sessions I see how quickly the concepts, techniques, and methods are soaked up by young stream hydrographers. My perspective is definitely filtered by the circumstances that bring me in contact with people who work in the field, but through that lens it is clear that the future of hydrometry is in good hands.

What do you think? What change in hydrometry affects you the most?


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