The rejuvenation of the hydrometric workforce is apparent everywhere I look. The bi-modal demographic of pre-retirees and new recruits is rapidly changing to a positive-skew, long tail, age distribution.
This is both exciting and worrisome.
The long tail of experienced veterans is continually getting shorter. What is left is a cadre of (mostly) young, very smart, capable, well-educated and enthusiastic stream hydrographers. This transition is very timely given the rapid changes in hydrometric monitoring technology (e.g. ADCP). The implementation of new technology is actually driving some old field hands to choose to retire. They simply aren’t interested in learning how to do their job, almost from scratch, all over again.
Quality and experience were almost inter-changeable concepts over most of my career. It was very rare to detect a blunder – or find any reason to argue about data interpretation – in peer review of a senior stream hydrographer. Conversely, the peer review process for junior stream hydrographers work was full of, shall we say, teachable moments.
So the question is: what happens to these learning opportunities once the last of the greybeards leave the room?
The answer is that this is the wrong question. The reason it is the wrong question is that everything is now different.
Bud Skinner (a field-hardened hydrometric veteran with wisdom born of experience) taught me the basics and he would famously qualify anything he taught me with the phrase:
“You could teach a monkey to do this job if you had enough bananas”
I still don’t know whether I should have been offended or not. Nevertheless, this phrase had a fundamental truth, the training required to count beeps for a conventional current meter measurement was not the issue. The real issue was practice and experience.
With the technologies available today training is the issue. Anyone who understands the technology well enough can get a good measurement even if they lack years of experience. There are enough onboard diagnostics that, if properly used and interpreted, will correctly identify almost any procedural blunder in near real time. The end-to-end data path, from acquisition to archive, touches on many technologies that now depend more on knowledge than experience.
The relevant question becomes: where does all of this training come from and what are the minimum standards for this training? I don’t have a facile answer to this question, but offer some suggestions in a new whitepaper I’ve authored entitled The 5 Essential Elements of a Hydrological Monitoring Program. I am also looking forward to a presentation Russell Boals will be making ‘Multi stakeholder based hydrometric standards and training’ at the NASH symposium in Banff this June.
Best practices, standards, and technologies for hydrometric monitoring have changed. Learn how modern approaches improve the availability, reliability, and accuracy of water information.