Groundwater Resources Manager, Dr. Mike Jones @GroundwaterMike: A Day in the GeoLife Series

NAME:  Dr. Mike Jones

CURRENT TITLE:  Groundwater Resources Manager

AREA OF EXPERTISE:  Hydrogeology, Groundwater Resource Development, Water Resource Management Planning for Public Water Supply

YEARS EXPERIENCE:  26

EDUCATION: BSc Geology, MSc Sedimentology, PhD Geochemistry

WEBSITE:  http://www.groundwateruk.org/

INTERVIEW: Waste Management, Higher Education and Fracking: Interview with the UK Groundwater Forum: http://www.incend.net/theincentive/articles/waste-management-higher-education-and-fracking-interview-uk-groundwater-forum

"Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others." -- Jonathan Swift.  Photo credit: Mike Jones

“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” — Jonathan Swift. Photo credit: Mike Jones

What’s your job like?

I manage a team of 4 hydrogeologists working in the largest water & wastewater company in the UK, supplying water to 9 million people in London and the River Thames valley.  I am responsible for the team’s assessment of the performance of our production boreholes, their condition and maintenance requirements.  We also protect our abstraction boreholes from new infrastructure developments, working with developers, regulators and local councils to mitigate impact.  We work closely with the regulator to assess the environmental impact of our groundwater abstractions and to ensure we maintain our licenses to abstract.  To ensure our customers will have sufficient water in the future, especially under drought conditions and potential future climates, I lead the identification, design and delivery of new groundwater sources, with our current focus being on aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) schemes.

All of these activities require us to work closely across the business with teams of water resource planners, asset planners & engineers, as well as the operational teams producing our potable water.

What’s a typical day like? 

Usually I drive a short distance to my office where my team is based.  One of the first things I do is check the previous day’s performance of our key abstraction boreholes.  I then focus on the key ongoing groundwater work.  Beyond this, every day is different! Recently, the focus has included groundwater flooding impacts on our operational water and wastewater assets and our customers, and securing support for an ASR operational scale trial.  However, I have to be flexible as there are often unexpected matters to deal with during the day, usually from colleagues, but sometimes from developers, customers and the environmental regulator.  These unexpected matters can range from groundwater contamination incidents, developers seeking views on whether their proposals close to our boreholes are acceptable, to customer requests for groundwater information.  Although balancing planned and reactive work can be a challenge, I really enjoy this mix.

My job is mainly office based. My day can be a mix of working with groundwater data in spreadsheets, co-ordinating borehole drilling and testing, making business cases for investigations and maintenance work, preparing and giving presentations, as well as reviewing reports.  Much of the associated communication is by e-mail and telephone, but I will often have meetings to organise or attend.  These meetings are often with colleagues, sometimes executive managers to secure their support and funding for groundwater investigations and developments.  However, I often meet our regulator to discuss operational water resource regulation, as well as other water companies and research institutes, the latter mainly often connecting with assessing the potential impact of climate change on groundwater resources and abstraction borehole performance.

As we work in the same office, I always take the opportunity to discuss project progress with my team during the day. Although we often work independently on projects, these discussions help me to keep up to date and to give advice and direction where needed. As a people manager I am also responsible for my team’s performance, development as well as their health and safety.  This means that I spend time with each member of my team, dedicated time to discuss their progress and performance.

What’s fun? 

I don’t spend much time on site, but some of the fun times are when I occasionally collect groundwater data, inspect borehole sites and do hydrogeological fieldwork.  The fieldwork is often part of assessing the impact of our groundwater abstractions on rivers, ponds and wetlands, and usually the whole team is involved.  When we combine the field observations with other data we can develop a clearer picture of how our abstractions might affect the environment, which is especially rewarding.  It gives us the opportunity to visualise our understanding, so our colleagues can see the way we think.

As the whole team works in the same office, we spend a lot of time together and have worked together for several years.  This means that we have a friendly, informal working relationship and a great team spirit that gives every day a fun moment.

Another thing that I really enjoy is my role as a member of the Steering Committee of the UK Groundwater Forum.  We work to raise awareness of the importance of groundwater in the UK, through our web site, conferences, workshops and Twitter. Check out the web site if you’re interested.

What’s challenging?

Although groundwater makes a critical contribution to the company’s water supply capability, there are competing demands on resources and budgets, including from the wastewater side of the business.  This means it can be challenging to sustain the profile of groundwater and the need to protect, optimise and develop our groundwater sources. I and the team have to remind people about groundwater as it is often out of sight and as a result, sometimes out of mind.  However, I enjoy the challenge and engaging with the key decision makers is usually a rewarding experience…… eventually!

What’s your advice to students?

I got into hydrogeology through work experience, but ideally my view of the best route is to have a geological science degree, followed up by a Master’s degree in hydrogeology. This will give you a strong technical grounding, which now needs to include field, organisational as well as computing skills, with data handling and analysis skills using spreadsheets being particularly important.

Even within hydrogeology there are different work areas, such as water resources, contaminated land, mining, hydrocarbon exploration, and in each of these areas you might work for the client organisation, consultant, contractor or a regulator.  The range of opportunities is wide, as is the work location.  Although I’m based in the UK now, I’ve worked in many parts of the world as a hydrogeologist; Middle East, Far East, Eastern Europe and Africa.

Working in groundwater really is a rewarding experience.  Go on, give it a try!

 

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