What Does a Drainage Engineer Do?

Date: 12 Feb 2024

Drainage engineers on the job in Australia


Drainage engineers are vital to the development and maintenance of our urban and rural environments. In Australia, where the climate can vary from extreme droughts to heavy rainfall, the role of a drainage engineer becomes even more crucial. This blog will explore the multifaceted job of drainage engineers, shedding light on their responsibilities, the skills required to become one, and their importance in maintaining the ecological balance and protecting infrastructure.

What is a drainage engineer?

A drainage engineer is a specialized civil engineer who focuses on water management solutions, particularly the removal of surplus water from urban, agricultural, and industrial areas. This discipline is crucial in a country like Australia, where the landscape ranges from the arid deserts of the Outback to the tropical regions of the north, each presenting unique water management challenges.

In urban areas, drainage engineers design systems that prevent floodwaters from inundating homes, streets, and businesses, ensuring that communities can withstand heavy rainfall events which are becoming increasingly common due to climate change. These systems might include storm sewers, culverts, and detention basins, all meticulously planned to handle the volume of water expected based on historical data and future projections.

Rural and agricultural settings demand their expertise to prevent soil erosion and to maintain water quality in rivers and streams, thereby supporting Australia's robust agriculture sector. Here, drainage solutions might involve the construction of channels, ditches, and levees, as well as the implementation of sustainable practices like contour plowing and the creation of buffer zones to reduce runoff.

The work of a drainage engineer also extends to environmental protection. In Australia, where biodiversity is both rich and fragile, drainage systems must be designed with the utmost care to avoid disrupting local ecosystems. Engineers work to minimize the impact of human activity on natural waterways, employing techniques such as biofiltration systems to treat runoff water before it enters the broader environment.

Moreover, drainage engineers in Australia are tasked with future-proofing infrastructure against the impacts of climate change. This involves designing flexible and adaptive systems that can cope with the increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. Utilizing advanced modeling software, they predict water flow patterns and develop solutions that are not only effective today but will continue to protect communities and the environment well into the future.

What are the key responsibilities of a drainage engineer?

  • Designing Drainage Systems: They create plans for new drainage systems or revamp existing ones to improve efficiency and adapt to new developments.
  • Site Assessment: Conducting evaluations of sites to identify the best drainage solutions while considering environmental impact and regulatory compliance.
  • Project Management: Overseeing projects from conception through to completion, ensuring that they meet all technical requirements and are delivered on time and within budget.
  • Collaboration: Working closely with civil engineers, architects, urban planners, and construction teams to integrate drainage solutions in various projects.
  • Maintenance and Troubleshooting: Regularly inspecting and maintaining drainage systems, as well as resolving any issues like blockages or breakdowns.

How do you become a drainage engineer?

Becoming a drainage engineer in Australia typically requires a degree in civil engineering or a related field, with a focus on water resources engineering. Essential skills include:

  • Strong analytical and problem-solving skills. Drainage engineers often use software like TUFLOW, 12D and DRAINS.
  • Proficiency in computer-aided design (CAD) software.
  • Knowledge of environmental regulations and sustainability practices.
  • Excellent communication and project management abilities.

What Do Drainage Engineers Typically Earn in Australia?

The role of a drainage engineer is not only critical for environmental management and urban planning but also represents a rewarding career path in terms of financial compensation. In Australia, the average salary for a drainage engineer is around $105,000 per year. However, this figure can vary widely depending on several factors including experience, location, the complexity of projects undertaken, and the engineer's level of education and specialization.

Entry-Level to Experienced Salaries

For those just starting out in their careers, entry-level drainage engineers can expect to earn lower than the average, but as their experience and expertise grow, so does their potential for higher earnings. An entry-level drainage engineer might start with a salary in the vicinity of $75,000 to $85,000 annually. With mid-level experience, particularly those with around 5 to 10 years in the field, salaries can rise significantly, often reaching up to $120,000 as they take on more complex projects and responsibilities.

Location Variation

Location plays a crucial role in salary variation. In major cities like Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane, where the demand for infrastructure development is high, drainage engineers can command higher salaries. In contrast, in rural or less densely populated areas, the demand and consequently the salaries might be slightly lower, though other factors like lifestyle and cost of living could balance this out.

Additional Benefits

Beyond the base salary, drainage engineers in Australia often receive additional benefits, which can include superannuation contributions, a car, health insurance, professional development opportunities, and performance bonuses. The total compensation package is reflective of the critical role these professionals play in ensuring the safety, efficiency, and sustainability of Australia's water infrastructure.

The Future of Drainage Engineering Salaries

As urban areas continue to grow and the impacts of climate change become more pronounced, the demand for skilled drainage engineers is expected to rise. This increased demand is likely to push salaries higher, especially for those with specialized skills in designing resilient and sustainable water management systems.

Finding Drainage Engineer Jobs in Australia

Launching a career as a drainage engineer or seeking new opportunities in this field in Australia can be a fulfilling venture, given the demand for expertise in managing the country's diverse water management challenges. For those on the lookout for positions in this niche area of civil engineering, there are several pathways to explore, with professional recruitment agencies playing a pivotal role. Other opportunities come through word-of-mouth or through connections made at industry conferences, seminars, and meetings of professional bodies such as Engineers Australia.


SSA Group: A Specialized Recruitment Partner

For those specifically seeking opportunities in drainage engineering, partnering with a specialized recruitment firm like SSA Group can significantly enhance your job search. SSA Group, renowned for its focus on recruitment within the construction, engineering, and property sectors, has a deep understanding of the unique requirements and challenges of drainage engineering roles. They recruit for a wide array of positions, including those in the specialized field of drainage engineering, across Australia.

SSA Group's expertise in matching skilled professionals with suitable roles extends to providing personalized advice on career development, understanding market trends, and offering insights into various employers' needs and expectations. Their dedicated approach ensures that candidates are not just placed in a job but are matched with positions that suit their career aspirations, skill sets, and personal goals.



Drainage engineers play an indispensable role in safeguarding Australia's environment and infrastructure. Their expertise ensures that communities remain safe from water-related hazards while also promoting sustainable development. As we face the challenges of climate change and urbanization, the work of drainage engineers will become even more vital.

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