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The case for dropping the hydrology requirement
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5/8/2017 at 12:28:50 PM GMT
Posts: 16
The case for dropping the hydrology requirement

T H E   C A S E   T O   R E V I S E   E D U C A T I O N   R E Q U I R E M E N T S   F O R   S U R V E Y O R S

HISTORY: Land Surveying and Civil Engineering have long been very closely related, almost synonymous in some old texts including common certifications required by local governments or title insurance companies that would accept the seal of either license.  Historically, because property values were low in rural areas and lots were simple rectangles in cities, surveyors were merely measurers unless they were also engaged in the design and layout of development.  Similarly, engineers in most cases were more than capable of performing the rudimentary surveying chores required of their projects.  Through the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, most government agencies accepted the work of land surveyors the same as engineers.  However, in the early 1990s the engineering lobby exploited the vague language in the legal definition of Land Surveying, and started an effort to refuse such plans.  The Georgia Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors (the “Board”) pursued disciplinary actions against surveyors who prepared development plans, citing such to be the unlicensed practice of engineering. 

TURF WAR #1:  The General Assembly took the matter up in 1992.  Engineers argued that they had ample education to perform civil engineering, and that surveyors did not.  Surveyors argued that they had traditionally performed such work and were more than capable of continuing to do so.  Rather than clarify the ambiguous language that was the catalyst for the conflict, the law was instead amended to add to the surveyor education requirement 5 quarter hours of hydrology course work.  This was in addition to the 15 quarter hours required in land surveying subjects.  The understanding was that this 5 hour course would be the same engineering class taught in engineering schools, and that the prerequisites for such courses would be required by the institution.  The prerequisites included math and science (trigonometry, calculus) and sophomore engineering courses of statics and fluid mechanics (2 full prerequisite courses outside of the advanced core curriculum).  The surveyors had won, they were allowed to continue performing “design, platting, and layout, incidental to subdivisions”.  The education requirement had evolved, in a sense, to 6 courses (3 land surveying courses and 3 engineering courses).  This education requirement is still in place 25 years later in 2017 !!!  Subsequently, the Board began an additional licensure test component examining surveying candidates in hydrology which includes rainfall analysis, culvert design, pressurized water distribution systems, gravity sanitary sewer lines, and stormwater retention.

LEGISLATIVE EFFORTS FOR DEGREE REQUIREMENTS:  Beginning in the 1980s, the Surveying and Mapping Society of Georgia (“SAMSOG”) began to support and lobby for the requirement of a bachelor degree for licensure as surveyor.  This requirement is in place in all but one southeastern state and most of the rest of the country.  It is similar to the degree requirements for appraisers, architects, accountants, etc.  The basis for this effort is that 15 quarter hours (equivalent to 9 semester hours, or only 3 classes) of surveying course work is widely accepted as being grossly inadequate to prepare a surveyor to competently practice land surveying as the world, property values and technology have evolved.  In fact, the education requirement is higher for plumbers and hair dressers than for land surveyors in Georgia, a sore spot for many and an embarrassment to the state. It is also recognized as a root source for many aggrieved property owners and resulting property disputes, lawsuits, and disciplinary actions (complaints) handled by the Board.   However, the political efforts for increased education requirements have continuously failed.  They usually found an author but died in committee as some legislator would typically have a constituent who had little to no education but wanted or needed to become licensed without going off to college.  One bill passed both houses but was vetoed by Governor Perdue because of concern that there was (at that time) only one college in the state that offered a degree in surveying and mapping (Southern Polytechnic State University, now part of Kennesaw State University).  He had concerns about creating a monopoly for one institution, as well as what he considered “forcing” rural future land surveyors to “move to the big city” to attend college.  During this time, Middle Georgia College developed a program, eventually migrating it to online distance learning, that offered the 9 semester hours (3 classes) of surveying classes, and 3 semester hours of hydrology (one class) which required prerequisite material.  Eventually, the program has been closed.  Aspiring land surveyors are currently without many viable options to fulfill the education requirements.

TURF WAR #2:  In 2002, the engineering lobby again took up efforts to prevent surveyors from preparing development plans.  The General Assembly again took up the matter.  They recognized that stripping surveyors of the right to continue their practice of “incidental” engineering would not only unfairly hurt these surveyors but also force most investors, developers, school systems, and local governments in rural and suburban areas of Georgia to leave their long-standing client relations with surveyors and go hire engineers in the cities to design their sites and subdivisions.  Engineers countered that they had been examined in the principles of civil engineering, not just a 2 hour “home cooked” Georgia exam on hydrology principles. They also pressed the point that they are required to obtain twice as many hours of continuing education for license renewal than surveyors, and that such material was in civil engineering, not land surveying and therefore made them much better suited for practicing civil engineering.  Therefore, they argued, it was unfair to them and unsafe to the public to allow surveyors to continue to practice engineering.  The end result was HB726 in 2003 which clearly defined a scope of service to which surveyors could design, creating safe “limits” of a surveyor’s practice of engineering.

25 YEARS, AND A LOT HAS CHANGED.  The marriage of surveying and engineering has diversified through the evolution of our land to the point that the two fields are mere cousins.  Today, with environmental regulations, stormwater ordinances, complex lending requirements, and banking laws, surveyors practice in a much different world than we did in 1992 when the education requirement was last amended.  Engineering has evolved with software advancement and improved technology to the point that engineers take the geospatial data prepared by surveyors and prepare huge sets of plans and specifications which have little involvement from surveyors, other than the need to layout the development on the ground.  But even that has changed as many grading contractors are able to take the three dimensional files from the engineer and upload it to onboard machine control in their bull dozers.  Conversely, the surveyor is charged with preparing an ever more complex base map for the engineers, which often must meet very exacting requirements of lenders and local government regulations.  Working with title examiners, utility consultants, environmental scientists, arborists, and wetland delineators, today’s surveyor is tasked with preparing deliverable work products that are more complex than most people could imagine 25 years ago.  In fact, most seasoned practitioners would agree that a basic ALTA topographic survey today is more intense than an entire project was 25 years ago including all surveying, design, plan preparation, and layout/as-built work.  Today’s professional is now forced by the marketplace to choose between being a surveyor and being an engineer.  This decision is based on monetary factors as well as the education requirements, availability of education, and aptitude.

REALITY:  The ugly truth is that in the face of failed attempts to legislate a degree requirement, the hydrology course work and hydrology exam component have served as a “filter” to keep some out of the profession.  While it has filtered out those who are not able to acquire the education or pass the hydrology exam, it has served little other purpose.  Newly licensed surveyors are not interested in practicing “light” civil engineering as their previous professional generation once widely did.  The hydrology factor is a nuisance to them.  Instead, they are licensed to do something that they will likely never do, and will be marginally competent at it if they do.  This does not serve the public or the profession.  While the previous generations carefully passed on their knowledge and skills through the time honored master-apprentice arrangement, society no longer finds such to be viable.  We have all experienced the benefits, and the down side, of the internet.  We no longer ask our elders, we ask Google.  The result of the changes to society and technology over the last 25 years, coupled with the evolution of the demands of the surveying profession, has been that we now have registered surveyors with 3 or 4 courses and very little quality apprentice experience training the next generation of 4 course passers.  Whereas these many advancements have clearly created the need for increased education and training, surveying in Georgia has fallen way behind by not moving forward. 

PROBLEMS ABOUND: Most property disputes are settled in civil court, because there is no gain, besides principle or spite, in pursuing a complaint with the Board.  Most litigators will agree that almost all property disputes are generated by an errant survey.  These errant surveys are usually an incomplete work, where adequate research and analysis was not performed, or caused by a misapplication of an otherwise valid legal principle.  These disputes continuously harm innocent property owners in Georgia.  But this ailment is not confined to the neighborhoods and civil courts.  Lenders are actively looking for reasons not to require surveys in transactions and loans.  This is not all due to cost savings tactics, but also for fear of pushing an errant survey through the underwriting process.  This results in problems being overlooked, or even created, by lack of quality surveying.

THE GROWING PROBLEM OF A SHORTAGE OF SURVEYORS: It is a documented and verifiable fact that the average age of licensed surveyors in Georgia is approximately at retirement age.  We aren’t licensing a dozen Georgia residents annually, to fill the void of dozens who are retiring or passing away.  Many surveyors work well past normal retirement age.  This will continue until even the least reputable and reliable surveyors are in such high demand that delays will result in development deadlines and property transactions, as well as the possibility of exorbitant fees brought on by the keen skew of supply and demand.  The shortage is a self-inflicted wound in Georgia.  The quality individuals and bright minds that are needed to fill this void have no incentive to enter surveying.  If such individuals are bound for college, there is very little logic to pursue a degree in a field where a mere 4 courses suffice just as well.  This disparity is also understandably reflected in earnings potential which is at least in part due to the very low bar set for entry into the profession.  The resulting few surveying candidates are often sadly, and due to no fault of their own, ill prepared to pass the modern battery of licensure exams, much less succeed as a practicing surveyor.  There is currently a small exodus of practicing surveyors from the profession to other fields and offices where their skills are more welcomed and compensated for.  Without action to address this looming crisis, the situation will further deteriorate.

THE UNIVERSTY CHALLENGE:  Surveying programs are most often found within engineering departments, as has been the case for decades.  But as engineering curriculum has grown ever more challenging through calculus based physics and more advanced material that is made possible through computers and modern technology, the needs for surveying education is growing away from the engineering roots and more towards information technology, environmental science, and geography.  Today’s surveyors are not just working hand in hand with engineers to figure out where to best put a road or a building, they are helping to create and grow geographic information system data used by all sectors of local governments, service providers, and property owners.  The need to fulfill the hydrology requirement has become an albatross around the neck of surveying programs.  Programs are struggling with how to prepare students for careers as surveyors simply because of the difficulties in delivering the engineering and hydrology course work that is required by Georgia’s antiquated requirement.  This stumbling block is also an impediment, if not an absolute restriction, on other universities and colleges being able to offer course work that could be made available to educate future surveyors – further aggravating the supply and demand curve.

THE SOLUTION: It’s actually simple.  Georgia law should be amended quite simply to achieve 5 simple objectives:

  1. Remove the 3 semester hours of hydrology (and the accompanying prerequisite courses) and the hydrology exam from the licensing requirements.

  2. Replace these three courses with three additional surveying courses, for a total of six, or 18 semester hours.

  3. Amend the experience requirements to reward those with degrees while still allowing a route for non-degree holders to achieve licensure.

  4. Provide a transition period for the changes to go into effect that is fair for those that are in the system pursuing licensing with the hydrology requirement in effect.

  5. Provide a grandfathered definition of surveying which includes the current scope of service language, so that surveyors who are currently legally entitled to practice in these areas may continue to do so.

The benefits will be immediately felt and felt widely:

  1. University and college programs will be able to better prepare individuals for the practice of land surveying without the distraction of the hydrology requirement.  Surveying course work can be more efficiently and pragmatically offered through existing Geographic Information Systems (GIS) programs as a degree option or minor.  Existing related programs in the technical college system can be easily adapted to provide the surveying coursework once they don’t have to provide a full-fledged engineering department for the hydrology requirement.

  2. The removal of the hydrology requirement will allow for easier transition into surveying by other professionals such as geologists, GIS professionals, even business and education graduates.

  3. Increased availability of education offerings will open the state up to more opportunities.  No longer will prospective surveyors be faced with the two choices of Marietta or the internet.

  4. The public will benefit by the conversion of three unused engineering and hydrology courses to three additional land surveying courses.

  5. The enhanced education requirements will result in better pay for graduates and further attract more interest into surveying, thus bringing up the average of the professionals serving the public.  Price gouging and substandard work quality will diminish through a more educated and consistent field of licensees.

5/8/2017 at 1:41:55 PM GMT
Posts: 9
Some good points made here. Look forward to more discussion about this hopefully in the near future.

5/9/2017 at 2:52:38 PM GMT
Posts: 16
Very well stated Mark. This would definitely be an incremental start in the right direction.

5/9/2017 at 2:52:39 PM GMT
Posts: 16
Very well stated Mark. This would definitely be an incremental start in the right direction.

5/9/2017 at 2:52:44 PM GMT
Posts: 16
Very well stated Mark. This would definitely be an incremental start in the right direction.

5/9/2017 at 2:52:45 PM GMT
Posts: 16
Dang it. It really was posting

Last edited Tuesday, May 9, 2017
5/9/2017 at 2:52:50 PM GMT
Posts: 16

Last edited Tuesday, May 9, 2017
5/10/2017 at 3:48:20 PM GMT
Posts: 23
Hopefully this well written post will generate a good response.

Daniel L Collins, RLS

5/16/2017 at 12:44:32 PM GMT
Posts: -6
Great post. I think it would be a good direction to move in.

5/16/2017 at 12:45:04 PM GMT
Posts: -6
Great post. I think it would be a good direction to move in.

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