Magdi Widaatalla

My name is Magdi Widaatalla. I was born and raised in a small village called Portbail in the central Sudan, East Africa. I completed all of my schooling (elementary, middle and high) in Sudan. I graduated in 1987 with a B.Sc. (Honour) degree in Geology from the University of Khartoum, Sudan. After graduation, I worked as a Hydrogeologist with a consulting firm in the capital Khartoum. I travelled around and visited many parts of the Sudan drilling water supply and irrigation wells. In late 1980's I went to Saudi Arabia where I spent 9 years working with a consultant.

I immigrated to Canada with my family in 1997 and soon after I joined a consulting firm in Markham, Ontario. In 1999 I was accepted in the School of the Graduate Studies and the Department of Geology at the University of Toronto where I completed a Master of Science (M.Sc.) in Hydrogeology in 2002. After graduation, I joined AME Engineering (Consulting Firm) in Stouffville, Ontario where I worked until 2003. In August 2003 I joined the Conservation Authorities where I worked as a Hydrogeologist with the Credit Valley Conservation in Mississauga, Ontario. Since January 2005 and until now I am working as a Watershed Hydrogeologist with the Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority (GRCA) in Port Hope, Ontario. I live with my wife Rehab Khahsif and 4 young children (Meyada, Mohamed, Nahid and Badri) in the lovely Town of Cobourg, Ontario.

I am also a Licensed Professional Geoscientist and a Hydrogeologist with the Association of Professional Geoscientists of Ontario (APGO). My main focuses are in physical hydrogeology, surface water and groundwater interaction, and environmental impact assessments.

It is wonderful to work as a professional hydrogeologist in Ontario, Canada. I am enjoying my work and I love my job with the GRCA. It is great working and interacting with GRCA's board members, employees, municipalities and local watershed residence. GRCA has beautiful watershed areas and pristine rivers, creeks and valleys that are full of fish, wildlife, and other resources.

Q: What is the title of your job and what do you do?

A: I work as an expert and a professional hydrogeologist on managing, studying and conducting researches on the groundwater resources of the Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority watersheds. The title of my job is Watershed Hydrogeologist. I also work as a Manager of Watershed Services. The department of watershed services is a technical department that has a working group of 6 resource technical experts, technicians and technologists.

Q: Who do you work for, and where are you based?

A: I work for the Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority (GRCA) and I am based in Port Hope, Ontario. The GRCA was formed in October 1946 and is one of the oldest Conservation Authorities in Ontario. The GRCA covers an area of about 935 km2 extending from the Wilmot Creek watershed in the west to the Cobourg and Baltomore Creeks watersheds in the east and from the crest of the Oak Ridges Moraine and Rice Lake in the north to Lake Ontario in the south. The GRCA overall goal is the conservation, restoration, development and management of natural resources on a watershed basis while providing for the public enjoyment of the lands it oversees. The authority employs 27 fulltime staff and 17 seasonal and part-time staff. The main office is located in Port Hope (Hwy 401 & County Road 28) and the Ganaraska Forest Centre is located in the upper Ganaraska River within the Oak Ridge Moraine.

Q: What kind of hours/shifts do you work?

A: 35 hours per week. Typical work routine is from 8:30 am - 4:30 pm with a one hour break for lunch.

Q: Where do you work?

A: I work mainly in the office. Some times I go out in the field to conduct site visits and carry out some groundwater monitoring tasks and work.

Q: What equipment/machinery do you use?

A: In the office I rely heavily on both my desktop computer and my laptop. These two machines are uploaded with a variety of groundwater modeling tools and analysis softwares as well as some GIS applications. These modeling and analysis softwares include MODFLOW, FEFLOW, GMS, VIEWLOG, SiteFX, STATISTICA, AquaChem, MS Excel, Access, ArcView, ArcGIS... etc.

In the field I use a variety of groundwater monitoring tools which include electronic level meter, level loggers, water pumps, pizometers, seepage meters, and other groundwater monitoring and sampling equipment.

Q: What education or training is required for your job?

A: The minimum requirement for my job is a university degree (B.Sc.) with a major in hydrogeology and/or geology.

Q: What kind of personal traits do you recommend for this profession?

A: A person working as a hydrogeologist needs to be an intellectual, patient, energetic, and enthusiastic.

Q: What do you like best about your job?

A: The working environment is great and the officemates and team members are outstanding individuals. My job also involves enhancing, and protecting of groundwater resources which requires going through reviews of proposals, plans, writing of reports ... etc. The diversity of the things that need to be done is wonderful and I really like too.

Q: What are the advantages?

A: There are several advantages and benefits. This includes meeting other hydrogeologists, travel around and participates in field trips (while in the university and when working), attend conferences, training sessions, seminars... etc.

Q: What are the advancement opportunities for this career?

A: Normally a person interning this career starts as a Junior Hydrogeologist, and then progresses to a Hydrogeologist, a Senior Hydrogeologist, and even to a Manager or a Director.

Q: How physically demanding is your job?

A: As a hydrogeologist working for a Conservation Authority there is always a need for doing some work outside of an office environment. For instance, when reviewing files and planning applications, some times I need to conduct site visits to observe geological and hydrogeological settings and observe environmentally sensitive areas. This provides opportunities to walk around and get plenty of fresh air. The job also requires some physical work when collecting data in the filed and doing monitoring. This mainly includes carrying of light loads in the field (e.g. level meter, light monitoring equipment, measuring devices, cameras, GPS units... etc)

Q: Why did you choose this career?

A: When I was a child growing up in a small village in the central Province of Al Gazeera in Sudan, Africa, I was always curious about the village's water supply well and from where and how water comes out of that well. That was an inspiring memory. When I was studying geology at the University of Khartoum, Sudan I realized that there is a shortage in groundwater experts as well as shortage in clean drinking water sources. I decided to take courses in hydrogeology and groundwater resources, enter the field, and call it a career.

Q: What is your most memorable moment/event/place related to your experience as an Earth scientist?

A: I have several memorable events and moments that I encountered while I was working and travelling around as a hydrogeologist. I would like to provide two of these memorable moments. The first and most memorable moments occurred when I was working in the Province of Kordufan, in the western Sudan during late 1980's. I was working as a hydrogeologist with a team of drillers and technicians and we were drilling a series of water wells for a Highway project that links the capital Khartoum and the City of Elobid in Kordufan. I was in the "middle of no where" and living in a tent in the Abu Habil valley which is a true wilderness area. I still remember when the sun sets and the beautiful view looking through Achaea trees. One day, an old local man who farms a land adjacent to the drilling site came to our camp and asks me "what are we doing here?" I explained to him that we are drilling a well and would like to get water for the construction of the highway as well as making a permanent source (station) for drinking water in the area. The man questioned and didn't understand our intention of finding a water source when there is a plenty of water in the nearby Abu Habil River. The man also suggested that we should stop drilling and just pump water directly from the near-by and fast-running River. He was correct to a certain extend, but the river is only a temporary source that flows only during rainy season and is completely dry for most of the year (i.e. when there is no rain). It is also unpredictable, very wide and difficult to pump from. From this incident I learned that when in the field; it's very important to chat with local people and understand their ideas.

The second incident happened during the summer of 2005 when I was installing a streambed piezometer (a monitoring pipe used normally for monitoring shallow groundwater system) in a small creek near Rice Lake area- Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority (GRCA), Ontario. A university student (working in a summer job) was helping me in the installation at that time. The area was calm when a man driving a truck stopped beside the creek and asked us "what are we doing?" I explained to him that we are working for the GRCA and we are installing a device to monitor groundwater that discharges into the creek. The man looked at me and said "I don't care what you do, but be carful there was a bear seen last week wondering in this area". Both of us got scared for the man's comments and immediately took our equipment and left the site. It turned out that there was no bear in the area and the man just wanted us to leave his neighbourhood. Apparently he was suspicious about our intension of installing a piezometer a middle of a creek and he doesn't believe that there is groundwater discharging into that creek. I learned from this incident that as a hydrogeologist it is very important to explain to people, and in a simple term "what you do" and convince them that most likely there is a hidden treasure under their feet.

Q: What is your advice to newcomers?

A: I feel certainly great when I provide any advices and/or tips to newcomers to Canada who want to work in the geosciences. Being an immigrant myself and worked in different hydrogeological positions both outside and inside Canada, I can provide very useful tips to my fellow newcomers. Here are few of these tips:

  • If possible (or required) try to get a degree from a Canadian university (i.e. take some courses or upgrade your existing degree e.g. get a M.Sc.) in geosciences. This will help in understanding the Canadian geology, hydrogeology and geosciences market and also allow for building of networking ... etc.
  • Obtain a licensing as a professional geoscientist. Get a practicing license and membership with professional organizations such as the Association of Professional Geoscientists of Ontario (APGO) or similar organizations in other Canadian provinces.
  • Try to understand the geosciences market in Canada by attending seminars, workshops and symposiums available in many websites, universities, colleges and learning centers.
  • Attend occasional events, evening and continuing educational courses.
  • Join associations such as the International Association of Hydrogeologist - Canadian National Chapter (IAH-CNC). Also try to participate and join clubs and attend meetings... e.g. Toastmasters.
  • Remember to participate as a volunteer in many areas. This will provide an excellent opportunity for networking and learning about other jobs, activities... etc.
  • Tell your audience about yourself and be a visible person. Remember that Canada is a multicultural country and all of us are required to enrich this culture.

Q: Any other comments to share?

A: I so delighted and grateful to work in geosciences and practice as a professional hydrogeologist in Canada. It is wonderful working with the Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority; interact with its board members, employees, municipalities and local watershed residence. GRCA has a beautiful watersheds that include pristine rivers, creeks and valleys that are full of fish, wildlife, and other species. These watersheds have surface water and groundwater resources with outstanding flow features and exceptional quality. I truly enjoy working with the GRCA and living in this wonderful part of Ontario.

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