Aquamen: Engineers to the Rescue of Water Infrastructure

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the United States (NASA) has said that after 136 years of global temperature record keeping, 2016 is irrefutably the hottest year on record. The revelations come after September’s data showed that the month was the warmest month in history, according to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). They reported that September was 0.91 degrees celsius warmer than the mean September temperatures from 1951 to 1980. The warmer global temperatures have already caused long-lasting droughts in the United States, South Africa, India, and Australia.

It all started in 2015 with the El Niño climate cycle. Coupled with the global climate change phenomenon, air temperatures were altered and a drought ensued, which led to less rain and thus less water. It has caused one of the worst droughts South Africa has seen in 30 years. In India, 134 farmers have committed suicide in just two months due to a two-year drought that has led to crop loss. In South Africa, several provinces have had water shortages. The provincial governments have ordered water restrictions be put in place at the utilities and cautioned citizens to use water sparingly or face the consequences. The consequences being...complete water cut-offs.

Even with the El Niño’s natural regression, the realities of climate change have been apparent. The immediate issue is the lack of water. Engineers are hard at work to figure out how to bring technology to the drought-fight at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). At a third-party moderated discussion, Madelyn Glickfeld, a member of the UCLA Water Group and Institute of the Environment of Sustainability said: “The technologies that are most promising are smart technologies - technologies that use smart sensors to help people know how much water they’re using. This helps change behavior.” A recent poll by a Californian company named Xylem revealed that 76 percent of people believe that recycled water is the step forward for the region’s water infrastructure.

In response, Eric Hoek, a civil engineering professor at UCLA said: “I can take any quantity of water and turn into any other quality of water. The technology is there. It has been there for 20 years. The question is how much you’re willing to pay. Reusing water should be completely uncontroversial. The reality is it’s much safer to intelligently implement technology than to put water back out into the environment and pray that nature magically cleans it up.

Hoek is talking about toilet to tap technology and reservoirs that capture rainfall runoff which, in turn, runs the water through a water purification process and eventually produces drinkable and reusable water. These are inventions that engineers have been successfully implementing in several countries for many years. However, Californians are unfamiliar with Direct Potable Reuse (DPR)/the toilet to tap wastewater reuse method. This system could lead to more water being accessible in the drought-stricken state.

However, drinking water aside, the other issue countries will have with further drought climate conditions is in the hydroelectric power plants. In Daniel L. Calzi’s book Dams, Drought and Energy-water Interdependencies, he details how droughts have the potential to affect “the operation of dams in ways that can be detrimental to hydropower production.” Less hydroelectric electricity being produced means higher electricity costs for utilities and customers. This is specifically bad for the United States.

The country’s hydroelectric facilities generated 51% of the renewable energy in the U.S. in 2013, and continue to play a large role to this day. Calzi points out that hydroelectric plants are the least expensive source of electricity and produce no fossil fuels. The only issue is that the facilities rely on precipitation to continue running, which feeds the local water sources. Engineers also have to consider humidity, wind patterns and reservoir dynamics, which in a drought, is nothing less than difficult. Annoyingly, if there is too much water - in the event of a flood, or a related event - hydroelectric plants also stop working.

In an attempt to remedy the water scarcity crisis that is becoming prevalent in the world, Sir James Dyson the industrial designer, is encouraging engineers to lend their expertise to saving water. Speaking of the situation in his own country, Dyson said: “Parts of the country are waterlogged, while in others it’s illegal to use a hosepipe.” He says that the United Kingdom still relies on “antique infrastructure” handed down to them from the Victorian era. He says it is time for the latest generation of engineers to redesign the water system and improve it.

It is politicians who should be leading this charge. They must think big, think long-term and they must reinforce the value and importance of great engineering,” Dyson said. Engineers in the UK have ensured that leaking pipes are replaced, Dyson adds, however, he says new technologies could be introduced that improve these water infrastructure processes.

Engineers have a plethora of options when entering water industries. A Professional Certificate of Competency in Programmable Logic Controllers & SCADA Systems could see you tackling the digital side of controlling a water utility that relies on automated processes to keep it functioning. You could get your certificate in Structural Design for Non-Structural Engineers and see how water and wastewater infrastructure is built. You could also pursue a certificate in Onshore and Offshore Pipeline Systems - the water has to be transported somewhere. And much more.

Contact us at the Engineering Institute of Technology today to enquire about which course would be right for you:

Calzi, Daniel L. Dams, Drought and Energy-water Interdependencies. Print.