Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects engineering hydrology and hydraulics with global, economic, environmental, and societal issues.  Our student Garrett Lee makes this connection here… 

The news entitled, “Turning on the Zap: New York City Readies World’s Largest UV Drinking-Water Disinfection Plan” was reported by news magazine Scientific American  in an August, 2012 online article. The news relates to the WRE domain of hydrology and the specific issue of the availability of and access to clean drinking water.  In brief, this news article reports on the new water treatment facility located in downstate New York.  This facility will use ultraviolent light to disinfect water from the Delaware and Catskill reservoirs.  This method exposes the water to ultraviolent radiation, which alters the genetic material of the microorganisms in the water.  These treated microbes are then unable to replicate, effectively disinfecting the water.  The news article says that approximately two billion gallons of water will be treated a day at this location.  Based on what I know about WRE, the news story accurately reports on an important WRE issue.  With rising costs of chlorination and other disinfection techniques, as well as increased urbanization in areas resulting in increased runoff, access to clean water is a large problem for many parts of the country and the world.  After critical reflection on this article, I think Greenemeier left out crucial information on the limitations of ultraviolent disinfection.  This water treatment technique requires extensive filtering to be successful.  Furthermore, UV treatment provides no lasting disinfection; the water is vulnerable to reinfection after treatment.  Typically, ultraviolent treatment is combined with other techniques such as chlorination to best disinfect the water and provide lasting protection in order to ensure safe delivery to municipal systems for human consumption.


Figure 1 – The light spectrum; shows how ultraviolent light is located just outside the visible light spectrum at approximately 10nm to 390nm


Figure 2 – Image depicting how ultraviolent light alters genetic material such as DNA by destroying intermolecular bonds. These irregularities caused by the UV photon inhibit replication.

 Water resources engineering is considered an interdisciplinary field involving the management of hydrologic and hydraulic systems to reduce any adverse impacts and maximize beneficial impacts. The access to clean, potable water issue in this news story impacts the broader WRE context areas of economics and society as a whole.  The cost of chlorination, the most widely used of all water treatment processes, is rising rapidly.  Many communities are forced to look for other options in terms of water treatment, and ultraviolent treatment provides the cheap, safe, and green solution.  Furthermore, access to clean water impacts society and a person’s daily life immensely.  According to the World Health Organization, approximately one in every nine people live without access to clean water (WHO 2012).  These people, and the communities in which they live, are crippled without access to clean water.  Many people across the world spend hours traveling to a safe water well, which is time away from jobs, school, and a person’s family.  Furthermore, this lack of potable water makes these communities much more susceptible to disease and death; approximately 3.75 million people die each year from water-related causes.  Access to clean water has a large impact on quality of live, and as we move into the future where clean water becomes more and more scarce, new technologies and innovations in water treatment will pave the way to safe drinking supplies for communities.