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

The news article, “What is Earthship Malaysia?” published by Clean Malaysia on March 20th 2016 reports on the new Earthship that will be built in Malaysia. After describing what an Earthship is, the article then continues to go in depth on the grey water system that Earthship utilizes in their designs. The grey water system they lay out in detail begins with harvesting rainwater that then goes through several filters and transported to outlets through the house for external use only (washing hands, clothes, & shower). Once that water is used, it’s carried to planters where it serves as a water source for the plants as well as gets filtered through a series of soil and bacteria filters. After this step, it’s officially called grey water and is pumped into the toilets of the house. And then once it’s used in the toilets, it becomes grey water and it sent to the on site septic tank. This type of grey water system conserves water, a vital and depleting resource, as well as decreases the money needed to be spent on water for a home. This system not only makes individuals more responsible for their part in the water cycle but also entails them to think about water on a more personal level than they would in a regular home water plumbing system. Having worked with Earthship Biotecture and having been an apprentice to a grey water system plumber, on top of taking hydrology & hydraulics, I can confidently conclude that the article was very accurate in their WRE facts. Since the article was reporting on more of what an earthship is rather than what a greywater system is, there wasn’t really any important information missing in regards to WRE.

On a WRE broader context, this article deals with both global and economic as well as environmental areas of hydrology and hydraulics. Water is a global resource that is very quickly depleting so that it tied in. Grey water systems are a much cheaper route to take when it comes to obtaining water in a home, so that’s how it encompasses the economics side of it. And it’s clearly environmentally aware article because recycling and reusing your water is one of the most environmentally friendly things you can do with water. In the scientific journal titled, “Overview of Greywater Use: The Potential of Greywater Systems to Aid Sustainable Water Management” by the Pacific institute the various greywater technologies along with policies and regulations are discussed in depth. The article does a great job of corroborating with the WRE issues impacted previously examined from the original article.



Figure 1: Diagram of a typical greywater system found in an Earthship




Earthship Biotecture – Radically Sustainable Buildings. Earthship Biotecture. Available

at: Accessed April 22, 2016.


Allen, Lucy, Christian-Smith, Juliet and Palaniappan, Meena. Overview of Greywater

Use: The Potential of Greywater Systems to Aid Sustainable Water Management.
Pacific Institute. November 2010.



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

The article “Embracing Drought-resistant Landscaping Saves More Than Water” was published on March 16, 2016 by the San Antonio Current. Xeriscaping deals with water conservation in the hydrology domain. This article discusses the importance of xeriscaping, which is defined as creative and sustainable landscaping that focuses on conserving water (Xeriscape). This is incredibly important in drought-afflicted areas. Many people want to have turfgrass lawns in their yards but in many cases, this is not appropriate for the climate. A misconception is that the alternative is aesthetically unappealing but with planning and design, this is most certainly not the case. Using native plants, xeriscaping reduces outdoor water usage by 50-70% and also decreases the need for fertilizers (Eartheasy). Based on my engineering knowledge and personal experience, xeriscaping provides all the benefits described here. Xeriscaping also serves an education purpose because the person who is xeriscaping learns about native species and water conservation techniques. The article was very thorough at explaining why xeriscaping is a great alternative to grass. However, there could have been more metrics showing how much water is actually saved, how much less fertilizer is needed, etc.


In a broader context, xeriscaping primarily addresses societal concerns. This is rooted in the fact that without clean water, the human population would suffer. In the western United States, there is a major drought occurring and water conservation is more important than ever. A huge amount of water is being used to irrigate lawns. Almost half of this water is being lost to evaporation and the rest is used to water non-native turfgrass. Utilizing the native landscape not only conserves water but also benefits every other part of the ecosystem. According to the article “Assessing xeriscaping as a sustainable heat island mitigation approach for a desert city”, xeriscaping reduces water use and can also decrease temperatures in urban settings. This has a large impact on social issues because if people do not have access to basic needs such as clean water, there will be no progress in other areas such as poverty, education, health, etc. Water resources management deals a lot with access to clean water and how to distribute it. If we can implement water conservation methods in our own homes, there will be less problems further up the road. Xeriscaping is a prime example of this and works to resolve many environmental and greater social issues.




Figure 1. Example of xeriscape landscaping




Chow, W. T., & Brazel, A. J. Assessing xeriscaping as a sustainable heat island mitigation approach for a desert city. Retrieved from


Eartheasy. Retrieved from


Reagan, M. Embracing Drought-resistant Landscaping Saves More Than Water. Retrieved from


Xeriscape. Retrieved from


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

The news article, “Submarine-hunting drones take off and land on water vertically” was reported by David Hambling in the New Scientist online news on April 6, 2016. The news relates to the WRE domain of hydrology issues with safety, timing and expenses related with field measurements during floods.  In summary this article reports on new drone technologies called AQUA-QUAD and CRACUNS that are in the prototype stages that will be used for tracking enemy submarines as well collecting ocean/freshwater data. The AQUA-QUAD is solar powered, can be deployed from and land on water surfaces, and is designed to withstand a harsh ocean environment.  The CRACUNS drone has different benefits than the AQUA-QUAD as it is designed to handle high pressures and function hundreds of feet deep (Moon, 2016). As shown in figure 1 below, testing was recently completed by Dr. Kevin Jones and his Naval Postgraduate school team (Moon, 2016).  Based upon my knowledge this article portrayed accurate and necessary design considerations.  With deep water there are large heads of pressures that can crush the drone and that is why material and structure support were a major consideration for CRACUNS. Also the influence of saltwater was a major consideration as it can cause corrosion issues.  This applies to my understanding of salt corrosion in pipes for desalinization plants and the promotion of corrosion on many upstate New York vehicles from salted roadways.  Based upon critical thinking on the news story the information missing was other applications for the drone besides replacing NAVY sonobuoys and more specifics on the design considerations.  The news story misses the broader scope of applications that this device can be used for.

The issues with safety for field workers and the community, as well as the cost to send people into the field have both societal and economic impacts.  In flooding situations it can be extremely dangerous and expensive to deploy workers into the field for data collection.  This data is critical to supplement models so that the proper flood mitigation strategies are used. The data can be collected by these drones through the use of sensors or cameras, which can include physical, chemical and biological data.   In the article some specific applications included monitoring ocean temperatures and acidity (Hambling, 2016).  There are socio-economic advantages of deploying and getting to the site faster, having little to no energy cost with solar power and not having to send people out into the field during disaster situations.  In a journal by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) the economics was put this way, “With shrinking government funding, and an expanding need for state and local governments to do more with less, the use of drones can become an easy and cost effective way for government to stay ahead of the workload and innovate, providing more service with fewer resources (ASCE, 2015).”  The cause-effect between faster data collection and socio-economics is as follows – when on-site information can be received faster, proper mitigation techniques can be implemented faster, therefore saving infrastructure, lives and money.



Figure 1: Pictures of field testing of the AQUA-QUAD drone by the Dr. Kevin Jones in the ocean.  On the upper left image one can see the solar photovoltaic cells located at the center of the drone (Jones, 2015).


Figure 2: Picture of the built prototype of the CRACUNS drone (Dash, 2016).



Article URL:


Brown, G. (2016, March 31). Release the CRACUNS: APL develops drone that can operate in the air or underwater. Retrieved from

Dash, S. (2016, March 18). Meet CRACUNS: A drone that can be launched from       underwater. Retrieved from

Hambling, D. (2016, April 16). Submarine-hunting drones take off and land on water vertically. Retrieved from

Jones, K. (2015). Development and testing of the AQUA -QUAD. CRUSER News, (58), 3-4.

Moon, M. (2016, April 7). US Navy’s solar drone flies from and lands on water. Retrieved from

Smith, K. (2015). The use of drones in environmental management. American Society of Civil Engineers. doi:10.1061/9780784479162.133



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

China has been facing some extreme environmental challenges in the past years. The article “Rural Water, Not City Smog, May Be China’s Pollution Nightmare” from the New York Times was posted Monday April 11, 2016. The article explains how newly released well monitoring suggests that underground water pollution is a serious problem in China. The data indicates that about 30% of the 2103 underground wells monitored were fit for industrial use only. Almost 50% of the wells have water quality worse than that (Figure 1).  Constituents include manganese, fluoride, and triazoles. Researchers say that people within the cities do not see water pollution because cities are digging deeper wells past the contaminated surface wells. This leaves many villages and small towns using the contaminated surface water for domestic use. No information is provided from the number of wells or the water quality the cities are using. There is no numerical comparison of depth or water use conditions. Also there are no alternative suggestions from researchers to improve water quality or any responses from the government pertaining to the situation.


Figure 1: Factory waste being ejected into a stream in Mongolia.


The problem of surface and groundwater pollution needs to be addressed immediately. Not only does pollution damage the Earth, and ecosystems but it puts all Chinese citizens and neighboring countries in big risk. China holds approximately 1.3 billion people, 20% of the world’s population, but only 7% of the world’s fresh water. The population is growing in China and urbanization is increasing.  Wang et al. (2008) explain the drastic increase in pollution of surface water quality in urban areas than that of suburban and rural areas (Figure 2).  Water scarcity is very high right now due to the lack of water already available. There is a huge competition for clean drinking water and currently the urban areas are wining. Urban areas are capable to afford to dig deep wells where rural and suburban areas struggle to find clean water which subject them to waterborne diseases. Wang continues to describe how government action needs to take place in these areas. The government needs to focus on the current water supply by reducing consumption and strict water regulations.





Wang, J., Da, L., Song, K., & Li, B. L. (2008). Temporal variations of surface water quality in urban, suburban and rural areas during rapid urbanization in Shanghai, China. Environmental Pollution, 152(2), 387-393.

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


The article titled, “Linking Reclaimed Water with Power Generation: Water Reuse and The Energy-Water Nexus” was published on the Global Water Forum website’s Energy board, July, 22, 2014. The news relates to the WRE domain of hydraulics regarding water resource distribution; it also relates to the domain of hydrology with regards to water conservation and sustainability.


The article, written by Dr. Ashlynn S. Stillwell, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is based on a study exploring the feasibility of utilizing reclaimed wastewater effluent to cool thermoelectric power plants throughout Texas. The three main factors contributing to the feasibility of linking these resources are geographic, technologic, and economic feasibility. The geographic feasibility examines the spatial distribution of these resources. For wastewater to be an effective replacement to other sources, a wastewater treatment facility must be in close proximity to the thermoelectric plant. The study found that “rules-of-thumb” were in the 10-25 mile range. The technologic constraints on utilizing effluent focused largely on the type of cooling process employed by power plant, mainly comparing between open and closed loop cooling processes, with a preference for closed loop for this application. Lastly the economic feasibility assessed the cost difference between current cooling water sources and the switch to using effluent. While the article does show one graphic that depicts water stress as represented by the thermoelectric cooling constraint index, Figure 2 below, the article does not describe the real need for this technology nor does it discuss the state of water stress in the region. And while the image uses a gradient to distinguish between areas of high and low stress it doesn’t explain how these


This article fits into the WRE broader context by focusing on the water energy nexus, which highlights the close relationship between water and energy resources, and has economic and environmental impacts. This close relationship can be seen when we begin to examine how water is treated and how electrical power is produced. To treat water, whether it be potable water for consumption or wastewater to be discharged, there are various energy inputs needed before the water is treated to an acceptable level. These include pumps, stirrers, aerators, UV lights, etc. Conversely, electrical power generation can utilize large quantities of water to cool production processes. This can be seen in all thermoelectric power generation facilities including methane, coal, nuclear and some solar power plants. These relationships impact economics, and the environment. Altering the source of cooling water can affect costs for both water treatment and electrical generation. Environmental impacts may be seen the watersheds surrounding both the wastewater treatment and power generation plants. If these resources are utilized positive impacts may be seen in the surface waters that were once used for cooling. What exactly these impacts would be were not discussed in this article.


In another article titled, “South Africa Coal Projects Collide With Water Scarcity, Financial Turmoil” from, this connection between water and energy resources is similarly clearly defined. Here, the construction of a very large scale coal power plant has been halted by a lack of water for cooling, among other environmental, societal and economic factors. Both articles, while having a focus on water, also indicate a variety of other influencing factors which further tie these issues to the broader concerns at hand.



Figure 1: Decision-aiding map representing where power plants use of reclaimed water for cooling is feasible, source: Global Water Forum



Figure 2: Picture Showing Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant, source: flickr


Article URL:



Fischer, Tony. “Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant.” Flickr. Yahoo!, 9 Aug. 2008. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.


Stillwell, Ashlynn S. “Linking Reclaimed Water with Power Generation: Water Reuse and the Energy-water Nexus.” Global Water Forum. UNESCO, 22 July 2014. Web. 06 Apr. 2016.


Schneider, Keith. “South Africa Coal Projects Collide With Water Scarcity, Financial Turmoil.” Circle of Blue, 17 Mar. 2016. Web. 06 Apr. 2016.

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

The news entitled, “Poisoned Water in Newark Schools” was published by The New York Times on March 19th, 2016 on their editorial board. The news relates to the WRE domain of hydrology regarding on water quality. In summary, this news article reports that Newark Public Schools recently acknowledged that the water at its school has contained high level of leads for years and the government is now taking actions to fix the severe situation. CNN news has reported that 30 locations out of 66 schools have tested positive for lead exposure over the federal limit of 15 parts per billion (Jorgenson et. al, 2016). The ABC news has also reported that Newark will be testing 17000 children for lead poisoning after the news broke out (Miles, 2016). This is event has drawn the public’s attention and the situation needs to be remedied at its urgent. Although there is still no clear explanation on why the lead levels has been so high all these years, yet the government has only recently acknowledged the issue and so far no solution on how this problem can be utterly solved.

This event relates to the WRE broader context specifically in the environment and the society. Lead in drinking water is most often a problem in either very old or very new house. Lead pipes were once commonly used in plumbing system built before 1930. Brass materials are now used in residential, commercial and municipal water distributing systems and fixtures due to brass contains small amount of lead to make it malleable  (Dozier et. al, 2016).This unfortunate event shares some similarities with another current water quality crisis, the Flint water crisis. Both areas are distressed and both have a large minority populations. Water quality, especially drinking water, should be ensured for all areas. Situations like this can be happening in a lot of other communities if the local governments do not reinforce the regulations or take actions effectively as soon as they detect the problems like such.


Joyce Lai hydro current event

Figure 1. A warning sign on a fountain at John F. Kennedy School in Newark.


Bright, J. (2016, March 31). A warning sign on a fountain at John F. Kennedy School in Newark, where elevated lead levels have been found in some schools’ drinking water. [Photograph found in The New York Times, New York]. Retrieved April 05, 2016, from (Originally photographed 2016, March 31)

Dozier, M., & McFarland, M. (n.d.). Drinking Water Problems: Lead (Tech. No. L-5452). Retrieved April 05, 2016, from Texas A&M AGRILIFE EXTENSION website: Water Problems Lead.pdf

Miles, D. (2016, March 16). Newark will test 17,000 school children for lead poisoning. Retrieved April 05, 2016, from

The New York Times (Ed.). (2016, March 19). Poisoned Water in Newark Schools [Editorial]. Retrieved April 05, 2016, from Pollution&_r=0

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

The news entitled, “North Minneapolis’ Webber pool, the country’s first natural public swimming pool, to hold another open house” was reported on the website MinnPost on July 30th, 2015.  The news relates to the WRE domain of hydrology as the issue covers water management.  This article celebrates the opening of the Webber Natural Swimming Pool in Minneapolis, MN, which the nation’s first all-natural public swimming pool.  Rather than using chemicals (e.g. chlorine) for disinfection, the water is recycled every 12 hours to a “regeneration basin” consisting of 7,000 aquatic plants and layers of limestone and granite to filter the water.  This article mainly recites pool specifications from the designer’s webpage so in relation to design aspects to WRE the article is accurate.  However, since the pool just opened in July, the effectiveness of the treatment mechanisms listed in the article remains to be seen.  It should be noted that this article did not explain how the plants or the microbiology of the basin contribute to water treatment.  From my engineering knowledge, the regeneration basin is an example of a phytoremediation technique.  The aquatic plants have the ability to extract pollutants or reduce their bioavailability from the system (Salt et. al, 1995).  Beneficial microbes would also be responsible for removing chemical species such as nitrogen, sulfur, etc. from the water in the regeneration basin.  For example, denitrifers would remove nitrogen from the system as nitrogen gas through denitrification (Pepper et. al, 2015).  It would also be expected that the pool is monitored for water quality, but this effort is not mentioned.

The Webber pool relates to WRE through a broader context as it is an example of environmental management.  Rather than draining the water and diverting it to a wastewater treatment plant, the water is conserved by treating it on-site.  Additionally, no outside chemicals are delivered to the pool, which require fossil fuels to manufacture and transport them to the site.  These chemicals can also pose risks to human and environmental health and introduce disinfection by-products such as trihalomethanes (THMs).  Jin Lee and others (2009) showed that the incremental lifetime cancer risk can be exceeded for frequent swimmers (e.g. athletes) from exposure to THMs through oral ingestion and skin contact in traditional swimming pools.  As such, new techniques are needed to design and manage swimming pools to reduce water consumption and minimize environmental and health risks to society.  The introduction of the Webber pool may be a first step in achieving this.


Figure 1: Photograph of the completed Webber Natural Swimming Pool.  The color of the water has a natural greenish-hue.  Picture adapted from original news article.




Salt D, Blaylock M, Kumar N, Dushenkov V, Ensley B, Chet I, Raskin I.  Phytoremediation: A Novel Strategy for the Removal of Toxic Metals from the Environment Using Plants.  Nature Biotechnology.  1995:13: 468-474.

Pepper, I. L., Gerba, C. P., Gentry T. J.  Environmental Microbiology, Third Edition.  Academic Press, San Francisco, 2015.

Lee J, Ha K, Zoh K.  Characteristics of trihalomethane (THM) production and associated health risk assessment in swimming pool waters treated with different disinfection methods.  Science of the Total Environment.  2009;407(6): 1990-1997.

The article, “Iraq’s Biggest Dam Could Collapse at Any Time, Killing Thousands”, was published by The New York Times on March 1, 2016.  The topic of this article is related to WRE as it focuses on dams and how they can affect living situations nearby if not continuously kept under supervision. This article discusses how the Mosul Dam could flood, killing a majority of the Iraqi population. Built in 1984, the Mosul Dam is the largest dam in Iraq, controlling the flow of the Tigris River north of Mosul. This dam also holds up to 3 trillion gallons of water and supplies electricity to more than a million people. This dam has been called the most dangerous in the world for the past decade (Independent, 2016). The problem with this dam is that it was built on gypsum rock as shown in figure 1, which is a soft mineral that dissolves easily in water. To stop the dam from leaking, engineers have to continuously pump grout into it (Middle East Eye, 2014). This practice was recently stopped in 2014 due to the fact that the Islamic State seized the dam. Recently, the government retook over the dam, but many of the engineers did not return and therefore, maintenance was not continued. If this continues the Mosul Dam could flood by over 45 ft of water in 4 hours and the Tigris River could rise almost 13 feet within a day causing millions of people to lose their homes. To prevent a collapse, the Iraqi government and United Nations have been working on an emergency plan. An Italian company, Trevi, signed $2 billion dollars to repair the dam, but the work could take up to 18 months, time that Iraq cannot afford waste (ABC News, 2016). Baghdad has also assigned 450 troops to protect the dam site to prevent it from being seized again (The National, 2016). It is still unclear on how the government plans to fix this matter.

In the WRE broader context, this article covers the impacts of this hydrology issue on environmental, economic, and societal areas. The environmental context refers to the safety and stability of the natural environment, the economic context refers to the costs associated with these issues and how much the government is willing to spend to fix these issues, and the societal context refers to the impacts these issues have on communities and society as a whole. Whether the dam will collapse before it can be fixed is unknown. This situation shows how often times society as a whole will need to work together to come up with a solution to a problem that can be detrimental to those in the surrounding area. The Iraqi government, United Nations and Trevi will need to further their research before a successful solution can be implemented, but they will need to act quickly.


Figure 1 Gypsum Layer the Mosul Dam is Eating Away at Causing Leakage (SOURCE: CCTV- AMERICA)


Figure 2 An Employee at the Mosul Dam in Northern Iraq (SOURCE: The New York Times)


Article URL


Italian firm Trevi to fix Iraq’s imperilled Mosul dam. (2016, February 2). Retrieved March 27, 2016, from

Morris, L. (2016, February 13). If the Mosul dam in Iraq collapses, half a million people could die. Retrieved March 27, 2016, from

Mosul dam: A life source in northern Iraq. (2014, August 18). Retrieved March 27, 2016, from

Time to prevent a flood in Iraq. (2016, March 27). Retrieved March 27, 2016, from

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

The news article titled “We Can Feed Our Meat Addiction in More Eco-Friendly Ways than Factory Farming – But Is It Too Late?” was reported by AlterNet on March 24th 2016. The article relates to the WRE domain of hydrology and the issue of water distribution and water quality. This article focused primarily on many of the problems associated with feed lots or concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO). As the world’s demand of meat increases, so too will the problems associated with the CAFOs. As per the article, these problems include: 70% of agriculture being devoted to meat production (which amounts to about 50% of water consumption), this increases the depletion of reservoirs like the Ogallala aquifer, and ever increasing contamination due to waste disposal practices. Based on articles such as “The Nitrogen Cascade: The Next Big Pollution Problem” by David Mager, and “Why Not Eating Meat Should Be Your New Year’s Resolution” by Renee Farris, these observations make sense. They math works out approximately right, and the quantity of nutrients must certainly be ever increasing and never-ending. I think what this article misses the most is the connection to regulations imposed on CAFOs by the government, how or if they break those regulations, or how the regulations are set up in order to purposefully make loopholes, thus allowing a call out of more than just the consumers but allowing the government to step in if necessary too.

This article mostly focuses on the environmental context area, but also has implications from the economic area. Some of the broader implications is that our current meat production practices are unsuitable for the world and the cost of meat relative to its cost of production on the environment is not economically or environmentally feasible. “CAFOS in the US and China: A Comparison on the Laws that Protect Water Quality from Factory Farming” by Rebecca Smith and Xiao Mingxin, is a journal article that examines the issues of CAFOs with a particular focus on the water quality problems associated with them, and the relevant laws to regulate this. It is pretty clear that the 1 pound of meat to approximately 5,000 gallons of water will not be sustainable in the future. This deficit, along with the ever increasing pollution which degrades those water sources make it more clear that the environment and the economic value of water will not be able to absorb the true cost of CAFOs as we move forward.

Figure 1. Manure Lagoon Showing how waste is dealt with



Hartnett, AJ. “We Can Feed Our Meat Addiction in More Eco-Friendly Ways Than Factory Farming-But Is It Too Late?” Alternet. Alternet, 24 Mar. 2016. Web. 24 Mar. 2016. <;.

Mager, David. “The Nitrogen Cascade: The Next Big Pollution Problem.” The Huffington Post., 23 Oct. 2013. Web. 28 Mar. 2016. <;.

Nichols, Bob. Dairy Waste Management–Waste Treatment Lagoon. Containing manure and using it on the farm. East Loiusiana. Digital image. Wikimedia Commons. Wikimedia Project, 4 Oct. 2011. Web. 28 Mar. 2016. <;.

Smith, Rebecca, and Xiao Mingxin. “CAFOS in the US and China: A Comparison on the Laws That Protect Water Quality from Factory Farming.” USAID: Asia (n.d.): n. pag. Public Access Center. Vermont Law. Web. 28 Mar. 2016. <;.

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

The news article titled “The Microbes That Clean Up Contaminated Mine Sites” was reported by the Pacific Standard on December 2nd, 2015. The article relates to the WRE domain of hydrology and the issue of mine wastewater treatment and the movement of contaminants through the hydrologic cycle. In summary, the article is a basic overview of Dr. Amelie Janin, a scientist with the Yukon Research Center,  and her work with small scale bioreactors (Figure 1) to design a more efficient and cost effective method for removing heavy metals from mine tailing ponds in the Yukon Territory, Canada. Currently, the mines use a chemical treatment process in order to remove heavy metals from the wastewater before the tailing ponds are drained into nearby rivers. This is costly, energy intensive, and inefficient. Dr. Janin’s bioreactors, when scaled up to treat the mine tailing wastewater, will recreate the natural processes occurring in the Yukon Territory’s soil in order to efficiently remove heavy metals. The bioreactors use native sediment, gravel, and a carbon source, either woodchips or biochar, as a medium for heavy metal precipitation. The microorganisms naturally present in the native sediment facilitate reactions that are able to precipitate dissolved heavy metals out of water. Amazingly efficient, the bioreactors have shown the capability to removing more than 99% of copper, more than 99% of zinc, and 94 to 95% of arsenic from the contaminated water. Even more unique is that the reactors have shown no reduction in efficiency at lower temperatures. Native microorganisms are likely psychrotolerant; adapted to survive in the cold temperatures of northern Canada. In effect, the bioreactor is a small scale treatment wetland.

In 1978 the Army Corps of Engineers wrote a technical report on the uptake of heavy metals by wetland plant species grown in contaminated soil. Results of the report were inconclusive as most plants showed very little heavy metal contamination, whereas some species of plants showed a heavy metal concentration an order of magnitude greater than the others. (Lee et. al, 1978) Since then, community concern over heavy metals entering the food chain through plant uptake has led to skepticism over the reports that state plants do not significantly uptake the heavy metals. (O’Sullivan et. al, 1999) Dr. Janin states that 99% of heavy metals are maintained in the soil of a treatment wetland.

In a broad context, water resources engineering influences global, economic, environmental, and societal issues. Mines occur all over the world and significant impacts on health of humans and environment have been connected to mine tailings. Regulations have been implemented in several areas, forcing mine operators to comply with health and safety policies regarding their waste. Operating a wastewater treatment facility causes mining to become even more costly, thus reducing the profits of the mining industry. Metals and other materials are potentially forced into a supply deficit, driving up the price of the raw material and all products that contain the raw material. However, in developed nations the increased cost of a product is acceptable if it means increased protection of land and water resources. Social issues become important in mine waste decontamination when the environment and human health are impacted. In the article, the Yukon Territory is of focus. Many of the communities in the Yukon are Native. If contamination from the mine’s wastewater impacts the health of the water, soil, or air used by the community members, a social injustice occurs. The rapid growth of the mining industry in the Yukon Territory has increased wages for local workers, but decreased morale, time available for hunting and home life. Overall, the Native communities lost some of their basic beliefs, such as collective responsibility and reciprocity between community members and the land. (Gibson and Klinck) Unfortunately, the people affected by the social injustice, particularly regarding Native communities, do not have a strong enough voice in government or business to protect their land sufficiently.


Figure 1. Small scale bioreactors. (Janin et. al, 2015)





Gibson G, Klinck J., “Canada’s Resilient North: The Impact of Mining on Aboriginal Communities” A Journal of Aboriginal and Indigenous Community Health 3(1). Available from:

Lee CR, Smart RM, Sturgis TC, Gordon RN, Landin MC., “Prediction of Heavy Metal Uptake by Marsh Plants Based on Chemical Extraction of Heavy Metals From Dredged Material” Dredged Material Research Program: Technical Report D-78-6. February 1978. Available from:

O’Sullivan AD, McCabe OM, Murray DA, Otte ML., “Wetlands for Rehabilitation of Metal Mine Wastes” Biology and Environment: Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Vol 99B, No 1, The Ecology of Old Mine Sites (Sept 1999) pp. 11-17. Available from: