What Is Wastewater Engineering?

Mary McMahon

Wastewater engineering is a field of engineering focused on the management of water supplies for human and environmental health. It can include everything from sourcing clean supplies of drinking water to the management of wastewater in an environmentally friendly way. Specialists in this field typically have graduate degrees and can work on the design of treatment facilities, development of new equipment and techniques for processing, and a variety of other topics. Wastewater engineers also oversee activities at treatment plants on a day to day basis.

The handling of septic tanks is included in wastewater engineering.
The handling of septic tanks is included in wastewater engineering.

There are a number of sources of wastewater, including residential, commercial, and industrial streams of waste that can include anything from feces to chemicals. Wastewater engineering involves the collection of waste through centralized sewer systems, delivery to treatment plants, and processing to remove contaminants. These contaminants can be handled in a variety of ways, while cleaned water can be discharged, used for landscaping, or employed in other ways. Creative uses for treated water are especially common in regions with limited water supplies, where reclaimed water can replace fresh sources of water and cut down on the demand for new water supplies.

Wastewater engineering involves the collection of waste into centralized sewer systems.
Wastewater engineering involves the collection of waste into centralized sewer systems.

This field also includes the handling of septic tanks and leachfields in rural areas where sewer connections are not available. Wastewater engineers can design septic systems and new techniques for handling septic systems to keep rural water supplies safe and minimize the risk of environmental problems caused by the uncontrolled release of raw sewage. Protection of water resources is important, as many communities rely on rivers, lakes, streams, and underground deposits to meet their water needs.

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Another aspect of wastewater engineering can involve the installation and maintenance of treatment and reclamation plants in industrial settings. At facilities like power plants, large amounts of water are necessarily for cooling towers and other applications. Rather than continually bringing in a supply of fresh water, these facilities can potentially clean and recycle their wastewater to cut down on water usage. A specialist in this area can design a system appropriate to the application.

In sewage treatment, wastewater engineering requires a variety of processing techniques to remove contaminants in the water, including solids as well as liquid chemicals that may have dispersed through wastewater. Plants also need to be prepared for high usage loads which could potentially lead to overflow and other problems. A well-maintained sewage plant needs an engineer to keep it running well, address problems before they start, and prepare for eventual expansion of services, a requirement for most sewage treatment facilities as communities grow.

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