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6 Ways Civil Engineering Technology is Providing Access to Clean Water

As the populations of cities and other municipal areas continue to grow, maintaining sustained access to sufficient amounts of clean, potable water progressively becomes more important. Through the practices of environmental and water resource engineering, civil engineers are constantly advancing the development of such systems that deliver clean water effectively and reliably. Currently, clean water solutions are implemented almost universally in most developed nations, granting more people than ever the opportunity to have access to abundant water supplies entirely free from waterborne disease. The following highlights six of the most instrumental methods civil engineers use to provide people with access to clean water across the world.


Many new technologies and processes have been engineered to produce clean drinkable water by treating saline water through a process called desalination. Desalination does not only purify salt water sourced from the ocean, the process is also viable as an option to treat groundwater that has unhealthy concentrations of salt or sediment. As new technologies are developed, desalination can become an affordable solution for those who live in fresh water scarce regions. From solar desalination to vapor compression distillation facilities, desalination plants of varying complexity are widely used across the world.

As the desalination process often mirrors the natural process of producing rain, human-orchestrated desalination has been used to remove salt from water for thousands of years. The simplest form of desalination involves distilling water by converting it to steam and collecting the vapor. In the 1960s, multiple-stage flash evaporation, which was comprised of multiple-effect distillation and vapor-compression, was introduced and quickly became the most feasible method of large-scale desalination. However, modern engineering has evolved since this time to include more complex, energy efficient non-distillation-based methods of desalination that effectively purify large volumes of water using ion exchange and membrane systems to process salt water. Through these processes, civil engineers can produce enough potable water to meet the consumption needs of an entire city on a daily basis.

Agriculture Irrigation Technology

Water used by the agricultural industry accounts for more than half of the annual water use in the United States, which puts a serious strain on the amount of water available for general consumption. Preserving water becomes critically important in times of drought, because communities must balance agricultural needs with broader public needs—such as potable water for consumption or water for cooling industrial systems. Civil engineers are currently implementing smart farm technology that prevents communities from depleting their clean water resources by monitoring soil moisture levels and using the data that is collected to determine exactly how much water should be allocated to the field, preventing waste.

Additionally, inefficient irrigation systems—such as agricultural sprinklers, which are extremely common throughout the world—waste a great deal of potable water. So, when farms implement cutting-edge irrigation systems that provide the correct amount of water uniformly to their fields, more potable water is available for the broader public and water shortages can be avoided.

Wastewater Treatment

Since the beginning of collective societies, people have struggled to find solutions to the removal of wastewater produced by human actions. The overall goal of treating wastewater is to eliminate harmful bacteria, chemicals, and virulent toxins found in sewage. Engineering technologies have now progressed to the point where wastewater can be converted into clean water that is suitable for discharge back into the environment. The technology civil engineers have developed has progressively gotten more efficient, and the process of converting wastewater into clean water can be divided into three basic categories.

  • Physical Wastewater Treatment: Physical wastewater treatment relies on natural physical forces like gravity and electrical attractions to separate harmful substances from water. Physical barriers can also be used to filter out solid masses floating in the water. Some examples of physical wastewater treatment include sedimentation, flotation, and adsorption.
  • Chemical Wastewater Treatment: Chemical wastewater treatment requires the use of chemical solutions to treat wastewater, such as chemical precipitation, neutralization, and disinfection using chlorine, ozone, and ultraviolet light.
  • Biological Wastewater Treatment: This treatment process utilizes a bioreactor to allow bacteria, algae, and fungi to transform organic matter within wastewater into energy. This process of bioconversion relies on biological oxidation and biosynthesis, which does leave some end products that must be discharged, like minerals.

PUR Water Purifying Sachet

In developing countries, fatalities that occur as the result of waterborne diseases are extremely common. As these countries cannot afford to build facilities that can purify contaminated water, many organizations have been working to develop low-cost

solutions to combat this problem. The world’s largest consumer products company, Procter & Gamble, is responsible for developing one of the world’s most innovative water purification products: the PUR Water Purifying Sachet.

Developed by the company’s engineers in unison with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the PUR Water Purifying Sachet employs a powdered mixture formulated to remove pathogenic microorganisms and suspended matter from contaminated water. A single packet of this powder can potentially turn 10 liters of dirty water into clean drinking water, saving the lives of those who would otherwise be exposed to waterborne illnesses. This amazing breakthrough in water resource engineering is a noteworthy example of how far-reaching the results of creative engineering can be.

Water Purification Tablets 

Water purification tablets help clean water by disabling harmful bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms with its active ingredients of chlorine, iodine, or chlorine dioxide. Once the treatment process with the tablets has been completed, chlorine can simply be allowed to evaporate from the water by removing the lid of the water container and iodine neutralizer tablets can also be used to mask the unpleasant taste of iodine.

The tablets can serve as an intermediary solution to clean water shortages, particularly in areas that have recently been struck by natural disasters and are struggling to maintain clean water sources. Since they are easily portable and require no special equipment or power source, the tablets can be incredibly effective during and after natural disasters. Developing long-term water reclamation strategies following a natural disaster can take an extended period of time, so the use of water purification tablets effectively helps to reduce the immediate risk of illness for populations that have lost direct access to clean water.

Small Decentralized Distillation Units

Centralized water supplies that consist of piped connections from a person’s home leading to a central water source are often the most readily available way of servicing a large community’s need for clean drinking water. However, in developing regions of the world, access to this type of infrastructure is vastly unavailable due to the number of logistical features that must be built, connected, and maintained, especially in rural areas. Decentralized water distillation offers the potential to create clean and reliable drinking water to areas that cannot be connected to a centralized water supply due to physical or economic restraints.

Decentralized distillation units can utilize one of many different methods or systems to filter or distill contaminated surface and groundwater. These systems are categorized based on the quantity of clean water they can supply.

  • Point-of-use supply systems can treat 25 liters of water per household.
  • Point-of-entry supply systems can treat all water that enters a household.
  • Small-scale systems can provide water to entire communities with quantities ranging from 1,000-10,000 liters per day.

These systems use heat and radiation to destroy pathogens, chemical treatment to purify and disinfect contaminated water, and physical processes to separate contaminants from the water. By continuing to develop advanced decentralized distillation units that are more cost-effective and boast a longer range, civil engineers can provide clean water to disenfranchised communities at a sustainable cost.

Environmental and water resource engineering are two critical civil engineering fields that effectively provide millions of people around the globe with sustained sources of clean water. Cities need ample water resources in order to thrive, and a knowledgeable and highly trained civil engineer can help to provide urban zones with the sustainable water systems needed to ensure proper and sustainable growth.

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Norwich University offers exceptional opportunities to help advance your knowledge, target your skills, and gain greater proficiency as a professional civil engineer. The online Master of Civil Engineering program at Norwich University is designed to enhance your technical knowledge, management skills and engineering competence by delivering a modern, practice-orientated education that fosters creativity and critical thinking for problem-solving and innovation.

Recommended Readings:
What is a Megastructure
Structural Engineer Job Roles and Responsibilities


Provide Access to Clean Water, National Academy of Engineering

Physical Methods of Wastewater Treatment, IEEE GlobalSpec

Biological and Chemical Wastewater Treatment Processes,

A Simple Way To Clean Water, P&G Children’s Safe Drinking Water

Pilot Study On The Effect Of An Intervention Using Sodium Dichloroisocyanurate Tablets (Aquatabs) For Drinking Water Treatment In Dhaka, Bangladesh, World Health Organization

Saline water: Desalination, U.S. Geological Survey

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