The Civil Engineer’s Role in the Wastewater Treatment Process

Civil Engineering

Wastewater civil engineers are the chief developers of the infrastructure that recycles one of the most important natural resources in the United States. This infrastructure is quite innovative and complex, often requiring a great deal of thought and planning to make sure it properly uses its natural surroundings. Training is an important aspect of successful wastewater infrastructure planning and management. In order to work as wastewater civil engineers, professionals may need to go through extensive training to receive the necessary certifications and licensing requirements needed for managing such an important infrastructure.

Wastewater Treatment Practice

Wastewater treatment is the use of mechanical, biological and chemical processes to maintain daily water quality. In the United States and most other developed countries, consumers discard wastewater through a complex plumbing system that delivers the after product to a wastewater processing plant. Typically, plant subjects discarded water through several processes before it’s ready for reclamation into the public water supply. In addition, modern wastewater plants incorporate systems that control treatment byproducts such as odor. The plant then filters any solid matter that has washed through the sewage system with the discarded water. In line with civilization’s growing awareness that the earth has limited resources, these plants also produce biomaterials from wastewater which businesses repurpose for such products as farm fertilizer. Finally, the plants put the wastewater through a series of mechanical and chemical filtration systems to make the product once again fit for human consumption and use. Civil engineers hold a variety of pivotal positions surrounding wastewater treatment and management, which are crucial to the continued success of the United States’ wastewater infrastructure.

Civil Engineering Wastewater Investigation

Wastewater investigations play a key role in wastewater management, especially when wastewater treatment plants need more information than a standard survey can provide. In this role, the civil engineer may conduct research to uncover why a plant is not meeting regulatory compliance standards, or why a plant is producing unacceptable contaminants, such as high copper levels. When water contamination occurs, a civil engineer investigates to find the source and then devises a plan to correct the problem. In this role, a plant may call on a civil engineer to investigate air quality complaints that originate within the facility. At some wastewater facilities, civil engineers are also responsible for investigating health and safety violations.

Wastewater Treatment Engineering Design

A more familiar wastewater civil engineering job is the design of the water treatment plant and city sewage system. In this role, civil engineers can take on various roles, including creating the layout for the entire system used by municipalities to transport and treat discarded water, restructuring outdated sewage systems, and overseeing the process for wastewater treatment companies to obtain needed licenses and permits. Civil engineers also play an important role with the implementation of their plans, such as working with state agencies to make sure that the wastewater plant follows regulatory guidelines, helping manage the contracts a plant holds with third parties and overseeing incoming project bids and terms.

Civil Engineer Emergency Services

A municipality or plant may need the services of a civil engineer when water-related emergencies arise, such as when water levels are too low to serve the community or when the water is contaminated. It is the civil engineer’s role to find corrective solutions. For example, one solution to remedy low water levels is for engineers to oversee the drilling of new water wells to raise area water production. In instances where a district’s water supply is dangerously contaminated, a civil engineer may conduct special tests to determine where a well draws moisture from to find the contamination source. Civil engineers are also called upon when there are serious wastewater plant equipment failures or when plant conditions threaten worker safety.

Education for Civil Engineers

Wastewater management engineers are crucial to maintaining the United States water supply. The American Society of Civil Engineers forecasts that faulty wastewater systems will cost the United States over $2 trillion between 2011 and 2040. Our nation will need talented civil engineers to help ensure our nation’s water stays as clean as possible. Companies and regulatory boards mandate a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering for entry-level wastewater engineer careers and a master’s degree to work in higher positions, such as wastewater investigators. Norwich University’s online Master of Civil Engineering program can provide the needed skills and knowledge for job advancement in the civil engineering industry and to help individuals meet their career goals.

Civil Engineering Certification and Licensure

In addition to the proper education, wastewater engineers may need to possess certifications and licensing in their respective states. Each state has its own board of civil engineering that issues licenses, with the American Society of Civil Engineers certifying wastewater engineers in the United States. As with many other professions, continuing education is an integral part of a successful career in civil engineering. Civil engineers that specialize in wastewater treatment have one of our society’s most important, yet far too often overlooked responsibilities. While the path to entering the wastewater engineering field is demanding, it can be well worth it, with median annual salaries starting at roughly $80,000 per year.

Learn More

A passion for engineering is a lifelong venture and we share that passion at Norwich University. That’s why we offer exceptional opportunities for you to advance your knowledge, target your skills, and gain greater proficiency as a civil engineer. The convenient study options at Norwich University allows you to focus on the area of civil engineering that is most relevant to your career path and educational goals. Through our online Master of Civil Engineering program, you can choose from one of four concentrations that are uniquely designed to provide an in-depth examination of engineering procedure, techniques and processes.


About Civil Engineering, American Society of Civil Engineers

Stormwater, Clean Water Services

Wastewater Process Engineer Job Description, Houston Chronicle

Continuing Education Program, Water Environment Federation

Water, Wastewater/Civil Engineering Services, Department of Public Instruction

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