It is widely used to generate electricity, build roads and bridges, heat buildings, and kill germs. Versatile enough to be put to work in industry, agriculture, and the transport of people and goods, it’s also a local resource that has considerable global importance. Not only does water benefit us socially, environmentally, and recreationally, it is essential for plants, animals and human beings to thrive. Without it, there is no life on Earth.
How would you define the value of water? That question is the theme of this year’s World Water Day , a United Nations observance held annually every March 22 since 1993. Since water can mean widely different things to different people, answers to that simple query can be as varied as where they live or work.
We tapped some of our water experts to share what water means to them as well as highlight what Wood is doing to positively impact this precious resource.
Reducing the footprint of industries
Elena Gil Aunon
Technical Director–Water Engineering (United Kingdom)
As a lead for industrial water, I’m focused on helping companies rethink, reuse or recover the maximum resource potential of wastewater that is generated in production processes. It can mean improving process efficiency, implementing novel and innovative water treatment technologies, and using less of this vital natural resource which, in turn, adds value to the communities that are local to these companies. This circular economy approach is relevant to almost every industry across the world.
While consumer-facing industries have demonstrated the most aggressive water management goals toward becoming more sustainable, industry as a whole has made measurable progress. For example, one thing we can recover from industrial water is heat. We can use an anerobic treatment that creates biogas, which can be used later in the manufacturing process as a source of energy.
On a recent project in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, we proposed the benefits of treating industrial wastewater to remove contaminants and then reuse it as process water for other industries or irrigation – even cleaning. This not only lowers system losses, but it also reduces reliance on desalination of seawater as a sole water source. It reduces the pollution of energy use, too.
I truly believe we can make a difference and that’s why I’ve devoted my whole 24-year career to industrial water.
Ensuring governments can deliver on large water projects
Senior Associate Engineer-Civil (Canada)
Water has remained a touchpoint throughout my career, whether it was pumping and treating water at mine sites, or remediation of groundwater and soil. A lot of it involved environmental permitting for water courses and fish passages and how we might potentially impact someone’s supply of drinking water during highway construction.
Today, my focus is on larger alternate delivery-type projects, often through Public-Private Partnerships (P3s). This includes the Loch Lomond Drinking Water Treatment Facility, in Saint John, which ranks as one of the largest municipal water projects ever undertaken in Canada’s Atlantic provinces.
The city had long suffered severe and widely known water quality issues, including complaints about colour and taste, as well as the general aesthetics of the water, which was sourced from nearby surface water bodies. There was also a lot of organic material and disinfection byproducts that they were unable to filter out of the drinking water.
Loch Lomond changed everything. As a P3 project, it not only offered the benefits of shared risk, but it also ramped up the necessity and urgency to get these issues dealt with. P3s enable government entities to avoid waiting years to react when issues are discovered, especially when it involves contaminants or pathogens in public drinking water. For governments of all sizes, it’s an effective fast-track method to get infrastructure procured, constructed and operational in the shortest time possible, allowing for clean water sooner.
Delivering clean water & effective waste treatment
Melbourne Water Contract Manager (Australia)
I grew up in Adelaide, the driest city in the driest state in the driest continent in the world, so water use and water conservation are important to me. It was a topic constantly reinforced in school and the media when I was a child and maybe that’s why I ended up working in the water sector. You cannot live without clean, fresh water. It's an impossibility. Access to water is what establishes our quality of life.
At Wood, we work together with Melbourne Water, a government entity, to ensure that people in the city and surrounding areas have clean, reliable, potable water and that their sewage is taken away and properly treated. So, we look after water from where it is extracted from a river source or reservoir, through the entire process and, finally, to where treated wastewater is discharged as clean, recycled water into the bay.
Our focus is on maintenance and small project delivery that keeps everything flowing. We plan and complete key maintenance and project delivery for Melbourne Water’s key infrastructure for water treatment works, sewage transfer pumping stations and wastewater treatment plants. These activities are essential in a place like Australia where every drop of water is precious and maintaining and protecting the environment is paramount.
I wanted to be an engineer to problem solve and make the world a better place. Working in the water sector, as I have for 17 years of my career, allows you to do that – by enhancing livability and giving back to the community in a way that really impacts peoples’ lives.
Renewing communities through stream restoration
Principal Engineer-Water Resources (United States)
My focus is on creek and stream restoration – it’s the side of water that focuses on surface water bodies that affect quality of life, particularly in the urban core, but also in other settings like mining where clients have mitigation requirements for addressing stream impacts.
The goal is to renew these water bodies in a way that improves their quality and restores them into proper balance with their surrounding environments and communities. What we find, too often, are creeks and rivers that are running through developed landscapes, where natural drainage networks were diverted, piped, partially filled or buried, and the waters have become open sewers, stormwater drains, or littered with trash and debris.
A multiyear project we are working in Jacksonville, Florida, will restore the natural environment of McCoy’s Creek to reduce flooding and uncover the area’s recreational value. Plans call for up to 142 acres of improvements, including about three miles of creek and surrounding land.
The restoration includes removal of polluted soils, restoration of freshwater and estuarine streams, as well as wetland habitat that restores support of fish and wildlife. It also supports community redevelopment and needed investment in things like affordable housing, a new school and businesses that will bring new jobs. No longer will it be an area that’s overlooked and undervalued. It will be a place with a bright future, all connected by water restoration.
Wood’s relationship with water runs deep
From the breadth of our expertise to the full range of projects our teams work on around the world, Wood’s relationship with water runs deep. The challenges we face in managing water worldwide are complex and far-reaching. They range from improving industrial efficiency and reducing carbon emissions, to ensuring that the water we drink is free of chemical and biological contaminants, as well as other harmful toxins. Water is essential to life, yet half of the freshwater found on Earth is in only six countries. We see these challenges as opportunities to partner with clients and communities to protect our shared environment because, when we all place value on water, it ensures that clean, fresh water is accessible – today and for tomorrow.