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Water, Life’s Precious Resource

Water, Life’s Precious Resource

Abstract background. Waves of water of the river and the sea meet each other during high tide and low tide. Whirlpools of the maelstrom of Saltstraumen, Nordland, Norway

Chad Clinehens

The importance of water management has dominated human history. From safety to supply, the importance of water to life cannot be overstated. Although approximately 70 percent of the earth’s surface is water, only 1 percent of our world’s water is fresh water, making it more scarce than many recognize. That scarcity increases as we go through history. Since industry took off in the 1800s, world population has soared. Both industries and populations have created extraordinary demands for more water while putting pressures on the supply through industrial and urban pollutants. In the United States, we are fortunate to have well developed water systems. However, water supply issues continue to increase. Increases in demand, along with aging infrastructure, make preserving every drop of fresh water critical. Recent research indicates the average American “pipeline” is 45 years old, making repair and rehabilitation projects an enormous need. Unfortunately, these projects take years and lots of money to complete. Add in profound disruption to American commerce that is unfolding due to COVID-19, and water systems across the U.S. could see these stresses further increase.

All of these current challenges make innovative approaches to water distribution and conservation more important than ever. Recent issues of civil+structural ENGINEER have highlighted stories from around the world where engineers are working to solve these problems, in both developed and developing countries. One of those stories titled “A Curse or Savior?” follows Kit Miyamoto and his efforts for ancient, indigenous tribes in the Omo Valley in Ethiopia. The story is a fascinating look at the trade-offs created when man attempts to solve a problem. It centered around the massive hydro-electric dam, Gibe III, a $1.6 billion, 1,870 megawatt, 240-meter-high concrete structure that doubled Ethiopia’s power output for its expanding agricultural business. This great engineering achievement helped the country progress. But at the same time, marginalized indigenous, communities who were downstream of the dam. The project greatly reduced their water supply, resulting in their culture and traditions, dating back thousands of years, being lost. Miyamoto launched a campaign at the Elevate AEC conference in Las Vegas in 2019 to gather resources to go to the Omo Valley and help the Kara tribe. A combination of donations of money and time from attending engineers resulted in major progress in 2020. More on this story is coming in future issues of this magazine.

In this issue of civil+structural ENGINEER, we are excited to share another unique story of how innovative approaches are helping us in the water conservation effort here in the United States. We share the story of Vessel, the first water leak detection dog in the nation. Vessel’s story is fascinating, starting as a rescue featured on Animal Planet’s “Pit Bulls and Parolees”, a reality television series dedicated to on-air rescues of dogs. After the rescue, Vessel went on to the Arkansas Paws in Prison program. Paws in Prison is an organization committed to rehabilitating inmates and giving shelter dogs a second chance at life through a mutually beneficial, inmate instructed, canine training program. Graduating in November of 2019, Vessel has already had a big impact for his employer, Central Arkansas Water. As Arkansas’ largest water supplier, Central Arkansas Water is showing the world an inspiring example of innovation wrapped with significance. Awareness of this new approach for detecting water leaks in distribution systems is in early stages, but municipal water systems are taking notice, creating demand for the K-9s. I am especially excited to share this story as is a great example of Zweig Group’s “Elevate the Industry” mission. That mission, which includes efforts to promote the industry and it’s impact on the world, is advanced by stories like this. When we capture the hearts and minds of those outside the industry, including educating America’s youth on what civil and structural engineers do, we elevate the industry. And while Vessel advances our mission of elevating the industry, she is advancing Central Arkansas Water’s mission by “protecting and ensuring a long-term water supply for future generations; and serving as responsible stewards of public health, utility resources, and the environment”. The story of Vessel will captivate many, from water system operators to 8-year-olds, giving life and meaning to abandoned dogs who save the world, or at least world’s most precious resource, water.

Chad Clinehens, P.E., is Zweig Group’s president and CEO. Contact him at cclinehens@zweiggroup.com.