Sustainable Water Engineering

Water is essential for life, for our economy and ultimately our civilization. If water is so essential for the survival of our civilization, how, then can we engineer a system that integrates water to the needs of our society in a sustainable way?

Sustainability practices cannot be expected to get performed effectively without integration of its key concepts such as systems thinking in education.


Water is essential for civilization. Water is a global issue. Countries engage in trading products rather than the physical transportation of water itself. As a result, billions of tones of water will remain where it is abundant. Some water-scarce nations, which include countries in the Middle East, are net importers of water to meet the needs of their growing populations. This is also true of many European nations, due to consumer tastes for particular foods and products.

Sustainable water management is not an end itself; it is only part of sustainable development. Without proper design of water distribution and wastewater collection, one cannot attain sustainability with respect to water. Improper water distribution will use energy unnecessarily and cause a loss of water. Improper collection of waste water will lead to leakage of waste water, leading to water pollution. Inadequate corrosion protection, old pipelines, poorly maintained valves as well as mechanical damage contribute to leakage. Many leaks remain undetected.

Water lost after treatment and pressurization is unsustainable. As water, money and energy are wasted. In the absence of knowledge about the fundamentals of water systems, the water engineers will end up with costly solutions that will not serve the citizens. The main requirements for the sustainability of water systems are,

  • An asset management framework that ensures the right investments at the right time.
  • Water and energy efficiency ensuring sustainable practices and technologies to improve their efficiency.
  • Ecosystem and environmental quality planning.
  • Infrastructure financing and the price of water services to pay for water infrastructure needs.
  • Alternative technologies and assessment.

Many cities and towns around the world are supplied with high-quality water but large infrastructure systems are needed to meet these requirements. The reservoirs and aquifers that provide water to urban areas are highly stressed and degraded, increasing conflicts amongst the urban and rural consumers.

There are many sustainable approaches and there have been many successful practices, which have not been replicated due to absence of knowledge and to some extent poor business models within trade and industry related to sustainable water practices.

Sustainability cannot happen just by advances in science and technology. Countries need to upgrade the honesty and emotional intelligence of public servants and to enhance water quality. In the absence of these qualities all the investment will be wasted within a short time and the impact of this could spread across the world.

Integrated Water Management

One of the main objectives of integrated water management is to deliver effective water resource services with minimum risks and improved sustainability of the system.

Below figure shows the major themes that need to be integrated for a sustainable water management system.

Planning for individual goals will affect the other themes shown in the figure. This is because integrated management cannot be achieved by engineering and technical solutions alone. It is important to have various instruments for integrated water management. It requires appropriate financial support, a legal framework, engineering solutions and education for all stakeholders.

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