Monthly Archives: December 2016

Refugee Reconnaissance: Improving Wastewater Treatment During Crisis Response

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Collecting samples are CEE faculty members Heidi Gough and Amy Kim, Jordan University of Science and Technology faculty members Muna Abu-Dalo and Jamal Abu-Ashour and CEE graduate student Chris Callahan, from left.

By Brooke Fisher

It’s an oxymoron of sorts: better refugee camps. But despite contradictory terms, a team of CEE researchers is working to improve wastewater treatment systems at refugee camps, which are typically constructed quickly to accommodate people displaced by both natural and man-made disasters.

To achieve this goal, the researchers are investigating the Azraq Refugee Camp in central Jordan, which they visited four times this past year. Currently housing more than 45,000 refugees from the Syrian Civil War, preparations are underway to more than double the size of the camp, which consists of row after row of small white cabins situated in a remote area. The camp has the potential to become one of the largest refugee camps in the world.

“Our goal is not to improve this camp; there are engineers working on that. We are focused on a bigger picture goal. Our work will help the next camps that are set-up,” said CEE research assistant professor Heidi Gough.


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The Azraq Refugee Camp.


Led by Gough, the project is a collaborative effort that includes CEE faculty Amy Kim, graduate students Chris Callahan and Heta Kosonen, and faculty and students from the Jordan University of Science and Technology (JUST). During the team’s week-long visits to the camp, they work at the JUST host campus, departing early in the morning to travel several hours via escort to the camp.

“Often we get on the plane not knowing if the permits for camp entry have been approved. The officials are cautious about letting people into the refugee camp,” Gough said. “Our partners at UNICEF, who are very interested in our work, have been incredibly efficient in making sure that we get the access we need to get our work done.”

Wastewater is an increasingly critical, and often overlooked, element of refugee camps, as water must be properly treated before being released back to the environment in order to prevent health hazards for both people and wildlife. Modern wastewater treatment facilities are almost unheard of in refugee camps, due to limited budgets and lack of time to establish proper facilities. The Azraq Refugee Camp is unique, therefore, as it is the second refugee camp in the world to use a modern wastewater treatment system. Most refugee camps simply use pit latrines and cesspools.

Within the refugee camp, neighborhood blocks contain showers and wash stations designed to serve 16 families each. The wastewater is pumped every 2-3 weeks and transported by truck to the wastewater treatment plant, located inside the camp boundaries. Eventually, the treated wastewater will be repurposed for agricultural uses in the arid region.

With limited financing for a wastewater system, decommissioned reactor units were recovered from a United Nations base in Afghanistan and shipped to the camp, where they were refurbished. Once the reactor units were capable of holding water, a fixed-film biological treatment process was implemented to remove carbon and nitrogen and to separate solids from the wastewater.

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Collecting samples are CEE faculty member Amy Kim and graduate student Chris Callahan, from left.

“Compared to a normal wastewater treatment plant, this is very different,” graduate student Heta Kosonen said. “Wastewater treatment typically looks like industrial buildings. With this mobile construction technology and remote location, it looks more like a shipyard.”

The researchers do not directly interact with the refugees at the camp, but spend their time at the nearby wastewater treatment facility where they conduct interviews with the staff at the facility, make field observations and collect water samples.

“The more information and data we can gather and publish, the easier it will be for future disaster response teams to cultivate a plan that works for their wastewater needs,” graduate student Chris Callahan said.

A few key findings that have surfaced are the need for a contingency plan to accommodate additional wastewater, pipes that can be easily reconfigured and well-trained wastewater facility staff. With limited Internet and cell phone service at the camp, the researchers are also exploring recommendations for enhanced communication.

The researchers are currently compiling their data and plan to soon publish their findings. The research is funded by a National Science Foundation Rapid Response Research grant, in partnership with UNICEF, which oversees water sanitation at the camp.

USDOT Awards $14 Million to CEE-Led Transportation Center

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CEE Professor Yinhai Wang, who directs PacTrans.

The CEE-based Pacific Northwest Transportation Consortium (PacTrans) has been awarded approximately $14 million over five years from the U.S. Department of Transportation to improve the mobility of people and goods across the Pacific Northwest. The funding will be matched by local and regional companies and agencies, for an expected total of $28 million.

“We will work on accessibility for all, system-wide efficiency and improved reliability across transportation modes,” said CEE Professor Yinhai Wang, who directs PacTrans. “The theme of our center is providing data-driven solutions for the Pacific Northwest.”

The funding will advance the work of PacTrans, which is one of 10 regional University Transportation Centers across the U.S. and represents Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska. Other university partners include Boise State University, Gonzaga University, Oregon State University, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, University of Idaho and Washington State University. Matching funders include transportation industry partners and local transportation agencies, including the four states’ transportation departments and the City of Seattle.pac-trans-image-375x195

The funding comes at a critical time, as the fast-growing Pacific Northwest region has unique transportation needs with freight continually moving through urban areas. The topography of the region, with mountains and water, also impacts transportation infrastructure. The diverse region includes both metropolitan areas and rural communities, which contains 5 percent of the population but 24 percent of all U.S. territory.

New research will build on PacTrans’ previous work to develop data-driven solutions for transportation sustainability and safety. Researchers will work on solutions to address traffic congestion, transit accessibility and enhanced rural transportation. To this end, they will work on utilizing wireless sensors to collect traffic data, integrating self-driving vehicles into traffic operations, exploring transit deserts in the region and strategic freight planning.

See Also:
UW Today article

CEE Students Awarded Beavers Charitable Trust Scholarships

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Associate professor Stephen Muench, undergraduate Casey Hoyt, undergraduate Liz Guilford and Chair Greg Miller, from left.


Two UW CEE students have received Beavers Charitable Trust Scholarships for the 2016-17 academic year. Undergraduates Casey Hoyt and Liz Guilford are the inaugural recipients of the scholarships. Spearheaded by alumnus Tom Draeger (BSCE ’68), the scholarships were established by the Beavers Charitable Trust in 2015. The two $5,000 scholarships are awarded to students who plan to pursue careers in the construction engineering field.

The students were selected because they are “outstanding students and have demonstrated strong interest in construction engineering,” said associate professor Stephen Muench, who holds the Tom and Marilyn Draeger – Beavers Charitable Trust Endowed professorship.

Recipient Casey Hoyt said the scholarship will allow him freedom from financial stress during his final year in school. Hoyt’s wife, who has been the breadwinner for his family since he returned to academia, is currently on maternity leave with the couple’s second child.

“This scholarship could not have come at a better time,” Hoyt said. “This scholarship will allow us to replenish our savings and relax a little for the remainder of the year.”

Hoyt first became interested in civil engineering while working as a carpenter for many years. Hoyt already has a job lined up with Clark Construction, where he interned this past summer. He was offered a position as an assistant superintendent, which he will start after graduating in June 2017.

For recipient Liz Guilford, a junior, the scholarship will enable her to focus more on her research and schoolwork and less on tuition costs. Originally from Belmont, Calif., Guilford pays out-of-state tuition.

“I was very shocked and really happy,” Guilford said. “I was eating lunch in the Genome Sciences Building and nearly fell out of my chair.”

Guilford first became interested in the construction field while enrolled in CEE 100 during her freshman year, where she learned about the various engineering specialty areas.

“I heard from the construction students who pursued careers in the industry and it sounded really exciting and worthwhile,” Guilford said.

Her interest in the construction field deepened while working with the Greenroads Foundation, a sustainability rating system for roadway design and construction, and participating in the department’s study abroad programs, Engineering in Rome and Engineering Jordan.

“I saw just how far construction could take me,” Guilford said.

This past summer, Guilford interned with Kiewit Corporation, in Honolulu County, Oahu, Hawaii, where she worked in the estimating department for special projects.