Past week I attended to a CIWEM Urban Drainage Group Training Day 2 - ‘Use of network models for real-time operation’. The truth is, Real Time Control (RTC) has been around for a while now, but it is taking some time for it to really kick in. Why is that?
European Union Water Framework Directive (WFD) urges state members to review river basin management plans every 6 years. Hence, in the end of January, the Spanish ministry of Environment published the corresponding updated plan of the Ebro River for the period 2015-2021. However, this plan provoked plenty of controversy among stakeholders, especially, environmental organizations which seek to preserve the critical Ebro delta ecosystem, home for many protected birds and wildlife. The most important elements for the preservation of this natural park are water flow and sediments. However, dams built upriver have cut the sediment supply by 90%. Environmentalists claims that the plan allocates first water flow for irrigation and a nuclear power station, leaving the required environmental flow behind. As a consequence, massive protests against this document took place a couple of weeks ago in Amposta, a city next to the Ebro national park.
So you are a PhD student and have come to the point where you are asking yourself what you are doing with your life? Well, a PhD is supposed to be the highest academic grade awarded by universities, but what is it actually? The acronym PhD comes from the Latin-Greek philosophiae doctor which can be confusing for the contemporary non-Latin-nor-Greek speaker for whom the doctor is someone you see when you are sick and what does philosophy have to do with the wastewater treatment you are into anyways. Well, if you are familiar with Greek you might be able to figure out that philosophy actually means love of wisdom and originally this field of study incorporated natural as well as social sciences. Doctor has Latin roots and refers to a teacher or scholar.
We live in the age of DNA therapy, microsurgery and 3D printers that build personalized prosthetic limbs. These technological advancements are of a great medicinal value for many, and show us how far our societies advanced since the first mud huts. Yet, when it comes to keeping entire societies healthy, global initiatives have to enter the picture, particularly management of clean water and pollution.
We choose (allegedly) our politicians, and then they tell us what needs to be done if we want to live happily. They make the rules of the game, and we choose to play. For them, it is all about money, and happiness is about consumption capacity. But is it money all there is? Well, nothing is for free, certainly. After stating what society needs, comes the question: who will pay for it?
Until some decades ago wastewater treatment aimed at “cleaning” the water coming from the sewers to the wastewater treatment plants. Since then focus has shifted. Now we don’t only want to remove organic matter and nutrients from the wastewater but rather make use of them. Wastewater is now, at least by some researchers, seen as a resource that can be made use of. One example is the digestion of sludge, which produces biogas that can be used as vehicle fuel. Another example is the specific kind of microorganisms that produce polymers which can be converted to plastics.
Does it pay off to be determined in science?
This tale can be told by many fellows and students: you join a project, the first months go by with learning and reading a little rainforest-worth of publications. Everything is new, difficult and uncomfortable. Then the trials and experiments start and… If you were to belong to the lucky lot, your workflow will be smooth. But, most probably you will join most of us, in the Pit of Trial and Error, where you will hear a lot of sighing and an occasional soft sobbing. This is where persistence has to make it first appearance.