As Americans, we freely water large, green lawns and take showers daily, using on average 100 gallons of water a day. We pay a fraction of a cent per gallon for water out of the tap, while a gallon of gasoline costs $2. Yet life cannot exist without water.
”Water is undervalued,” says Jim Clark (’75 B.S. Civil Engr.; ’76 M.S., Civil Engr.). “Whether it’s water in a stream or water going down a sewer, it’s all a valuable resource. I’d like people to think about that and consider that it is.”
Clark lectured a group of civil and environmental engineering faculty and students while he was on campus in October to receive the WSU Alumni Achievement Award. As vice president and senior project manager of Black & Veatch Corporation, he manages planning, design, and operations projects for water and wastewater clients throughout North America.
Fresh water is becoming an increasingly scarce resource, says Clark. There are 326 million cubic miles of water on Earth, most of which is saline, frozen, or deep in the ground. Less than one one-hundredth of 1 percent of that can be used as drinking water. Approximately 1.3 billion people do not have access to clean drinking water, and 3.4 million people die each year from water-borne diseases. Water supplies are stressed on every continent, and an increasing population is worsening the problem.
Clark remains optimistic, though, that as populations continue to expand, nations become industrialized, and demand grows, innovators are going to be able to solve the looming water shortage problems of the 21st century. In particular, he argues that water reclamation is critical to sustainability, and that people are going to have to become less squeamish about reusing water. People get concerned when they hear about a contaminant level of one part per million, which, Clark points out, is equivalent to one drop of contaminant in a full bathtub. To dilute one pill of a pain reliever in a toilet bowl to one part per trillion, one would have to flush the toilet 18 million times, spending an entire lifetime flushing.
“Some of the issues are blown out of proportion,” he says.
With drinking water in increasingly short supply, part of the water we use will need to come from treated wastewater.
“We can reuse that water three or four times, allowing the purest form of water for human consumption,” he says.
A native of Vancouver, Washington, Clark was the senior process engineer and a project manager on the design of the City of Los Angeles Hyperion Treatment Plant, completed in 1999. The American Public Works Association named the 15-year, $1.1 billion wastewater treatment project one of the 10 most outstanding public works projects of the 20th century on a list that also includes the Golden Gate Bridge, the Panama Canal, and the Hoover Dam. One of the largest wastewater facilities in the country, the project has significantly improved water quality in Santa Monica Bay. Because of difficult space constraints, the project engineers had to innovate a number of unique features for the facility, and the entire project had to be completed while the facility was still in operation, without violating permit conditions-a feat that one of Clark’s colleagues compared to disassembling and re-assembling a jumbo jet in mid-flight.
In 2001 Clark was elected president of the Water Environment Federation (WEF). The non-profit agency, with professionals from 31 countries, is dedicated to enhancing water quality worldwide and to sharing the message of the importance of preserving water supplies. Clark has received the WEF’s Arthur Sidney Bedell Award and Charles Alvin Emerson Medal for outstanding personal service to the water quality industry.
Well know among water engineers in every continent, Clark was appointed by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences to the nine-member international nominating committee for the Stockholm Water Prize, considered the Nobel Prize of the environment, and was listed in the November 2004 issue of Public Works magazine as one of the 50 most influential people in public works in the country.
He has written more than 20 publications and given more than 50 presentations at technical conferences around the world. He is a life member of the International Water Academy.
“We need people to begin thinking about water’s importance,” he says. “The five gallons you might waste while you’re letting water run unnecessarily is important. Once we get that point across, the rest will fall into place.”
“It’s an exciting time to help overcome the challenges,” he adds.