The Joys & Frustrations of Water and Waste Engineering

Clean water is essential for life. It’s not only the reason we stay hydrated, but the reason we eat, as well. This precious resource forms the foundation for human civilisation and it makes sense that most of the world’s major cities are positioned near freshwater sources. Keeping our water clean, purifying it once it’s been contaminated, cleverly using wastewater or grey water for purposes other than drinking and ensuring even the most remote areas have access to drinking water are vital to the preservation of life on this planet.


Thankfully, water and waste engineers thrive on such challenges, working tirelessly designing and implementing water supply networks across the country. We chatted to Lithon’s civil engineer, Hannes van Schalkwyk, to learn more about water and waste engineering and some joys and frustrations that these engineers experience.


What is Water and Waste Engineering?

Water and waste fall under the banner of civil engineering and handles the provision of water for human use. Their mission is to make sure water is clean and safe to drink, easy to access, and reliable. They also handle the elimination of wastewater and/or sewage. In summary, they protect people’s health by ensuring water is clean, and they protect the environment by ensuring contaminated water doesn’t create pollution. 


What Do Water and Waste Engineers Do?

Water and waste engineers start with building an understanding of the development’s unique requirements, and studying the land’s topography. They identify existing water sources and potential wastewater drainage points. They require deep knowledge in pipework design and water quantity estimation. Numerous calculations are involved in the journey of water from its source to the tap!

At Lithon, our water and waste engineering projects often revolve around master planning water and drainage for township development, design of new water and sewer reticulation networks, and assessments of existing water and waste treatment works. 


The Joys of Water and Waste Engineering

Hannes notes that water and waste engineering can be fulfilling as it enhances people’s quality of life, health, and living conditions. Especially in rural communities where water access is limited, and individuals often walk miles to gather water or grapple with contaminated groundwater, an engineer’s work can mean the convenience of drinking water from a tap in their own homes.


The Challenges of Water and Waste Engineering

The notion that water is a free commodity is true, but there is a cost for the supply of water from the source to the end user, says Hannes. Water is not abundantly available everywhere on earth, and changing climates may make water supply less dependable in future. In Namibia’s harsh, dry climate, access to water is a major challenge, especially for remote rural communities. The greatest cost is creating the infrastructure to transport water to these locations. While these communities are usually not very affluent, governments will only pay for the infrastructure up to a certain point, and not necessarily into each individual house. A smart water and waste engineer is able to assist with designing the most efficient system for the lowest cost.

Handling wastewater in areas near rivers is tricky. It’s vital not to contaminate the natural water source. Land topography can also pose difficulties. Generally, wastewater points should be at the lower points of the site so that the wastewater can drain out and away from the property. Clean water supply requires pressure so should be at a higher point on the site. Pumps can be used to assist with this.


An Engineered Solution

Technology plays an important role in water and waste engineering, as it allows engineers to do their jobs more efficiently. Innovations like modular systems for water and wastewater treatment make water supply for communities more cost-efficient and scalable. 


Lithon’s team of water and waste engineers offer a wealth of expertise to help you get your next project off the ground. Connect with us for specialist advice at