A to Z of Engineering

Engineering is all around us! We’re exploring an A to Z of everything engineering from acoustics to zoos.

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A to Z of Engineering: W is for Water

There's a lot of engineering that happens before our water comes through the tap

Welcome to Engineer Academy where we’re exploring an A to Z of Engineering – everything from acoustics to zoos.

In each episode, we spin the wheel to find out what type of engineering we’ll be exploring with the help of Engers, our engineering expert.  

You can listen to the full series of the A to Z of Engineering here.

Let’s take a look at Water Engineering

boy in blue crew neck t-shirt standing beside white wooden door

Water is a vital part of our lives – we drink it, we wash ourselves and our clothes in it, it helps heat our homes – and flush our toilets.

Did you know that a family uses an average of 500 litres of water each day?

Engineering is at the heart of the system that delivers clean water to our taps and takes the waste away. 

So first things first – where does the water in our taps come from? Our water is mainly sourced from rivers and aquifers – that’s an underground source to you and me.  Engineers analyse data and use maps to find good sources of water – ones we can use without harming the environment.  They carefully monitor river levels and use reservoirs to store extra supplies when river levels are high after rainstorms. 


aerial photography of body of water

Now as you probably know, you shouldn’t drink water straight from a river. Cleaning water is an important stage.  Thames Water cleans enough water to supply 2.7 billion litres to nearly ten million people across London and the Thames Valley every day.  The water is cleaned using chemicals and filters.  Water treatment engineers make sure that all the machinery is in good working order, whilst scientists take test water readings to make sure everything is fit to drink. Once cleaned, water travels through underground water mains to where it’s needed.  

Engineering is key to building and maintaining the pipe network. If you joined all of Thames Water’s water pipes together, they would measure 20,000 miles.​ Nearly enough to wrap around the world!  And it would be even longer if you add the sewage pipes in.   But it’s not just pipes – manhole covers protect the pipe network, so replacing any damaged or missing ones is important. In some areas, houses have water meters which measure the amount of water each household uses.  These can be a good way to help reduce the amount of water we use – or waste.  Engineers are involved in designing and installing meters and making sure they work correctly. All so you can turn on your tap and take a drink!

But hang on – we’re only half-way through the process.  After all, what happens when you do flush the toilet or pull the plug after your bath?  What happens to the waste?

Water companies like Thames Water take wastewater away from our homes, schools and places of work using a sewer network, carrying it to sewage treatment works. Here they separate liquid and solids before treating them both to high standards.  Once the water has been thoroughly cleaned, it’s recycled back into the local river. Even the waste isn’t – well – wasted!  Did you know, through innovative engineering, you can turn sewage into poo power!  Thames Water uses gas given off by the waste to generate electricity which it uses to power their treatment sites. The treated nutrient-rich sludge can be used to feed farm crops reducing the need for man-made fertiliser.  They can even use ash from the generators to create synthetic aggregate which is used in the construction industry.   

And that’s our take on the letter W – it’s been WONDERFUL! 

It looks as if there are a wealth of jobs for engineers in water – from managing the sources, water treatment and network of pipes that brings it to our homes.  And with sustainability and the environment – maybe there’s a job for you in the future!

If you would like to check out some other types of engineering, why not check out wireless, wind turbine, weapons, or welding engineering.

Join us again next time to spin the wheel and explore another letter in the A to Z of Engineering!

Engineer Academy: A to Z of Engineering

Created with support from a Royal Academy of Engineering Ingenious Grant and Thames Water

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A to Z of Engineering

Engineering is all around us! We’re exploring an A to Z of everything engineering from acoustics to zoos.

More From A to Z of Engineering