By Claire Roth
Earth’s crust rumbles with tremendous force as Mount Lassen, the southernmost active volcano in the Cascade Range, erupts. The volcano spews ash and lava fragments into the air as far as the eye can see. A blanket of grey now covers the surrounding landscape, threatening the municipal and surface water supplies and leaving affected communities in need of an obtainable water treatment system.
This was the hypothetical scenario a team of students from the HSU environmental resources engineering department was faced with upon entering the American Society of Civil Engineers Mid-Pacific Student Conference, held from April 20 to April 22 at California State University, Chico. In the months following a local preliminary competition in February, the team worked together to create a water filtration system that would be able to make a given sample of water, meant to imitate the polluted water in the given hypothetical event, drinkable again.
Though competing teams were given specific guidelines for the competition, much of the methodology and design came from the members themselves.
“We know what’s in the wastewater, they tell us everything that’s in it,” said team member Raymond Rios. “We have to build a filter using the supply list that they provide, so we can’t use anything that’s not on the list. We’re graded on a bunch of criteria, like the cost of the filter, the time to build the filter, presentation, poster. And then they analyze our water in the lab and we get graded off of that as well.”
Prior to last weekend, HSU was in a three-way tie for the most wins in the competition with University of California, Berkeley and University of Nevada, Reno. The team members agreed that they would bring home the trophy once again, determined to keep their winning streak going from last year’s victory in the competition.
Keeping up last year’s success meant that everyone had a job to do.
“Everybody has a job. I’m one of the builders, they’re some of the loaders, they actually load the filter with the wastewater,” Rios said, gesturing to two other team members. “There’s people who present the PowerPoint, there’s people who present the poster. There’s nobody that’s just sitting off to the side; everybody has a purpose.”
The wastewater the team was given at the competition is nothing you would want to drink, consisting of water, Miracle-Gro Potting Mix, charcoal briquettes, iodized salt, vegetable oil, distilled vinegar, and blue food dye. This mix just boosted the excitement of the challenge for the team members in terms of which materials they would use to combat the pollutants.
“That’s the fun part, we get to choose,” said team member Tony Mitchell III. “You have a nice list of materials that you can pick from. The objective is to get the lowest cost, that’s one of the main reasons we won last year.”
The team came in first in several categories of the competition, including first overall in the water treatment competition, first in water quality, first in the design report, and second in construction of the filter.
“Teamwork, as well as communication, really helped the HSU team win. We practiced, tested and prepared,” Mitchell said. “So once we got to the competition, each member did their part and we came away with the win.”