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WEAU - Water Environment Association of Utah

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WEAU and WEF is a member association comprised of water quality professionals including public works staff, treatment plant operators, engineers, scientists, and planners working to preserve and enhance water quality and the global water environment.

USU Students Receive Prestigious Water Environment Association of Utah Awards

Two Civil and Environmental Engineering Students from Utah State University successfully beat out competitors from the University of Utah, Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University and received the first and second place for the 2014 Dr. Robert W. Okey Scholarships at the graduate level. Ayman Alafifi and Ali Salha, doctoral students in environmental engineering received the first and second places respectively. Both Alafifi and Salha designed an industrial pretreatment system that would keep a municipal wastewater treatment plant in regulatory compliance.  The competition also entailed coming up with innovative designs to address a multitude of potential and emergent contaminants.

The scholarships were offered to Alafifi and Salha during the Water Environment Association of Utah (WEAU) Mid Year Conference on November 18, 2014 in Salt Lake City, UT. This is the second year in a row that USU students have won the competition. “We are very proud of Ayman and Ali’s achievement. The Board said the applications this year were very competitive, but the awardees submitted the best applications we have seen since we started awarding this scholarship”, says Dr. Michael McFarland, associate professor in USU’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, WEAU board member and faculty advisor to USU WEAU Student Chapter.

“We are very grateful to the College of Engineering Dean Christine Hailey, the Department Head, Craig Adams, and the Utah Water Research Laboratory Director, Mac McKee, for their support and guidance throughout the competition” says Ayman Alafifi. During the award ceremony, Alafifi was also honored along with Alex Rasband and their team for winning the 2nd place in the national WEFTEC Student Design Competition. Alafifi is the WEAU Student Chapter president at USU and a member of the WEAU Young Professional Committee. He says: “this was a good year for USU students and for our chapter. We received multiple awards this years and we cannot wait to compete nationally again in the student design competition next year”.

student receiving scholarship award
student receiving scholarship award

USU Environmental Engineering Team Wins 2nd place in the Largest National Water Conference Student Design Competition

A possible solution to an ongoing environmental problem at one of Utah’s wastewater treatment ponds could leave the site smelling like roses.  A team of environmental engineering students at Utah State University’s College of Engineering took home a national award last week for designing an innovative process to remove two major players in the wastewater nutrient dilemma: nitrogen and phosphorous. The USU student chapter of the Water Environment Association of Utah wowed a panel of judges at WEFTEC, the largest water conference in the nation on Sept. 28 in New Orleans, La., and took second place at the student competition. The Team is composed of Alex Rasband, Ayman Alafifi, William Fullmer and Daniel Horne.

Alafifi says the team evaluated multiple wastewater treatment alternatives and recommended a path forward to help Morgan Wastewater Treatment Plant meet future nutrient regulations and protect endangered species at receiving waters. Several alternatives were considered and a treatment solution was recommended based on costs, input from the City, and feasibility. Team leader Alex Rasband says nutrient levels in effluent at the Morgan, Utah wastewater treatment site can be minimized by cultivating biosolids and phosphorous-rich sludge into fertilizer pellets. In addition, nitrogen can be removed from the effluent by reusing it to irrigate ornamental crops – including roses – that would be grown in on-site greenhouses and sold to floral shops. Faculty adviser Dr. Michael McFarland says the system is designed to circulate water through the greenhouses for a total of four hours. As wastewater flows through the crops, plants take up nitrogen, leaving it free of added nutrients. If the treated wastewater then meets certain quality standards, it would be used to recharge groundwater through an infiltration basin.  McFarland says removing nutrients from effluent is a challenge all wastewater facilities have to address. He says using treated wastewater for a greenhouse growing operation makes good economic sense for small communities like Morgan where flow is minimal.  “There are a number of small lagoons around the state of Utah all facing the same challenge of meeting these nutrient limits,” he said. “The only way we can do this is because the flow at Morgan is so low. This idea was abandoned in larger communities because the flow is just too high.”  Discharging effluent that contains high nitrogen levels can create toxic conditions for aquatic environments and lead to algae blooms, dissolved oxygen depletion and fish die-offs.

Alafifi says that the team proposed a zero discharge alternative by land applying treated wastewater in summer months and applying the effluents to a combined hydroponics-infiltration basin system in winter months. The proposal shows a great potential of generating revenues by growing and selling animal feed crops during summer months and ornamental flowers in winter months. The system also helps recharge the aquifer. He says the concept of using wastewater in hydroponics would need additional research and a pilot project to test its efficiency and profitability before city officials in Morgan could adopt any formal proposal. 

student group at water conference
aerial view of water treatment pond

USU Students Receive Water Environment Association of Utah Awards

Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013

Two Utah State University engineering students are 2013 recipients of scholarship awards offered by the Water Environment Association of Utah and, for the first time since the program’s 2003 inception, the Aggies captured both the undergraduate and graduate level prizes.

Morris Demitry, a doctoral student in environmental engineering, was honored with the Dr. Robert W. “Bob” Okey Scholarship at the graduate level, while undergraduate environmental engineering student Daniel Ryan received the undergraduate level award. Both students received $3,000 scholarships in a ceremony held Nov. 12 during the WEAU Mid-Year Conference in Salt Lake City.

“We’re extremely proud of Morris and Danny, who have made outstanding achievements in their respective research projects and studies,” says Michael McFarland, associate professor in USU’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, WEAU board member and faculty mentor to both students.

Demitry, who earned a master’s degree in environmental engineering from USU in 2011, is evaluating the potential of enhanced energy production from municipal wastewater treatment plants. He is currently working with Utah’s Central Weber Sewer Improvement District on a project to enhance biogas from co-digestion of municipal sludge and food waste that can be used for electricity production.

Ryan, who will complete his bachelor’s degree in May 2014, is an active member of USU’s Engineers Without Borders chapter and serves as president of USU’s WEAU student chapter. Utah State’s WEAU chapter is currently involved in a number of projects, including outreach to K-12 students.

“We’re grateful to College of Engineering Dean Christine Hailey, who has provided guidance and encouragement for USU’s WEAU chapter,” says McFarland, advisor to the student chapter. “Membership in the association offers outstanding educational activities for our students, as well as opportunities to network with professionals.”

Established in 1957, the WEAU is Utah’s state affiliate of the national Water Environment Federation. The federation is comprised of water quality professionals including public works staff, treatment plant operators, engineers, scientists and planners working to preserve and enhance water quality and the global water environment.

Contact: Michael McFarland, 435-994-0905,