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Water Quest (Water Quality in Urban Environmental Systems)

Jeanne VanBriesen photo
    Jeanne VanBriesen
  • Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Water QUEST Director
  • Email: jeanne@cmu.edu
  • Phone: 412-268-4603
    Water QUEST Mailing Address
  • 1209 Hamburg Hall | Carnegie Mellon University | 5000 Forbes Avenue | Pittsburgh, PA 15213

About WaterQUEST
In response to the need for greater understanding of water quality in urban systems, Carnegie Mellon University has launched the Center for Water Quality in Urban Environmental Systems (Water-Quest). The goal of this center is to advance the scientific basis for management of inputs and inventories of contaminants in urban watersheds. Water-Quest will involve several critical components: (1) primary research on environmental sources and fate of contaminants of concern in urban systems (e.g., pathogens, persistent toxicants), (2) development of necessary monitoring and modeling capabilities for urban watersheds, (3) development of technologies and modeling tools for improved management of water quality in urban systems, and (4) outreach and education to develop a citizenry ready for the challenges of managing urban water systems. Located at Carnegie Mellon University in the heart of Pittsburgh, Water-Quest will use this urban area as a laboratory for research and development.

Why Study Water?
Water is the foundation of life on earth. Water makes up more than 60% of the human body, comprising 83% of our blood, 70% of our brain and 90% of our lungs. Humans interact with water constantly, using it for drinking, cooking, and washing as well as for agriculture and industry.

The quality of our water resources profoundly affects our quality of life. 1.1 billion people on Earth lack access to clean water and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation. This leads to significant morbidity and mortality. Every 15 seconds a child dies of a preventable waterborne disease (more than 2 million children a year). (UN statistics)

Recently, the National Research Council (NRC) report on Water Resources in the United States, indicated that water is a critical resource for our national health, economic welfare and security.

Why Study Urban Water?

Urban watersheds are complex environments in which people live, work, and recreate. At the same time they are subject to natural and anthropogenic inputs that alter ecosystem dynamics and affect water quality. The long-term environmental and economic sustainability of an urban area is dependent on the ability to control and manage these effects, in order to sustain the land and water resources that support the human infrastructure and culture. As the 21st century began, 50% of the world’s population of 6 billion was living in urban environments, and this number is expected to increase significantly over the next hundred years. High density urban living strains existing water and sewer infrastructure, water resources, and natural systems that support human life.

What is Urban Water?

Urban water is the water in our built environment:

  • Water in pipes that travel to our homes for drinking and household use,
  • Wastewater in pipes that travel from our homes to treatment plants,
  • Water that runs through the streets and into storm water systems,
  • Wastewater from industrial activity.

All this water represents engineering challenges and management issues related to the dense population associated with urban centers. Provision of sufficient, high quality water and removal of wastewater are critical issues as urban populations increase in density throughout the world. Engineers must solve these problems.