WaterLab: The Water Teaching and Research Laboratory

WaterLAB engineer Eli Weintraub shows doctoral student Duran Fiack the controls for the RO system
The WaterLAB Reverse Osmosis unit.
A student intern lays out the slow sand filter's under drain before filling the tank with gravel and sand layers.
WaterLAB students learn how to test process water at the Watsonville Water Resource Center lab facilities.
Students take measurements and note nameplate information of WaterLAB's reverse osmosis equipment.
Wednesday, June 19, 2013

WaterLab: The Water Teaching and Research Laboratory

by Tiffany Wise-West and Eli Weintraub

The Water Teaching and Research Laboratory (WaterLab) is a partnership of the Center for Integrated Water Research and the Watsonville Water Resources Center.  Located at Watsonville’s Water Resources Center, it undertakes research and teaching on advanced water treatment. WaterLab takes secondary and tertiary-treated water from Watsonville’s Wastewater Treatment Plant, treats it to very high quality (including potable), and then returns effluent and treated water to the headworks of the Treatment Plant. Students have been involved in every aspect of design and construction, assisted by nationally-recognized desalination engineer Elias (Eli) Weintraub.  We will be undertaking research on system optimization (both water treatment and energy consumption), integration of renewable power, and the role of reclaimed water in regional water supply systems. Here is a powerpoint with highlights of the history of WaterLab.  

The Watsonville Water Resource Center (WRC), situated along the agricultural California Central Coast, is the primary wastewater treatment facility serving the Watsonville community.  It also produces recycled water that is supplied for irrigation to coastal farmers whose own groundwater wells are inundated with saltwater.  CIWR’s WaterLab facility is located at the WRC and serves as an educational laboratory focused on hands-on education and applied research in water treatment, production, and energy optimization. WaterLab meets a national need for training on advanced water treatment equipment and for research on how to integrate advanced water treatment systems into sustainable urban design.  WaterLab founder Professor Brent Haddad notes: “The Watsonville location is ideal for carrying out our goal of combining research and teaching about sustainable water management.  Our graduates will have ideal training to meet tomorrow’s water challenges.”

The WaterLab building is provided by the WRC.  Seed funding was provided by the Stephen and Mona Bruce Family Trust and supplemented by a gift from Alec and Claudia Webster, and Professor Haddad’s research funds.  Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory also provided water treatment equipment. 

Desalination Engineer Eli Weintraub was hired in 2010 to manage the design and installation of the treatment unit processes.  In the summer of 2011, construction commenced on the WaterLAB building.  In 2012, a slow sand filtration system was constructed by Weintraub and UCSC student interns and a reverse osmosis system and ancillary systems were installed by Weintraub and student interns. Future plans for the pilot-scale treatment facility include a flocculation/sedimentation unit to be designed and constructed with student help, and a membrane filtration system similar to the system already in use in the full-scale water recycling plant.

In the winter of 2012 a WaterLab facility planning course was offered. It was co-instructed by Tiffany Wise-West, Eli Weintraub, and Professor Haddad.  Students from a range of disciplines enrolled in the course, all possessing a desire to enter a career in the water sector.  The course included hands-on water quality testing laboratories, constructing pilot scale filtration units, and preparation for the first water treatment operators' examination.   Students also learned about facility management and finance, safety, operations and maintenance, and water quality as it pertains to water treatment facilities. 

In addition to the independent study course, a new ENVS lab course was created to prepare students for participation in WaterLab and future careers in water.  This lab was offered for the first time in the fall of 2012 and is anticipated to be offered yearly going forward. The ENVS lab course covers a broad array of water subjects including lab safety, physical, chemical and biological properties of water, aquatic environments and water treatment. Future iterations of the course will include sessions held at WaterLAB, at field sites throughout Santa Cruz County, and on the UCSC campus.

Over 300 students from UCSC have visited the facility over the past three years.   These students are better positioned for water careers because of their WaterLab training.  Andrew Smith, a recent Environmental Studies graduate said, “Working at WaterLab with Eli Weintraub and the City of Watsonville officials and staff was by far one of the best experiences I had at UCSC.”

If you are interested in interning or studying at WaterLab, or supporting this important work, please contact Dr. Brent Haddad at bhaddad@ucsc.edu.