Mid-Pac 2016: Water Treatment Competition Recap

The Water Treatment Competition is a staple for the Mid-Pacific Conference, but it is not a national competition like Concrete Canoe or Steel Bridge.  Each year, the host school designs a specific real-world scenario that would result in needing to treat dirty water using household items.  At the competition, students are asked to physically build their treatment system in front of the judges and then treat the polluted water within a given amount of time.  The contaminants are given to the schools in advance so they can determine the best way to build the treatment system.

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The construction phase of the competition

The overall scoring is based on construction of the system, a poster presentation, an oral presentation, a design report, and overall water quality of the treated water. The overall water quality is based on pH, turbidity, total free/available chlorine, electrical conductivity, dissolved oxygen, and the final volume collected after treatment. This year, the teams had to treat water that included potting soil, salt, vegetable oil, Hawaiian Punch, corn starch, yeast, and apple cider vinegar.

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Getting ready to pour the polluted water into the treatment system

The competition was held on Friday, April 8 inside Lawlor Event Center on the UNR campus.  Eleven teams competed, including Universite Laval, who actually competes in a different student conference in the Steel Bridge and Concrete Canoe Competitions.  The day was broken into three different heats of construction and loading.  Afterwards, each team gave their oral presentation to the judges.

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Universite Laval adding water to their treatment tower

The design of each treatment system varies wildly both in construction style and selection of materials  All of the systems are gravity fed and many include nesting totes inside of each other with various layers of filtration.  Teams may build frames using wood and nails, but the wood must be cut on site with a hand saw.  Some of the different treatment systems are shown in the photos below.  Burlap was a common material for filtering large particulates from the water and many teams elected to add chemicals (such as pickled lime or alum) to the water during the treatment procedure.

Overall, the competition went quite well and ran relatively smoothly.  One complaint I have is the rule about presentations.  It’s written into the rules that the only audience members allowed in the room during your school’s presentation are people from your school.  I find the rule unrealistic and I think it stifles the learning process that could take place during the competition.

The winner of the competition was Humboldt State, followed by Tongji University in second place and University of the Pacific in third place. Tongji had the best overall water quality in among the competitors. UNR placed right in the middle of the pack with a 7th place overall finish. Click here to see a summary of all the competition results.

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