Skip to main content

Environmental and Water Resource Engineering

in this section

The Cornell School of Civil and Environmental Engineering has one of the largest and most prestigious graduate training programs in the world. The faculty in Environmental and Water Resource Engineering are passionate about water, the environment, energy, and the creation of new solutions for evolving environmental challenges. They possess a wealth of expertise and real world experience. They provide courses that span the water-energy nexus that include sustainable water supply, sustainable energy, wastewater treatment, environmental remediation, organic micro-pollutants and emerging contaminants, environmental fluid mechanics, environmental transport processes, hydrology, water resources, experimental methods and monitoring, and numerical methods and modeling.

The Environmental and Water Resource Engineering (EWRE) M.Eng. Program at Cornell University includes three core areas in which students can focus:

Students select courses that provide depth in any of the three focus areas or breadth across all three focus areas. Students learn from world class educators and researchers with deep expertise in the subjects they teach. Flexible electives allow students to select courses from across the university with almost limitless possibilities.  The Master of Engineering degree is generally completed in two semesters but for those interested in a more immersive Cornell experience there is a three semester option as well. Merit based partial fellowships are available for top students.

Recent graduates have received job offers from a wide array of top firms including: Arcadis, Black & Veatch, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, Brown and Caldwell, CH2M, GHD, ERM, Nomura Research Institute, QEA Anchor, and Veolia North America as well as water departments of major cities, startup consulting, and more.

“The Cornell Masters of Engineering program is one of our top recruiting locations. The students are well prepared due to the technical knowledge and analytical problem-solving capabilities which they learn.  But it’s the self-motivation, oral & written communication skills, team-building and leadership skills which they learn that make them excellent consultants and allow them to quickly progress within our organization.  Additionally, those involved with the AguaClara program have a passion for improving quality of life which is essential for being a successful environmental engineer.” -VP at Global Engineering Consulting Firm

The M.Eng. projects provide an unparalleled opportunity to work in a team to solve a real engineering problem that has broad applications. Many universities focus on teaching students what the faculty know; with our design projects we educate engineers to generate new knowledge. We offer a diverse selection of hands-on projects that can either be taken for one or two semesters. Students develop new solutions for open-ended environmental engineering problems using laboratory experiments, field measurements, and/or computer modeling and simulations. Students can select projects to develop skills in engineering design, engineering research and development, and/or data analysis and decision making.

Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW) provides several exciting project opportunities including energy-self-sufficient at Ithaca Area WasteWater Treatment Facility, solar energy, and human powered electricity. Students can contact Ruth Richardson to discuss ESW related projects.

Students may pursue projects in the context of ongoing active research of individual faculty. This opportunity fosters the creation of new projects that match the shared interests of students and faculty.

Students also have the option of participating in design projects in engineering management. These projects cover technological and societal challenges surrounding infrastructure, energy, and the environment.

The AguaClara program provides undergraduate & graduate students the opportunity to enhance their education with hands-on, real-world experience in humanitarian engineering and sustainable international development while simultaneously developing expertise in advanced water treatment and design methodologies. Cornell graduates who have participated in the AguaClara project teams are highly regarded by employers. Learn more about AguaClara in this CornellResearch spotlight.

In 2012, the National Academy of Engineering recognized AguaClara as an exemplary program that "infuses real world experience into engineering education." AguaClara teams have won 3 national EPA P3 phase II awards for  technologies that Cornell students developed in our laboratory makerspace. The awards help the team deploy those technologies with partner organizations so that communities can have safe water on tap.

Students create revolutionary technologies (see BBCmundo) to provide safe water on tap. The AguaClara Engineering Team at Cornell focuses on R&D while creating a problem based learning environment for students. The team works to develop sustainable water treatment technologies that are then implemented at AguaClara plants in Honduras, Nicaragua, and India. We are exploring opportunities to deploy our new portable water treatment plant in emergency recovery settings. Approximately 65,000 Hondurans benefit from safe water provided by municipal AguaClara water treatment plants.

Interested students should contact Monroe Weber-Shirk to discuss opportunities in the EWRE M.Eng. program.

Recent Project Areas

Ultra High-Rate Sedimentation Tank
Sedimentation Tank 560

Sedimentation tanks are the largest unit processors in conventional drinking water treatment and hence are responsible for a significant fraction of the capital cost. The AguaClara program has invented and deployed a high rate, hydraulically self-cleaning, sedimentation tank with a residence time that is less than 25 minutes. The goal for the next generation of the technology is to further reduce the size and cost of sedimentation tanks. This will require bench-scale experiments as well as modeling work to invent a tank design that efficiently separates a high concentration solid streams from the clarified water. This project will likely include pilot scale work with a partner organization as we converge on a field ready high rate design.

Arsenic, Flouride Removal

The AguaClara fluoride removal team won a Phase II EPA: People, Planet, Prosperity award for their innovative reactor design for the removal of fluoride. The team is designing a reactor system that efficiently removes fluoride and other contaminants including arsenic. This team is preparing to test their reactor at the pilot scale. Challenges include developing a method to concentrate and safely dispose of the waste stream.  The novel reactor design is self cleaning, separates fluoride and arsenic from water in a continuous flow process, and is designed to easily scale for municipal water treatment.

High Efficiency Flocculation

Flocculation requires particle collisions and those particle collisions are caused by turbulence. The goal of this research is to develop clear guidance on the turbulent intensity that is optimal for high rate flocculation.  The flocculation research is part of our long term goal to develop ultra high efficiency water treatment technologies.

Sustainable Wastewater Treatment Bioreactors
Sustainable Water Treatment

Sustainable wastewater collection and treatment is a major challenge in the Global South. Industrialized, mechanized wastewater treatment plants have high energy and materials costs. Granular biomass reactors hold promise for compact, sustainable, easy-to-operate wastewater treatment operations that could be implemented in small communities. The goal of this research is to select and improve designs for both anaerobic biotechnologies that generate biofuel (e.g. Upflow Anaerobic Sludge Blanket reactors)—as well as aerobic/anaerobic Granular Sequencing Batch reactors which remove multiple contaminants simultaneously. Efficiency of treatment, net energy balance and bioreactor robustness are all parameters of interest.

Surface Water Resources
Surface Water Resources

Students access the global surface water resources in order to determine where AguaClara water treatment technologies have the greatest potential to meet the need for safe drinking water. The watersheds of AguaClara facilities are then analyzed to provide recommendations for the water boards with a goal of improving water quality and quantity. 

Web-based Design of Municipal Water Treatment Plants
Web-based design

The aide team is developing the first ever Python - Fusion 360 open-source infrastructure design engine. This technology will allow engineers to design complex infrastructure using simple parameters with the click of a mouse. The team will architect, develop and test the engine, using the latest parametric design methods available. AguaClara Engineers will then use the design engine to build water treatment plants to provide safe water on tap to communities. The design engine will make it easy for engineers to experiment with design parameters.

In this project, you’ll have the opportunity to engage throughout a large program’s full development life cycle. You’ll work with an agile team and learn how to effectively break down a complex project into small, manageable components. You’ll be exposed to difficult engineering concepts, and learn to navigate high level parametric abstractions. You’ll even see plants that you developed the code for get built and provide clean water to thousands.

This is multiple major coding projects. The design engine will be built for ongoing evolution in AguaClara technologies. The coding will need the combined expertise of Python, Fusion 360, and AguaClara technologies.