| AWWA Member Spotlight – Yong Wang, P.E., Houston, Texas
AWWA Articles

AWWA Member Spotlight – Yong Wang, P.E., Houston, Texas

Job title and employer: Managing Engineer, Houston Water Drinking Water Operations

Education: Master of Science, Environmental Engineering, University of Missouri at Rolla; Bachelor of Science, Civil Engineering, Tongji University, Shanghai, China (photos courtesy of Yong Wang)Yong Wang

Job duties: Manage the daily operations and maintenance for a 360 MGD (millions of gallons per day) surface water treatment facility. This includes budgeting, capital improvement projects and regulatory compliance.

How and why did you get into the water industry? I was very interested in researching pharmaceuticals and personal care products in drinking water. I contacted Dr. Craig Adams from the University of Missouri Rolla, a pioneer in this area, and he kindly offered me a graduate school scholarship. I did research on removing pharmaceuticals and personal care products from water using various treatment processes, including coagulation, filtration, reverse osmosis, ozonation, UV, and ion exchange. After graduation I worked as a project engineer in the Houston, Texas, office of Malcolm Pirnie (now Arcadis).

Yong WangDescribe your work addressing the resilience of Houston Water’s infrastructure? I’ve been with Houston Public Works since 2005 and experienced hurricanes Ike in 2008 and Harvey in 2017. As a Category 4 hurricane, Ike made landfall in Galveston, 50 miles southeast of Houston. The strong winds caused power outages in Houston, and heavy rainfall flooded Houston’s East Water Purification Plant (EWPP). Following Ike, EWPP prioritized capital improvements to upgrade the existing storm water pump station to handle a 500-year flood event. Thirty-two generators were deployed onsite to generate 16 megawatts of power, allowing the plant to resume normal operations within 30 minutes.

When Hurricane Harvey brought 50 inches of rain to Houston, the upgraded pump station prevented flooding at EWPP. However, three days after, the raw water turbidity suddenly increased (30 to 90 NT) and the alkalinity dropped (80 to 40 mg/L). In addition, most of our chemical suppliers’ facilities were flooded and obtaining supplies was challenging. In September 2019, Tropical Storm Imelda surprisingly dropped more than 29 inches of rain within 24 hours in some of our service territory. The flooding was even worse than during Hurricane Harvey.

How is Houston Water continuing to address risk and resilience? Immediately after Hurricane Harvey, we documented all associated plant operation and maintenance staff hours and submitted them to FEMA for cost reimbursements. We worked with Federal Emergency Management Agency inspectors to identify damages. EWPP operations staff ran jar tests and optimized the chemical dosages for handling deteriorated raw water. Since then, we've hired contractors to repair and/or replace damaged equipment at EWPP. Based on lessons learned from Hurricane Harvey, we’re working with engineering firms to improve the plant’s continuous resilience, sustainability and reliability.

Yong Wang with wife and sonWhy did you join AWWA and how have you benefited from your membership? I love reading and learning from the AWWA periodicals. I also enjoy attending AWWA conferences, such as ACE and the Water Quality Technology Conference. They are great platforms for networking and learning about new technologies and equipment from manufacturers and consultants. They also help me understand new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulatory standards and share knowledge, challenges and lessons with other utilities. (Pictured at left, Yong with his son and wife)

Describe your background and interests: I was born and grew up in Shanghai, the largest city in China, and moved to the United States in my 20s. During my leisure time, I love reading history books, especially related to medieval times. I have a beautiful wife, Yue, and a 10-year-old son, Eli. He loves to swim and competes on a team.

What is something that people would be surprised to know about you? Although I live in Houston, I’m a big fan of the Boston Red Sox.