AWWA Articles

From Shanghai to Houston, water engineer pursues dream profession

Asian-American Pacific Islander Heritage Month is celebrated in May to recognize the generations of Asians and Pacific Islanders who have enriched America's history and continue to contribute to the nation’s success.

Asian-American Pacific Islander Heritage MonthThe American Water Works Association is stronger because of its members’ diverse backgrounds and achievements, including those of Yong Wang, managing engineer with Houston Water’s drinking water operations branch, who was born in China.

Below is information from a past AWWA Member Spotlight featuring Wang.

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

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.

Yong, Yue Sun and EliI visit my parents and elder sister in China most summers. I met my beautiful wife, Yue Sun, when we were students at Tongji University. She also is an environmental engineer and works with water and wastewater treatment processes. She has been an AWWA member for more than 15 years. We’ve been married more than 20 years and have a 10-year-old son, Eli. He loves to swim and competes on a team. (Pictured right, Yong, Yue Sun and their son, Eli)

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, who is 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).

Why did you join AWWA and how have you benefited from your membership? I love reading and learning from the AWWA magazines, such as Journal AWWA and Opflow. AWWA conferences, such as ACE and WQTC, are great platforms for networking and learning about new technologies and equipment from manufacturers and consultants. They also help me understand new regulatory standards and share knowledge, challenges and lessons with other utilities.

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

What work projects are you particularly proud to be a part of? I’ve been with Houston Public Works since 2005 and experienced hurricanes Ike in 2008 and Harvey in 2017. Following Ike, a Category 4 hurricane, our East Water Purification Plant (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.

Later, when Hurricane Harvey brought 50 inches of rain to Houston, the upgraded pump station prevented flooding at the plant. Immediately after Harvey, we documented all associated plant operation and maintenance staff hours and submitted them to FEMA for cost reimbursements. We worked with FEMA inspectors to identify damages at EWPP. Since then, we’ve worked with engineering firms to improve the plant’s continuous resilience, sustainability and reliability.