What Does a Civil Engineer Do? – ✎Unraveling Engineering

The role a Civil Engineer plays in any type of project, is very crucial for the functionality of a city. What does a Civil Engineer do? Google may summarize their function by saying they “create, improve and protect the environment in which we live in”. Above all, there are several analyses Civil Engineers do that are significant for the design of an efficient infrastructure.

Using Florida as an example, we will try to simplify some of the responsibilities they must assume when it comes to drainage and sewer systems. By the end of this article, you will be able to unravel why the design of these plans is so important for a project. 

Is Weather an Important Factor? 

Florida is famous for being the Sunshine State☀️. Here, we “live where you vacation”, and we are lucky to enjoy the beautiful, tropical scenery all year long.  However, the reason for this lies behind the excessive amount of rain that showers the state throughout the year. You don’t believe us? According to current results, Miami is the second rainiest city in the United States, and it receives about 62 inches of rain annually.

Keeping that in mind, YES! Weather is a very important factor that Civil Engineers have to consider. We will focus on this to give you a better explanation of paving and drainage plans. 

Try to picture in your head one of the dramatic storms you have experienced recently. Wherever you are, you will probably wait for the storm to pass before you go outside. When you are ready to be mobile again, have you ever driven out of a parking lot and realized that you are trapped ? Flooding is an increasingly challenging issue in Florida, and if you live here, you have definitely experienced the feeling of constraint from the puddles these storms create that are as deep as a wishing well.  

If you do not live in Florida, we promise we are not exaggerating !  Fortunately for society, Civil Engineers design Paving and Drainage plans that follow specific standards according to each city’s code. Because of this, puddles that once seemed to be endless are gone in minutes after the rain stops. Just be patient ! 😉

Paving and Drainage Plans 

One of the Civil Engineering services provided by Eastern Engineering Group is the preparation of Paving and Drainage plans. For us to explain this in further detail, imagine yourself in the situation described above. Whenever puddles of water build up during a storm, you may have noticed the water starts moving in a certain direction. This happens because streets are not built as flat surfaces and the roads you drive on every day are curved and angled.

With this in mind, this shape allows storm-water to move towards the edges rather than accumulating in an even depth. To create Paving and Drainage plans, a Civil Engineer will follow certain formulas to calculate how much storm-water each specific location receives. After they know this, the plan will determine what needs to be done to regulate it. 

Whenever you think about engineering, the first thing that comes to mind is a lot of calculations of math and physics. To briefly describe the meaning of the calculations for this particular setting, try to remember your high school algebra classes. Does the term slope ring a bell? A slope numerically describes the steepness or incline of a line.

What does a Civil Engineer do with this information? The measurement of the slopes will allow the surface of the parking lot in this case, to assume a slight concave shape and gravity will direct the water into the catch basin. This is where physics become relevant. 

These catch basins, AKA storm drains, will be located where all the slopes meet. This will create the same effect as a sink drain. You might be able to notice these angles in your bathroom sink, but on a larger scale they are hard to perceive. 

What does a Civil Engineer do to Regulate Storm-Water?

Paving and Drainage plans will reflect the management and prevention of flooding. As mentioned above, we are simplifying the design of a drainage system, but now you might be wondering where all this water goes. When creating the drainage plans for this hypothetical parking lot, the Civil Engineer also created an infiltration basin.

An infiltration basin is an underground structure that catches storm water and filters it. To explain this in further detail, try to imagine a pitcher that has a water filter built in. If we were to cut this pitcher in four equal parts, one of those parts would be equivalent to the size of the first section, which is where the “mouth” of the filter is. This “mouth” will resemble the function of the storm drain in this case. Accordingly, this water filter looks like a little basin that will dispense the “cleaner” water into the pitcher.

Usually, when you first serve tap water directly from your sink, it sits on the upper section of the pitcher. In the case of your pitcher, the water gets filtered and stored so you can drink it. However, storm-water will go through the drain and into the basin, sit for a few hours before it gets filtered and goes back into the ground.

What do we mean by “water goes back into the ground”? Thinking back to the science classes we took in elementary school; let’s talk about the water cycle. The process of water going back into the ground is called infiltration. After infiltration happens, ground-water discharge is going to carry this filtered water from the ground to the springs, freshwater basins and oceans. After this takes place, water evaporates, it rains again and the whole process starts over…we could say Civil Engineers are scientists as well 😎.

How is This Related to the Water we Drink?

The water in the springs, water basins and lakes, is the fresh water humans are able to drink. We call these water sources, where water is retrieved to go through a treatment process. First, in a Water Treatment Plant, they add a substance that will allow particles to stick together. Next, sedimentation will extract these particles to make them settle at the bottom of the tank.

Then, it will go through filtration and disinfection to remove small particles and kill harmful organisms. Finally, water is ready to be transferred and stored at the water plants that feed the underground water mains. Water mains are one of the multiple systems (commonly called utilities) that are buried under the roads you drive on.

What do we mean by multiple systems? To name a few, you may find gas mains, underground telephone lines, underground cable lines, etc. However, we will focus on the water mains and sewer mains which are cat-iron pipes that run below ground. A water main will provide potable water into an establishment and the sewer main will catch all waste water. Civil Engineers will create water and sewer plans so these never get mixed up 💩…Thank God for Civil Engineers, right?

Water and Sewer Plans

Eastern Engineering Group also specializes in Water and Sewer plans on-site and off-site. On-site plans involve any projects ready to connect to existing water and sewer mains. Off-site plans will design extensions of these mains for places not populated yet. These mains are huge pipe networks that connect the water and sewer systems for an entire city.

Sewer systems are going to regulate all the waste water that is flushed by your toilet at home, and drained from the showers and sinks. For this type of system there is no pressure required and Civil Engineers are able to use gravity to their advantage. What does this mean? These pipes that connect to build an entire network, need to be measured in specific angles so that water is able to move freely. Looking back to the geometry classes you took in middle school, an angle is the measurement of the space between two lines that begin at the same point.

Visualize a 90° angle, which will resemble the shape of an L . If water was going down a pipe in a right angle, without pressure, waste will get stuck in the corner of that L and its flow would be inefficient. To avoid this, civil engineers will have to design these networks by using obtuse angles. To give you a visual of an obtuse angle, imagine the shape made by the hands of a clock that reads 5:00 pm. With this in mind, it would be as if the Civil Engineer designed the system as a slide for waste to land on the sewer main.

What About Clogging?

Yes, we know toilets get clogged all the time even if we PLAN for their water to run freely 🙄. This happens when there is more being flushed than the toilet’s actual capacity.

What does this mean? The pipes are not big enough to effectively flush the magnitude of waste it has been given. OR, the pipes have a lot of waste stuck to them because they are old and water stops flowing.

In the case of public restrooms, civil engineers calculate adequate pipe proportions to accommodate the amount of usage the facility will endure. These are all very accurate estimates, but real life always finds a way to interfere with our calculations, hence why drainage inspections are so important. Eastern Engineering Group also specializes in drainage inspections, by the way 😉.

Water Mains

Unlike sewer mains, water pressure plays a big role when it comes to water mains. With drainage we are using gravity to bring the water down. But in this case, we need to bring potable water up from the main to the sinks, toilets and showers.

For these designs, pipes could be shaped in 90° angles and linked to one straight, horizontal pipe that will pump all of them. The pipes that pump your shower will be measured with enough pressure to use one station at a time. What does this mean? Civil engineers assume that you won’t be in the shower and toilet at the same time. As a result, if your younger sibling ever flushed the toilet while you were taking a shower, the temperature of the water most likely changed. In public restrooms several stations need to be pumped at the same time. For that reason, water pressure will need to be stronger than the one in your own bathroom.

As we have previously mentioned, Civil Engineers need to base all their analyses according to government regulations. The design of the plans we mention in this article need to reflect specific government standards that depend on the location of the project.

Government Agencies

In Miami-Dade County, several government agencies regulate storm-water management. They determine the amount of surface runoff a drainage system must handle,  and the frequency of onsite maintenance that must be provided.

Agencies

-Department of Environmental Resources Management (DERM)

-South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD)

-Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT).

-Miami Dade Water and Sewer Department (MDWASD)

 

To answer our original question…

What does a Civil Engineer do?  Civil Engineers design, build, supervise, operate, construct and maintain infrastructures that allow society to function. The adjective civil refers to the citizen as an individual. From this, we can elaborate that a Civil Engineer designs plans for structures that will enable people to coexist in a functional environment, in function of their individuality. Why is this important? We all live our own lives individually, but we live them within a community. Our daily routines shouldn’t interfere with others’ daily routines, but our environment should be able to accommodate to everyone.

**The plans mentioned in this article are only a small fraction of all the amazing things Civil Engineers create and have been extremely simplified for comprehensive purposes. **

 

 

 

 

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