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Miles Moffatt, P.E.
Environmental Engineer

Who Builds Big? | Career Info Index | Engineering Webography

Miles Moffatt is an environmental engineer with more than 19 years of engineering experience. For the last 13 years, he has managed the planning, design, and construction of several wastewater treatment plants, water pumping and distribution systems, and wastewater collection and pumping systems. Currently, Miles is a Senior Associate at Malcolm Pirnie, Inc., a New York-based firm of independent environmental engineers, scientists, and consultants, where he is a project manager on several large New York City projects.

Check out a project that Miles has worked on: New York Third Water Tunnel, New York

Miles Moffatt, Environmental Engineer
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What do you do as an environmental engineer?
I work on mainly water and wastewater treatment projects. On the water side, we're looking at water supply issues, watersheds. A source of water can be from streams and rivers and lakes to below ground aquifers. I'm looking at ways of getting the water to the people, to the municipality, and all the water quality issues that go along with that: if the water needs to be treated or filtered or whatever to meet the current environmental regulations and to have generally good drinking water. We help municipalities out all over the country in doing that.

Miles Moffatt, Environmental Engineer
(click for larger image)

On the wastewater side, we help municipalities in the treatment of the wastewater to improve the quality of streams, lakes, or ocean receiving the wastewater stream. We need to make sure that the water is cleaned enough to meet the regulations and to meet all health standards.

What projects are you working on right now?
I'm working on some wastewater and water treatment projects in Puerto Rico. I'm working on New York City's water supply system, which is a series of reservoirs and tunnels and a whole bunch of piping to get the water to the customers in the city. And I'm working also for some wastewater treatment plants and processes in the greater New York area.

What are some ways that environmental engineers might be involved in the process of building big?
When you have a big project, we get into what are the environmental impacts that that project is going to have. It can be noise, traffic, dust, erosion of the site into an adjacent stream that you want to prevent. It could be getting the different permits you need to do the construction work. It is certainly protecting the environment during the course of construction and making sure the final thing that's built is going to meet the environmental regulations as well.

You're working on a pretty huge project, the New York Third Water Tunnel project. Tell me about that.
The New York Third Water Tunnel brings water down from north of the city and conveys it down through the city boroughs to the piping in the streets where connections to users are made. The tunnel itself is 600 to 800 feet deep in bedrock. It's on average 24 feet in diameter. And it's made by large tunneling machines that create a nice structural tunnel, one that won't cave in, because it's done in an area where the rock is of good quality. The tunnel boring machine drills all that out, and then a lining -- on average, it's one to two feet thick -- is placed on the inside of the tunnel to make it smooth and to prevent any kind of rock faults that you might have drilled through from caving in on the tunnel.

That work in New York City was done over the last 25 years. It's a long, ongoing project, many stages involved, many different engineers and contractors working on it. It's a real piece of work and a real challenge to the civil engineering people involved.

What has your involvement been?
Environmentally, there are issues when you start a tunnel up like that, when you actually put it into service and you're introducing clean drinking water through the tunnel. You've got to make sure that the product out the other end of the tunnel is suitable for drinking. We're involved in the later stages of the construction, in checking to make sure the piping that was connected to the tunnel and the tunnel itself was cleaned and flushed out properly. It takes a high dose of chemicals to do that and make sure everything is clean. And that's flushed out of the tunnel and dechlorinated before it's allowed to discharge into the East River.

Now, you have a bunch of issues like hydraulics and water quality issues involved in putting a third tunnel in line to supplement the supply of water that you were getting from the existing tunnels. So a big staging plan was undertaken by which we helped the city look at where you'd introduced the water first, how you'd clear the lines out, get rid of any air that's in the lines, because that can cause problems. Anywhere you connect the new tunnel into the existing system were all points of concern for us, to make sure people were getting good-quality water right from day one. So the environmental part of that is, again, making sure the drinking water regulations are met. There's a good engineering approach brought to the whole project. We look at the water hydraulic issues involved.

Which would mean what?
If you have a certain pressure of water in the tunnel, it's going to come up from the tunnel far below the ground up into the piping that's in the streets. And then that piping has valves and pressure-regulator devices that need to be operating properly in order to get a smooth flow of water into the pipes and to the faucets, without air binding up the system and without unwanted chemicals in the system.

What was your role on the project?
As a project manager, the role I had was making sure that whatever needs and schedules and budget the client had were met by staff from my company. And that meant going to a lot of coordination meetings, going into the field, overseeing some of the operations. I had to make sure that any drawings or specifications were prepared properly, and I reviewed them before they went to the city. So it's a combination of a lot of things. It's bringing the consulting services to your client. A project manager's responsible for doing that in a good way.

What was a typical day like in the field on this project?
The tunnel goes down deep in the ground. In about 10 different locations, there are riser pipes that come up from several hundred feet down to these chambers that are 20 feet below the city streets. And these chambers are the size of like a one-bedroom apartment. We go down to the chamber through a hatch in the sidewalk, down a ladder into kind of a two-level chamber area where you see the pipe come up from the tunnel. We measure temperature of the water, chlorine residual, the flow of the water, how much water's going out -- all that equipment is down in these chambers.

There's another chamber down 200 feet in the ground, in the rock. They're connected by an elevator. We spent most of our time down in these chambers, checking the quality of the workmanship that has been done to install the piping -- because it has been done in several different phases over the years -- and making sure everything was ready for start-up.

We conducted pressure testing, visual inspection of the piping, making sure the joints were all properly made up, because once you put this tunnel online, there's no going back. If you let this tunnel fill up with water from in the reservoirs, and if then you had to empty it out because there were leaks, it would be a major problem. You're wasting a lot of water; you'd have to take everything down and pump it out for several days.

What do you like most about being an environmental engineer?
What I like most about it is that it's for a good cause. It's really a bunch of engineers trying to figure out the best way of bringing technology to your clients to help clean up their processes or their plants. If they have an air pollution problem, we can help them take care of that -- water and waste treatment, hazardous waste sites that need to be cleaned up. It's a great feeling to know that you're contributing to the health of the community and the environment.

I think what I get the most enjoyment out of is seeing the state-of-the-art equipment being developed over the years and actually being put into use and working, usually, and seeing something like a new water treatment plant actually starting up and producing a good-quality water and people being happy to drink the water, and allowing development to occur in an area where it wasn't allowed before, perhaps because they didn't have enough water supply and wastewater treatment capacity, and allowing people to thrive in their community.

What's the most interesting project you've worked on?
I would say it's this tunnel project because it's so big. Big projects are pretty neat. There's a lot of people involved. I think the thrill of seeing these structures built way underground is pretty neat. You appreciate the people that sweat it and really dedicate their lives to building these things. These are long-term projects that people spend years on of their professional life. That's pretty neat.

Also, some of the more fun things I've done, I think, is actually starting up some of these plants. When you're out there in the wee hours of the night making sure everything's just right so that when morning comes, you can start the plant up and hope that everything runs well and there are as few glitches as possible. I guess trying to out-guess Murphy's Law, that always happens when you start something up, and seeing how you can plan things as best you can, and then keep your fingers crossed to make sure things start up right. But the start-up phase of projects is always exciting, to see your efforts actually come to fruition.

How did you get into your field? And when did you know you wanted to be an engineer?
My dad was an engineer, a mechanical engineer. And I went to school as a mechanical engineer also. I worked in the aerospace field for a while. I worked in nuclear power for a while, building nuclear power plants. Being a field engineer and seeing things like that being built is really neat. But then when an opportunity came along to join an environmental firm like Malcolm Pirnie, it sounded like a place where I could make a real impact and do a good thing for the environment, you know, keep it as green as we can.

What advice would you have for young people who might want to pursue a career in engineering?
I would say if you're interested in environmental engineering, poke around on the Internet and look up EPA Web sites, look up your state Department of Health Web site, and see what kinds of things they're talking about on there. If you have a water utility, go to their Web site. People in those industries now have a mission in life to clean up the environment, and they want everyone to know that.

I would also encourage your schoolteachers to have someone in the environmental field pay a visit to your classroom and talk about, you know, what happens when you flush a toilet and what happens when traffic on the local interstate is increasingly heavy, what happens to your air quality, where does your water come from -- just a lot of things that environmental engineering does that impacts your day-to-day life.

What kind of stuff do you like to do in your free time?
I love to play golf, and I used to like to play soccer. I still like to play but not as vigorously. I like birding, getting close to nature in some ways -- birding, fishing, canoeing. I like being out in nature a lot, just hiking around. I wish there was more time to do all of that.