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AECOMs Kunal Olimattel helps forge reliable water infrastructure

AECOM's Kunal Olimattel helps forge reliable water infrastructure

 May 15, 2024

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AECOM's People Spotlight series gives an inside look at AECOM's technical experts from around the world.

Meet AECOM Civil Engineer from the Water business line in the U.S. East region, Kunal Olimattel. Kunal and her team are working with Toho Water to improve the quality of tap water to serve the growing needs of communities in Central Florida.

Discover more about Kunal's inspiration to work in the water industry, how she is positively impacting the community via her role with AECOM, and her impactful career advice.

AECOM Civil Engineer career

Engineer focusing on water and wastewater treatment

Kunal is a resident engineer focused on water and wastewater treatment, with an emphasis on the removal of Per- and Polyfluorinated Substances (PFAS).

Kunal joined AECOM in 2021, after completing her Doctoral Degree Program in Environmental Engineering from the University of Central Florida. She recently completed work on the Toho Parkway Water Reclamation Facility Water Quality Evaluation and will soon be starting work on a PFAS treatment study for Seminole County in Florida.

Importance of reliable water infrastructure

AECOM career inspiration

As a child, Kunal was told her grandfather, a civil engineer, had built the apartment building she was living in. Kunal now knows he was part of the team that helped build it, because it takes a team to do something like that. But, she remembers going out and seeing the buildings her grandfather and his team built, thinking about the people who benefited from their work. That started Kunal on the path to being a civil engineer.

"After I completed my Bachelor’s Degree and started my first job, I quickly realized the importance of reliable water infrastructure for communities. Fresh out of engineering school, I was tasked with stage testing a river and studying infiltration rate for a subsurface cooling water intake project for a large power plant in Chhattisgarh, India. The intake system comprised of a network of large diameter perforated pipes under the riverbed and extended across the riverbanks. The water seeped into the pipes and was conveyed to an intake well where it was pumped into the plant," says Kunal.

"During the study, I met local farmers from the protected Korwa tribe. I was inspired by their ingenious way of manually digging shallow wells using a pulley system made of bamboo. The farmers shared how they come to the riverbanks every year to grow produce which would be harvested before the arrival of the monsoon floods. These manually dug, shallow wells tapped into the equally shallow water table which was used to water the plants. Between the submersion of the area from a future dam, and the impacts of the power plant, the farmers had a lot of questions about how they would sustain themselves during those months."

"This experience was an impactful one. It shaped my understanding of water’s value as a resource and how people’s livelihoods depend on it," Kunal adds.

AECOM civil engineering

Always learning while working on AECOM projects

Kunal shares that she is always learning, and that means there’s a favorite part of every AECOM project that she works on.

"An example is one of my current projects, which involves helping communities in Florida affected by hurricanes. My team and I are tasked with reviewing engineering applications for flood protection projects and putting together a cost-benefit analysis by comparing the storm damage before and after the mitigation project," explains Kunal.

"It’s really interesting work. Not only have I learned about different ways of estimating storm damages and how flood mitigation projects are designed, but I also got to understand the workings of public grants from the side of the funding agency. The success of this project will grant funding to municipal groups, providing the resources they need to prepare and reduce the effects of future flooding events."

Positively impacting communities by improving tap water quality

AECOM positively impacting community

Kunal and her team are currently working with the Toho Water Authority in Central Florida. They’re servicing the Kissimmee, St. Cloud and Poinciana areas, which have seen steep population growth in the past decade.

That growth has resulted in new service areas being added and booming customer numbers in existing service areas. AECOM was tasked with evaluating nine water plants to improve the quality of their tap water and meet the growing water needs.

"During this evaluation, I conducted bench and pilot scale studies to evaluate two treatment options – effectiveness of force draft aeration and pH adjustments followed by chlorine oxidation for sulfide treatment for some of the plants. Results from pilot testing, like the optimal pH and CO2 doses, formed the basis of design for the full-scale treatment. So far, one project is under construction and another will begin construction shortly, while the remaining are in the design phase," shares Kunal.

"I come from a background of research and experimentation, and I spend a portion of my time doing field experiments and practical research to study the effects of a proposed treatment. We begin by testing at bench scale in stepwise increments to optimize process parameters like chemical doses, contact times and feed quality. These parameters are further optimized by longer and more rigorous pilot scale studies. Based on this research, you get the design of the final system, which then gets put into place. And for me, as an engineer, there is nothing more gratifying than seeing projects come to fruition — as something that I tested on a bench goes out in the plant, which then serves thousands of people."

AECOM improve quality of tap water

Surround yourself with good people

AECOM career advice

Kunal explains that it is important to do work that is interesting and try to be surrounded by good people.

"As someone who is curious by nature, I want to know what’s going on with the water during treatment. At AECOM, I get to find the answers to these questions regularly. I also have the privilege to work with, interact and learn from industry experts who have done pioneering work in their field," says Kunal.

"I researched PFAS treatment during my doctoral studies and recently the EPA announced new PFAS regulations for drinking water. I see this as the ideal opportunity to leverage my doctoral research experience to help develop solutions that will ultimately benefit people and the industry," she adds.

AECOM interesting work

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