Clean water – open knowledge resources

swiss mountains through a glass of water by Gaetan LeeA fellow Appropedian asked if I’d written any articles on water treatment, as he wants to learn about it. Yes and no – most articles I’ve worked on have been collaborative efforts that remain open to improvement. That can work well,  as described in a recent post.

Putting that aside, where are the open resources that a learner should know about in water treatment?

  • Appropedia’s Water portal is a good place to start – it gives a map of Appropedia’s water content and some highlights, as well as links to other key open resources.
  • Akvo’s Akvopedia (similar name, different site – but they’re good friends of Appropedia). This has great, structured information about specific tech, with a development and appropriate technology focus.
  • Wikipedia’s Water Portal and Water_treatment pages, and the many others in the Water treatment category. There’s also the water section of the appropriate technology article. It’s topical info only, without the how-tos and designs you can find on Appropedia and Akvopedia, but the breadth and organization make this a great resource.
  • Waterwiki.net is a United Nations project, which is less open in a number of ways. Much of the content is posted as PDFs attached to pages (are they covered by the open license too?); you need to jump through some hurdles to join and contribute; and although it’s a polished looking site, it’s not clear at first glance that it also welcomes non-UN contributors. It’s good that the UN is taking steps towards openness – the best thing they could do, though, is make a policy of open licensing all their publications, past present and future.

OpenCourseWare resources are course materials such as podcasts and written materials, often from top universities, that are freely accessible online. The OpenCourseWare Finder yields results such as these:

Then there are great resources which are copyrighted, which we hope will soon be open:

  • CAWST – Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology – Akvo used some of their content in Akvopedia, which is how I found this great knowledge resource, but as there is no copyright or license statement on the site, it’s technically copyright. (I assume Akvo got permission for the pages they used.)
  • BioSandFilter.org – another great resource on a more specific area of technology and design for water treatment. From our conversations, we know they support knowledge sharing – we just hope they go the extra step and choose an open license.


Photo credit: Gaetan Lee, CC-BY. Chosen because: The glass is half full.

Clean water – open knowledge resources

swiss mountains through a glass of water by Gaetan LeeA fellow Appropedian asked if I’d written any articles on water treatment, as he wants to learn about it. Yes and no – most articles I’ve worked on have been collaborative efforts that remain open to improvement. That can work well,  as described in a recent post.

Putting that aside, where are the open resources that a learner should know about in water treatment?

  • Appropedia’s Water portal is a good place to start – it gives a map of Appropedia’s water content and some highlights, as well as links to other key open resources.
  • Akvo’s Akvopedia (similar name, different site – but they’re good friends of Appropedia). This has great, structured information about specific tech, with a development and appropriate technology focus.
  • Wikipedia’s Water Portal and Water_treatment pages, and the many others in the Water treatment category. There’s also the water section of the appropriate technology article. It’s topical info only, without the how-tos and designs you can find on Appropedia and Akvopedia, but the breadth and organization make this a great resource.
  • Waterwiki.net is a United Nations project, which is less open in a number of ways. Much of the content is posted as PDFs attached to pages (are they covered by the open license too?); you need to jump through some hurdles to join and contribute; and although it’s a polished looking site, it’s not clear at first glance that it also welcomes non-UN contributors. It’s good that the UN is taking steps towards openness – the best thing they could do, though, is make a policy of open licensing all their publications, past present and future.

OpenCourseWare resources are course materials such as podcasts and written materials, often from top universities, that are freely accessible online. The OpenCourseWare Finder yields results such as these:

Then there are great resources which are copyrighted, which we hope will soon be open:

  • CAWST – Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology – Akvo used some of their content in Akvopedia, which is how I found this great knowledge resource, but as there is no copyright or license statement on the site, it’s technically copyright. (I assume Akvo got permission for the pages they used.)
  • BioSandFilter.org – another great resource on a more specific area of technology and design for water treatment. From our conversations, we know they support knowledge sharing – we just hope they go the extra step and choose an open license.


Photo credit: Gaetan Lee, CC-BY. Chosen because: The glass is half full.

The making of a wiki page

The wiki pages that make the news are Wikipedia articles where things go wrong – libel, conflict of interest and the like. It’s worth taking a look at an article where things work differently – for example in the following case of an article about an environmental technology.

In September 2005, an anonymous editor added a piece of information to Wikipedia about wastewater treatment equipment:

UASB – Upflow Anaerobic Sludge Blanket technology normally referred to as UASB Reactor is used in the treatment of wastewater.

That was the entire UASB article – no categories, no images, no links, no formatting. Not even a comma.

Four and a half months later came the second and third edits – a cleanup tag and a suggested merge. Thanks to these tags, I found the article a few days later, and thought: Merge? A UASB is a really cool piece of technology – it deserves its own article! So I helped turn it into a short but respectable article. After a quick consensus on the talk page, the merge tag was removed.

At this stage this stub article (an article with just a few sentences of useful information) painted a broad picture, describing a valuable piece of technology that turns waste into energy, at the same time as it cleans wastewater. It would be a good place to learn the very basic facts, and had some valuable links to more in-depth information.

I went back to working on the appropriate technology articles (this was shortly before Appropedia started) and left the UASB article for someone else to develop further. Another editor improved the article a little, and then, less than 2 months after I did my basic work the article, came a new Wikipedia editor with a passion for water technologies.

Anaerobic digestersVortexrealm‘s userpage says he works in the field of waste management – but more importantly, his edits showed a consistently good understanding of water and wastewater treatment. 11 weeks and many edits after he started on the article, a solid, informative article had been created, including a photo he took himself of a wastewater treatment plant with UASB. The article had become a great starting point for anyone – student, worker, curious citizen – who might want to know about a valuable piece of sustainable technology technology.

Today the article, renamed as Upflow anaerobic sludge blanket digestion, is even better, after still more work by a number of editors, both regular editors of the article, and new editors.

The history of some articles on Wikipedia is smoother than others. This is what it can look like on the many, many occasions when it works well.

(Note: All of these changes can be seen via the articles history page, linked from a tab at the top of the page.)

Photo: A “Mechanical Biological Treatment facility” in Tel-Aviv. Credit: Vortexrealm (Alex Marshall).