Finding Water Solutions Through a Game of Squash

April 25, 2019
Work on the Great Man-Made River in Libya brought ASCE Distinguished Member Pete Loucks to surprising new horizons in his career.

You never know where life will take you.

And that uncertainty seems to only multiply when you’re a civil engineer.

The possibilities are infinite. Ask Pete Loucks.

Loucks remembers once taking a systems analysis assignment through UNESCO, evaluating the financial viability of different water delivery options in Libya. The next thing he knew he was wielding a racquet on the squash courts of Benghazi, hoping to parlay some friendly competition into professional progress.

“We needed data to do the analyses, but the data were in different agencies of the government, and some were not anxious to share those data with us,” said Loucks, Ph.D., NAE, Hon.D.WRE, Dist.M.ASCE. “The only way I could think of to get to know these guys well enough to where they might give us the data we needed was to meet them at the Benghazi Squash Club. So I did, and they were good players. They beat me most of the time. My excuse was sand all over the floors, so it was a slippery game of squash.

“But I got to know them, and we got our data.”

It’s just one of many remarkable stories from a remarkable career for Loucks, now a professor emeritus in Cornell University’s civil and environmental engineering department.

And Loucks’ squash experience is the basis of one of 10 essays he has written for a new book, Adventures in Managing Water: Real-World Engineering Experiences, published by ASCE and the Environmental and Water Resources Institute.

“That’s not the kind of story you can put in a journal article, but those little episodes are fun to read about and great to learn from,” Loucks said.

The book, co-edited by Loucks and Laurel Saito, collects anecdotes and memories from water resources engineers all over the world, separated into sections by continent.

One engineer recalls how a river-quality check in West Germany became an opportunity to flee from East Germany.

Another water expert tells how he helped negotiate for peace in the Middle East.

And there is Loucks’ productive, albeit brief, squash career in Libya.

“We’ve got some great stories to tell,” Loucks said. “I’ve seen things I would never have believed, been places I’d never have imagined. And my chapters aren’t even the interesting ones!”

Learn more about the Adventures in Managing Water: Real-World Engineering Experiences book.

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