We command freshwater at the turn of a tap. Maintaining this luxury relies on a symbiotic relationship between nature, people, and technology. Municipalities collect freshwater from local sources, treat it via a wastewater treatment facility, and distribute it to millions of homes and businesses to use for a myriad of purposes. Whether it be bathing, cooking, cleaning, or recreation everyone uses freshwater everyday and it’s always available.
There’s No New Water
So where does water go when it goes down the drain? It’s important to keep in mind that there is no new water. All the freshwater on Earth has always been here. It keeps cycling and recycling on an endless journey called the water cycle. This is water’s journey from the drain to the Wastewater Treatment Facility:
Down the Drain
Water flows from the tap or appliance lines, then swirls down the drain. With the help of gravity, water is directed through a series of pipes that gradually increase in size until connecting to the city’s sewer main line.
Each appliance line is equipped with a drain and a P-trap. The purpose of the P-Trap is to prevent odorous gases from rising up into the house. Good looking out, P-Trap.
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Water then travels through a series of drainpipes that direct traffic towards a larger pipe, the home’s private sewer lateral line.
Private Sewer Lateral (PSL)
The private sewer lateral line runs under the house and connects the private plumbing system to the city sewer main line. PSL’s have a downward slope that allows wastewater to flow without a pump.
Sewer Main Line
The sewer main line is operated by the city. It functions as a superhighway that connects all private sewer systems and directs traffic to a nearby wastewater treatment facility. Due to uneven terrain, sewer mains can’t always use gravity and require a lift station to pump uphill.
Wastewater Treatment Facility
Through a multistep process, wastewater treatment facilities filter out solids and use bacteria to break down harmful organic matter. Once the water is adequately treated it is recycled into a nearby water source where nature finishes the job.
Treated water can be reintroduced to the cycle as reclaimed water or it may go to a new treatment facility for further cleaning. Once the treatment process is complete, water is recycled into the environment via natural water sources, where nature cleanses it through its own processes for the next city down the line.
What Does It All Mean?
The average US household produces 50-80 gallons of wastewater each day. Multiply that by 127 million households and you begin to understand the need for sustainability. Many wastewater treatment facilities often underfunded entities that have the important job of collecting, treating, and recycling wastewater. The simple act of turning off the tap while brushing your teeth could help reduce our collective carbon footprint. There’s no new water on the planet, and there never will be. We have a responsibility to use it wisely. See more in the infographic below