Out of sight, out of mind – that’s a good way to describe wastewater systems. Most people seldom think about where wastewater goes after they flush the toilet, run the dishwasher or take a shower. But what you do, or don’t do, to maintain your wastewater system may affect the health of your family, your neighborhood, the environment and your bank account!
City Sewer Systems: If you receive a monthly sewer bill from your city or local housing authority, then your wastewater goes to a public wastewater treatment facility of some sort. This facility is constructed to Treat wastewater discharged from homes and businesses before it is released back into the environment.
On-Site Septic Systems: If you live in a rural area and don’t pay a city sewer bill, then you are probably the proud owner of an on-site septic system. This is a self-contained wastewater treatment system that operates right in your own backyard. When working properly, on-site wastewater systems are an effective and efficient means of treating wastewater from your home. However, on-site systems that are not functioning properly or are not properly maintained can be a source of water pollution and disease.
Where wastewater goes depends on the process being used. If the wastewater is going into a septic tank, it’s being sent from a building to an underground storage container. In the container, bacteria will break the solid waste down and only the wastewater will flow through a filter to a second take. From there, it filters out of the tank and into the ground below. The ground is prepared with sand, gravel and other debris that filters the water further so that the ground water is clean.
If not a septic system wastewater goes to a waste treatment plant. At the plant, the water is put into different holding tanks as the water is cleaned. Bacteria are added to the beginning tanks to break down the solid waste that’s pulled off the rest of the water. In other tanks, oil and other particles that might float to the surface–such as grease–is skimmed off and removed. Filters are also used to remove smaller contaminants and chemicals from the water. Once all particles are out of the water that can be removed, the water is placed in containment ponds and chemically treated to kill any remaining microorganisms.
As with septic tanks, wastewater is eventually returned to nature. It’s either allowed to slowly seep into the ground from containment ponds or is sent back into streams, rivers or lakes. In some cases, the water will be so clean that it can be used for farm irrigation.