The Increasing Importance of Water Treatment
Right now California is in the midst of the third year of its worst drought in more than a century. They’re not quite in “Mad Max” territory just yet, but experts aren’t really anticipating that everything will suddenly just sort itself out in a few years. On the contrary, the UN says that half of the world’s population will face water scarcity by 2030, thanks to a nasty one-two punch of climate change and population growth.
As glum as the future of our water system looks, it’s up to us to do our best with what we still have right now. That is to say, you shouldn’t just throw up your hands, say it’s hopeless and go back to watering your lawn. There are things you can do right now to help ensure that there will be enough water to go around in the future. Effective water treatment is a great way to reintroduce wasted water back into the cycle and is going to become increasingly more important as water grows more and more scarce.
Without getting too technical, there are a number of different methods used to treat wastewater. Depending on the plant and the type of wastewater it deals with, some of the methods are used more than others; some methods are used in conjunction with other methods to really get the water clean and ready to go back into the environment.
First comes the separation phase. This is the part of the process when solids and liquids like oil and grease are removed from the water. One method used to accomplish this goal is the use of settling tanks, in which the solids fall to the bottom while skimmers remove greases and any floating solids from the surface.
Once the solids have been separated, secondary treatment occurs through a process known as oxidation. The chemical oxidation process involves adding – you might have guessed – chemicals to the water to kill pollutants. Once chemicals like chlorine, ozone or hypochlorite are added to the water, stubborn microbial pathogens and bacteria disappear. Sometimes this stage of the process produces more solids, making it necessary for the water to undergo phase separation once again.
After the secondary treatment comes polishing. During this stage, the water undergoes extensive carbon filtering to remove any contaminants and impurities that survived this far into the process, and the pH of the water is adjusted. However, even if the water is then released into a basin or a lake, that doesn’t necessarily mean the treatment of the water is completely over with.
Treated water usually needs to continually be aerated. Treated water typically is low in oxygen, which is a problem because dissolved oxygen is what all types of aquatic life need to live. There are surface and underwater aerators, and they do the very important work of breathing life back into the water.
This entire process is so effective that the water that gets flushed down the toilet can come back free and clear of any pollutants to your kitchen sink. Now, if that made you cringe, then you understand one of the biggest challenges of drinking recycled waste water: People don’t like thinking about their toilet bowls when drinking a glass of water.
How You Can Help Make the Process More Effective
Though the process is complex, it isn’t totally in the hands of the experts in faraway facilities. In fact, the most important link in the water cycle probably is you. The way you use water has a direct effect on the viability of the water-treatment process. If you’re letting any old thing down your drain, you’re making it that much more difficult for the oxidation process to be effective and for that same water to end up back in your sink – which could be a real problem come 2030 when half of the world is short on water. You already know you can help by taking short showers, but you also should do your best to keep the water clean on top of your efforts to use less of it overall.
You might think of hazardous materials as glowing green ooze that leaks from the factories of irresponsible corporations from time to time, but the truth is the average household has 10 gallons of hazardous waste. Whether it’s bathroom cleaners, pesticides or even batteries, be conscious of not letting this stuff into the water supply and dispose of it properly. Try using full-strength Borax as an alternative to bleach. Consider using baking soda and vinegar instead of highly toxic drain cleaners. Being less liberal with your use of poisonous household chemicals can go a long way to making the water-treatment process less expensive, more efficient and greener.
James White is our newest contributor to GreenBlizzard. He’s a self-proclaimed part-time construction worker, part-time freelancer, and full-time husband. He and his wife have their own blog HomeyImprovements.com. They live in a beautifully built house they call The Burrow (yes, a reference to Harry Potter) and soon hope to fill an expanded version of it with kids. Check out their website for inspirational tips on all sorts of home improvements.