Where Does Your Water Go?
This is a story about water—
the element that makes up more than most of our body mass and probably seems, to a lot of people, a readily-accessible, never-ending source of life. To those lucky enough to have constant access to water, it can easily be taken for granted. But where your water comes from is quite a process—and where it goes after it leaves your drain is another.
We spoke with Vic Bernsdorff, former Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator at the Municipal Utilities Department for the city of Stockton, California. With his help, we broke down municipal water processes so you can get an idea of where the water that comes out of your sink comes from, and where it goes when it leaves your home—along with everything else that goes down your drain.
Water treatment is a complex process and though there’s much more to this story than we can fit into this post, we’re attempting to simplify the subject matter in order to better understand local water lifecycles.
Since there’s a lot to tell, we’ll be covering this topic in two parts. Both are important, but we’d like to start our story with laundry and what happens after you do it. Have you ever thought about what happens to your detergent after you wash your clothes?
So where does your water go?
All household wastewater (from toilets, sinks, and laundry water) is collected in a city’s “sanitary sewer” system. The toilet, sink and laundry water from both households and businesses is then pumped through wastewater collection systems and then to a wastewater plant for processing.
When the wastewater reaches the treatment plant, a handful of processes take over to separate the sediment and sludge and then clean the wastewater. After completing the last two treatment processes (chlorination and subsequent de-chlorination), the water is no longer considered wastewater.
Drains are not trash bins.
12 items you should never put down your toilet…
01. Tissues and paper towels
02. Cat litter
03. Disposable diapers and tampons
05. Anything made of cotton or plastic
06. Dental floss
07. Undigested food (puck is ok)
11. Grease and oils
12. Products claiming to be 'flushable'
How much does where you live affect this process?
Is wastewater wasteful?
The wastewater process is always going through upgrades based on new environmental regulations and as needed to adapt to changes in the water cycle. For example, in Orange County, California they have built a stand-alone “toilet-to-tap” facility that does exactly what the term implies in order to help conserve water due to California’s persistent drought problems. Because of lack of sufficient rain during past winter months in California, these types of plants will most certainly become the standard in the near future if droughts continue.
Anything you *should* put down your drain (besides water)?
Pouring half a bottle of hot vinegar down the kitchen sink drain every three months followed by a flush of very hot faucet water will keep food scraps from sticking to the pipes and causing obstructions. For even better results, some plumbers suggest pouring a ½ cup of baking soda down the drain first before applying the hot vinegar. Disclosure: Put on protective glasses first though if using the baking soda!