Wastewater: We think about it so you don’t have to

wastewaterWhen was the last time you thought about wastewater? If you’re like the average water user, you probably don’t think about wastewater at all, or at least not until your sink drain backs up. It’s kind of, well, gross, actually.

However gross it may be, wastewater management plays a crucial role in managing water resources. Without proper wastewater management, all manner of contaminants, not just sewage, would find their way back into the water supply causing harm to people, animals and the ecosystem.

To understand the crucial role wastewater management plays in out water supply, let’s walk through some of the critical aspects of this vital water management process.

What is WasteWater?

Many people have assumptions about wastewater. For example, you know that what you flush down your toilet is wastewater. But what else counts as wastewater?

Basically, any water that goes down any drain in your house is wastewater. This includes showers, bathtubs, sinks, washing machines and dishwashers. It becomes wastewater because it becomes contaminated with pollutants like soap, phosphates, pesticides and other chemicals.

Storm water is also wastewater. This water courses down streets into storm drains. Along the way, the water picks up pollutants from the street like gasoline and diesel.

These dirty water sources find their way to wastewater treatment plants where they undergo a series of treatments rendering them safe to return to the water cycle once more.

Pollutants in the Water

Many pollutants find their way into wastewater each year as we mentioned before including runoff from streets and sidewalks, residues from the produce we wash and chemicals from the cleaners we use at home. Additionally, new advances in pharmaceuticals and other products that come onto the market can have ramifications for wastewater management as well.

For example, the chemical Bisphenol A, commonly known as BPA, has come under scrutiny the past several years. This chemical is used in certain plastic containers or to coat the inside of tin cans. However, the chemical can transfer from the container to the product inside, resulting in human ingestion of BPA. And, since what goes in must come out, BPA has made it into the wastewater stream. (Note: Some countries, including the United States, have banned the use of BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups.)

Another example of a pollutant in water is phosphates in dish and laundry soap. Phosphates can raise the phosphorous level in water to dangerous levels causing massive algae blooms and cutting off oxygen to other life in lakes. Canada has placed restrictions on phosphate levels in detergents since as early as 1972 and revised those restrictions again in 2008.

Managing Pollutants in Wastewater

The goal of wastewater management is to ensure all these pollutants and contaminants are removed for the water before rejoining the water supply. All the pollutant In Canada, each territory or province carries the responsibility for determining what pollutants to control and then ensuring wastewater treatment plants comply with those regulations. The government set forth these provisions in the Canada Water Act of 1970.

Wastewater facilities work within a set of guidelines for a wide range of pollutants. The guidelines are calculated through a scientific determination of the maximum allowable concentration for any one substance. Wastewater managers must keep up with current research and new guidelines and work collaboratively across provinces to meet these treatment requirements.

Additionally, these facilities also consider how the treated water will be used. Water used for agriculture is treated differently than water for human consumption.

So the next time you flush your toilet or watch water swirl down a drain, you can rest assured the wastewater professionals of Canada have wastewater on their minds. They think about the gross stuff so you don’t have to.