- Definition of wastewater
- Wastewater treatment
- Before modern treatment
- Water treatment policies
- Everyone’s role in conserving water
Wastewater is “used” water. Almost everyone thinks about the obvious (“SHHHHH” – flushing the toilet), but used water is any water that goes down the drains in your house. If you turn on your faucet and wash your hands, run the garbage disposal, take a shower, or run the dishwasher, once it’s in the drainpipe, it becomes wastewater, which is also called sewage.
Before the used water can be put back into rivers and streams, it needs to be cleaned. The process of cleaning the used water is called wastewater treatment. Treating the wastewater helps make the rivers and streams safe for people, fish, plants, and other living things. Sometimes we call treatment a “defense” against water pollution.
The idea of collecting and treating wastewater is one of the more important ideas in history. Before modern wastewater treatment methods were established, wastewater went directly into streams and rivers – the same streams and rivers where people took baths, washed clothes, and got drinking water. Because of this, many people suffered from diseases caused by contaminated water. Diseases such as cholera, typhoid, and diphtheria were common.
Wastewater treatment of some kind has been practiced in the United States for over 100 years, but it was only recently (since the 1970’s) that strict standards for clean water were established. These two bills govern the activities of treatment plants nationwide and establish the standards by which they operate.
• In 1972 Congress passed the Clean Water Act to restore and maintain the quality of our water.
• In 1987, Congress reauthorized the Clean Water Act to support water quality programs.
YES! Treatment plants spend a lot of time cleaning water that was never used in the first place. It’s everyone’s job as a consumer of natural resources to help conserve water. To help you appreciate the importance of this valuable resource, we’d like to tell you a little about wastewater in our educational section: how wastewater is processed to become the clean water you depend on every day; our staff and their range of skills and knowledge; plus our tours, games and activities that are available. Students, for example, can post multimedia projects in our gallery section.