Where Does Water Go After Treatment

Municipal Water Cycle Infographic

The Municipal Water Cycle

For the majority of Americans, access to clean drinking water isn’t much of a problem. We can almost always go to the tap or the shower and water is readily available. However, we typically don’t consider where our water comes from or how much of it we should even consume. According to the US Geological Service, the typical American citizen uses an average of 80-100 gallons of water per day. What’s even harder to believe is that the majority of that average is attributed to flushing toilets and bathing. With average consumption being so high, it’s a wonder how we sustain our supply of consumable water.

Where Does My Water Come From?

Most Americans depend on their municipalities to deliver clean water. The municipal water cycle is something that has been reinvented countless times over the course of history. Every civilization has tried to reinvent the way they get their water. It originated with the Assyrian’s invention of the aqueduct (still in use today) and has evolved into a complete industrial chain of pipes and pumps that traverse states, delivering water to everyone. As you can imagine, a lot of resources go into making consumable water so attainable. 

This Is How We Get Our Water

A typical American household uses 300 gallons of water a day. Baths and showers, brushing our teeth, watering our lawn, laundry and cooking; we use water without thinking. Once we use this water, it leaves our household through a variety of drains. This water is then sent on a journey of cleaning, filtering, traveling and ultimately finds its way back to use. Here’s how.

Wastewater Treatment Plant: Out

Water has made its way from a house or place of business through a series of pipes and sewer lines all the way to a wastewater treatment plant. Once here, water is treated by removing solid waste and using bacteria to eliminate the harmful organic matter. Once the water has been thoroughly cleansed it is discharged back into the environment.

The Environment

Once the water has been discharged into a stream, river, or lake, it is treated further by naturally occurring bacteria that remove remaining organic waste. From here, water is ready to re-enter the municipal water cycle.

Water Treatment Plant: In

Because water taken from open bodies of water may contain harmful microorganisms, it has to be treated before it can be distributed to us in our homes. Typical surface water treatment incorporates chemical coagulation, sedimentation, filtration, and disinfection to ensure the water is safe for consumption.

Distribution

After treatment and sufficient disinfection, the water is discharged via a pressurized system of lifts and pipes to the areas in the city where it is needed. A disinfectant residual must be maintained throughout all parts of the system to ensure no waterborne pathogens enter the system and contaminate the water.

Storage

Once the water has left the plant for distribution, it either makes its way to where it is needed or is stored in water towers. Water towers use gravity to regulate water pressure and make sure we get water when and where we need it in case of an emergency. 

Consumption

Here is where we see it all come to fruition. Water has made its way from rivers, lakes, and reservoirs all the way to your tap, shower, dishwasher, and toilet. From there it follows the sewers back to a wastewater treatment plant to be cleansed and discharged to the environment yet again. Once back in the environment it starts the cycle over.

The Main Takeaway

We as the human species have made incredible strides in providing consumable water for ourselves. However, the biggest struggle we have yet to master is sustainability. Water is a finite resource in this world and only 0.3% of it is actually usable. Making a conscious effort to reduce consumption could help ensure we have enough water to keep us going for generations to come. Humanity owes it to ourselves and to our future to strive towards using water in a responsible way.