When it comes to the importance of water, you probably already know the standard facts: our bodies are 60% water, for example, and we’re meant to drink eight glasses of it per day to maintain good health.
But where does your drinking water actually come from? In fact, the majority of American s— roughly 300 million people — use tap water that comes directly from community water systems.
If you’re one of them, you might have wondered how unsanitary water can transform into something fit to drink. After all, how does water treatment work, and what has to happen to make water potable? Here’s how the water from your tap gets cleaned.
Primary Treatment, or “Pretreatment”
Before it can move on to the next steps, wastewater will be run through a pretreatment phase to remove larger objects and debris. This can include things like leaves, branches, plastic bottles, and other forms of waste.
In many cases, a sewage water treatment plant will use a set of bars or screens to remove these unwanted objects. In addition, they will use grit chambers or sedimentation tanks to filter out smaller materials like pebbles and sand. In most cases, they will also use tools to skim fats and grease from the water’s surface.
Once larger objects have been removed, the next step in wastewater treatment is to remove organic matter. From community plants that provide water to millions to private businesses running a juice filling line, this step is a crucial one.
To do this, most plants will add helpful bacteria to the water. These organisms break organic matter into sludge, which can then be recycled as fertilizers and other materials. Sometimes, plants will pump the water into an aeration tank, which helps bacteria to break down organic matter more easily.
After this step is complete, the water will pass through another sedimentation tank to remove the bacteria as well. The resulting water, now cleaner, passes through to the next stage for further treatment.
The final step in drinking water treatment is disinfecting. At this stage, most plants introduce chlorine or chloramine into the water supply, killing up to 99 percent of harmful bacteria, as well as parasites and viruses. This step also helps to reduce any odors present in the water.
In rarer cases, plants will use ultraviolet light or ozone instead, especially when there is concern over the effects of chlorine on the local ecosystem. In addition, many community water systems will add fluoride after this stage is complete.
From the Water Treatment Plant to Your Tap
Though some households do their own form of water treatment by adding filters, the truth is that your community’s water has passed through rigorous treatment that makes it safe to drink. Advanced treatment techniques mean that waste can be quickly separated from the water, and that the water flowing through your tap is cleaner and clearer than past processes allowed. You have them to thank for your healthy, potable water!
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