Out of sight, out of mind, but if the sewer system broke down modern civilization as we know it might go with it! Ok, that might be a little hyperbolic – but only a little! This time on the Economy Plumbing Services blog we’re going to take a look at the big picture, what all of our home plumbing systems tie into and make it a smoothly operating system.
Why Sewer Systems Are Important
When we said civilization would collapse, we were only being somewhat hyperbolic. Sewer systems provide huge benefits to people, especially when we all live in dense urban areas. The other option would be to run the waste water to a lake or stream but that just isn’t gonna work. The big reasons sewer systems are crucial.
Let’s get the most obvious out of the way, sewage stinks. If waste water didn’t have anywhere to go things would get really gross, really quick. If that waste water was directed into a source of water that water would quickly become fouled.
Sewage is Full of Bacteria
Sewage is full of harmful microorganisms and bacteria. Human waste for instance naturally contains E. coli. When those bacteria enter water the entire body of it becomes a potential health hazard. Instead, moving it through a system designed to treat it first is the only way to safely neutralize the danger.
Sewage Contains Solids and Chemicals That Can Be Harmful to the Environment
Sewage isn’t just the human waste, (though that’s a big portion of it). It’s also the waste from a shower or bathtub drain, the sinks, etc. Any of these could be the source of wastewater and sewage all of which contain solids and chemics that can harm the environment. Some will act as fertilizers, encouraging algae growth in a body of water. Others will be consumed by environmental bacteria to decompose it, but the decomposition will consume oxygen in the water, killing fish. When the algae is increased and the oxygen decreased, the natural order of wildlife of fish and other creatures will breakdown.
All of that means that without a sewer system we’d end up living in a smelly, murky, hazardous place without readily accessible water and devastated wildlife – in short, not a great place.
The Sewer System
So, water is supplied to your home, where it moves into the fixtures for your use – now what? It goes down the drain and off on the second half of its life! If you live in a city like Tucson, your drains lead to sewer pipes (all pipes that carry waste are sewer pipes, as opposed to the water main that deliver fresh water) that flow from each building to a sewer main that runs underneath the nearby street.
The sewer main is a larger line of pipes, usually between 3 and 5 feet wide. They’ll have vertical pipes at regular intervals that go to manhole covers or into buildings that allow for direct access to the sewer mains and system for maintenance. In the average sewer system there are thousands of miles of pipes running beneath the surface.
All of these mains flow into larger and larger pipes, until they reach the treatment plant. Because most of the work of sewer system is performed by gravity (remember the power of drainage we talked about?), treatment plants are typically located in a lower area, by a river or stream. Most the time the land isn’t as cooperative as the city planner would like. In these cases there will be a pumping station built. These allow the wastewater to move up and over elevation.
Once it reaches the treatment plant, it’s time for the next step.
Since the wastewater is so full of dangerous bacteria and solids, it’s absolutely necessary to treat the water to prevent any contamination or sicknesses from spreading. To do that, the wastewater goes through several stages of treatment. These may vary by city and needs, but they usually go something like this.
The first treatment will remove larger particles such as sand and gravel from the wastewater. This is a filter system that uses either an actual filter, or a sand that can be cleared and reused. Either way, once the larger things have been removed from the water the preliminary treatment is complete.
The wastewater is moved into a space that holds it for a time. The solids are allowed time to sink, anything oily is allowed to float to the top. The settling and floating matter are then removed and the remaining liquid moves on the next step.
The liquid flows into the next phase where any biological matter (those bacteria and microorganisms we talked about earlier) are dissolved and removed. Once these have been cleared the water moves on to it’s next and final step.
The Final Treatment
The solid particles have been removed, the biological matter has been negated now it’s time to treat the water that remains. Chemicals like chlorine or UV light are used on the water to completely neutralize and “clear” the water.
There is a bit more work that goes into the waste pulled from the water to ensure it is safe to be disposed of but that’s basically the process. From your drains to the water treatment facility and beyond!
Once the wastewater hit’s the sewer main, it’s the city’s concern. But if there are problems in the line before it gets there it is likely going to be up to you to fix! When you have a clog, call the professionals at Economy Plumbing Services to help get you through it!