Around the Water Cooler: Wastewater Treatment (nothing to scream about…)

By Lahne Mattas-Curry

I came across this little gem the other day while working to promote EPA’s water science research.  A sci-fi novel set in a wastewater treatment plant? Brilliant. And the tagline: Where no one cares when you scream? Clearly author Dodge Winston has a lot to think about while at work as a wastewater plant operator in the San Francisco Bay area. I’ll bet, though, that most of us haven’t given the wastewater treatment plant in our communities much thought, yet wastewater treatment is a key contributor to keeping us healthy and the environment clean.

Do you know what happens to the wastewater when you flush the toilet or run the disposal, or even finish a load of laundry? The wastewater collection system consists of a network of pipes, pumps, and tunnels that connect our household plumbing to sewer lines and pump stations.  Eventually the wastewater is sent to the treatment plant for cleaning and distribution.

There are approximately 800,000 miles of public sewer lines in the United States, most installed after World War II. There are also close to 20,000 wastewater treatment pipe systems and 15,000 wastewater treatment facilities in the United States, most of them aging and certainly many that can’t handle a large storm without sending overflows of untreated wastewater into our waterways.

With this in mind, EPA engineers and scientists are developing tools, rehabilitation technologies and methods to increase long-term effectiveness of wastewater treatment systems. They also help municipalities and wastewater treatment plant staff keep our water clean, contributing to healthier people and a cleaner environment. EPA researchers are working  to keep our water sources free from chemical, biological, and radiological contaminants, too.

Here are a few of the tools and models our researchers have developed:

While these technologies and tools are targeted to wastewater treatment plant operators, there are things you can do at home to help keep our water clean and reduce the cost of cleaning our water at the wastewater treatment plant. Learn more about what you can do in your community here.

And for fun, check out this innovative tool the city of Oberlin, Ohio is using. You can see real-time use of electricity and water.

As an aside, this tool was developed by Lucid Design Group, which was founded by members of Oberlin College’s P3 team that organized a two-week “Dorm Energy Competition” where dorm residents competed to reduce their energy and water use and used the dashboards to monitor success back in 2005. Today, Lucid has customers around the country, including towns, building owners, corporations – and even Google – who want to monitor and reduce energy and water consumption.

About the Author: Lahne Mattas-Curry is a frequent contributor to Around the Water Cooler, and she also helps promote the great work of EPA researchers in the Safe and Sustainable Water Resources program. And at lunch today she will drink about a gallon of clean, treated tap water.

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