What exactly happens to the water that we flush?
There are two types of sewage systems, private sewer systems and public sewer systems, which operate very differently from each other. A private sewer system (e.g., a septic system) has a leech field or a septic tank that separates the solids from the liquids. The liquids go out into the ground where they settle and become absorbed by the earth. (This is happening around 4 or 5 feet deep and not on the surface, so there are no concerns for safety.) From there, the moisture works its way into the water table through a natural process.
In a city/public sewer system, the sewage goes to a treatment plant where solids and paper products are removed from the water. The water is then treated through a natural process of settlement along with bacteria and air until it can be released back into the water table. Unlike with a private sewer system, the water is usually released into a stream or into a groundwater source and not put directly into the ground.
How does the natural water cycle relate to public or private water systems?
In the natural water cycle, water will evaporate and go into the hydrological system as rain clouds. The rain will fill streams, lakes, reservoirs, etc. Sometimes public systems will draw the water out of a reservoir, treat it, and distribute it out to areas served by the public water supply. (This surface water has to be treated heavily before it’s suitable to disperse.) In a private system, whenever it rains, water falls through the soil, traveling through rocks that sometimes have materials like iron and calcium in them. As the water makes its way down through the layers of the earth, it will be naturally filtered and purified. Even though it still has iron and calcium, it’s now safe to drink from a bacterial standpoint. Once it gets into the underground water table, that’s where it ends up in public or private well systems.
Why does this matter?
It’s definitely important that homeowners understand whether they have a public or private water system and how it fits into the natural water cycle. Water is an essential part of all of our lives, and everyone should be well-informed about this life-giving resource. There have been cases around the country where people take for granted that their water supply is healthy. (We’ve certainly seen the consequences of this.) If you aren’t already, become informed about your water quality. Don’t ever take it for granted, even if you have a private system. Your water should be tested once a year (or at a minimum every two to three years) to ensure that it’s safe to consume. Remember, this is a resource that you’re giving to loved ones like pets, family, and guests. Clean water is a very serious issue that everyone needs to keep informed about.
If you have any questions about your plumbing system or want to get your water tested, contact us online or give us a call at 540-483-9382.