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Following the sewage

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What happens to water when we’re done with it

By Kirsten Peters

Out of sight, out of mind. (At my age, alas, I no longer live within the confines of that dictum. I can forget, misplace and overlook things that are smack in front of my face. But I digress.)
What many folks can’t see they can indeed overlook. And all too many Americans have never seen what happens to the water that flows down the kitchen sink and out of the house.
But with each load of laundry or flush of the toilet, we create wastewater that’s mingled together and heads toward treatment plants.
The average American makes 100 gallons of wastewater per day.
While it’s natural to think that sewage water is icky, it’s also a fact that sewage is natural – and it’s even interesting from a biological point of view.
I’ve toured a couple of sewage treatment plants, and I’ve taken college students through one of them.
As a geologist, I have long noted that such facilities are typically built on floodplains. That’s partly so sewage can flow by the force of gravity down to them from surrounding houses and schools, and partly because their large pools for processing water require flat areas.
Of course, when a river floods the sewage treatment plant can be inundated, one of the greatest disadvantages to putting them in floodplains.


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