We use water in many ways including bathing, playing, washing, and watering. Have you ever wondered what happens to the water we use?

In most urbanized areas, water we have used in our daily routine runs through an interconnected system of wastewater sewer pipes or "sanitary sewers" to a wastewater treatment plant. The wastewater enters the wastewater treatment plant where it will be cleaned and recycled then released back to the environment.

In rural areas, most homes and many businesses are not connected to a wastewater treatment plant. Instead, they have their own, on-site, wastewater treatment system on their property called a septic system. Septic systems have two parts: a soil leach field to clean and recycle liquids and a septic tank to temporarily hold decomposing solids. Septic systems require regular maintenance such as pumping out the waste in the tank to prevent leakage and overflow contamination of the ground and surface water sources.

Clearing the Wastewater Confusion

While both urban and rural wastewater treatment systems are able clean and recycle the water we use, they do have limitations. The biggest limitation is the ability for these systems to remove chemicals from over -the-counter or prescribed medications also called pharmaceuticals. These items are best disposed of by a community drug take-back programs. Also, to find out other ways to dispose of pharmaceuticals, contact your city or county government's household trash and recycling service, your local police/sheriff department or your doctor's office.

Another misconception about wastewater is the confusion with storm water and storm drains. Storm water systems are not connected to any wastewater treatment system. Storm water systems are meant to remove rain water and snow melt only and the pipes in the storm water system run directly to local streams, rivers and lakes.

So it is important to limit what the storm water picks up on its way to the storm drain and storm sewer. Some important steps you can take are to control soil erosion by keeping bare soil in place and covered with plants, pick up litter and limit the amount of harsh chemicals that can be washed away from driveways and lawns. Remember, only rain down the storm drain.

Be a Conservation Crusader today and be mindful of the difference between waste water systems and storm water systems and use them as they were intended as you go through your daily routine. For more information, contact your local county soil and water conservation district.