Water treatment, water wars, water recycling, and more on water

In my Ecology lab last week, we learned about sewage treatment systems in detail. There are three steps to filtering human waste. The first step is to extract all the inorganic materials like toilet paper, feminine products, diapers, etc. The next step is to breakdown the organic matter by adding liquid to the waste that fosters the productivity of bacteria. The purpose of this step is to add the right levels of bacteria that will successfully degrade the organic matter. They use the product of step two to create sludge for fertilizing the soil of farms. The third step includes the addition of chemicals such as chlorine, which kills all the bacteria and germs from the leftover waste water which is recycled into drinking water. As we treat the water to benefit humans, we still cannot completely purify the waste that is released into the ocean. Humans flush medication down the toilet, which adds hormones into the water. When the waste is released into the ocean or nearby bodies of water, wildlife is affected by the medicine that is dissolves into the water. For example, due to people flushing birth control, the hormones in the water affects the reproductively of frogs. Scientists are still trying to figure ways to treat water to remove all hormones and medical leftovers from flushed pills. However, an easier solution would be to open easy access for people to recycle their pills by sending them to a pharmacy which ships the old pills to the medical facility that reuses the medicine. Other ways include to merely educate the public about waste in the water and its affects to limit materials that are flushed.

This is a system in which our waste is recycled back into water we drink and also the fertilizer is used for the food we eat. Basically, we cannot escape our own waste. This connects to a large theme in sustainability in living to eliminate human waste. However, complete eradication of waste seems far-fetched, and a new solution of recycling seems more reasonable. After the discussion on sewage water treatment, our lab section moved onto talking about water availability in areas such as California. California strives to gain access to water from the Colorado River to accommodate for the growing population in need of water. This leads to water wars with states such as Arizona and Utah who also receive water from the river. These water wars become more intense as fresh water decreases around the world and the human population continues to grow. A solution to the difference in supply and demand includes utilizing technology that can filter the salt out of ocean water. Such systems exist, but they are incredibly expensive and inefficient. So if anyone is looking for a job in engineering, water systems is an opportunistic start.

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One comment

  1. rogerwleblanc · December 3, 2015

    Sonam, thanks so much for sharing this blog post. This is such an important issue to consider since so much water is used when flushing out toilets. The Sidwell Friends school in DC has very cool water treatment equipment on site where they take waste water and use it for grey water on site. You are very right that water is going to be a larger issue moving forward into the future due to climate change and drought conflicts. Thanks as well for your really insightful comments about human evolution in class on Tuesday. I am really glad you are in our LLC this year and able to contribute so much!

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