A Closer Look: Treating Wastewater

Let's take a closer look at treating wastewater. Like the picture on our TV or our microwave oven, we grasp how these things help us, even if we don’t quite understand the technology. Our clean, drinkable tap water is much the same way. We rinse it, we flush it, we wash with it. Then techno-magic happens and it returns to the community water supply as clean water.

Most of us are cognizant of the fact that our toilets, faucets, washing machines and tubs all drain away into the same underground wastewater pipe system generically referred to as the sewer, and that the sewage is pumped to a local wastewater treatment plant. We know this because we pay a bill for this service. On the rare occasions we give it any further thought, we understand that it’s necessary because that water has passed through toilets, soapy bodies, and laundry. Even rainwater, which appears to be clean (but isn’t) is directed toward the sewer to begin the same purification process.

...water has passed through toilets, soapy bodies, and laundry.

So what exactly happens? We thought we’d take this space to “break down” the process (ha, ha, ha). Somewhere in there we’ll mention POSM Software’s role, because we’re not doing this JUST to educate you. (How boring would THAT be?)

Aerial Footage of Jackson Pike Waste Water Treatment Plant Columbus, OH

The first step, of course, is that the water takes the long trip through the wastewater pipes to the closest wastewater recycling plant. Depending on the starting point, this dirty, sludge-textured, disease-carrying water may travel several miles.

Once the wastewater safely and uneventfully returns to the treatment plant:

  1. Odor control: The water that enters the wastewater plant is first treated with a chemical process to remove the stink from the water.
  2. Screening: Next, large objects, such as rocks, cotton balls, plastics, wood chunks, and other things that should not be there, are screened out. These items ultimately get sent to our landfills.
  3. Primary treatment: The macro-solid waste gets separated from the water. Wastewater is poured into big tanks, allowing the sludge to settle to the top surface of the water, which is removed by scrappers, pushed to the center of the tank, and finally pumped out of the tank for further treatment. The remaining water, now free of solids, is pumped to the next station….
  4. Secondary treatment: Air is pumped into huge aeration tanks which mix the wastewater with “seed sludge” (small amounts of sludge). This fuels the growth of bacteria that uses oxygen and other small microorganisms to consume the remaining organic matter in the water. Over a period of 3-6 hours, these large particles settle to the bottom of the tanks.
  5. Bio-solids conversion: The solid matter is directed to “digesters.” The solid waste is heated and treated for a month. The process created nutrient-rich soil products for farming and gardening.
  6. Methane energy: Meanwhile, the methane gas helps power the recycling plant (how neat is that?)
  7. Tertiary treatment: A final chemical rinse to create nearly-drinkable water.
  8. Disinfection of the water: for at least 20 minutes, using a mixture of chlorine and sodium hypochlorite. From here, the cleansed water is piped into the pre-treated drinkable water supply to go through the drinking water cleansing process.

That’s a lot of science and engineering for something most of us barely even think about.

It’s vitally important that the wastewater pipes are well maintained and have no significant cracks or damage that might result in diseased wastewater “bleeding out” into the soil. Even a “slow leak” could result in an ecological disaster for people, plants, and animal life. POSM Software (in partnership with our city and independent contractors) plays a key role in this maintenance, and we take that role very seriously.

POSM Software is used by water and wastewater pipeline companies all across the nation (and a few international contractors) to operate their CCTV robotic pipeline “crawlers” to help inspectors search for the tiniest defects and cracks in pipeline integrity. The software is invaluable during new pipeline construction and in the maintenance and repair of pipeline systems several decades old.

We’d like to take this moment to commend the continued dedication of those infrastructure workers who continue to serve their communities during this difficult time. It’s their commitment to accuracy and upkeep that allow most people to take clean, drinkable water for granted, even in a time like this.

If you'd like to learn more about POSM Software and the role we play in this important process, or you're a contractor looking for a more user-friendly solution to pipe inspection, click this link to connect to our tech support. (Hint to pipeline companies: We offer a 60-day FREE trial of our software. You should probably ask about that).

Jackson Pike Waste Water Treatment Plant Columbus, OH
Jackson Pike Waste Water Treatment Plant Columbus, OH

NOTE: This article attempts to summarize several concepts and explanations from the written content of several reputable wastewater treatment websites. We also offer POSM’s personal view on the importance of wastewater treatment. We acknowledge that, due to the nature of the topic, some concepts, such as the general steps outlined in the process, are broken down in a similar manner across multiple available sources.