Knowing Where the Water Comes From Is Important

Understanding where the water comes from and who takes care of it are important things for plumbers to know

Of all the things we take for granted, potable water may be at the top of our list. While people in other countries walk miles to get a drink of swamp water, we have water anytime we want it in the convenience of taking three steps into the bathroom or kitchen and turning on the faucet.

Even plumbers often take water for granted, even though we work around it nearly every day.

Many plumbers and service technicians know what happens from the service line into the house and what happens to each fixture in a structure, but how does it even get into the water mains? How does that water get into the treatment facility? What happens once it gets there? Who decides what treatment the water gets? How do contaminants and pollutants get into the aquifers and rivers? And who are these people who take care of all this?


These answers start with the available water source for the area in which you live. If you live in a river valley with an abundance of rivers, your local municipality may draw straight from the river and pump it to its treatment facility. If your area happens to have a large underground aquifer, they might draw from the aquifer into the treatment plant. The term for the water at this stage of the process is referred to as “raw water.” This is the water as it is directly from the source.

This raw water can be first generally treated with a process called prechlorination. This involves the addition of chlorine to keep down the smell and the corrosion elements in the raw water until further treatment.

The water is then pumped directly into aeration towers to get it in direct contact with oxygen. Many times, plants will pump water to the top of the tank, where it trickles down through packing materials as air is blown from the bottom of the tank. This process is called aeration, and the method is called an air stripper. It is designed to aerate the water, forcing the removal of volatile organic chemicals, or VOCs.

At this stage, they consistently test the water for contaminants, chemicals, acidity, etc., to figure out how to treat the water for human consumption. One of the biggest concerns is bacteria.

As with any filtration system, you are trying to remove large sediment, kill harmful bacteria using chemicals, adjust for corrosion control, smell, color, taste and pH levels.

What can cause raw water to have all different levels of contaminants and pollutants? Again, it depends on the source. Think for a moment: If an aquifer has a large farm above it using pesticides and chemicals all day long, there’s a good chance the aquifer has traces of pesticides that need to be removed. Or it could be an area with a large volume of petroleum products that could soak in through the ground and cause significant issues.

Every plant must decipher what is in the water and how to get it removed. Through routine testing and water updates, they can adapt and overcome what comes their way, which requires a lot of knowledge and planning. There are a million different contaminants with a hundred different ways to treat them.


This process varies greatly depending on what exactly is contained in the raw water. There are aquifers in the U.S. where the raw water already exceeds water standards but still must be treated for consistency. The people in charge of water treatment have one of the most fundamentally essential jobs for sustaining life on earth.

I spoke with treatment expert Salvatore Astuto, a Grade 2B water operator on Long Island, New York, who says, “You need to have a commitment and dedication to the trade. People depend on you whether they realize it or not. Think about how many things we need water for: showers, coffee, drinking water, cooking, cleaning, indoor plumbing, agriculture, sprinkler systems, fire systems, etc. Millions of gallons of water are used per day here locally, and it’s our responsibility to put out safe and consistent water to support and sustain life in the communities we serve. We take it very seriously.”

Not only do they have to deal with treating and filtering pollutants and contaminants, but there are other factors such as source planning for heavy-use period’s such as springtime/summertime yard sprinkler systems.

Astuto says, “On an average day, you might run through 5 million gallons of water, but when the sprinkler systems start running in spring/summer, usage might jump up to 15 million gpd. Think about that for a moment: That’s 10 million gallons extra per day used for sprinklers alone. You have to plan accordingly and be prepared for that dump load.”

Every area of the country has its way of treating water, depending on the quality of its water source. There is not enough time to go through the hundreds of different treatment processes used. One thing is for certain, however, the treatment plant guys and girls are one of the true unsung heroes of modern civilizations. They should be commended for their detailed approach, professionalism and commitment to providing us sustainable life on earth.

If someone asks them what they do for a living, they can respond, “I sustain life on earth.” How cool would it be to say that and still be valid? For them, it is their reality.

Big thank you to all who work in that field and profession! 


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