Residential water effluent: How is it removed and treated?

July 17, 2016

Do you take your drinking water for granted? We rely on clean water to stay healthy, but water doesn't usually start out clean; there are many pollutants that must be removed before it comes through your taps. Learn more about how the water you use is treated.

Residential water effluent: How is it removed and treated?

We rely on clean residential water to stay healthy. We may take this resource for granted, but to enjoy clean water, nasty pollutants must first be removed to protect the environment as well as public health. It’s important to understand how water is treated, how pollutants are removed, and what you can do in your own household to keep your neighbourhood water supply clean.

What is effluent?

Humans aren’t the only ones who need a clean water supply. Water pollution has a serious impact on all living creatures, and we are equally affected by effluent – otherwise known as wastewater. But what exactly is wastewater?

  • Wastewater is simply water that has been used. It contains various pollutants, depending on what it was used for.
  • Residential sources of wastewater include bathtubs, sinks, toilets and laundry machines.
  • Water discharged into drains or sewers, received by water treatment plants or discharged directly into the environment are all considered wastewater.


In many parts of the world, discharging untreated, or inadequately treated wastewater into the environment has spread disease.

How is effluent in the water removed?

We cannot allow wastewater to be disposed of in a manner dangerous to our health and the natural environment. Basic wastewater facilities exist to reduce organic and suspended soils to minimize pollution to the environment.

How is this done?

  • Residual substances are removed or treated by treatment processes and disposed of in a safe way.
  • This purified water is then discharged to surface water or ground water.
  • Residuals (sludge, for example) can sometimes be re-used by safely composting on land applications. It is sometimes incinerated.

Good to know!

In the 1980s, when health concerns over water toxins peaked, water quality standards were developed and water treatment objectives now have to be met.

Stages of water treatment

Wastewater can be treated in a variety of ways before being released into the environment. Water treatment levels are split into three categories:

Primary water treatment:

  • Removes insoluble matter only.
  • Wastewater entering the primary settling tank is slowed down to allow the heavier solids to settle to the bottom.

Secondary water treatment:

  • Removes biological impurities from water that is treated at the primary level.
  • The most conventional water treatment process in Canada.

Advanced or tertiary water treatment:

  • Removes nutrients and chemical contaminants remaining after secondary treatment.

Tips for keeping your water clean

There are everyday things you can do to keep your residential water clean. Here are just a few ways you can reduce your carbon footprint:

Don’t use your toilet as a garbage can

  • Keep non-degradable items, like sanitary napkins and tampon applicators, out of the toilet. They can wreak havoc in the sewage system.
  • Rather than flushing them, rid yourself of old medications at your local pharmacy – many have take-back programs that can safely dispose of them.

Be careful what you put down your sink

  • Refrain from pouring paint, chemical cleaners and used oil down the drain.
  • Toxic ingredients, like ammonia, should not be disposed of in your residential water supply.

Clean up after your pet

  • You won’t just be doing your neighbours a favour by picking up your pet’s waste. Disposing of bacteria-filled feces prevents it from running into sewage systems.
  • Throw any pet waste into a bag and dump it in the trash.

Be a considerate vehicle owner

  • Keep your vehicle in tip-top shape, as it can reduce the likelihood of anti-freeze, coolant and other pollutants from leaking into the sewage system.
  • Instead of washing the car in your driveway, use a local car wash. By hosing your car down yourself, you risk rinsing unwanted pollutants down your driveway and right into your residential sewage system.

Good to know!

If you’re not hooked up to your municipal sewer system, invest in a septic tank. It will safely collect all the refuse that goes down the drains of your home or business.

Clean water is a privilege we shouldn’t take for granted. Keeping residential water clean should be everyone’s priority. Learning the basics of water treatment and discovering some tips on how to keep your water clean can help reduce your environmental impact and make you a better, healthier, neighbour.

The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
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