You dump something down the drain, and presto, it's gone! Well, not really, but it sure seems like a magical disappearing act.
Contaminated wastewater can pollute our lakes, making beaches unattractive, closing fisheries, and affecting tourism. Imagine your favourite lake activity: swimming, laying on the beach, fishing, or maybe paddling. Now imagine looking over and seeing the Kleenex or nail clippings you flushed down the toilet last night.
Out of sight, out of mind
We often don't think about where things end up once they are down the drain. So, where does the water go when you flush the toilet?
Eventually, it's going to end up in your glass of water. I know that sounds gross, but it's true. Because of the water cycle, the amount of water on earth stays constant and continuously cycles around the planet.
In the city, our drains connect to the sewer system and eventually connect to the sewage treatment plant. Everything has to go somewhere. And so, anything you throw down the drain that employees or bacteria don't physically remove ends up in our waters.
Sewage treatment plants are designed to manage organic products, not chemicals or other materials. Much of the small stuff and liquid contaminants are harder to filter out. Biodegradable things break down, but many things that aren't supposed to be flushed won't. Someone is responsible for removing those items manually.
If you're interested, you can learn more about Winnipeg's Sewage Treatment Process.
Our plumbing, sewers, and treatment plants aren't designed to remove everything. The big stuff sometimes doesn't even make it to the plant because it gets stuck in the pipes along the way. Grease and food can also build up over time. Clogged pipes can cause a pretty hefty bill from the plumber and major problems like corroded pipes or raw sewage overflow into your yard and your neighbours' homes.
The Effects of our Actions
We use water every day, and we affect its cleanness. It's easy to see garbage or debris floating in the water, water with soap suds, or even the sheen of oil on the water's surface. Still, many pollutants are not obvious to the naked eye.
Some pollutants are easier to remove from water than others. Sometimes the removal is challenging and expensive or even impossible. Unremoved pollutants will affect water quality for humans, plants, and animals.
Wastewater usually contains nutrients, which often exacerbates algal blooms in Lake Winnipeg. Though plants and fish need nutrients, there is already too much in the water. Excess nutrients overfeed algae, which deplete oxygen from the water when they decompose. Bacteria also decompose the organic wastes in our water. This process takes up a lot of oxygen and kills fish in our lakes, rivers, and streams.
How Pollutants Affect the Food Chain
Pollutants are ingested by small organisms, which are later consumed by small fish and shellfish. Fish, birds, and mammals higher on the food chain are then affected. Because of this bioaccumulation, they can be killed by the pollutants in their habitat.
Eventually, humans are affected by this process as we are at the top of our food chains. People can get sick by eating seafood that has been poisoned or by consuming contaminated water.
So, what should go down our sinks?
It's best if you only flush your body's waste and toilet paper. Water and anything typically mixed with water, such as toothpaste, soap, and shampoo, are the only thing that should go down our sink and shower drains.
Using Water Wisely
Preventing pollution in the first place is essential. We all have a role to play in ensuring toxins and excess nutrients do not enter our waters.
When we use water wisely, we ease the burden on sewage treatment. Using water wisely means not wasting it and minimizing the number of contaminants entering our drains. Lake friendly practices can help us make choices to conserve and protect our precious water resources.
To learn more actions that you can take to keep our waters clean, please visit lakefriendly.ca/act-now