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Water we use in our homes eventually finds its way back into the water cycle. Do individuals have a responsibility to protect water quality for others? Explore More about household water use and ways you can make a difference.

How much water do you use? According to the EPA, the average American uses about 50 gallons of water in the household each day. Whether you know it or not, with each water-related activity you do in and around your home, you create wastewater. You have the potential to harm the water quality for someone "downstream." Think about this: your drinking water was once somebody else’s wastewater. And your wastewater eventually becomes somebody else’s drinking water.

Indoor Municipal Wastewater
Household wastewater isn’t just what you flush down the toilet. It’s what goes down after you take a bath, brush your teeth, do the laundry or do the dishes. It’s really anything that goes down a drain in your house. Where does municipal wastewater go? To a wastewater reclamation facility, where what goes in must come out. Toothpaste, detergents, soaps, shampoos, sewage, they’re all "pollutants" that get removed before the water is returned to the water cycle. Once water is treated and is safe to return to the water cycle, it moves downstream for another community to use.

Making informed water choices inside your home makes water treatment cheaper and easier for the wastewater reclamation facilities. Choose to properly dispose of paint or toxic chemicals instead of dumping them down the drain. Use environmentally friendly detergents and household cleaners instead of chemically based cleaners.

What do you think?
Can using less water improve water quality? How?

Indoor Rural Wastewater
Rural citizens often obtain their water from private wells instead of a municipal water supply. Since they are "off the system," their wastewater does not go on to a treatment center. Instead, it goes into a septic system. The wastewater is flushed into an underground tank made of concrete, cinder blocks, or metal. The solid wastes settle to the bottom while the floatable materials rise. The somewhat cleaner liquid goes through an outlet into underground rock-filled trenches. The wastewater slowly filters into the soil where nature takes over. All the waste that remains in the septic tank decomposes anaerobically. Eventually, even these materials must be removed and disposed.

What do you think?
Most areas of the country have strict regulations on how close a septic system can be placed to a water source. Can you explain why?

Household Watercycle—Outside
You probably use water outside your house as well as inside. What you do with water outside your house can have a much greater affect on water quality because of one major difference. The water you use in your house gets treated. The water you use outside probably doesn’t. The water you use outside to rinse your sidewalks, water your lawn and wash the car doesn’t get sent to the wastewater treatment plant or septic tank. Instead, the water takes one of three paths:

  1. It can soak into the ground. From here it can potentially infiltrate groundwater sources, possibly taking with it any pollutants it contains.
  2. It can drain down sewers provided for stormwater runoff. These sewers usually shoot water directly into rivers, streams, and lakes.
  3. It can become surface runoff, flowing directly back to rivers, streams, and lakes, potentially picking up a wide variety of non-point-source pollutants on the way.

The decisions you make about water use outside your house probably have an even greater affect on water quality than the decisions you make inside.

Household Management Practices
Picture this: It’s been a long, cold winter. The family car has a wicked coat of dirt, grime, and street salts. On the first day of spring, you are asked to give it a good wash. You rinse the car, then throw the hose down on the lawn while you soap it up. You really lather it up, rinsing and repeating according to directions. When you’re done, your car is sparkling like new. What’s wrong with this picture? All the soap, dirt, salt, and muck that you washed off ran right down a storm sewer and back into surface water. Remember, water you use outside isn’t captured by the wastewater treatment cycle. What are your options?

  • Use a bucket instead of a hose to reduce the amount of water that you use, thereby reducing run off.
  • Use cleaners that are easy on the environment.
  • Clean the car at a carwash, a business that must drain all its wastewater to be treated by the wastewater treatment facility.




Explore More: Water Quality
Copyright 2004, Iowa Public Television
The Explore More project is supported by funds from the
Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust
and the USDE Star Schools Program.








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PBS NewsHour Online Links

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