In the broadest sense, the natural water purification process is billions of years old.
Nature provides the collection system by conveying precipitation over land via surface waters – and underground as groundwater moves through soil and other substances. This natural treatment system involves microorganisms that have evolved to eat waste material found in soil, wetlands or bodies of water like rivers and lakes. These natural processes are thorough and reliable, but operate slowly over time.
As cities and towns rose in the fertile valleys of the Rock, Kishwaukee, Pecatonica and Sugar Rivers, the human population grew dramatically. The expansion of industry and the introduction of new industrial and commercial processes have also placed a growing demand on the water cycle. Not only was more clean water needed, but more wastewater needed to be purified and reclaimed.
Scientists harnessed our growing understanding of the principles of microbiology to clean wastewater more quickly, efficiently and at a higher scale – to return clean, microbiologically balanced water to the rivers themselves.
But what does it mean when we say water has been “cleaned,” “purified,” or “reclaimed?” From a human perspective, the instinct to avoid waste products may be an evolutionary adaptation to protect us from potentially harmful pathogens – an instinct that preserves life and has served us well for thousands of years. As a society, we have learned that the degree to which we sanitize wastewater has broad impacts on the environment around us, with unbalanced effluent leading to negative environmental outcomes like unmitigated algal blooms in rivers, wetlands and even in the Gulf of Mexico that receives the outflow of the mighty Mississippi.
Today’s better-informed and more stringent environmental regulations, the ever-advancing technology that allows us to meet and exceed those requirements and the dedication and expertise that form the core of Four Rivers Sanitation Authority – all of these things serve to scale up and speed up the microbiological processes found in nature’s way. Let’s take a look, step by step, at our process …