Whenever you flush your toilet or wash something down the drain, you create wastewater, commonly known as sewage. You might ask the question: why not just dump this wastewater onto the ground or into the nearest ditch, lake, stream or river? There are three things about wastewater that make it an undesirable addition to the environment.
- Wastewater smells bad. When released into the environment things begin to smell bad very quickly.
- Wastewater contains harmful bacteria. Human waste naturally contains coliform bacteria, such as E. coli. Once infected with this bacteria the water becomes a health hazard.
- Wastewater contains suspended soilds and chemicals that can adversely affect the environment. As an example, wastewater contains nitrogen and phosphates that, being fertilizers, encourage the growth of algae. Excessive algae can block sunlight and foul the water. When algae dies it also consumes oxygen in the decomposition process that is needed by aquatic life. As oxygen levels in the water decrease so does the amount and diversity of aquatic life. Wastewater also contains organic material that consume oxygen when bacteria starts to break it down.
Do you want to live in an environment that smells bad, is full of deadly bacteria, and cannot support aquatic life? The answer is that no one really does. This is why we have wastewater collection systems, water quality treatment centers and laws that prohibit the release of raw sewage into the environment.