Wastewater and Runoff
There are two kinds of “used water” that affect water quality. The water we use indoors is one. It flows from our sinks, bathtubs, showers, toilets and washing machines into underground pipes that make up our Sacramento sewer system. Once this indoor water enters the sewer system, we call it wastewater. Imagine what would happen if we dumped wastewater in the river!
The second kind of “used water” is runoff. Runoff from towns and cities like Sacramento is called urban runoff. Urban runoff carries pollutants washed from our houses, yards, cars, and driveways into street gutters and down the storm drains. From here another set of underground pipes takes it straight to our streams. Even small amounts of pollutants in urban runoff are enough to pollute the streams.
Urban runoff happens year round, even in dry weather. If people over water their lawns and gardens, the runoff spills into the storm drains. This sends fertilizers and pesticides into our streams. When people wash their cars, the dirty, soapy water ends up there too. Some people even use the storm drains to illegally dump paint, oil, and antifreeze. They do not know or do not care how their actions pollute our streams and impact our water quality.
Keeping Our Water Clean
Less than 100 years ago, people used streams as their sewer system. Wherever there were people, streams were polluted by wastewater. The wastewater smelled bad and killed almost all the plants and animals living in the streams. The streams carried diseases in the wastewater from one community to those downstream of it. People got sick and died just from drinking the water.
Today the quality of the water in our streams is much better than it was just 50 years ago. Almost all communities now treat their wastewater to remove pollutants before it is sent back to our streams. The Sacramento Wastewater Treatment Plant cleans our wastewater. The cleaned water is put back into the Sacramento River so people downstream of us can use it safely.
Although we have succeeded in cleaning up most wastewater, we still need to clean up our urban runoff. Because there is so much runoff, we cannot send it to a treatment plant. The best way to protect streams from polluted runoff is to keep pollutants from getting into runoff in the first place. You and your family can help to keep runoff clean by doing some simple things to reduce your contribution to pollution.
When you reduce your pollution contribution, you are helping thousands of aquatic species that depend on clean water for life in our streams, lakes and wetlands.