Sewers and Drains explained

10 October 2013

What is the difference between a sewer and a drain? Why are they separate? Will this change? For something that is present in every modern household, there is an amazing lack of knowledge concerning sewers and drains. Below, we will attempt to answer some questions and explore what changes the future will likely bring to these basic plumbing elements.

What is a Drain?

A drain is a pipe that allows water used in a home to exit the house. This exit could take the water to a tank for further use in off grid applications or to a treatment facility in grid connected homes. Once treated, the water is returned to the municipal water supply.

What is a Sewer?

A sewer is a specific type of drain. Basically, sewer service is the plumbing system put in place to handle water that passes through toilets. In cities, the sewer leads to treatment facilities designed to deal with the specific issues human waste creates. In more rural settings, sewage is more often piped into an area where natural processes can biodegrade the actual sewage and cycle the water back into the atmosphere or the ground.

Why are they handled differently?

The short answer is to avoid offending the sensibility of people. Tell the average person that he or she is drinking water that someone once bathed in that has been processed to be clean and fresh and they’ll usually reply that it is a wise idea. Tell the same person that they are drinking water that someone once defecated in and they’re more likely to make gagging sounds and attack you for causing them to drink something so foul. The fact is, both gray water (the water from sinks and tubs) and black water (water containing sewage) can be recycled into clean drinking water.

What will happen in the future?

Around the globe, the growing population and increasing pressure we are placing on the water supply is resulting in water shortages. The most certain and soon result of this pressure will be a move to change the perception people have of recycled black water. Many heavily populated areas have already been forced to tackle this public perception problem. Since recycling water that once contained sewage is far less costly than recovering water from the ocean through desalination, it makes sense that is the better option. It is very likely that even less heavily populated will see more frequent public awareness campaigns surrounding sewer treatment to eliminate the knee-jerk reaction so many have to the concept.

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