In this video adapted from ATETV, tour a water desalination plant, where brackish water (a mixture of freshwater and saltwater) gets turned into pure freshwater. Plant worker Michael Poitras, who started working at the plant as a community college intern, describes the filtration process that progressively removes salt and other impurities from the water. He also explains the coursework needed to prepare for a job in a water treatment plant, and how the desalination process can be used in other parts of the world, especially in highly populated areas where freshwater drinking supplies are depleting.
This media asset was adapted from ATETV.
Nature has the capacity to cope with small amounts of pollution. But near highly populated cities, urban development produces large amounts of pollution, including raw sewage and chemical waste. In these places, nature would be overstressed if the billions of gallons daily of used water (also known as wastewater) were not cleansed in treatment plants before being discharged into the environment.
Water treatment plant operators run the equipment and control the processes that treat water so that it can be safely returned to streams, rivers, lakes, or the ocean. There are several different kinds of treatment plants. Municipal sewage treatment plants process household and other public wastewater. Storm sewer plants treat storm water produced from heavy rains or melting snow. In-house factory systems treat water used in paper manufacturing, food processing, and other industries before discharging it into municipal sewers. And of course there are water purification plants, which generate drinking water from lakes, reservoirs, and even saltwater sources.
Most people in the United States have access to clean drinking water, but more than a billion people in developing countries do not. As the world’s population continues to grow, shortages of freshwater will occur more often and in more places. While 75 percent of the earth’s surface is covered by water, humans cannot drink this saline water. But, as the video explains, saline water can be made into freshwater. This process—called desalination—is being used more and more around the world where freshwater is needed but saltwater sources are more abundant.
Water and wastewater treatment plant personnel operate and maintain the pumps and motors that move water and wastewater through filtration systems. They monitor meters and gauges to make sure that plant equipment is functioning correctly, take samples and run tests to determine the quality of the water before and after it is treated, and may adjust the amount of chemicals, such as fluorine, being added to the water. Because both tap water and wastewater are highly regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, plant operators must be familiar with regulations as they’re enacted and ensure that all standards are met.
While a high school diploma may be the basic educational requirement for working in a water treatment plant, employers prefer to hire job applicants who have completed certificate or associate’s degree programs in water quality and wastewater treatment technology. These programs provide the applicant with a strong mathematics and science background and minimize the training needed at the plant.
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