SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Water is such an essential part of our lives. And while we have been talking about ways to conserve and create water-wise landscapes, what about the water we use for everyday living?

Flush toilets can be dated back to the late 1500’s, with archaeologists finding evidence of pipe-fitted toilets as far back as 2,400 years ago. Today, indoor plumbing tends to get taken for granted for the ease of its use – but have you ever wondered what happens to the contents of your toilet once you push the handle to flush it?

The folks at the Central Valley Water Reclamation Facility are here to answer that question. CVWRF is a state-of-the-art facility right in the heart of the Salt Lake Valley that takes residential wastewater and does some pretty amazing things with it.

“It’s not really well known or advertised, and people don’t see it,” said Phil Hack, General Manager for CVWRF. “All the pipes are buried, and we are down here in a fairly contained location, so there’s not a lot of people actually seeing what’s happening on the site.”

While the facility isn’t the largest in the United States, it is the largest in Utah and treats over 50 million gallons of wastewater a day with the ability to treat up to 75 million gallons.

The facility is a little over 30 years old and is in the middle of a $425 million upgrade and rebuild. Facilities are being reconstructed to deal with phosphorus removal in compliance with federal standards, and equipment is being repaired and upgraded. Like most water-related infrastructure, the CVWRF takes a long-term look at needs, and the project is designed to serve water reclamation needs for the next 60 to 100 years.

The facility serves seven water districts through the central part of the valley. Water is piped in underground from those districts, and the magic begins, so to speak.

Water comes into the facility and gets separated. Solids are “thickened” and filtered out in giant egg-shaped towers called digesters. The digesters then take gases from the waste and turn them into energy that then powers the facility. Hack says they produce about 80% of their own energy.

Once solids, including rags, disposable wipes, sticks, rocks, plastic material, and any other debris that could cause equipment to malfunction are removed, the water then goes through another process that allows the organic solids to pass into the treatment part of the plan. Eventually, those solids are blended and sent through a process that thickens them so they can be more easily separated from the water. Those solids are the ones that turn into things like fertilizer and compost after spending between 15 and 20 days in the digesters. That is also when the gases needed to create the facility’s energy are created.

Original clarifiers at the Central Valley Water Reclamation Facility.

The water moves on to processes that remove things like fats and oils that have co-mingled with the water. Then the water has a party with some air and bacteria that breaks down any more of the organic matter remaining and continues then moves on through several clarifiers that just keep working that magic.

Individual flushes spend approximately 12 hours running through the whole system before heading out to Millcreek and the Jordan River, then finally making their way into Farmington Bay and the Great Salt Lake, completing the cycle.

The process is a lot more complicated and the CVWRF is much more qualified to explain the process. The facility actually opens its doors to the public for educational tours. The public can call the facility and visit almost all of the locations their wastewater travels through once they flush their toilets and realize there is a reason to be thankful for the people who are “Number 1 in the Number 2 business,” according to Heck.