NORTHERN UTAH, Utah (ABC4) – As the drought continues to take its toll on the state, Utahns have adapted to watering their lawns just enough to help them survive during the hottest months of the year.
State officials have also asked Utahns to reduce use of culinary water, or the water used inside the home, when possible. The question then remains: What happens to the water that gets flushed down the toilet, or down the drain?
In Layton, like other cities across the Beehive State, lawns are turning yellow with water in short supply. One of those lawns belongs to Sharon Wiggins and her husband.
“It’s always just been there, and we have secondary water as well which was never metered,” Sharon Wiggins told ABC4. “And so, we could just water as much as we wanted because having a green lawn was always like a badge of honor.”
Wiggins has lived in Utah her entire life and is getting creative to keep things blooming even during the drought. “The pitcher idea is awesome, where you catch the water in the pitcher and then use it when it’s full,” she stated.
What is the pitcher idea? While waiting for the tap to get warm, or cool off, before doing the dishes, shaving, taking a bath or shower, one places a pitcher under the running water that would normally be allowed to run down the drain. That water is then saved for later use. Wiggins said there are many ways to save water that would normally be left to drain away.
“Sometimes I’ll do a bowl instead of a pitcher to catch the water as we’re doing dishes, making sure that I don’t get any of the food in there,” Wiggins explained.
This salvaged water is then used on Wiggins’ potted plants. With outdoor water use being limited to twice a week (most weeks), this helps keep her delicate flowers alive even when her lawn is slowly yellowing.
What happens to the water that still makes it down the drain?
“We always say if you flush, we have water,” Madeline Tennant told ABC4 through a laugh. Tennant is the manager of the Logan Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility. The treatment plant serves seven cities in Cache County and is capable of processing 18 million gallons of water daily. The average bathtub holds 35 to 50 gallons, and if those 18 million gallons were used to fill tubs that held 50 gallons of water, the plant could fill 360,000 bathtubs.
While only the water from seven cities makes it the Logan facility, the process is repeated at many similar plants across the state.
“In these basins,” Tennant explained while standing on enormous concrete basins, “We grow bacteria and those bacteria, conveniently for us, they like to eat human waste.”
That is just one step in a very scientific process to treat wastewater. Tennant explained that the many different steps ensure that the used water is safe enough to push it back out into the environment.
At this plant, from April to October, the treated water is given to farmers. “It can’t be used on a crop for human consumption, so they can only use it on crops for animals,” Tennant added. Other plants may take additional steps so that their water can be used on grass fields, like golf courses. Tennant explained that the water they treat is pushed out into man-made wetlands, then into Cutler reservoir and eventually it makes its way to the Great Salt Lake.
While these steps ensure that wastewater doesn’t actually go to waste, Tennant said it’s important that everyone does their part to conserve, especially in how water is used outdoors. A statement Wiggins agreed with. Wiggins laughed, “That’s why having a yellow lawn’s okay because everyone else has a yellow lawn and it would be embarrassing to have a yellow lawn at this point.”