Old Sewer Science 2.0
Central San’s treatment plant process can be best understood as the science of understanding how matter moves through a system. Our treatment plant system provides an excellent, real world model of how a diversity of “waste” matter from each and every one of us contributes to the system and moves through it. It also shows demonstrates the principles of the Conservation of Matter:
Matter can neither be created nor destroyed, it simply moves through systems
Matter, however, can be transformed from one form into another
Our designs rely heavily on both principles of the conservation of matter. We have tools that separate existing matter from water and we have biological treatment that transforms matter into other organic forms.
Our process is engineered to serve the needs of humans living in
close quarters with one another. However, our designs attempt to
mimic the natural processes of waste removal within ecosystems.
Wetlands, nature’s treatment plants, offer our original
inspirations for how we treat large volumes of waste from rivers
and streams to clean our water before releasing it into a larger
body of water, in our case San Francisco BAY. Wetlands benefit
from the volumes of organic matter that create rich and dynamic
ecosystems. Our processes cannot mirror the habitat benefits of a
wetland. However, our human engineering does allow us to mimic
the ecosystem services of a wetland at greatly increased
An exploration into our system helps us understand how matter behaves and how systems function. Wastewater in particular can help shine a spotlight on particular types of matter (pollutants) that we want to draw our attention to.
Our wastes go down the drain.
Guiding Question: What happens to our wastes after they go down the drain?
Enduring Understandings: At the end of the series of lessons, students will understand:
- Matter does not disappear, it simply moves through a system. Matter, however, can be transformed from one form into another
- Wastewater treatment centers operate under this principle. Treatment centers take many of their designs to separate waste from water from what works in nature.
- Our sewer and treatment system (Central San) is designed and engineered to treat our wastes effectively and efficiently. This complex system transports, cleans, and tests all of our wastewater and then sends it out to the Bay.
- In order for our system to operate as efficiently as possible, we need everyone’s help to prevent pollutants from going down the drain in the first place.