Physical and chemical processes for making water suitable for human consumption and other purposes. Drinking water must be bacteriologically safe, free from toxic or harmful chemicals or substances, and comparatively free of turbidity, color, and taste-producing substances. Excessive hardness and high concentration of dissolved solids are also undesirable, particularly for boiler feed and industrial purposes. The treatment processes of greatest importance are sedimentation, coagulation, filtration, disinfection, softening, and aeration.
Sedimentation occurs naturally in reservoirs and is accomplished in treatment plants by basins or settling tanks. Plain sedimentation will not remove extremely fine or colloidal material within a reasonable time, and the process is used principally as a preliminary to other treatment methods.
Fine particles and colloidal material are combined into masses by coagulation. These masses, called floc, are large enough to settle in basins and to be caught on the surface of filters.
Suspended solids, colloidal material, bacteria, and other organisms are filtered out by passing the water through a bed of sand or pulverized coal, or through a matrix of fibrous material supported on a perforated core. Soluble materials such as salts and metals in ionic form are not removed by filtration. See also Filtration.
There are several methods of treatment of water to kill living organisms, particularly pathogenic bacteria; the application of chlorine or chlorine compounds is the most common. Less frequently used methods include the use of ultraviolet light, ozone, or silver ions. Boiling is the favored household emergency measure.
Municipal water softening is common where the natural water has a hardness in excess of 150 parts per million. Two methods are used: (1) The water is treated with lime and soda ash to precipitate the calcium and magnesium as carbonate and hydroxide, after which the water is filtered; (2) the water is passed through a porous cation exchanger which has the ability of substituting sodium ions in the exchange medium for calcium and magnesium in the water. For high-pressure steam boilers or some other industrial processes, almost complete deionization of water is needed, and treatment includes both cation and anion exchangers. See also Ion exchange.
Aeration is a process of exposing water to air by dividing the water into small drops, by forcing air through the water, or by a combination of both. Aeration is used to add oxygen to water and to remove carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide , and taste-producing gases or vapors. See also Water pollution; Water supply engineering.