water purification historic north point water tower milwaukee wi

Water Purification: It’s a BIG Deal!

Have you ever stopped to consider exactly how water gets to your home and business?

Most of us have a vague understanding of pipes, water pumps and giant towers filled with water—but that’s just the beginning.Water intake plants are located at major water sources, such as rivers, lakes and dams. Water flows from its source into these plants and out through countless miles of pipes called aqueducts, which transport water almost everywhere.

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One of the most important aspects of this process is Water Purification. Here’s what you need to know…

Milwaukee’s Crypto Contamination

In the United States, water availability is such a modern convenience, we often take it for granted. That is, until water becomes unavailable. Everything suddenly changes when the water goes out in your building. We become immediately aware of how important this commodity is, and we feel crippled when our access to water changes.

Many of us remember Milwaukee’s Cryptosporidium contamination back in the 90s that infected tens of thousands of people. An estimated 403,000 people got very sick, and over 65 people died. This tragedy (the largest waterborne disease outbreak in U.S. history) resulted in some major changes to Milwaukee water purification monitoring systems. Today, Milwaukee has some of the cleanest and best tasting water in the country.

It’s not easy to get water purified to levels that are safe for human use and consumption.

water purification historic north point water tower milwaukee wi

The historic North Point Water Tower – Milwaukee, WI

These days, it’s very rare to find a natural, untainted source of water. Pollution is an unfortunate byproduct of human activity and industry. However, even a source of water untouched by human pollution still poses many dangers. Microorganisms are a natural threat, and even the clearest water may be home to these nasty little guys.

The Purification Process

Water coming from its source needs to undergo a complex treatment process before it’s ready for human use. This is where the water treatment plant enters the equation. Water treatment plants purify our drinking water. Here’s how…

  • Screening
    • Water taken from its source is filtered through a screen to remove large particulate contaminants such as plants, fish and other debris.
    • At Milwaukee’s water treatment plants, chlorine is added at the intakes to help control the growth of Quagga Mussels on and within the intakes themselves. This is also the very beginning of the disinfection process of Lake Michigan’s water.
  • Coagulation and Settling (Flocculation)
    • Once the water reaches the treatment plant, aluminum sulfate (alum) and chlorine are mixed into the water. The alum forms sticky globs which attract bacteria and other contaminants, while the chlorine kills these germs. This also improves the taste and odor of the water. The water then flows into sedimentation basins where these globs settle at the bottom and are then removed.
    • Milwaukee takes this process a step further! Before the alum is added, when water first flows into the treatment plants, ozone is bubbled into the water. Ozone is a highly reactive gas that destroys molecules it comes into contact with. It not only kills illness-causing microbes and removes other harmful compounds, but it also eliminates the icky taste and odor of lake water. After this process is complete, a quenching agent is added to remove any remaining ozone.
  • Filtration
    • The next step of the water purification process, filtration, removes any remaining particles left in the water. The water flows through special layers of sand and gravel, which act as an artificial recreation of natural groundwater filtration. This ensures that only clean water makes its way to your faucets.
    • Milwaukee’s water treatment plants again go above and beyond, taking this process further than required by established standards. Milwaukee’s water treatment plants filter our water through two feet of anthracite coal and one foot of finely crushed sand.
  • Disinfection
    • Disinfecting chemicals and chlorine are used to kill any remaining harmful compounds, and to allow the water to stay clean over a longer period of time.
    • Milwaukee goes the extra mile, also adding: Fluoride (keeps teeth strong), Phosphorous (helps to keep the aqueduct pipes from corroding—also helps keep lead and copper from leaching into the now clean water), and Ammonia (turns the chlorine into chloramine, a disinfectant that keeps water pure as it travels to your water taps).

Additional Precautions

As you can see, Milwaukee goes to extreme lengths to provide clean, safe and delicious drinking water. The water is tested along every point of the purification process, and, given today’s finely tuned technology and testing methods, can guarantee some of the best water in the nation.

There are a few additional precautions you can take to ensure you’re only ingesting safe drinking water:

    1. Don’t drink water from a garden hose. The latex treatments of the hose itself, combined with sunlight, can contaminate the water. Trust us. You don’t want to drink water out of a garden hose.


    1. Don’t drink hot water directly from the tap. Hot water corrodes pipes faster than cold water, which may add dissolved metallic elements, depending on the age of your pipes.


  1. Don’t flush your pharmaceuticals down the drain. Even though the testing methods used at water treatment plants are prepared to purify these types of water contaminants, you can help ensure our water stays safe by not adding to the problem. Prescription and over-the-counter drugs can pollute groundwater and cause major problems to the environment.

Water, Water Everywhere…and it’s all safe to drink!

It’s easy to see how important water treatment is to the continued survival of our society. People can live almost everywhere in our great nation because water flows to their homes and businesses. But that water is rendered nearly useless if it isn’t properly treated.

It takes very little effort on the part of the individual to help keep our drinking water safe, but regardless, always do your part! Be environmentally conscious and aware. Don’t pollute the water you flush down your drains. Don’t pollute local water sources such as ponds, rivers and lakes.

Water is life. Even though it’s so easily taken for granted today, it wasn’t always like this. A polluted water source could mean the end of an entire city or group of people. Milwaukee’s Crypto scare should serve as a water purification lesson for everyone. Take what you’ve learned here, apply it to your everyday life and business operations, and help keep our water safe for everyone!

Image By Kenneth C. Zirkel (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.