Where the (Waste) Water Goes

So where exactly does the water go when you flush your toilet? The short answer, if you live around here, is the San Francisco Bay. But what about the steps in between -- where are those plants that clean and disinfect that water first? And which of the treatment plants have had problems with unintentional spills of untreated water into the Bay? To answer those questions, we created the first-ever online map of Bay Area publicly-owned sewage treatment plants and spills.

Our timing couldn't have been better; just this month, the State Water Resource Control Board released its own set of interactive spills maps. These maps, which are updated every 24 hours, show the locations and details of any wastewater spills that come from the sewer lines that lead to the plants. The State's map does not include any spills from wastewater (sewage) treatment plants themselves, however -- luckily that's exactly what we've been working on!

(View this map-- Wastewater Woes: Treatments & Spills-- in a larger size)

The information was not very easy to come by. While spills from treatment plants sometimes get a lot of press, often they slip by mostly unnoticed. And there's no central database that collects all the information about these spills in one place. We combed through news reports, records provided by the State and Regional Water Resources Control Board, and the state Office of Emergency Services incident reports to piece together information about recent spills.

While our map won't get updated every 24 hours, the staff at the watchdog group Baykeeper intend to keep it current with new info. So go ahead, poke around. Find the plant nearest you, see where spills have been happening. And next time you watch water run down the drain, you'll know exactly where it's going.



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