Chapter Three


The technologies applied in the treatment of water are expanding each year. We cannot discuss every method here. Libraries are well stocked with technically detailed books. This chapter will serve to provide you with a literary competence of the major or more common technologies in use today. Some of these will be expanded on in later chapters as they apply to the "point of use" treatment industry. We will begin by walking you through one of the most commonly misunderstood treatment systems in place today; a typical municipal treatment and distribution system.


This section is meant to describe the operation of older conventional treatment systems. These systems are designed to cope with the contaminants described in the previous chapter with the exception of excessive mineral levels and chemical contaminants.

New systems are now in place in selected major cities due to the dramatic levels of chemical pollutants present in their source water supplies but these systems are still rare. These are generally describes as "specialized" systems and will only be touched on briefly.

The term "raw public water supply" refers to waters that are used as the intake source for public and industrial use. These can be either surface or ground water. The majority of municipal users obtain their water from a piped water distribution system, most of which include some form of treatment between the raw water supply and the end user.

Guidelines have been developed that recommend limits for physical, chemical, radiological and microbiological characteristics of drinking water. These are not law in Canada. Drinking water supplies that contain substances in concentrations greater than those limits are capable of producing deleterious health effects or are aesthetically objectionable.


Conventional water treatment is considered to be processes that are commonly used to condition various surface and ground water supplies. By referring to the diagram we will walk through the process.

Water is drawn from a raw supply into the first stage. The water is reduced in depth and flocculation is introduced. This will cause particles and bacteria to bind together thus becoming heavy enough to settle. These tanks are generally exposed to sun light to take advantage of Ultraviolet rays for the control of bacteria and microbes. As the water will now enter some form of closed distribution, the first stages of chlorination must begin. This ensures that bacteria does not gain a foothold in the closed piping system.

In the next stage the water passes through sand filtration beds of various densities. These beds will further reduce the levels of silt, bacteria, turbidity and colour as the physical contaminants are trapped in the bed. These beds are continuously cleaned or replaced to maintain the required flow rate.

Disinfection is enhanced by the addition of Ammonia, which in combination with chlorine, produces a stronger killing agent that will boil off rapidly thereby reducing the accumulation factor.

A mass reservoir is shown, but not all systems use them. It is dependent on the water source or the demand cycle of the community. As the water is pumped to and through the community, chlorination is maintained by introducing the chemical at strategically placed pumping/injection stations.

In newer systems [but still of conventional design], the bacteria levels are electronically monitored and the chlorination level is constantly being adjusted. In older systems it is mechanically set depending on the time of the year. In the prairies for example, during sub zero winter weather conditions, bacteria levels are very low and the chlorine levels are set accordingly. In spring and summer the levels are set so high that the smell is noticeable while showering or just running the kitchen tap. These levels are well in excess of government guidelines, but this threat is deemed to be lessor that which would be caused by the bacteria.


Specialized water treatment is that which is used for removal of chemical contaminants, the reduction of iron and other heavy metals, or the control of the PH level by the removal or introduction of base minerals. These systems are expensive to operate and are only applied in extreme areas. Some of these technologies will be discussed as they do apply on a smaller scale for use in domestic water treatment.


Before we can begin to discuss the specific make-up of water treatment products you must be familiar with the terminology surrounding them. The following is a condensed glossary.

The process in which matter adheres to the surface of an adsorbent. An adsorbent is a material, usually solid, capable of holding gases, liquids and/or suspended matter at its surface and in exposed pores. Granular activated carbon [GAC] and KDF are common adsorbates used in water treatment to remove a host of chemical contaminants [organics], certain inorganics, odours and tastes. This will be discussed in depth later, but for simplicity just think of these media as "chemical magnets".

Removes calcium and magnesium, two minerals which seriously impair water's cleaning capabilities and which can deposit a damaging scale in boilers, heaters, plumbing fixtures and appliances. This process is employed in commercial and domestic point of entry systems.

A process often used for controlling corrosion which is the destructive disintegration of a metal by electrochemical means. Usually involves the feeding of polyphosphates and/or silicates with a chemical feed pump.

A process to provide water which is virtually free of minerals [less than 1 mg/l] required in high pressure boilers, metal plating, electronics manufacture, jet engine operations, pharmaceuticals, ice-making and so forth.

This is the physical removal of particulates down to a specified size. This can range from very coarse filters, like the ones you would use on a swimming pool, to very fine units [<10 microns] for pre-filters in various water treatment devices, but is not to be confused with sub-micron filtration.

There are a variety of methods for disinfecting water at the point-of-use. To "disinfect" is to remove or kill the living organisms [bacteria, cysts, viruses etc.]. Disinfection methods may include:

The process in which water is converted into its vapour state by heating and then cooled. The vapour condenses into a collection point and is stored for use. This is a duplicate of Mother Natures process. The water is left virtually free of contaminants.

The addition of either an acid or an alkaline to produce a neutral solution.

The action of an oxidant for precipitating and removing water impurities such as iron, manganese, hydrogen sulphide and many organics.

Specially formulated resins which interact with minerals and heavy metals to allow their collection or containment.

Used to remove substantially all suspended or dissolved matter from water. A process in which pressure is used to force water through a semipermeable membrane which will slowly transmit the water but reject most dissolved ions. Soluble contaminants [chemicals] are not rejected by the membrane. Membranes are not one size fits all. Simply stated, a chlorine based city supply requires a different membrane than a rural "hard" water well based supply. The chemical chlorine will destroy the hard water designed membrane. When asked; "How does it work?" An easily understandable answer is to actually ask another question. "When you blow up balloons for a party, why do they deflate after a day or so?". "Did the air escape because you tied a poor knot?" The answer is that the air inside the balloon passed through the "membrane" of the balloon. The "gas" in this case passed from a high pressure area to a low pressure area. This process will continue until eventually the pressures on either side of the balloon wall are equal.


In most cases combinations of the technologies described are used to solve water quality problems. For example, chlorination may be used for disinfection and the precipitation of iron or hydrogen sulphide, which then is removed by physical filtration. GAC and KDF [adsorbates] are used to reduce low molecular weight organic compounds. Asbestos fibres, fine silt and turbidity can be reduced to undetectable levels through micro filtration. Lead, cadmium and similar heavy metals can be reduced through resin based ion exchange. We will take a closer look at these functions in chapter 6.

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