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Natural forms of pollutants have always been present in surface waters.
Many of the impurities were washed from the air, eroded from land
surfaces or leached from the soil and found their way into surface water.
Natural purification processes were able to remove or otherwise render
these materials harmless.
Human activity increased the amount and changed the nature of
pollutants entering watercourses
Settlements Villages Towns Cities
Quantity of waste products increased until the self purification
capacity of local bodies of water was exceeded. Smaller streams were
first affected then larger streams and lakes ultimately becoming
Only in recent decades have POLLUTION CONTROL PROGRAMS been
initiated in an attempt to reduce contaminants discharged to bodies of
water to the level that the natural purification processes can once again
assimilate them.
Self purification mechanisms of natural water systems include: physical,
chemical, and biological processes.
Speed and completeness with which these processes occur depend on
many variables that are system specific. System variables that have an
influence on the natural purification process are: (a) hydraulic
characteristics (b) physical characteristics of bottom and bank material
(c) variations in sunlight (d) temperature (e) chemical nature of the
natural water
The same physical, chemical and biological processes that serve to purify
natural water systems also work in engineered systems. In water and
wastewater treatment plants, the rate and extent of these processes are
managed by controlling the system variables.
A thorough knowledge of the natural purification processes is essential
to the understanding of
1) the assimilative capacity of surface waters
2) the operations of engineered systems
1) Dilution
Wastewater disposal practices were based on the premise
that the solution to pollution is dilution
It was considered the most economical means of wastewater
disposal and was considered good engineering practice
Although a powerful adjunct to self cleaning mechanisms
of surface water, its success depends upon discharging
relatively small quantities of waste into large bodies of water
Growth in population and industrial activity, with
increasing water demand and wastewater quantities
precludes the use of many streams for dilution of raw or
poorly treated wastewaters
Under present regulations, maximum allowable loads are set
independently of dilution capacity only when the standard
maximum load is violated then dilution capacity is considered.
The dilution capacity of a stream can be calculated using the
principles of mass balance. If the volumetric flowrate and the
concentration of a given material are known in both the stream and
waste discharge, the concentration after mixing can be calculated
CsQs + CwQw = CmQm
where: C the concentration of selected material (in mass/volume)
Q the volumetric flowrate (volume/time)
s,w and m means stream, waste and mixture conditions
1) A treated wastewater enters a stream as shown. The concentration of
sodium in the stream at point A is 10 mg/L and the flowrate is 20 m3/s.
The concentration of sodium in the waste stream is 250 mg/L and the
flowrate is 1.5 m3/s. Determine the concentration of sodium at point B
assuming complete mixing has occurred.
2) Effluent from a wastewater treatment is discharged
to a surface stream. The characteristics of the
effluent and stream are as follows:


EFFLUENT 8640 m3/d 25 mg/L 7 mg/L 10 mg/L 15 mg/L

STREAM 1.2 m3/s 2.1 mg/L 0 mg/L 3.0 mg/L 5.0 mg/L

Determine the stream characteristics after mixing with

the waste has occurred.
2) Sedimentation and Re suspension
Suspended solids are one of the most common water pollutants and
in suspension, solids increase turbidity and reduce light penetration
may restrict the photosynthetic activity of plants, inhibit vision of
aquatic animals, interfere with feeding of aquatic animals that obtain
food from filtration and be abrasive to respiratory structures such as
gills of fish.
Sedimentation natures method of removing suspended particles from
a watercourse and most large solids will settle out readily in quiescent
water. Particles in the colloidal size range can stay in suspension for long
periods of time though eventually most of these will also settle out. This
natural sedimentation is not without drawbacks. Anaerobic conditions
are likely to develop in sediments and any organics trapped in them will
decompose, releasing soluble compounds into the stream above.
Sediments deposit can also alter streambed by filling up the pore space
and creating unsuitable conditions for the reproduction of many aquatic
organisms. It can also alter its course or hamper navigation activities and
it reduce reservoir storage capacities and silt in harbors and increase
flooding due to channel fill in.
Resuspension of solids is common in times of flooding or heavy runoff.
Increased turbulence may resuspend solids formerly deposited along
normally quiescent areas of stream and carry them for considerable
distances downstream and eventually they will settle again.
In this photo taken by Canadian Peter Mark in the end of April, 2012, and released
on Wednesday, May 2, a Harley-Davidson motorbike lies on a beach in Graham
Island, western Canada. Japanese media say the motorcycle lost in last year's
tsunami washed up on the island about 6,400 kilometers (4,000 miles) away. The
rusted bike was originally found by Mark in a large white container where its owner,
Ikuo Yokoyama, had kept it. The container was later washed away, leaving the
motorbike half-buried.
3) Filtration
Large bits of debris lodge on reeds or stones as they move along
streambeds and they remain caught until high waters wash them into
mainstream again. Small bits of organic matters and inorganic clays
and other sediments may be filtered out by pebbles or rocks along
the streambed. A water percolates from the surface downward into
groundwater aquifers, filtration of much more sophisticated type
occurs. If the soil layers are deep and fine enough, removal of
suspended material is essentially complete by the time waters enters
the aquifer.
4) Gas Transfer
The transfer of gases into and out of water is an important part of the
natural purification process. The replenishment of oxygen lost to
bacteria degradation of organic waste is accomplished by the transfer
of oxygen from the air into the water. Conversely, gases evolved in
the water by chemical and biological processes may be transferred
from the water to the atmosphere. Gas transfer is affected by
solubility (extent to which gas is soluble in water) and transfer rate
(rate at which dissolution or release occurs)
5) Heat Transfer
Bodies of water lose and gain heat much more slowly than do land or
air masses and under most circumstances, water temperature is fairly
constant and changes gradually with the seasons. Meteorological
variables and other factors such as channel characteristics (depth,
width, surface area), channel volume etc. affect the rate of heat
transfer in bodies of water. For streams heated by solar radiation
over several miles of heat. Aquatic plants and animals have not
developed sufficient adaptability to deal with abrupt changes in
temperature and only the most hardy species survive such changes.
Natural watercourses contain many dissolved minerals and gases that
interact chemically with one another.
Redox (reduction oxidation), dissolution precipitation and other
chemical conversions may alternately aid or obstruct natural
purification processes in natural water systems
Chemical Conversions:
1) Oxidation reduction conversion biochemically mediated
2) Dissolution precipitation solid dissolve in water are essential to
the metabolic and reproductive activities of microorganisms that
degrade and stabilize organic waste this is directly or indirectly
influenced by dissolution precipitation
3) Natural chemical conversions that take place in water can change
materials into a form that is soluble and therefore usable by various
aquatic organisms. Ex. N and P most essential nutrients for the
growth of microorganisms and plankton.
4) Chemical conversions can help stabilize pH of water bodies. Ex. HCO3-
acts as a buffer to protect a stream from pH fluctuations harmful to
aquatic systems.
Chemical reactions are biologically mediated these reactions are
not spontaneous and require external sources of energy for initiation.
* Metabolism sum total of the processes by which living organisms
assimilate and use food for subsistence, growth and reproduction.
Metabolic processes and the organisms involved are a vital part in
self purification of natural water system.
Types of Metabolic Processes:
1) Catabolism provides the energy for the synthesis of new cells, as
well as for the maintenance of other cell functions
2) Anabolism provides the material necessary for cell growth
When external food source is interrupted, organisms will use stored
food for maintenance energy a process called Endogenous
1) Bacteria the primary decomposers of organic material. They
are classified according to the energy and material sources that
they require:
(a) Autotrophs organisms that derive both energy and
material from inorganic sources. Their major function is to
convert N and S compounds into stable end products
(b) Heterotrophs bacteria that obtain both energy and
material from organic sources. Most important bacteria in the
degradation of organic material. They are further classified
* aerobic heterotrophs require O2 in their metabolic
* anaerobic heterotrophs utilize organics in the absence of
* facultative heterotrophs functions as aerobes when O2 is
present and anaerobic in the absence of O2
Phototrophs utilize sunlight for energy and inorganic
substances for material source
2) Algae these are autotrophic, photosynthetic
organisms which metabolize the waste product of
heterotrophic bacteria while obtaining energy from
3) Protozoa single cell organisms that reproduce by
binary fission. Protozoa are voracious consumers of
organic material and are important members of the
aquatic community.
Other organisms: Rotifers and crustacea, sludge
worms, etc,