All forms of chlorine are widely used, despite their respective drawbacks. One drawback is that chlorine from any source reacts with natural organic compounds in the water to form potentially harmful chemical by-products. These by-products, trihalomethanes (THMs) and haloacetic acids (HAAs), are both carcinogenic in large quantities and are regulated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Drinking Water Inspectorate in the UK. The formation of THMs and haloacetic acids may be minimized by effective removal of as many organics from the water as possible prior to chlorine addition. Although chlorine is effective in killing bacteria, it has limited effectiveness against pathogenic protozoa that form cysts in water such as Giardia lamblia and Cryptosporidium.
The practice of water treatment soon became mainstream and common, and the virtues of the system were made starkly apparent after the investigations of the physician John Snow during the 1854 Broad Street cholera outbreak. Snow was sceptical of the then-dominant miasma theory that stated that diseases were caused by noxious "bad airs". Although the germ theory of disease had not yet been developed, Snow's observations led him to discount the prevailing theory. His 1855 essay On the Mode of Communication of Cholera conclusively demonstrated the role of the water supply in spreading the cholera epidemic in Soho, with the use of a dot distribution map and statistical proof to illustrate the connection between the quality of the water source and cholera cases. His data convinced the local council to disable the water pump, which promptly ended the outbreak.
Household reverse-osmosis units use a lot of water because they have low back pressure. As a result, they recover only 5 to 15% of the water entering the system. The remainder is discharged as waste water. Because waste water carries with it the rejected contaminants, methods to recover this water are not practical for household systems. Wastewater is typically connected to the house drains and will add to the load on the household septic system. A reverse-osmosis unit delivering 19 L of treated water per day may discharge between 75–340 L of waste water daily. This has a disastrous consequence for mega cities like Delhi where large-scale use of household R.O. devices has increased the total water demand of the already water parched National Capital Territory of India.
In 1904, Allen Hazen showed that the efficiency of a sedimentation process was a function of the particle settling velocity, the flow through the tank and the surface area of tank. Sedimentation tanks are typically designed within a range of overflow rates of 0.5 to 1.0 gallons per minute per square foot (or 1.25 to 2.5 litres per square meter per hour). In general, sedimentation basin efficiency is not a function of detention time or depth of the basin. Although, basin depth must be sufficient so that water currents do not disturb the sludge and settled particle interactions are promoted. As particle concentrations in the settled water increase near the sludge surface on the bottom of the tank, settling velocities can increase due to collisions and agglomeration of particles. Typical detention times for sedimentation vary from 1.5 to 4 hours and basin depths vary from 10 to 15 feet (3 to 4.5 meters).:9.39–9.40:790–1:140–2, 171