Q & A about wastewater

What's in the wastewater?

Everything that is flushed down the toilet and water from the shower, bath, sinks, washing machines and discharges from other domestic appliances that use hot or cold water go through the wastewater system in the capital area. Hot water from heated homes forms a large part of the sewage, which differs from sewage in many places abroad. In the older neighbourhoods of the city, the wastewater system also takes rain water and other surface water, but in the 1960’s, a double system started to be laid down to take the surface water to the sea by another route than the sewage.

Pumping stations that are positioned on many parts of the coast then channel the drainage to treatment plants at Ánanaust and Klettagardar where it is treated and pumped about 4 km out into Faxaflói Bay.

How do pumping stations work?

  1. The wastewater pumps pump all sewage under normal circumstances.
  2. Rain water pump stations are added when there is a high volume in which case the diluted drainage flows out into the sea.
  3. If this equipment stalls, an emergency outlet valve opens, releasing all the drainage into the sea.
  4. These emergency outlet valves are designed to ensure drainage does not flow into people’s homes if the pumping stations break down/stall. The wastewater system is designed to ensure that drainage flows into the sea rather than into people’s homes.

Under normal circumstances, stations manage to pump out all the drainage that pours into them. With heavy downfalls or thaws, stations are sometimes unable to cope with the volume and the excess amount of diluted drainage is therefore pumped more than 200 metres out into the sea.

Is all urban sewage within Reykjavík collected for centralised treatment?

The Waste Water Department of Veitur ohf. estimates that less than 1% of the urban sewage within Reykjavík is not collected for centralised treatment.

How much pollution is there in the drainage that is pumped into the sea?

Many factors have an impact on the pollution in the drainage that goes into the sea. Obviously factors such as volume are important, as well as how far it flows into the sea, the extent to which the drainage is mixed with hot water and surface water, the weather and sea currents.

How long can one expect the pollution of the shore to last?

E. coli multiply with difficulty or not at all in water. Sunlight breaks down the E. coli so that we can expect this E. coli pollution to soon decrease. The weather has an impact. 

How frequently is drainage channelled into the sea?

Occasionally emergency outlet valves open, but fortunately it is rarely for a long time. These emergency outlet valves are designed to ensure drainage does not flow into people’s homes if the pumping stations break down.

Who informs us if sewage goes into the sea?

We notify the Reykjavik Health Authority when sewage goes into the sea from our pumping stations. We also post notifications on our website and Veitur Utilities’ Facebook page.

The Reykjavik Health Authority handles the monitoring of the pollution of shores. The results of their measurements are to be found here.

If the measurements of the Reykjavik Health Authority indicate there is any risk due to pollution, it issues warnings.

Wastewater map

Life span of E. coli per season
Month Life span of E. coli T90
January 9 hours
February hours
March hours
April hours
May hours
June hours
July hours
August hours
September hours
October hours
November hours
December 10 hours
Source: Vatnaskil consulting engineering company 1991, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1999