Sewage collection and disposal

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See also: Sanitary sewer

Sewage collection and disposal systems transport sewage through cities and other inhabited areas to sewage treatment plants to protect public health and prevent disease. Sewage is treated to control water pollution before discharge to surface waters.[1][2]


  • A sewage system may convey the wastewater by gravity to a sewage treatment plant.
  • Where pipeline excavation is difficult because of rock or there is limited topographic relief (i.e., due to flat terrain), gravity collection systems may not be practical and the sewage must be pumped through a pipeline to the treatment plant.
  • In low-lying communities, wastewater may be conveyed by vacuum sewer. Pipelines range in size from pipes of six inches (150 mm) in diameter to concrete-lined tunnels of up to thirty feet (10 m) in diameter.
  • Community sewage can also be collected by an effluent sewer system, also known as a STEP system (Septic Tank Effluent Pumping). At each home, a buried collection tank is used to separate solids from the liquid effluent
  • Only the liquid portion is then pumped through small diameter pipe (typically 1.5" to 4") to downstream treatment.
  • Because the wastestream is pressurized, the pipes can be laid just below the ground surface along the land's contour.
  • Sewage can also be collected by low pressure pumps and vacuum systems.
  • A low pressure system uses a small grinder pump located at each point of connection, typically a house or business.
  • Vacuum sewer systems use differential atmospheric pressure to move the liquid to a central vacuum station.
  • Typically a vacuum sewer station can service approximately 1,200 homes before it becomes more cost-effective to build another station.

Design and analysis of collection systems[edit]

Design and sizing of sewage collection systems considers population served, commercial and industrial flows, flow peaking characteristics and wet weather flows. Combined sewer systems are designed to transport both stormwater runoff and sewage in the same pipe. Besides the projected sewage flow, the size and characteristics of the watershed are the overriding design considerations for combined sewers. Often, combined sewers can not handle the volume of runoff, resulting in combined sewer overflows and causing water pollution problems in nearby water bodies.

Separate sanitary sewer systems are designed to transport sewage alone. In communities served by separate sanitary sewers, another pipe system is constructed to convey stormwater runoff directly to surface waters. Most municipal sewer systems constructed today are separate sewer systems.

Although separate sewer systems are intended to transport only sewage, all sewer systems have some degree of inflow and infiltration of surface water and groundwater, which can lead to sanitary sewer overflows. Inflow and infiltration is highly affected by antecedent moisture conditions, which also represents an important design consideration in these system.

A sewer bed is a piece of land typically used by a municipality for the dumping of raw sewage. Usually raw sewage was brought by truck or drawn by horses to be dumped, but the practice stopped back in the 1940s.[citation needed]


The historical focus of sewage treatment was on the conveyance of raw sewage to a natural body of water, e.g. a river or ocean, where it would be satisfactorily diluted and dissipated. Early human habitations were often built next to water sources. Rivers would often double as a crude form of natural sewage disposal.

Premodern systems[edit]

The first sanitation systems were built in the prehistoric Middle East, in the south-east of the modern country of Iran near Zabol. An inverted siphon system, along with glass covered clay pipes, was used for the first time in the palaces of Crete, Greece. It is still in working condition, after about 3000 years.

Higher population densities required more complex sewer collection and conveyance systems to maintain (somewhat) sanitary conditions in crowded cities. The ancient cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro of the Indus Valley civilization constructed complex networks of brick-lined sewage drains from around 2600 BC and also had outdoor flush toilets connected to this network.

A large well and bathing platforms at Harappa, remains of the city's final phase of occupation from 2200 to 1900 BC.

The urban areas of the Indus Valley civilization provided public and private baths, sewage was disposed through underground drains built with precisely laid bricks, and a sophisticated water management system with numerous reservoirs was established. In the drainage systems, drains from houses were connected to wider public drains.[3]

Ancient Minoan civilization had stone sewers that were periodically flushed with clean water.

Roman towns and garrisons in the United Kingdom between 46 BC and 400 AD had complex sewer networks sometimes constructed out of hollowed-out elm logs, which were shaped so that they butted together with the down-stream pipe providing a socket for the upstream pipe.

A significant development was the construction of a network of sewers to collect waste water. In some cities, including Rome, Istanbul (Constantinople) and Fustat, networked ancient sewer systems continue to function today as collection systems for those cities' modernized sewer systems. Instead of flowing to a river or the sea, the pipes have been re-routed to modern sewer treatment facilities.

This basic system remained in place with little positive change, until the 16th century, when Sir John Harington invented the first flush toilet as a device for Queen Elizabeth I (his godmother) that released wastes into cesspools.

Despite this innovation, most cities did not have a functioning sewer system before the Industrial era, relying instead on nearby rivers or occasional rain showers to wash away the sewage from the streets. In some places, waste water simply ran down the streets, which had stepping stones to keep pedestrians out of the muck, and eventually drained as runoff into the local watershed.

Industrial Revolution era[edit]

The prevailing system was sufficient for the needs of early cities with few occupants, but the tremendous growth of cities during the Industrial Revolution quickly led to terribly overpolluted streets, which acted as a constant source for the outbreak of disease. As recently as the late 19th century sewerage systems in some parts of the highly industrialised United Kingdom were so inadequate that water-borne diseases such as cholera and typhoid remained a risk. In Merthyr Tydfil, a large town in South Wales, most houses discharged their sewage to individual cess-pits which persistently overflowed causing the pavements to be awash with foul sewage.[4]

As cities grew in the 19th century, increasing concerns were raised about public health.[5]:33–62 As part of a trend of municipal sanitation programs in the late 19th and 20th centuries, many cities constructed extensive sewer systems to help control outbreaks of disease such as typhoid and cholera.[2]:29–34

As Britain was the first country to industrialize, it was also the first to experience the disastrous consequences of major urbanisation and was the first to construct a modern sewerage system to mitigate the resultant unsanitary conditions.[citation needed] During the early 19th century, the River Thames was effectively an open sewer, leading to frequent outbreaks of cholera epidemics. Proposals to modernise the sewerage system had been made during 1856, but were neglected due to lack of funds. However, after the Great Stink of 1858, Parliament realised the urgency of the problem and resolved to create a modern sewerage system.

The civil engineer Joseph Bazalgette, constructed a modern sewerage system for London in the mid-19th century.

Joseph Bazalgette, a civil engineer and Chief Engineer of the Metropolitan Board of Works, was given responsibility for the work. He designed an extensive underground sewerage system that diverted waste to the Thames Estuary, downstream of the main centre of population. Six main interceptor sewers, totalling almost 100 miles (160 km) in length, were constructed, some incorporating stretches of London's 'lost' rivers. Three of these sewers were north of the river, the southernmost, low-level one being incorporated in the Thames Embankment. The Embankment also allowed new roads, new public gardens, and the Circle Line of the London Underground.

The intercepting sewers, constructed between 1859 and 1865, were fed by 450 miles (720 km) of main sewers that, in turn, conveyed the contents of some 13,000 miles (21,000 km) of smaller local sewers. Construction of the interceptor system required 318 million bricks, 2.7 million cubic metres of excavated earth and 670,000 cubic metres of concrete.[6]

Gravity allowed the sewage to flow eastwards, but in places such as Chelsea, Deptford and Abbey Mills, pumping stations were built to raise the water and provide sufficient flow. Sewers north of the Thames feed into the Northern Outfall Sewer, which fed into a major treatment works at Beckton. South of the river, the Southern Outfall Sewer extended to a similar facility at Crossness. With only minor modifications, Bazalgette's engineering achievement remains the basis for sewerage design up into the present day.[7]

The first comprehensive sewer system was built in Hamburg, Germany in the mid-19th century.[5]:43[8]:2 The first such systems in the United States were built in the late 1850s in Chicago and Brooklyn.[5]:43

Another significant engineer of the period was William Lindley, who, in 1863, began work on the construction of a modern sewerage system for the rapidly growing city of Frankfurt am Main. 20 years after the system's completion, the death rate from typhoid had fallen from 80 to 10 per 100,000 inhabitants.[5]:43 [8] [9]

Initially these systems discharged sewage directly to surface waters without treatment. As pollution of water bodies became a concern, cities attempted to treat the sewage before discharge. Early techniques involved land application of sewage on agricultural land. In the late 19th century some cities began to add chemical treatment and sedimentation systems to their sewers.[8]:28 In the United States, the first sewage treatment plant using chemical precipitation was built in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1890.[8]:29 Most cities in the Western world added more expensive systems for sewage treatment in the early 20th century, after scientists at the University of Manchester discovered the sewage treatment process of activated sludge in 1912.[10] During the half-century around 1900, these public health interventions succeeded in drastically reducing the incidence of water-borne diseases among the urban population, and were an important cause in the increases of life expectancy experienced at the time.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Metcalf, Leonard; Eddy, Harrison P. (1922). Sewerage and Sewage Disposal: A Textbook. New York: McGraw-Hill. 
  2. ^ a b Staley, Cady; Pierson, George S. (1899). The Separate System of Sewerage, Its Theory and Construction. New York: Van Nostrand. 
  3. ^ Rodda, J. C. and Ubertini, Lucio (2004). The Basis of Civilization - Water Science? pg 161. International Association of Hydrological Sciences (International Association of Hydrological Sciences Press 2004).
  4. ^ Report of the Principal Officer of Health, Glamorgan County Council, 1889
  5. ^ a b c d Burian, Steven J.; Nix, Stephan J.; Pitt, Robert E.; Durrans, S. Rocky (2000). "Urban Wastewater Management in the United States: Past, Present, and Future" (PDF). Journal of Urban Technology (London: Routledge) 7 (3). doi:10.1080/713684134. 
  6. ^ Goodman, David C.; Chant, Colin (1999). European Cities and Technology. London: Routledge. ISBN 9780415200790. 
  7. ^ Kendall F. Haven (2006). 100 Greatest Science Inventions of All Time. Libraries Unlimited. p. 148–149. 
  8. ^ a b c d Metcalf, Leonard; Eddy, Harrison P. (1914). American Sewerage Practice. New York: McGraw-Hill.  Vol. I: Design of Sewers.
  9. ^  Sidney Lee, ed. (1901). "Lindley, William". Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement​. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 
  10. ^ Benidickson, Jamie (2011). The Culture of Flushing: A Social and Legal History of Sewage. UBC Press. Retrieved 2013-02-07. 
  11. ^ Cutler, David; Miller, Grant (May 2004). "The Role of Public Health Improvements in Health Advances: The 20th Century United States". National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, MA. NBER Working Paper No. 10511.

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