Sewer, sewerage… in history

On the early application of human waste disposal, nuisance and health problem always be primary effect caused by such activity. Just imagine, often the method of disposal consisted of nothing more than flinging out the content of the pots out the window!

Somewhere around 1550, King Henry II proposed to the Parliament of Paris to build sewer, but neither the King nor the parliament planned to pay for them, no money was provided. Until around 1963, when first time, famous Paris sewer system was built under Napoleon III.

Sewer in Old English means “seaward”. London’s sewers were characterized by their open channel and the ditches sloped slightly to drain human wastes toward the River Thames, and eventually sent to the sea. A sewer is an artificial system of conduits used to remove sewage (human liquid waste) and to provide drainage. In the 20th century, sewers are usually pipelines under the soil level, so they are located underground, connecting pipes from one building to another building by using level difference (gravity flow) and these pipes will end up at sewage treatment facilities. Since the installation requires a huge of investment and integration with another network built underground, not all countries have sewer system, including Indonesia.

One of sewer system is to drain out stormwater. It is considered to be main drainage problem. Back to the past, it was illegal to dispose waste into the ditches and storm sewer, but as water supplied developed, the storm sewers were used for both sanitary waste and stormwater. Some people says the main purpose of the sewer is for sanitary waste, while the others the opposite. However, such combined sewer existed in some cities in US until 80s. In Indonesia, there were no sewer system except in some cities like Cirebon and Medan. The remaining? Human wastes are disposed into the underground, receptic tank, while wastewater derived from kitchen, watering, are drained to the drainage system. Although the main purpose is to carry stormwater, it also be used to receive wastewater. That is why, often, these drainage channel are shallowed and thus will cause water insufficiently carried. As the result, flood.

The first system for urban drainage in America was constructed in Boston around
1700. There was surprising resistance to the construction of sewers for waste disposal at that time. The period of drainage construction was continued, a remarkable period of sewer construction between 1890 and 1900. The first separate sewerage systems in America were built in the 1880s in Memphis, TN, and Pullman, IL. But it failed. The Memphis system was a complete failure. It used small pipes that were to be flushed periodically. No manholes were constructed and cleanout became a major problem. The system was later removed and larger pipes, with manholes, were installed.


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