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This presentation will trace the development of sewers from 3500 BCE on through the early 1900's. The early sewage conveyance infrastructure … which was almost always created primarily, and initially, for conveying stormwater away from populated areas …. with the passing of time and need, became combined systems. The state of the art of designing and building such systems would evolve to an early high point (of ingenuity and creativity) at about the time of the Fall of the Roman Empire; from there, civilization (its infrastructure, and its “manners”) went downhill for the next 1400 years.

It wasn't until the mid-1800's that people began to understand that “filth”, when mixed with their water supply, often resulted in disease and death. Then, the evolutionary development of modern day sewers re-energized; and, as such, began a betterment of sanitary conditions in the higher populated areas … i.e., an “up swing” was started. The advent of separate sanitary sewage conveyance systems was a by-product of that change.

Sewers in the America: Some knowledge was remembered (and borrowed) from our forefathers' experience in Europe – but Americans had to learn for themselves as our towns and cities recognized the need for sanitary sewers. A lot of the “standards” set in the 1870's thru 1920's for sewage conveyance are basically still in use today; the changes since then have primarily been in “pipe materials,” and the “methods” available for installation.

Through this presentation, Tracking Down The Roots Of Our Sanitary Sewers, you'll be walked through time, and the need for and the evolutionary growth of sewers … with the aid of photos, sketches and anecdotes. Hopefully, you'll come away with a better appreciation for the “roots” of our modern day sewage conveyance systems … and, the “ups and downs” they have traversed through the ages.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2001-01-01

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  • Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation is an archive of papers published in the proceedings of the annual Water Environment Federation® Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC® ) and specialty conferences held since the year 2000. These proceedings are not peer reviewed.

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