Decisions about Wastewater Technology: 1850-1932

by Joel A. Tarr, Prof. of History, Tech., and Urban Affairs; Carnegie-Mellon Univ., Pittsburgh, Pa.,
Francis Clay McMichael, (M.ASCE), Prof. of Civ. Engrg. and Public Policy; Carnegie-Mellon Univ., Pittsburgh, Pa.,

Serial Information: Journal of the Water Resources Planning and Management Division, 1977, Vol. 103, Issue 1, Pg. 47-61

Document Type: Journal Paper


This paper focuses upon key turning points in the evolution of methods of collecting and treating domestic wastes, 1850-1932, and suggests that there are many analogs between today's water quality movement and the past. The 1850-1932 time span can be divided into three periods: 1850-1880, 1880-1900, and 1900-1932. Each of these periods was dominated by a critical decision in terms of dealing with domestic wastes. The three decisions examined are the adoption of system of sewers using water for transport of wastes, the decision to build combined rather than separate sewers, and the decision to treat raw water supplies rather than treat waste before disposal to waterways. These decisions led to unanticipated results — results that necessitated new technologies and that led to an expansion of governmental regulation in the area of water quality.

Subject Headings: Waste treatment | Water quality | Water supply systems | Wastewater management | Domestic wastes | Sewers | Recycling | Waste disposal

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