Historic Turning Points in Municipal Water Supply and Wastewater Disposal, 1850-1932

by Joel A. Tarr, Professor; Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA,
Francis Clay McMichael, (M.ASCE), Professor; Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1977, Vol. 47, Issue 13, Pg. 25-29

Document Type: Feature article


1850-1880: Urbanization and development of large public water supplies combined to overload cesspools and privy-vaults. Sewers were constructed to protect public health. 1880-1900: Debate over combined vs. separate sewers. George Waring said separate system was better than combined, removed wastes faster. Rudolph Hering, reporting on European sewerage, said neither system was better, cities should construct combined, small towns separate. 1900-1932: Public health officials wanted sewage treated prior to discharge into surface waters, cited public health in downstream cities as reason. Engineers argued that streams purified naturally, treatment required only to prevent nuisance, water filtration adequate to protect public health. Engineers prevailed; sewage was discharged without treatment.

Subject Headings: Public health and safety | Municipal wastewater | Municipal water | Urban areas | Sewers | Sewage | Water discharge | Rivers and streams

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