Tag Archives: sewage treatment

August 20, 1831: Birth of Eduard Suess; 1914: Disinfection of Sewage Plant Effluents

August 20, 1831: Birth of Eduard Suess, Austrian geologist.
He developed the plan for a 69-mile (112-kilometre) aqueduct (completed 1873) that brought fresh water from the Alps to Vienna. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/571632/Eduard-Suess

At the age of nineteen he published a short sketch of the geology of Carlsbad and its mineral waters… n 1862 he published an essay on the soils and water-supply of Vienna http://www.nndb.com/people/266/000097972/

In 1864, the Vienna City Council voted the construction of the First Vienna Spring Water Main, which to this day covers approximately 40 percent of Vienna’s water requirements. It was planned by the geologist and City Council member Eduard Suess and implemented under Mayor Cajetan Felder. The main was to safeguard adequate drinking water supply even for the suburbs and to improve its quality, thereby excluding any further health hazards for the population.

After a construction period of only three years, the First Vienna Spring Water Main was inaugurated on 24 October 1873 by Emperor Francis Joseph I concurrently with the Hochstrahlbrunnen Fountain in Schwarzenbergplatz. The pipeline is 120 kilometres long, cost 16 million Gulden to build and soon became a symbol of Vienna’s liberation from water shortages and dangers of epidemics. In residential buildings, the formerly used domestic wells were gradually replaced by communal water taps. In 1888, over 90 percent of residential buildings situated within Vienna’s (then) municipal territory were already connected to the new main.


August 20, 1914: Municipal Journal article. Operation of Sewage Disposal Plants—Disinfection. “Having determined upon the size of the dose, the next thing is to apply it to the sewage or effluent at a uniform rate. The best practice is to dissolve the required number of pounds in a given amount of water and feed the solution at a definite rate proportional to the flow of liquid to be disinfected. This is not so simple as one might at first suspect. Several things have to be looked out for. The commercial dry powder varies in strength and loses strength considerably when exposed to the air. There must be sufficient water to dissolve out the hypochlorite, and care must be used in mixing the solution. The solution is corrosive and acts on tanks, piping, valves, etc., and it also forms incrustations which cause frequent stoppages in pipes, valves and feeding devices.

Unless it is feasible to analyze each lot of bleach, it should be bought with the available chlorine specified by the dealer. As the material deteriorates upon opening, the contents of a whole container should be mixed at once if possible. In many plants, however, this cannot be done; in such cases the unused material must be kept tightly covered in a cool dry place. While the larger sized containers hold about 700 pounds, at a slight increase in price hypochlorite can be obtained in 350-pound or 100-pound drums, and in many cases the smaller sizes are to be preferred, both because of convenience in handling and to avoid the keeping of large quantities exposed to the atmosphere.

In the mixing of the bleach, the active hypochlorite is dissolved while the inert lime and other insoluble impurities remain. Usually the bleach is thoroughly mixed with a small amount of water into a paste or cream so as to break up the lumps, then more water is added and the whole transferred to the solution tank, and agitated until a thoroughly homogeneous solution is obtained.

As it is very important that the solution be of the same strength throughout, and as this mixing is a laborious process, a power mixer should always be installed except, perhaps, for very small quantities. After all the hypochlorite has been dissolved and the solution once properly stirred up, the strength remains the same throughout the tank.

In some plants the contents of a whole container of bleach are washed out into the solution tank by means, of a stream of water from a hose, and the whole agitated until a thorough solution is obtained. In the mixing, care must be used to get the material thoroughly broken up and agitated so that all the hypochlorite will be dissolved or else a considerable amount of material will be wasted. The writer has known of over fifty per cent waste, due to improper methods of mixing. He has suggested a mixer in the form of a mill or grinder, so that the bleach could be fed through and ground with a stream of water. This he believes would break up lumps and hasten the process.

One should not attempt to dissolve too much hypochlorite in a given amount of water. The solubility of bleach is only about five per cent, and a five per cent solution is difficult to obtain and difficult to handle. It is much better, when possible, to use a weaker solution, say two or three per cent. It is usually better to keep the solution the same strength by mixing the required number of pounds according to the strength of the dry powder, and to vary the dose by changing the feeding device. A rod should be laid off, showing the number of pounds to be used for different depths of water in the tank, from the top down, so that if all of the solution is not run out the rod will show immediately the number of pounds to be used for the amount of water necessary to fill up the tank.”

Commentary: This article was published about six years after the startup of the chloride of lime (calcium hypochlorite) feed system ordered by Dr. John L. Leal and built by George Warren Fuller at Boonton Reservoir—see schematic of Fuller’s chemical feed system below. The description of the chloride of lime feed system for sewage treatment plants (above) is very similar to the one shown below. The article is also quite honest about the many problems with using chloride of lime as a source of chlorine to disinfect water. None of these issues were brought to light during the optimistic testimony given by Leal and the other defendant witnesses at the second Jersey City trial. Over time, chloride of lime feed systems were replaced with pressurized systems feeding chlorine gas from storage tanks of liquid chlorine stored under pressure.


June 5, 1913: Sewage Treatment in Fitchburg, MA

June 5, 1913: Engineering News article. Sewage Treatment Works for Fitchburg, Mass. “Sewage-treatment works, consisting of Imhoff tanks, sludge beds, sprinkling filters and secondary or final settling tanks are about to be built for Fitchburg, Mass., under a contract awarded in May, 1913. Special features of this plant are rectangular Imhoff tanks, built side by side with dividing walls, cement-plaster partitions forming troughs and gas vents, and the use of structural-steel frames to support the reinforced-concrete walls of the tanks and also the partitions just mentioned; the installation of the air lift for removing sludge from the Imhoff tanks, the approval by the Massachusetts State Board of Health of sprinkling filters, the first plant of the kind to be thus approved; the construction of sprinkling filters 10ft. in depth; the building of a 2-in. cement plastered curtain wall between the natural ground and the stone filling of the sprinkling filters.

The City of Fitchburg is located in the north central part of the State of Massachusetts on the North Branch of the Nashua River. In 1910 the city had a population of 37,826. A large number of manufacturing industries are located here on account of the excellent water power afforded by the numerous storage reservoirs along the river. The city is fairly well served by a system of sewers designed on the combined plan, which empty into the river at various points along its course. During the last two years, an intercepting sewer has been under construction, and at the present time is nearly completed, varying in size from 48 to 30 in. in diameter. The intercepting sewer will divert the sewage from the river and convey it to the trunk sewer through which it will flow to the sewage-treatment works. For a distance of 5500 ft. above the sewage-treatment works, the trunk sewer is in the form of an inverted siphon, constructed of 30-in. cast-iron pipe, at the upper end of which a chamber has been constructed with an overflow direct to the Nashua River, and a 36-in. stub for the future construction of an additional inverted siphon to be built when the normal quantity of sewage exceeds the capacity of the present siphon. Before the sewage enters the inverted siphon, it will pass through a grit chamber and coarse screen, where the gravel and sand will be removed and large objects, which might cause obstruction to the inverted siphon, will be retained. This grit chamber has been constructed in the sewer department yard where it will be readily accessible for inspection and cleaning.”

Reference: Marston, F.A. 1913. Sewage Treatment Works for Fitchburg, Mass. Engineering News, 69:23:1176, June 5.

Commentary: And thus the dumping of raw sewage into the heavily used rivers of the northeastern U.S. began to be curtailed. Intercepting sewers and rudimentary sewage works would begin to make a positive difference in river water quality. It would take many decades before the job was finished.


April 29, 1915: Sewer Gas Explosion

April 29, 1915: Municipal Journal article. Fatal Explosion in Sewage Disposal Plant. “Ocean Grove, N. J.-An explosion in the valve chamber of the larger of Ocean Grove’s two septic tank plants on the afternoon of April 25 injured three men, one of whom died the next day of his injuries. In this plant are four tanks, each 13 by 93 1/2 feet, built side by side. Across one end is a detritus chamber, 57 feet long by 5~ feet wide, and above this is a valve operating chamber, 57 feet long, 8 feet wide and 6 feet high. The whole structure is built of reinforced concrete.

On the day named the designing engineer of the Ocean Grove plant, Clyde Potts, of New York, was showing it to a party of officials from South Bound Brook, accompanied by Walter C. Bowen, sanitary engineer of New Brunswick. Councilmen Raymond Stryker and Karlson La Rue descended the ladder into the valve chamber, followed by Mr. Bowen. Mr. Stryker, on reaching the bottom, struck a match to light a cigar, when a flame burst out of the manhole which blew Bowen to the surface with his face seared and clothing on fire. Stryker, on the floor, was knocked down and, as the flames burned above him, escaped with less injury. La Rue was blown to the manhole opening, and as he clung there, resting on his chest, during the 15 seconds through which the flame roared out of the opening, he was burned on every part of his body except his chest. La Rue and Bowen were hurried to the hospital, where the former died on Monday night. Mr. Bowen will probably be able to leave the hospital in a week or two.

What gas caused the explosion and how it reached the plant are not known. Mr. Potts had previously thought he detected the odor of illuminating gas [methane] at the plant. He expects to endeavor in a few days to ascertain the origin of the gas with a view to preventing a repetition of the occurrence.”

Reference: “Fatal Explosion in Sewage Disposal Plant.” 1915. Municipal Journal article 38:17(April 29, 1-915): 597.

Commentary: Seriously? Mr. Stryker struck a match? Despite the strange juxtaposition of name and action, this is a sad tale of death caused by entry into a confined space. It would be many decades before this unnecessary loss of life was eliminated by strict rules that require evacuation of potentially toxic or explosive gases from sewers and other confined spaces. If you ever wondered why OSHA regulations were enacted, this is a good example. By the way, the source of the explosive gas is no mystery. Any anaerobic degradation of organic wastes would have produced plenty of methane that would have ignited explosively when Mr. Stryker lit his cigar.

April 28, 1909: Electrolytic Treatment of Sewage in Santa Monica

Santa Monica Pier, 1909

April 28, 1909: Municipal Journal and Engineer article. Electrolytic Treatment of Sewage. By C.B. Irvine. “After a practical operation of the magneto-electrolytic sewage purification plant at Santa Monica, Cal., covering a period of nine months, figures are obtainable going to show the actual cost of maintaining the plant. For sixty days prior to September 1 of last year the device was operated by its builders, at the expense of the city. This was the trial test upon which the decision to purchase the system was based, and as it proved satisfactory to the City Council, the purchase was made at $10,000. On September 1 the city took charge of the plant and has since been treating twenty-five miners’ inches of sewage daily. The capacity of the plant is great enough to care for a million gallons in a twenty-four-hour day, but the quantity supplied by the 11,000 inhabitants of the city does not exceed one-half that amount. The cost of operating the plant is found, upon actual experience, to be approximately $400 per month…. The City Council has expressed itself as being entirely satisfied with the operation of the plant, which is being visited every few days by delegations from Southern California cities, while inquiries are received from all parts of the globe.”

Reference: Irvine, C.B. 1909. “Electrolytic Treatment of Sewage.” Municipal Journal and Engineer article 26:17(April 28, 1909): 718.

Commentary: At the turn of the 20th century, cities across the U.S. were being conned by unscrupulous charlatans who claimed that running a little electricity into sewage would fix it up just fine. It is a little embarrassing that this example is from my home town of Santa Monica, California. With only 11,000 residents, Santa Monica was a little beach town during this period with a big pier.

March 8, 1919: Sprinkling Filter Flies

Filter Fly

Filter Fly

March 8, 1919: Municipal Journal article. Sprinkling Filter Flies. “One of the objectionable features connected with sprinkling [trickling] filters is the prevalence at most of them, during certain seasons of the year, of myriads of small flies. This fly is small and moth-like, 3 to 5 mm. long, the body and wings covered with fine hair. Millions will breed in a filter during a season. They may be carried by favorable winds three-quarters of a mile from the plant, but generally remain rather close to it. Ordinary window screens do not keep them out.

The result of experiments conducted at the sprinkling filters of Plainfield, N. J., was set forth by C. S. Beckwith, assistant entomologist of the New Jersey State Agricultural Experiment Station, in a recent issue of “New Jersey Municipalities.” His statement was as follows:

In studying the habits of the flies it was determined that the breeding continues throughout the entire season. During the cold months they are present in the larval and pupal stages, emerging with the coming of warm weather. The abundance of the flies during the warm season seems to be correlated with the thickness of the film on the stones of the filter. A thick film means more flies, and a thin film, fewer flies. The thick film of late spring gives rise to a tremendous brood. After the film has broken down and sluffed off the number is greatly reduced. Again with the thickening of the film in late summer, the flies become abundant….

It thus seemed that submergence for 24 hours destroyed 100 per cent of the larvae and pupae. To make the matter more certain, one-fourth of the Plainfield sprinkling filter, amounting to a little less than one-half acre, was submerged for a period of 24 hours with ordinary sewage water as it came from the dosing tank. At the end of this period the water was released and many samples were taken. Enormous numbers of larvae and pupae came out with the water, and not one could be found that was alive.”

Reference: “Sprinkling Filter Flies.” 1919. Municipal Journal. 46:10(March 8, 1919): 196.

March 7, 1912: Milwaukee Sewerage Design

Imhoff Tank Sewage Treatment Plant under construction, 1912

Imhoff Tank Sewage Treatment Plant under construction, 1912

March 7, 1912: Municipal Journal article. Some Principles of Sewerage Design. “The report of the Sewerage Commission upon the problem presented by the city of Milwaukee, the general conclusions of which were referred to in our issue of Feb. 29, contains a number of features among its details which are of considerable interest. One of these is the quantity of sewage which the engineers, Messrs. Alvord, Eddy and Whipple, think it desirable to provide for. The maximum rate of flow of sewage at the present time is approximately 250 gallons per capita per day, this including water used in manufacturing and ground water leaking into the sewers. The proposed sewer system is estimated of a capacity sufficient for the population and other requirements of the year 1950, and the maximum flow at that time is estimated at 350 gallons per capita per day. As the amount of ground water seepage per capita will probably be less rather than greater at that time, this indicates a belief in a very high rate of water consumption for domestic and manufacturing purposes 40 years hence. The importance, in their opinion, of manufacturing wastes in such a calculation is indicated by the fact that more than three times as much sewage per acre is allowed for from the manufacturing as from the residential areas.

In making provisions for the future, the engineers believe that this should be governed to a great extent by the possibilities of gradual enlargement of capacity of the work in question. Thus sewers, the capacity of which can be increased only at great expense, they think should be designed for the probable needs of the city in 1950; while the sewage purification works, which can be easily enlarged by the addition of small units, they think should be constructed at the present time for a capacity of only 15 or 20 years in advance. An additional argument in favor of the latter is that our knowledge concerning purification methods is continually increasing, and it is very probable that improvements in details, if not in actual principles of operation will be available by that time.”

Reference: “Some Principles of Sewerage Design.” 1912. Municipal Journal. 32:10(March 7, 1912): 349.

Commentary: The three prominent engineers (Alvord, Eddy and Whipple) were wise to not lock in treatment technology in 1912 for 50 years. They knew that the knowledge in this area of sanitary engineering was advancing at a significant rate. They wanted their client to benefit from such a technological advance when it occurred some years in the future.

#TDIWH—February 17, 1916: Fertilizer from Activated Sludge and Flood in San Diego

Many decades later, the use of biosolids for fertilizer is catching on

Many decades later, the use of biosolids for fertilizer is catching on

February 17, 1916: Municipal Journal article. Fertilizer from Activated Sludge.   “Milwaukee, Wis.-The sewerage commission that is directing the construction of Milwaukee’s modern system of sewage disposal with a big plant on Jones island, operated by the new activated sludge method, is about ready to experiment with the sludge deposits left after streams of sewage have been purified. Chief engineer Hatton believes that this sludge can be manufactured into a commercial fertilizer which will command a market value ranging from $10 to $20 per ton. If the experiments are successful the sludge will be the source of considerable revenue which will decrease the operating expenses of the system which with its large intercepting sewers draining the whole city, will cost $10,000,000 or more. A special building will be erected for the treatment of the refuse to be worked into fertilizer form. Nine of the large concrete tanks recently built for the treatment of continuous flows of sewage are in operation and the other two will soon be ready.”

Flooding by DamFebruary 17, 1916: Municipal Journal article. Repair Flood-Damaged Water System. “San Diego, Cal.-The San Diego water system was hard hit by the storm which caused the flooding of the Otay valley. According to belief of the water department officials the conduit system is almost ruined. In places miles of trestle have been carried down the mountains. In other places the concrete flume was washed out by the hundred yards. To carry water from Morena dam to Upper Otay, as proposed, will entail expensive work and six months or more time, according to the belief of manager of operation Lockwood, who waited an official report from supervisor Wueste and engineer Cromwell. Morena dam stood the storm.”

Reference: Municipal Journal. 1916. 40:7(February 17,1916): 244.