Need sewer repair in NJ? Call the expert plumbers at A1 Sewer & Drain Services, at 201-645-0888.
Ever wonder how sewer and drainage systems actually work? Many people don’t think about wastewater disposal or outdoor drainage. One of the benefits of modern life is that we don’t have to worry about those kinds of things. As long as you pay your utility bills, clean drinking water and sanitary waste disposal are basically guaranteed in NJ.
But behind your taps and faucets, with which you actually interact, is a complex network of pipes that extends both within your home and beyond it. This system is intimately familiar to professional NJ plumbers and engineers who work or design water systems. The complexity of the modern urban water system is truly a modern marvel– it’s easy to forget that indoor plumbing is a surprisingly recent development, especially if you don’t count ancient Roman advancements that were lost after the fall of the empire.
At A1 Sewer & Drain Services, our experienced NJ sewer plumbers know plumbing and sewer systems like the backs of our hands. We’ve spend years honing and perfecting our detailed knowledge of how sewers work, how plumbing works, and what can go wrong with your sewer line. We’re always available for same-day service for sewer repairs, drain repair, sewer cleaning, and more in Bergen County, Morris County, and elsewhere in NJ. To find out more, or to schedule service in 45 minutes from your call, call us any time at 201-645-0888.
The History of Plumbing and Sewer Systems
Since prehistoric times, finding fresh water and managing waste have been significant logistic challenges for human settlements. Historically, major villages, towns, and cities were almost always close to a source of running water, although in the Neolithic era, people began digging freshwater wells. Since toilets didn’t exist, people likely used pit latrines.
Some of the very first real plumbing is found in the ruins of the Indus Valley civilization, located in modern-day Pakistan and northwest India. One of the oldest true civilizations in existence, they engineered impressive hydraulic systems for water transport– including the world’s first flush toilets.
Roman Sewer Systems: Early Engineering Innovations
The Roman sanitation and sewer systems were strikingly similar to our own, although the Dark Ages marked the loss of these useful modern technologies. In the city of Rome, eleven main aquaducts supplied the city with water of varying quality. The cleanest water was used for drinking, while less sterile water was used for bathing and for latrines.
Many Roman latrine systems washed waste away in a stream of water, rather like modern drains and sewer main lines. This water flowed though a central channel into the main sewage system, which ultimately discharged into a river of stream.
The very first Roman sewers were built some time between 800 and 735 BC. Archaeologists think that Roman drainage systems evolved slowly, beginning with finding solutions for draining marshes and managing storm runoff. The sewers themselves may have originally been used for surface drainage, since excess rainwater could wash away the valuable topsoil that was needed for successful crops.
The Roman sewer system really took off when the Cloaca Maxima was built. This ancient sanitation artifact was an open channel (hence the name). It was gradually expanded by the Romans over time, creating an interconnected network between different homes, drains, and public latrines– much like a modern sewer system. Ultimately, the waste was emptied into the Tiber River.
The Greek writer Strabo, who visited Rome sometime around 20 BC, was impressed by the ingenuity of Roman sewer systems. In his Geographica, he wrote:
The sewers, covered with a vault of tightly fitted stones, have room in some places for hay wagons to drive through them. And the quantity of water brought into the city by aqueducts is so great that rivers, as it were, flow through the city and the sewers; almost every house has water tanks, and service pipes, and plentiful streams of water…In short, the ancient Romans gave little thought to the beauty of Rome because they were occupied with other, greater and more necessary matters.
As you can see, Roman sewer plumbing was surprisingly sophisticated for its time.
The Middle Ages and Early Modern Era: Plumbing Systems as a Lost Art
After the fall of the Roman Empire and before the Industrial Revolution, plumbing was somewhat of a lost art in Europe. Instead of systems of pipes and drains, people used pail closets, outhouses, and cesspits. Fresh drinking water was obtained from rivers, streams, and wells.
In early modern London, commissioned wagons made their rounds each night to collect the contents of the city’s outhouses. The waste was sown into soil beds, where it was used to produce nitrite-rich earth that could be used to produce saltpeter, a key ingredient in gunpowder.
The Industrial Revolution: Plumbing Rises Again
The Enlightenment Era marked the beginning of new scientific and technological innovations in Europe, including sewer plumbing. In the 18th century, London’s rapidly growing population made water access a necessity. In 1723, the Chelsea Waterworks Company was founded, creating some of England’s first waterworks. In 1775, Alexander Cummings invented the S-bend pipe. A century later, this would be further refined into the modern U-trap by the hilariously named Sir Thomas Crapper. The first screw-in water tap was patented in 1845.
Around the same time, advancements were made in water filtration and water sanitation. The early pioneers of microscopy, Anton van Leeuwenhoek and Robert Hooke, were the first to observe tiny particles and microbes– which they called “animalcules”– in the water. This helped lay the groundwork for our modern understanding of waterborne pathogens.
The S-bend pipe marked a turning point for the development of the modern flush toilet. S-pipes and U-traps seal water outside the bowl’s outlet, keeping sewer gases and unpleasant odors from wafting up the drain. The toilet finally came into wide use in the mid-19th century, at the height of the Industrial Revolution. They first appeared in Great Britain, and quickly spread elsewhere throughout the European continent.
The development of flush toilets coincided with the rapid expansion of truly modern sewer systems. This was necessary in the rapidly growing and densely populated cities of the Industrial Revolution, where people were at a high risk of infections and diseases. Waterborne diseases like typhoid and cholera were a serious health concern.
During the early 19th century, the Thames river had basically served as one big open sewer. Naturally, this led to water contamination. In 1858, this led to a crisis known as the “Great Stink,” as water contamination of the Thames had led to perpetual sewage odors. The smell prompted action, and Parliament agreed upon a great engineering venture to create better sewage disposal systems.
The primary responsibility for the project fell on an engineer named Joseph Bazalgette, who designed an extensive underground sewage system. These sewer pipes ultimately discharged into the Thames Estuary, downstream of the population. There were six main intercepting sewers, totaling almost 100 miles in length. These were fed by over 450 miles of main sewers, which were in turn fed by some 13,000 miles of smaller local sewer pipes. Flow was mostly dependent on gravity, but there were also pumping stations to ensure water flow.
Bazalgette’s innovating engineering formed the basis for the sewer systems we know today. Although they initially discharged into bodies of water, water pollution later became a concern. In 1890, the first sewage treatment plant was built in Worcester, Massachussets. In the mid- to late 19th century, these modern sewer system innovations helped dramatically reduce the incidence of waterborne disease in urban populations, extending the average lifespan significantly.
Need sewer repair in NJ? Call the expert plumbers at A1 Sewer & Drain Services, at 201-645-0888.
How The Modern Sewer System Works
The evolution of the modern sewer system has progressed significantly, from the first ancient innovations in Rome and Harappa, to the development of truly modern sewer systems in the Industrial Revolution. Today, most of us take the sewer system for granted, forgetting what a boon these systems are for public health and sanitation.
Today, complex networks of sewer pipes convey waste materials to sophisticated wastewater treatment plants. The journey of water begins in the water mains, where it enters into individual NJ homes and businesses. Once it enters from your water main, it splits into hot water pipes and cold water pipes. The average American household can use as many as 400 gallons of water per day, all of which goes through your plumbing and drains, and into the sewer main line and city sewer system.
Once you use water, it becomes wastewater. There are two loose classifications for domestic wastewater: “black water” and “grey water.” Black water contains human waste, while grey water does not. Some households have installed sustainable systems for making use of grey water for watering gardens, helping cut water use and improve their impact on the environment.
Water from your home eventually goes into the sewer main line, making its way into the municipal sewer system. In most cases, these sewer pipes are powered by gravity (although some basements are equipped with effluent pumps). Your local sewer main runs through the middle of the street in most cases, with the sewer lines from all the surrounding houses flowing into it. Vertical pipes run to the surface at various intervals, covered with a manhole cover. This provides access for sewer repair and maintenance workers.
The sewer mains flow into progressively larger and larger pipes, until they eventually reach a sewage treatment plant.
How Wastewater Treatment Plants Work
Wastewater treatment plants use two to three stages to process wastewater.
- Primary treatment. Primary treatment in a wastewater treatment plant is similar to what happens inside a septic tank. Solids settle out of the water, while scum rises to the top. Screens over a set of pools allow the water to sit and separate. The solids are collected for disposal, either by incineration or in a landfill. Primary treatment generally removes about half of the solids, organic materials, and bacteria from wastewater.
- Secondary treatment. Secondary treatment is designed to remove organic materials and nutrients. Water flows to large, aerated tanks, where bacteria consume and break down these materials. Then, it moves to settling tanks, where the bacteria settle out of it. This process can remove up to 90% of remaining contaminants from the wastewater.
- Tertiary treatment. In some communities, wastewater treatment plants use tertiary treatment processes to remove phosphorus and nitrogen from the water. Chlorine is sometimes added to kill off any remaining bacteria.
After treatment, the newly clean and safe water is generally discharged into a nearby water source. There are several criteria that should be met for the water to be environmentally safe:
- pH. The acidity of the water leaving the plant should match that of the river or lake that’s receiving its output.
- Biochemical oxygen demand. BOD is a measurement of how much oxygen would be needed to finish digesting leftover organic material in the effluent. It should ideally be zero.
- Dissolved oxygen. If the water is anoxic, meaning it contains no oxygen, it can kill aquatic life that comes into contact with it. The dissolved oxygen should be high.
- Phosphorus and nitrogen levels. Wastewater that contains phosphorus and nitrogen can be dangerous for aquatic ecosystems. Too much of these vital nutrients causes a process called eutrophication, in which overgrowth of algae suffocates other life in a body of water.
- Chlorine. While chlorine is used to kill harmful bacteria, it needs to be removed so that it won’t harm beneficial bacteria in the natural environment.
- Coliform bacteria count. This is a measurement of fecal bacteria that remain in the water. These bacteria are an environmental and human health concern, so the number should be low. It’s worth noting that natural bodies of water are never 100% free of these organisms. They can be naturally introduced into the water by birds, fish, and other animals.
Sewer Pipe Repairs & Sewer Cleaning in NJ
Need sewer repairs or sewer cleaning in NJ? At A1 Sewer & Drain Services, we’re always available for 24-hour emergency service in Bergen County, Morris County, and other areas of northern New Jersey. Call us any time to find out more, or to get sewer service today, at 201-645-0888.