December 2008, Vol. 20, No.12

Sewer Sociology

Back in the (Sewer) Day

Kevin L. Enfinger and Patrick L. Stevens

sew´•ẽr sō•ci•ol´ō•gy, the science of society, social institutions, and social relationships viewed through the eyes of a sewer; specifically, the systematic study of the development, structure, interaction, and collective sewer use of organized groups of human beings.

Most sewer flows are characterized by repeatable diurnal patterns that vary across weekdays, weekends, and holidays. Differences in land use are also apparent, and distractions and disruptions of daily life can often be observed. This month, we take a look at sewer sociology from a different angle and compare sewer flow data from the past and present.

Two weekday residential sewer use patterns from Cincinnati are provided in the figure below; they represent typical sewer flow data obtained during the early 20th century and the early 21st century. The comparison is striking and illustrates just how much day-to-day life in the United States has changed over the years.

Click figure for larger view

Electricity and the use of new innovations that it spawned are most responsible for this difference. By the 1920s, electricity had become common, especially within cities and nearby residential areas — extending day into night and paving the way for a host of appliances that now make our lives easier.

Although sewer flow data was limited during the early 20th century, contemporary engineers expressed much interest in gathering and reporting sewer sociology data, and their results provide additional clues into early 20th century life. For example, sewer flows on Saturdays were found to be similar to those on other weekdays, a subtle reminder that the work week did not end on Friday. In addition, sewer flows on Mondays were found to be greater than those on other weekdays, a fact casually attributed to wash day, a once time-consuming chore that now requires much less effort.

Kevin L. Enfinger is senior project engineer, and Patrick L. Stevens is vice president of engineering at ADS Environmental Services, a division of ADS LLC (Huntsville, Ala.).


Want More Sewer Sociology

Is the “halftime flush” a myth? What major holidays cause the largest flow disruptions? How does life in prison compare, flow-wise, to life outside of it?

You’ll find the answers by clicking here to access the Sewer Sociology Archive.

Reader favorites include “Major League Flow,” “Big Flow on Campus,” and the popular “Mystery Flow” series.






Mystery Flow: Part 6 Winner

Congratulations to Rachel Kranz of Saint Paul, Minn., who correctly identified the flow pattern in Mystery Flow: Part 6 as an automobile manufacturing plant.