Sewer Sociology – The Days of Our (Sewer) Lives

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ABSTRACT
For centuries mankind has recorded life’s events through hieroglyphics, stories, and books. In similar fashion, those of us in the sewer business recognize the daily rhythm of people’s lives through the diurnal patterns of water and sewer use. Differences can be seen between weekdays, weekends, and holidays, and other distractions and disruptions of everyday life can often be seen as a departure from the normal diurnal pattern.

An overview of sewer use patterns is provided for normal weekday and weekend periods. Variations are then discussed based on land use differences – including residential and commercial areas. Other events that depart from normal diurnal patterns are also presented – including holidays, religious observances, sporting events, the World Trade Center Attack of 2001, the Northeast Power Blackout of 2003, and others.

This paper is not a typical technical paper, but rather a collection of interesting observations of human behavior documented through sewer flow monitoring data. The authors have performed engineering analysis on data from thousands of flow monitoring locations across the United States, and this paper will show those of general interest, including both serious and light-hearted material.

INTRODUCTION
For centuries mankind has recorded life’s events through hieroglyphics, stories, and books. In similar fashion, those of us in the sewer business recognize the daily rhythm of people’s lives through the diurnal patterns of water and sewer use. Sewers really do tell a story . . . a story about everyday life, its distractions, and its disruptions.It is this story we tell through the eyes of a sewer.

Sewers . . . and Sociology?
Sewers are an important part of our society. They serve to promote public health, protect the environment, and support economic growth within our communities. They also happen to provide a unique view into everyday life, and thus the connection between sewers and sociology. For this discussion, sewer sociology is defined as:

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.

— adapted from Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary1

What would a sociologist have to say about all of this? Ron Akers, a Professor of Sociology at the University of Florida, was contacted in this regard. He stated that “there is definitely a social dimension and patterned social behavior that relates to the use of all public resources,” including sewers.2 Interesting observations into this social dimension are revealed in flow monitoring data, beginning with a hydrograph as shown in Figure 1.

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