Imagine the smell and pollution human waste would have made in this world if there were no sewage disposal systems. Without plumbing, as we know it today, the cities and towns would have been a great mess besides being breeding grounds of diseases that we cannot even think about. The London Sewage System serves the Greater London area and is one of the larger sewage systems in the world. Operated by Thames water, this system was developed in the later part of the 19th Century and as the city has grown, this system has expanded too.
Before the idea of a comprehensive sewage system in London came up, most of the waste from the city was dumped straight into the River Thames, making the river a breeding ground for the epidemics that struck often England in those times. With the river being a cesspool of human waste and a terribly smelly mass flowing through the centre of London, there is little wonder that London suffered outbreaks of cholera time and again until Joseph Bazalgette, the Chief Engineer of the Metropolitan Board of Works decided to do something about it.
The Solution to the ‘Great Stink’
Based on the research of Dr John Snow, a physician who closely studied the causes of cholera during the outbreaks of 1849 and 1854 and linked them to the contaminated drinking water, Joseph Bazalgette arrived at the conclusion that major sewers needed to be designed across various points on the river so that sewerage and drinking water supply could be kept separate. Sir Joseph convinced the Parliament to sanction 3 million pounds to this project and it is the result of his ambitious plans, which he designed and implemented, that London could overcome the ‘Great Stink’ as well as conquer the cholera epidemics.
Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s project was completed in 1870 and is still in use; it forms the heart of the London Sewerage System. Bazalgette constructed five major brick-lined sewers that measure more than 132 kilometres connecting to strategic locations both north and south of the river Thames. The sewers run along the embankments of Thames and include Victoria and Albert Embankments. Though most of this system was built keeping the principles of gravity in mind, certain areas like Chelsea and Abbey Mills also have pumping stations to regulate the sewage flow. Improvements, repairs and additions have been made to this sewerage system from time to time and this greatest civil engineering project of its time still handles about 1.8 billion litres of sewage everyday.