Sewage Emergency: Thunder Bay Flooding

Recently the city of Thunder Bay Ontario experienced devastating flooding. There was enough water to flood out the waste water treatment plant. This effectively shut down the sewage collection and treatment system for the entire city. This turned the entire city to a zone without sanitation.  Over 1000 houses needed to be evacuated, and some people needed to evacuate immediately.

Contaminated Water Flooding Thunder Bay (from

The flood hit the city at night, and people living in basement apartments woke up to furniture floating in sewage.  One lucky family woke up to their baby’s crib (and baby) floating in sewage.  The rest discovered that their house smelled horrible when they woke up.

What overloaded the system was a prolonged rainstorm above the 100 year storm levels and the normal waste water levels. Combined sewers meant that all this water was supposed to be treated at the waste water treatment plant.  When the flooding reached the facility, the pumps shorted out, as in most large facilities most of the control electronics (there are a lot) are stored in the basement.  Electronics underwater rarely fair well, this shut down the entire facility.  Large volumes of contaminated water had nowhere else to go and it started covering most of the city. People had anywhere from 4 inches to 6 feet of sewage in their homes.

Sewage Flooded Basement (from

The city instructed residents not to use water, because all the flushed toilet water was ending up in basements and free flowing in the street. People didn’t stop washing and flushing. Now, when there is sewage everywhere there is a huge need to wash and keep clean. But when all you have is water for hygiene, all that waste will end up in the street or in your basement.  So there are strong reasons to use water, and strong reasons not to flush anything down the drain.  This is a good reason to have water-less cleaners available for when the waste has nowhere to go. Alternatively it is also a good reason to have short term storage for household waste.  There is no point in flushing the toilet if it just ends up in your basement.  I would personally deal with twenty feces filled buckets then one flooded basement.

When there is sewage in your house the environment becomes so toxic that even sleeping overnight can cause respiratory illnesses. Continue reading

A City Without Sanitation

This article is another one designed to get people thinking about the hidden parts of our cities. The water and waste systems are easy to forget and are often willfully ignored.
People living in modern cities take sanitation for granted. Many people don’t realize that cities appeared after we developed sewers and efficient garbage removal. Quite literally, sewers are the backbone of civilization. It is misleading sometimes because many cities have truly ancient origins, however they were barely more than villages before sanitation. The problem with have large numbers of people in a small area like a city is that it gets filthy, and it gets filthy fast. The problem with living in filthy places is disease. Water borne, airborne and vermin borne diseases boom when there are lots of people in dirty places. The reason settlements didn’t grow beyond villages is disease would keep populations small.
Before sewers, sewage flowed freely in the streets. It eventually flows into the nearest surface water and leaches into the groundwater completely contaminating all water supplies.

Before Sewers Streets Had Rivers Of Sewage

Cities will quickly regress into a similar state once the efficient removal of waste is interrupted.  I have written about what a breakdown of the sewers system will look like. In a long term scenario, people will either move or they will throw their waste into the street.

Sewage Overflow in San Francisco

This seems so foreign to us, but that is exactly what happens when waste services stop. Continue reading