A Brief History of Septic Tanks

Septic tanks are so much a part of everyday life in Calgary and Okotoks that it’s hard to imagine life without them. Just think of what our urban centres and rural waterways looked (and smelled) like before septic tanks came around. The fact of the matter is, the modern septic tank only appeared in North America in the early 1880s — what a welcome sight that must have been!

Read on for a brief overview of the history of human waste disposal and the septic tank before it arrived in Calgary and Okotoks:

  • Indus Valley and Mesopotamia — A long, long time ago, in a sanitation system far, far away, the Mesopotamians came up with a novel approach to removing human waste from their cramped urban centres — just dump it downstream. Although the Mesopotamians were an advanced civilization, today we can clearly see nothing “advanced” or “ecological” in this approach. But, it did allow the Mesopotamians to safely draw and use water from their respective rivers, allowing them to focus on the high pursuits of metalworking and mathematics. 
  • Ancient Greece and Rome — All roads may have led to Rome, but ancient Mediterranean cultures had yet to resolve the issue of what to do with all that human waste (or develop a catchy slogan for it). As population centres grew and spread further and further away from rivers, transporting human waste became more of an issue. The Greeks responded with communal toilets that removed household waste via city sewers. Opa! The Romans later engineered marvellous sewage and aqueduct systems that took wastewater into the countryside to sewage “treatment” farms which transformed it into fertilizer. Wealthy Romans even had primitive air conditioning systems in the form of mountain water trickling down their concrete walls. 
  • Europe — Recovering from several plagues, Europe’s booming population in the 1700s decided to get smart on tackling the issue of sanitation. After all, the Industrial Revolution meant more wastewater, hence fewer places to dump it. The question became, “How do we reduce the volume of waste as much as possible in order to make it more manageable?” There were various breakthroughs in filtration and chlorination which served as precursors to modern urban wastewater treatment plants, but yet the septic tank was still a century away. 
  • France, 1860 — To put it simply, the septic tank was a fortuitous historical accident. Yes, an accident! A Frenchman by the name of Jean-Louis Mouras built a cement reservoir to store the wastewater from his home. Ten years later, he went to empty it and found the reservoir to be nearly empty, save for a small amount of wastewater “scum.” With this joyous discovery, the modern septic tank was born!
  • Post-WW II — As we learned from Europe in the 1700s, and the Roman Empire before it, more babies means more waste. After World War II, North America’s booming population placed a strain on waste-treatment centres. In response to the long historical question of, “What do you do with all the do-do that you do?” residents in small urban centres and rural areas such as Calgary and Okotoks, responded by installing septic tanks. And the rest, they say, is septic tank history.

Do you have a septic tank at home in Calgary or Okotoks?
Contact us at WildRose Vacuum Services with all your septic tank needs!

At WildRose Vacuum Services, we provide full service for septic tanks —from installation to pumping to replacement.

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