A sewerage system, or wastewater collection system, is a network of pipes, pumping stations, and appurtenances that convey sewage from its points of origin to a point of treatment and disposal.
Systems that carry a mixture of both domestic sewage and storm sewage are called combined sewers. Combined sewers typically consist of large-diameter pipes or tunnels, because of the large volumes of storm water that must be carried during wet-weather periods. They are very common in older cities but are no longer designed and built as part of new sewerage facilities. Because wastewater treatment plants cannot handle large volumes of storm water, sewage must bypass the treatment plants during wet weather and be discharged directly into the receiving water. These combined sewer overflows, containing untreated domestic sewage, cause recurring water pollution problems and are very troublesome sources of pollution.
In some large cities the combined sewer overflow problem has been reduced by diverting the first flush of combined sewage into a large basin or underground tunnel. After temporary storage, it can be treated by settling and disinfection before being discharged into a receiving body of water, or it can be treated in a nearby wastewater treatment plant at a rate that will not overload the facility. Another method for controlling combined sewage involves the use of swirl concentrators. These direct sewage through cylindrically shaped devices that create a vortex, or whirlpool, effect. The vortex helps concentrate impurities in a much smaller volume of water for treatment.
New wastewater collection facilities are designed as separate systems, carrying either domestic sewage or storm sewage but not both. Storm sewers usually carry surface runoff to a point of disposal in a stream or river. Small detention basins may be built as part of the system, storing storm water temporarily and reducing the magnitude of the peak flow rate. Sanitary sewers, on the other hand, carry domestic wastewater to a sewage treatment plant. Pretreated industrial wastewater may be allowed into municipal sanitary sewerage systems, but storm water is excluded.
Storm sewers are usually built with sections of reinforced concrete pipe. Corrugated metal pipes may be used in some cases. Storm water inlets or catch basins are located at suitable intervals in a street right-of-way or in easements across private property. The pipelines are usually located to allow downhill gravity flow to a nearby stream or to a detention basin. Storm water pumping stations are avoided, if possible, because of the very large pump capacities that would be needed to handle the intermittent flows.
A sanitary sewerage system includes laterals, submains, and interceptors. Except for individual house connections, laterals are the smallest sewers in the network. They usually are not less than 200 mm (8 inches) in diameter and carry sewage by gravity into larger submains, or collector sewers. The collector sewers tie in to a main interceptor, or trunk line, which carries the sewage to a treatment plant. Interceptors are usually built with precast sections of reinforced concrete pipe, up to 5 metres (15 feet) in diameter. Other materials used for sanitary sewers include vitrified clay, asbestos cement, plastic, steel, or ductile iron. The use of plastic for laterals is increasing because of its lightness and ease of installation. Iron and steel pipes are used for force mains or in pumping stations. Force mains are pipelines that carry sewage under pressure when it must be pumped.
Sometimes the cost of conventional gravity sewers can be prohibitively high because of low population densities or site conditions such as a high water table or bedrock. Three alternative wastewater collection systems that may be used under these circumstances include small-diameter gravity sewers, pressure sewers, and vacuum sewers.
In small-diameter gravity systems, septic tanks are first used to remove settleable and floating solids from the wastewater from each house before it flows into a network of collector mains (typically 100 mm, or 4 inches, in diameter); these systems are most suitable for small rural communities. Because they do not carry grease, grit and sewage solids, the pipes can be of smaller diameter and placed at reduced slopes or gradients to minimize trench excavation costs. Pressure sewers are best used in flat areas or where expensive rock excavation would be required. Grinder pumps discharge wastewater from each home into the main pressure sewer, which can follow the slope of the ground. In a vacuum sewerage system, sewage from one or more buildings flows by gravity into a sump or tank from which it is pulled out by vacuum pumps located at a central vacuum station and then flows into a collection tank. From the vacuum collection tank the sewage is pumped to a treatment plant.
Pumping stations are built when sewage must be raised from a low point to a point of higher elevation or where the topography prevents downhill gravity flow. Special nonclogging pumps are available to handle raw sewage. They are installed in structures called lift stations. There are two basic types of lift stations: dry well and wet well. A wet-well installation has only one chamber or tank to receive and hold the sewage until it is pumped out. Specially designed submersible pumps and motors can be located at the bottom of the chamber, completely below the water level. Dry-well installations have two separate chambers, one to receive the wastewater and one to enclose and protect the pumps and controls. The protective dry chamber allows easy access for inspection and maintenance. All sewage lift stations, whether of the wet-well or dry-well type, should include at least two pumps. One pump can operate while the other is removed for repair.
There is a wide variation in sewage flow rates over the course of a day. A sewerage system must accommodate this variation. In most cities domestic sewage flow rates are highest in the morning and evening hours. They are lowest during the middle of the night. Flow quantities depend upon population density, water consumption, and the extent of commercial or industrial activity in the community. The average sewage flow rate is usually about the same as the average water use in the community. In a lateral sewer, short-term peak flow rates can be roughly four times the average flow rate. In a trunk sewer, peak flow rates may be two-and-a-half times the average.
Although sewage flows depend upon residential, commercial, and industrial connections, sewage flow rates potentially can become higher as a result of inflows and infiltration (I&I) into the sanitary sewer system. Inflows correspond to storm water entering sewers from inappropriate connections, such as roof drains, storm drains, downspouts and sump pumps. High amounts of rainwater runoff can reach the sewer system during precipitation and stormflow events or during seasonal spring flooding of rivers inundated with melting ice. Infiltration refers to the groundwater entering sewers via defective or broken pipes. In both these cases, downstream utilities and treatment plants may experience flows higher than anticipated and can become hydraulically overloaded. During such overloads, utilities may ask residents connected to the system to refrain from using dishwashers and washing machines and may even limit toilet flushing and the use of showers in an attempt to lessen the strain. Such I&I issues can be especially severe in old and aging water infrastructures.