Historic preservation and environmental protection collide
July 29, 2009

Several communities in Iowa and Nebraska are among those that have been ordered by the Federal government (via the EPA) to upgrade their sewer systems and separate stormwater from sanitary waste before carrying it away from homes and businesses. The process is turning out to be very expensive, and mandates for historic preservation could make the process even more costly. Historic analysis of the sewers and the surrounding ground is being required for a number of projects, including the replacement and repair of brick-lined sewers in Des Moines. The task is complicated on a number of levels, not the least of which is the funding required and the widespread lack of public knowledge about their sewerage systems. The debate has even gone so far as to discuss the possibility of visitors centers at historic sewer sites, though that appears to have been taken off the table for good reason. The Des Moines Register appears to have taken an historic interest in the story, noting that Waterloo once held a banquet in a storm sewer and invited hundreds of guests. That event, in 1903, was to celebrate the opening of a stormwater sewer, which is generally less susceptible to the presence of hazardous gases like hydrogen sulfide and methane that are commonly found in sanitary sewers. Portable gas sensors can be used to monitor for safety in hazardous locations, but sanitary sewers are not really suitable for tourism, even if tours of the sewers of Paris are available.

July 2009
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last revised July 2009