We have so much to be thankful for when it comes to modern infrastructure. Imagine for a moment Boise in the early 1880s. It didn’t matter where you were, if nature called you were using a privy or cesspool. History indicates that overflowing and contamination of irrigation canals were not uncommon. Grateful yet?
Once Boise obtained its first water system in 1891, wastewater volume dramatically increased. It wasn’t until May 25, 1891 that Boise City Council authorized a committee to investigate the best system of waste removal. A month later Boise City passed Ordinance No. 106 which prompted city council to issue a $50,000 bond for the construction of sewers. By the beginning of 1892 a little over a mile of sewer lines had been laid. The sewer outlet discharged to a branch of the Boise City Canal that returned excess water to the Boise River.
While the Boise sewers were completed, Boise residents were still forced to return to privies, at least for a little while. The use of sewers was put on hold while the city and the Perrault Ditch Company worked on their stalemate. Originally, Boise City had planned on obtaining water to flush the sewer from the Perrault Ditch Company. Owner of the company, Joseph Perrault refused to supply water to Boise until he was paid for previous irrigation services in downtown Boise. On May 19, 1892 Boise City defied Perracult’s demands and accepted a proposal from the Artesian Hot and Cold Water Company. Eventually, the city came to an understanding with Perrault, who later took over the service. Despite the fact the sewers were in use, many Boiseans still were not connected and continued to use privies.
The passage of Ordinance No. 231 in November 1897 divided Boise into eleven sewer districts. The segregation of districts allowed for improved sanitation and extension of sewers. For the next 50 years Boise’s sewer system grew to accommodate the population growth. However, 60 years after the sewers initial construction sewage was still being expelled into the Boise River. It wasn’t until 1950 that a wastewater treatment plant was constructed in Boise. In 1973 the Master Plan for Boise Metropolitan Area Sanitary Sewage Collection and Treatment was adopted. It was updated three years later.
Currently, Boise’s sewer system consists of more than 700 miles of pipes that weave underneath the city. Boise Public Works Department maintains the intricate sewer system and much more. Along with regular system maintenance, Public Works makes major repairs and is in charge of designing the system. Since 1985, Public Works has also regulated industrial and commercial wastewater discharges into the sewer system through its EPA-approved Pretreatment Program. The Pretreatment Program also administers the Residential Fats, Oils, and Grease (FOG) program. In addition, Public Works also sets the sewer rates for residential and commercial users and administers sewer billing.
From privies to Pretreatment Programs, discussing sewage isn’t glamorous. However, it is an essential element of modern living. Although largely taken for granted, Boise’s sewer system continues to safeguard the health of our growing community.