Gross but Grateful: The History of the Syracuse Sewage System


Today, the District collects and treats wastewater from approximately 80 square miles for a population of about 200,000.

Utah steam powered traction digger from 1909

As you’re counting the things you’re grateful for, don’t forget the gross stuff too! This month, Connection Publishing wanted to tell the history of something we all should be grateful for: a sewage system.

In the beginning, the Native American way of sewage was much different than today. They dug trenches to do their business in. You might think that it was the smelliest way to get rid of sewage. Luckily, the harsh winters froze the trenches; therefore, the smells went away.

Early settlers implemented the same idea, with some innovation for privacy. Instead of an open trench, they built outhouses. A septic tank wouldn’t arrive in the States until 1880. As a result, these settlers were still disposing of sewage directly into the ground. Eventually, they were connected to septic tanks. (You can see a replica of a typical outhouse at the Syracuse Museum.) It was still up to each household to empty the tanks every so often. Many tanks broke down, and raw sewage often ran into corrals with the barnyard manure.

Utah gravity outfall sewer.

Others in the Salt Lake Valley had already run out of places to store their sewage by that time. Since there were so many farmlands in the north, like Syracuse, they dug an open conveyance system to send their sewage up northwest. Once there, farms could use the system to create their own fertilizer. Later, it was much more effective to use manure. Plus, the conveyance systems were an eye sore.

The first suggestion of a sewage system for the town was in January of 1942. A special meeting was held March 9, 1942, to see how many of the people favored a sewer line. The vote was unanimous: people favored it.

By September, president of the board, T.J. Thurgood, sent a request for a sewer franchise to the State of Utah. The government granted a loan that led to a 30-inch sewer line, which was installed down State Street (1700 South) to Main Street (2000 West). A 36-inch line came down from the West Point Road along Main Street and extended south into the lake. At this time, there was no sewage disposal plant, only raw sewage which flowed into the lake. At the beginning, it cost a connection fee of $90 and $1/month service fee. This was worth the cost of having to regularly empty a septic tank. The roads, sidewalks, and irrigation ditches were left in a mess. This prompted the town board to insist on a satisfactory restoration, which finally came in the summer of 1943.

For a few years, jurisdiction of the sewer line through Syracuse was under the town board; however, in May of 1944, president of the board, T.J. Thurgood, was appointed to represent Syracuse on the North Davis Sewer Board. In September of 1946, changes were made for a metropolitan system. By the spring of 1951, Dale Smedley was doing all the hookups and repairs. One of the last main sewer lines installed as late as February of 1965 was west of the store corner (1700 South) along the Bluff Road, and then north (3000 West) to the West Point City boundary. Eventually, the system expanded to include all residents, which took more than another decade.

Some residents who had sewer lines in front of their house remained unconnected. Health officer Dr. Keith Barnes from Davis County insisted all residents must hook up to the sewer system where available. Eventually, the system expanded to include all residents, which took more than another decade.

The North Davis Metropolitan Sewer Association was formed in 1946 to acquire federal funding. Meanwhile, the North Davis Metropolitan Sewer had already been constructed in 1943. By 1954, it had the authority to levy taxes, issue bonds, and construct a sewage collection and treatment system.

Utah sewer construction system from 1915

Thoughts of organizing an all-urban area from Kaysville to Roy under one system with a disposal plant located in Syracuse were first considered in February of 1951. Notably, they even planned to have the disposal plant in Syracuse. At the time, Syracuse City officials were against the move, feeling it was too expensive and the city would not benefit very much. So, the North Davis County Sewage Disposal Plant was completed later, in 1954. All cities included in the district were required to participate, including Syracuse. Today, the District collects and treats wastewater from approximately 80 square miles for a population of about 200,000. The District is made up of the cities of Clearfield, Clinton, Layton, Roy, Sunset, Syracuse, West Point, a small area of Kaysville, Hill Air Force Base, and areas of unincorporated Davis and Weber counties.

The district owns and operates approximately 100 miles of sewer collection lines, which deliver wastewater to the treatment facility located near the shoreline of the Great Salt Lake. Against the wishes of those city officials in the 1940s, this facility did, indeed, end up in Syracuse, Utah. The facility has the capacity to treat 34 million gallons of wastewater per day, consistently removing over 95% of pollutants before releasing water back into the lake environment.

All sewage travels to one of the district facilities which have been designed to maximize efficiency and effectiveness. Then, any by-products of the treatment process are put to beneficial use too. Combustible sewer gas is generated as part of the solids treatment process. The gas is used to fuel engine-driven generators, supplying as much as 60% of the energy needs of the treatment plant and significantly reducing the amount of power that must be purchased from electrical utilities. The anaerobic digestion process and heating for buildings on site is achieved by utilizing heat from generator exhaust and cooling systems. The plant generates approximately 3,000 tons of dried biosolids each year. Upon compliance with federal regulations governing pathogen and pollutant content, these biosolids can be returned to the land and used beneficially as an soil amendment and fertilizer. Now, today’s sewage system still hearkens back to the early settlers’ system. After treatment, water discharged from the plant provides irrigation for all turf grass areas at the treatment plant site and for wash-down water throughout the plant site.

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