Your search query

History of the sewer system

Published: 
21 June 2016
Modified: 
21 June 2016

When people began living in cities, the need arose for better facilities. In The Hague a sewer system was laid from approximately 1880.

In early times there was no need for a sewer system. Our ancestors simply crouched down behind a bush or a tree for their daily business. Once people began living in tents and houses such habits would quickly soil the area around their home, not to mention the mess on the inside.

Deep cesspits were dug to collect the human excrement. Once the cesspit was full, it was covered with soil. Household waste was also disposed of in these ditches. Archaeologists today are often very pleased with their finds as they can learn a great deal about the daily routines of our ancestors from the contents.

The Romans

The growing population in cities soon called for more extensive solutions. The Romans perfected an elaborate system of aqueducts to carry water to their cities. The water was also used to flush away waste. The Romans were the first to use a proper toilet (latrine). Rome was the first city to feature a complete sewage system, the Cloaca Maxima. Several languages, such as Russian, still use the word ‘cloaca’ for sewage.

Following the collapse of the Roman Empire, the latrines (toilets) vanished as well. People began to dig cesspits again, defecated in the corner of a room and sometimes built an outhouse above the water (a wooden privy). In some cities the human excrement was collected in barrels under the toilet and then emptied into a canal or picked up by a gong farmer (tonnenboer). This was still the case in some areas of the Netherlands about 50 years ago.

Sewage in The Hague

The population in the Netherlands increased strongly in the 19th century, often resulting in outbreaks of disease due to appalling sanitary conditions. Drink water pipes were soon laid to supply the population with clean drinking water and sewage pipes were soon put into place to transport the soiled water to the canals.

The canal water in The Hague soon became contaminated. A large number of canals were then simply covered or filled up. To keep the water in the canals a bit clean, large channels were dug to the sea so that the water could be carried away. First there was a channel to Scheveningen but it fizzled out in the dunes, and then came the wastewater channel. The wastewater channel (verversingskanaal) was built in 1888 and ran along the Houtrustweg, Suezkade, Conradkade to transport contaminated water from the canals via the Scheveningen Harbour to the North Sea.

As the city grew, pumps were used to carry the sewage quickly out to sea. Growing environmental awareness resulted in the sewage being pumped increasingly farther out in the sea. Later better cleansing facilities for sewage were put into place, considerably reducing the pollution of the sea water. Houtrust features such a sewage treatment plant under the management of the Hoogheemraad van Delfland (Delfland Water Authority). This system purifies The Hague’s sewage to this day.

History of the Sewer System



Published: 
21 June 2016
Modified: 
21 June 2016