Sandy’s Sewage Threat


In the wake of Sandy, Kent Sepkowitz is most concerned about the integrity of the water supply:

More than email or mass transit or your favorite diner, all of urban life depends on plumbing—defined in practical terms as the effective provision of clean water for drinking and the regular removal of waste to a place nowhere near the source of clean water. The ancient Romans with their Cloaca Maxima were able to rule the world because of their attention (OK, obsession) to this elemental fact. Pliny the Elder considered their plumbing to be the greatest accomplishment of the Roman Empire. Clean in and waste out, in and out, in and out—that’s how civilization grows. Societies that accomplish this flourish while those that cannot generally struggle to move beyond the most rudimentary hand-to-mouth subsistence.

(Photo: A man clears leaves from a sewer drain in lower Manhattan on October 30, 2012. By Allison Joyce/Getty Images)