The march toward effective wastewater treatment began in the late 1800s, when municipalities began to build facilities for the purpose of physically separating out solids and floating debris from wastewater before releasing it to a waterbody (Rowland and Heid, 1976). In many cases, this construction was promoted by city officials and entrepreneurs, who were rapidly learning that unsightly urban debris and a delightful growing phenomenon, tourists with leisure dollars to spend, did not mix. By no coincidence, one of the first of these treatment facilities was constructed in 1886 next to New York's famous Coney Island beaches. Other cities with prominent waterfront areas followed suit, and by 1909 about 10 percent of the wastewater collected by municipal sewer systems underwent some form of physical separation process, now known as primary treatment (OTA, 1987).
The practice of physically screening and settling out solids and floating debris was a critical first step in incorporating the wastewater treatment component into the urban water cycle. Even though primary treatment facilities were simple in concept, they reduced the concentrations of contaminants entering urban waterways.
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