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Prineville officials cite concerns for health and protection of water table

PHOTO COURTESY OF BOWMAN MUSEUM - Outhouses remained the main method of human waste disposal in Prineville well into the 20th century. They were outlawed in town in 1941.Prineville was a frontier town for many years. Even when it was incorporated in 1880, it did not have a sanitary ordinance in place. As the town began to grow, sanitary conditions became an issue.

Most residences relied on outhouses in the back yard or in the rear of places of business. Early photos of Prineville reveal many of the outhouses. Even though there were requirements that chemicals such as lye be used to keep the smell down, it became a problem during the hot months of summer, and flies swarmed though the community.

Prineville developed a water supply system as early as 1895, but it was not improved until about 1900. Water delivery did allow for some indoor plumbing, but there was not a sewer system to flush away waste materials. If an indoor toilet was used, it usually was discharged into a pit known as a cesspool in which a hole was dug and filled with rocks and covered with soil.

Outhouses remained the main method of human waste disposal, and human waste was deposited into pits dug under the outhouses which were not lined with any barrier. This allowed leaching directly into the shallow water table. The growth of Prineville demanded that a better system of sewage disposal be developed.

As early as 1907, the city determined that some form of sewage treatment was needed. It was believed that sewage could be piped to a septic system and treated then discharged into the Crooked River. This primitive system was not adequate to fit the needs of a growing community as only a limited amount of sewage could be treated.

By 1930, the population of Prineville was just over 1,000 but nearly doubled by 1940. In the '30s, sewage lines were constructed, and a primitive treatment system established, but it was soon overwhelmed. This led the city to ban outdoor toilets and to plan for more adequate sewage system.

It was not until the early 1950s that a major sewer system was established with a more modern treatment plant. Most of the sewer system was in the downtown core. Outlying areas, such as The Heights and fringe areas on the outskirts of town, still utilized cesspools and later septic systems. It was not until the 1960s that a more complete sewer system was developed for most of Prineville.


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