From Pipe Dreams to Tunnel Vision:

Engineering Decision-Making and Sydney's Sewerage System

by Sharon Beder

THESIS FOR
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF NEW SOUTH WALES, AUSTRALIA

1989


Abstract

The broad theme of this thesis is engineering decision-making. The various factors that shape technological development are investigated using the development of Sydney's sewerage system as a case study. The thesis focuses on various key decisions, past and present, including the choice of water-carriage technology for sewage collection, the selection of sewage treatment technologies, and on-going preference of engineers and bureaucrats for ocean disposal. Also covered are the legislative and regulatory mechanisms, the policies of the Sydney Water Board with regard to industrial waste disposal and the relationship between the Board and the public.

A study was made of historical documents, engineering reports and papers, parliamentary debates, annual reports, minutes, newspaper reports and secondary sources and personal interviews were conducted. Various bodies of literature were referred to and used, including the books and articles on the history and sociology of engineers, the politics of expertise and public participation and the emerging discipline of science and technology studies.

It is concluded that the development of Sydney's sewerage system has been shaped by social, political and economic factors and that engineers have played a pivotal role in the decisions made through their deliberate shaping of knowledge and the performance of predictions they have made for various options. The decisions made in this way have been defended against public opinion and public participation in the decision-making process has been kept to a minimum.

This thesis supports the argument that technology is socially constructed, that the technical cannot be separated from the social, and that an interactive model of technological development is more appropriate than a linear, causal one. It shows that the role of power in the shaping of technology is crucial, and in particular the alliance of state and professional power that occurs in the shaping of public sector technology.


Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION (pdf-530 KB)

SCOPE OF THE THESIS
RECENT DIRECTIONS IN THE STUDY OF TECHNOLOGY
Systems and Actor Networks
Engineers, Expertise & Influence
Engineering Practice
STRATEGY OF THIS THESIS

1. SANITARY REFORM & CONTROL OF THE MASSES (pdf - 210 KB)

CESSPITS AND PRIVIES
PROBLEMS OF CITY GOVERNANCE AND FINANCE
THE CONNECTION BETWEEN DIRT AND DISEASE
CONTROLLING THE MASSES - DIRT, VICE AND IMMORALITY
GOVERNMENT INTERVENTION VS THE IDEAL OF LAISSEZ-FAIRE
THE PRICE OF POOR PUBLIC HEALTH
CONCLUSION - COMPELLING COSTS & GOVERNMENT CONTROL

2. SEWAGE COLLECTION – FROM CESPITS TO SEWERS (pdf - 450 KB)

COMMISSIONERS, COMMITTEES AND THE FIGHT FOR CONTROL
THE WATER-CARRIAGE DEBATE
CONSERVING A VALUABLE FERTILISER
PROTECTING THE ENVIRONMENT
ARGUMENTS OVER EFFICACY
ORDER, SOCIAL CONTROL & PROGRESS
ENGINEERS AND PROFESSIONAL CONTROL
CONCLUSION - ANALYSIS OF A CONTROVERSY

3. SEWAGE TREATMENT - FROM SEWAGE FARMS TO SEPTIC TANKS (pdf - 460 KB)

SEWAGE FARMS AND THE CONSERVATION LOBBY
A HALF-HEARTED EXPERIMENT IN SEWAGE FARMING
CHEMICAL PRECIPITATION - A SHORT LIVED EXPERIMENT
SERIOUS EXPERIMENTS WITH SEPTIC TANKS
MARKING OUT THE ENGINEER'S TERRITORY
CONCLUSION-THE ADVANTAGES OF FAILED EXPERIMENTS

4. OCEAN DISPOSAL AND THE EFFECTIVENESS OF PUBLIC PROTEST (pdf - 810 KB)

AN EARLY FIGHT BETWEEN THE EXPERTS AND THE PUBLIC
BATTLES OVER BEACH POLLUTION
PREDICTIONS FOR PUBLIC RELATIONS PURPOSES
POLLUTION PROTESTS AT COOGEE
SUPPRESSING POOR PUBLICITY
A LAST DITCH STAND TO SAVE CITY BEACHES
THE ESSENTIAL ARGUMENTS - HEALTH RISKS AND DENIALS
CONCLUSION - EXPERT DECEPTION

5. A SEWERAGE TREATMENT PARADIGM (pdf - 1.4MB)

BRITISH EVENTS THAT SHOOK THE WORLD OF TREATMENT
STAGED TREATMENT AND STANDARDS - DEATH OF AN IDEAL
THE PARADIGM - CONSENSUS & NARROWED OPTIONS
PROFESSIONAL CONTROL & AUTONOMY
THE PARADIGM IN PRACTICE - PROPOSALS FOR SYDNEY
SUBMARINE OUTFALLS - INNOVATION OR AD HOC ADJUSTMENT
HIGH-RATE TREATMENT FOR LOW QUALITY EFFLUENT
PARADIGM INADEQUACIES - GREASE, SLUDGE AND VIRUSES
CONCLUSIONS - THE BEGINNINGS OF TUNNEL VISION

6. LEGISLATION, COMPROMISE AND NEGOTIATION (pdf - 600KB)

TRADITIONAL APPROACHES TO REGULATING POLLUTION
DETERIORATING ENVIRONMENT - IMPROVING AWARENESS
COMBINED CALLS FOR COMPREHENSIVE LEGISLATION
STACKED COMMITTEES AND WEAK ADMINISTRATION
CLASSIFICATION IS SUBVERTED
STANDARDS, GOOD PRACTICE AND COMMUNITY DESIRES
THE IMPACT OF LEGISLATION ON ENGINEERING DECISIONS
CONCLUSION - DIVERSION OF WASTES AND RESPONSIBILITY

7. INDUSTRIAL WASTES IN THE OCEAN - ENVIRONMENTAL HAZARD OR ECONOMIC BENEFIT? (pdf - 2.7MB)

CATERING TO INDUSTRY BEFORE THE CLEAN WATERS ACT
LEGISLATIVE REFORMS & STRENGTH CHARGES
SUBSIDIES FOR INDUSTRY - THE VELVET GLOVE APPOACH
CONCESSIONS TO INDUSTRY - FAVOUR OR DISSERVICE?
A NEW TRADE WASTE POLICY - REVAMPING AN OLD APPROACH
TOXIC FISH & EMBARRASSING SURVEYS
THE INTERNATIONAL DIMENSIONS OF SLUDGE
CONCLUSION - THE HIDDEN COSTS OF INDUSTRIAL POLLUTION

8. THE 'SCIENCE' AND 'METAPHYSICS' OF SUBMARINE OUTFALLS (pdf - 2.2MB)

DILUTION - IS IT THE POLLUTION SOLUTION?
DISPERSAL - AND WHAT HAPPENS TO THE SLUDGE?
THE SURFACING OF THE SEWAGE FIELD - DOES IT MATTER?
PATHOGENIC ORGANISMS - DO THEY DIE OFF?
OUTFALLS - ARE WE FOLLOWING THE U.S. EXAMPLE OR NOT?
ENGINEERING THE FACTS
CONCLUSIONS - AND ARE THEY NEGOTIABLE?

9. DEFENCE OF THE SUBMARINE OUTFALLS: PUBLIC RELATIONS ASSISTED TECHNOLOGY (pdf-1.6MB)

EARLY ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS - MANURE AND COMPOST
GOVERNMENT AUTHORITIES - SOLIDARITY & MUTED CRITICISM
SURFERS & LOCALS - HEALTH HAZARDS & SPOILT PASTIMES
AN ALLIANCE OF SURFERS AND ENVIRONMENTALISTS
MEDIA MANIPULATORS AND CAMERA SHY DISSIDENTS
POLITICIANS - ELECTION PROMISES AND EMPTY RHETORIC
MUNICIPAL COUNCILS - PROTECTING LOCAL INTERESTS
THE WATER BOARD DEFENCE
SURFLINE - RESTORING THE WATER BOARD'S CREDIBITILITY
CONCLUSIONS - PUBLIC PARTICIPATION VS PUBLIC RELATIONS

CONCLUSION (pdf - 300KB)

COMPETING TECHNOLOGIES AND THE PROBLEM OF CLOSURE
PARADIGMS, SYSTEMS AND THE PROBLEM OF CHANGE
EXPERT ADVICE AND THE PROBLEM OF BIAS
PUBLIC DECISION-MAKING AND THE QUESTION OF ITS BENEFITS
CONTROVERSY, CHANGE AND THE CONTROL OF TECHNOLOGY

BIBLIOGRAPHY (pdf - 200KB)


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