The Pail Service: The Wastewater History of Lake Skaneateles
The drinking water for the city of Syracuse has been protected since 1896 by regulations for the Lake Skaneateles watershed. The idea of protecting a watershed with regulations was unusual in the 1800's, and the City of Syracuse carries that forward thinking into today's regulations.
In 1903, the pail service idea was proposed to eliminate potential groundwater contamination from privies, which are also regulated. Under this service, the privy involved had no pit; just a pail.
The outhouses that were used were supplied with five gallon pails by the city, beginning in 1908. These were replaced as necessary by city workers. In its heyday, the pail service could boast of around 250 users. However, developmental pressures within the watershed increased, and by 1929 septic tanks were popping up all over Lake Skaneateles. The city offered free engineering services at the time to residents to have quality control over the effluent discharge into the watershed.
At the onset of the pilot project with the composting toilets, about 100 "pail service" homes were left on the lake. The majority of these were in areas where conventional systems could not be approved due to environmental factors and lot size restrictions. Due to the cost and technological advances of maintaining the pail service, the City of Syracuse decided to move into the 21st century with Sun-Mar composting toilets, thus leaving behind the nostalgic days of the pail service. Those who did not want to leave their biffy behind just installed their Sun-Mar's in their traditional outhouses - merging new technology with an old tradition.