Mike Rowe Takes Tour of Unseen America by Going into the Sewers

by Courtney Blackann

“Dirty Jobs” Mike Rowe knows a thing or two about getting, well, dirty. He joins Fox Business‘ “How America Works” to discuss a topic we’d all like to avoid. Sewers. Rowe gives an understanding of how sewers in America work. But further, he details how the system is a necessary part of every day – and something that people often take for granted or don’t think about at all.

Navigating the 6,000 miles of underground tunnels in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Rowe shares how sewer systems work. When you’ve finished your business and flush the toilet, the wastewater travels through an intricate underground system which is ultimately sanitized in a larger compartment.

In Milwaukee’s case, that means about 300 million gallons of water each day. If the system fails, people will ultimately experience unwanted backups or flooded basements. No one wants that. Enter people like Tracey McCaskill. The technician has a Bachelor of Science in natural science. He says that if he’s doing his job right, you’ll most likely never hear of him.

However, when the city experiences heavy rainfall, those sewer systems are pushed to their limits. That’s when he has to come in and do the majority of clean-up.

“People always celebrate firefighters, but nobody thinks about us,” McCaskill jokes.

The Intricate Sewer System and How it Works

Mike Rowe follows up his comment with; “All kidding aside, Tracey and his colleagues are responsible for a system that the good people of Milwaukee need now more than they know.”

In order to monitor the influx of water from rains, maintenance technicians have to report to the city’s pump houses, where they keep water moving “where gravity can’t.” Full of debris, among other unsavory things, the crews must work diligently to clear the pipes in order to keep water moving.

Using a vacuum truck, the crew must suck out the overflow of water and debris from the pipes. The tedious job saves residents the trouble of unwanted overflows or a backed-up system. The trucks are capable of dragging out 2,000 gallons of waste at a time, Mike Rowe says.

When water and other waste do overflow the normal channels, the crews must then look to specialized compartments designed to carry excess waste. While these compartments are meant for extra water and other waste, they still have to be monitored and cleaned.

Navigating harmful gases and other hazards, crews must carefully enter the intricate system beneath the street to clean out the compartments. If these specialized holding areas get too full, it means widespread flooding throughout the city.

With another storm lurking, it’s imperative the crews reach the overflow compartments and empty them. As the crews work, Rowe reminds viewers that this job is no picnic. It’s a look into a sometimes tedious, but extremely necessary part of our way of life. Without it, we’d all be up a creek without a paddle.