What Would Happen if Everybody Flushed Their Toilets at the Same Time?

In honor of World Toilet Day (Nov 19), How Stuff Works asked the ultimate toilet-related question: What if everybody in the United States flushed the toilet at the same time?

Since as far as we could find out -- no one's ever tried it before -- we can't say for certain exactly what would happen. But we can take a pretty good guess: "It would be ugly," says Steve Cox, one wastewater treatment facility operator we interviewed.

Here's the theoretical outcome: Link - Thanks Becky :)!

I like howstuffworks, but I don't understand their reasoning here. They claim if everyone flushed their toilets the pipes couldn't handle it because there would be too much water moving through.

But as I understand water flow, wouldn't this just mean that the water would flow faster through the pipes? I remember learning that no matter the size of a channel the same amount of water will flow through it in the same period except the smaller channels will have faster moving water.
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I don't think that water will just flow faster and faster through the pipe. There is an upper limit there, before the "entrance" to the pipe would overflow as the liquid inside can't move fast enough to accommodate new liquid entering the pipe.
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I remember hearing of a prank like this, done at a college dormitory. All the faucets and showers were turned on, and all the toilets were flushed, on one of the upper floors. It caused all the sink/shower drains and toilets on the bottom floor to overflow.

As far as the comments above, the water will flow faster through the pipes, but it is limited by gravity (caused by the downward tilt of the pipes) and the weight of the water pushing it. So there is an upper limit. In addition, the article said that the real problem was with the pushing stations--they would be unable to keep up with the flow and it would back up, overflowing into the streets and possibly into houses as well.
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Water cannot be compressed. If it were just water being flushed, the volume would only matter as it relates to the pressure it would create. Just like in electricity... So...

If the pipes are capable of handling 'x' pressure... and the volume of the water raises water pressure to anything greater than 'x'... obviously the pipes will rupture.

The thing is that it's not just water. Like Duncs says above, there is fecal matter and paper and other things to consider here. I would postulate that the miscellaneous items in the pipes would without a doubt create many obstructions as the pressure forces globs of them together in the sewage pipes.

Therefore, it seems pretty logical that the pipes would most definitely rupture in multiple places causing total failure of the sewage system.

All that... equals poop in your yard.
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Fair enough. But the point still remains. Even if it was only water, the pipes are most likely not designed to handle that much water pressure, and would therefore burst.
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Oh man... The stuff you learned about velocities just increasing higher and high is completely whack. If that were the case, a full bathtub would drain as quickly as a half full tub. There is some increase in the drain rate from the added head, but ultimately the size of the limiting orifice (which could be the pipe itself) establishes the restriction.

By any chance, did you learn your physics in a public high school?
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Sorry folks, but most of the reasoning here is bogus. Let's start with the article. If everyone flushed 3.5 gallons at once and it all overflowed at once, each house, apartment and store would have 3.5 gallons of water on the floor. This looks like a lot, but in a 5 by 8 bathroom, it would be less than 0.2 inches (let alone if it spread out across the house.
Second, if everyone flushed at once, not all of the fluid would zoom through the pipes at once. If you lived five miles from the treatment plant, it would take your flush over an hour to reach the point where mine, next door to the plant, entered the same pipe location.
Third, pipes would not burst. They are designed for worst case pressure, encased in compacted earth, and attached to manholes. Each manhole has a lid that would pop off before a pipe would burst.
As for velocity, yes the fluids would gain some speed, but not whole lot. Friction losses would probably offset any increase in head pressure.
Next, the lift stations are designed for the maximum theoretical flow of the inlet pipe. It is possible that backpressure from the outlet could affect the flow rate, but, again, the worst that might happen would be an ugly puddle right around the area of the pumping station.
Lastly, the real problem would be treatment plant capacity. It would probably accept and discharge all of the inflows, but it would not have adequate time to treat the waste. The result might be a decrease in water quality at the outlet of the plant.
Nearly this scenario exists each year at the beginning of halftime for the Super Bowl. We haven't had floods yet!
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@The other Don: Third, pipes would not burst. ....

Unfortunately, pipes DO burst. Thankfully, this is rare, but it can and does happen from time to time.

That said, many cities have older sewer systems that have bricked in channels, not concrete pipes. These will obviously be a weak point in the unlikely case that everyone flush their toilets at the same time.

the real problem would be treatment plant capacity. It would probably accept and discharge all of the inflows, but it would not have adequate time to treat the waste.

In case of too much intake, the system wouldn't even try to feed it to the treatment plants - the dirty water will just be shunted to sea untreated.
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Well, the real problem is in the water, not sewer pipes.

In a new building in Memphis, strobe lights and klaxons were installed in all the office spaces and rest rooms. During the first fire drill all the alarms went off over the entire campus.

The strobe lights caused the automatic toilets to all flush at the same time - and continued until the alarms were reset.

The problem was the hydraulic pressure created by water moving through all of the pipes at top speed (limited only by the pressure from the source and drag from the pipes). When all the flushing stopped at exactly the same moment, the water pipes burst.
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