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Wastewater Used To Calculate Ocean City Population

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Toilets: the surest way to tell how many people are in Ocean City.
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Toilets: the surest way to tell how many people are in Ocean City.

Last weekend's heat wave had a lot of people heading to the beach. Ocean City officials say there were 267,500 people in town on Saturday and Sunday. That number is calculated not by counting sunbathers sprawled on the sand or cars passing over the Bay Bridge, but by a more unusual method called Demo Flush.

The system estimates how many people are in town not by a clicker or a counter, but by the amount of wastewater flow that goes through the pipes underneath Coastal Highway. The pipes then empty into the wastewater treatment plant on 65th Street.

Each hotel and motel room, condominium unit, single family home, and crowded restaurant and bar all get counted and calculated into a complex equation, which will determine how many people were in Ocean City. But there are many people who think the Demo Flush is inaccurate, and some would like to see the city do away with the formula all together.

Coastal Connection's Bryan Russo spoke with Ocean City Public Works Director Hal Adkins to find out where Demo Flush came from, and if it is flawed, just how flawed it is. Adkins said when Demo Flush was implemented, it was implemented for a reason that had absolutely nothing to do with tourism. Following are highlights of their conversation.

Adkins on how Demo Flush came about: "It all started back in 1971. What most people won't realize is the population projection was driven by health care issues. During the summer months there was such a population fluctuation they were having a difficult time fulfilling the needs of those who were injured or sick. One report indicates that in the summer of 1971, 11 percent of those individuals seeking medical assistance in the town of Ocean City walked away without getting it. And that was the drive behind creating some sort of formal population projections."

Adkins on the science behind Demo Flush: "What the current formula is, is you take the daily wastewater flow. They are subtracting from that, 570,000 gallons right off the top. Once you've taken that away from the daily wastewater flow, they then divide that by 36.04. One would question, where does the 36.04 come from? That was the end result of a series of numbers and calculations that I really don't want to get into right now that compared the day tripper to the year-round resident to the restaurant flows to the residential flows."

Adkins on Demo Flush numbers: "I really wish we could just stop using the Demo Flush numbers. But the reality of it is, we as humans are inquisitive. We like numbers and I really don't know of a better way of trying to estimate population projections. You know, historically, whether you wanted to look at traffic counts, you wanted to look at water consumption, or many other indicators, I really hate to say it, as much as I don't like the Demo Flush number, I don't know of a better alternative."

Listen to the full conversation here.

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