OCEAN CITY — Ocean City’s visitor total has dropped for four years straight, according to the resort’s own statistics.
But just how accurate those population estimates may be has everything to do with how many toilets are flushing over the Worcester County line into West Ocean City.
In 2009, about 8.1 million people visited Ocean City, with 3.6 million of them coming in the summer months, according to Demoflush stats provided by the town. In 2012, the year-round estimate fell to 7.6 million, and 3.4 million for summer.
The town’s week-by-week population estimates come from a decades-old formula that calculates, essentially, how many toilets were flushed in a given time period, hence the colloquial “Demoflush” moniker resort officials often will bring up.
But this is assuming that Ocean City’s wastewater figures are accurately telling us how many actual people are in town.
There is a glitch that would lead some to believe that some inaccuracies exist, and that has everything to do with the recent population explosion of the West Ocean City area. The town and Worcester County have an agreement that lets West Ocean City contribute up to 1 million gallons of wastewater a day into the Ocean City sewage treatment plant.
But when that happens, it’s indistinguishable from the island’s flush count.
Ocean City Public Works Director Hal Adkins said the Demoflush issue dates to 1971, when former Mayor Harry W. Kelley created the Ocean City Medical Commission. At the time, there was a growing concern about the number of summer visitors in comparison to the availability of health care services.
They conducted what was then known as the Ocean City Area Health Care Study. The group involved came up with a calculation that was used to project the seasonal population.
Here’s that final equation from 1971: overall metered sewer flow, minus 444,000 gallons (a figure associated with inflow and infiltration into the system), divided by 36.04.
The end result was said to be an accurate guess at the population for a given time period.
Adkins says while the numbers may not be accurate, at least they’re consistent. And, whether the population figures are on the mark, he knows for sure that the total sewage flow has decreased.
“Is the number an accurate depiction of actual population in the summer? My personal opinion and stance is no,” Adkins said. “Is the calculation and resulting population projection at least consistently inconsistent? Meaning, at least it compares consistent year to year in the manner it is calculated? Yes.”
Adkins doesn’t believe the formula works today, for several reasons.
The amount of water used in modern water-saving fixtures, such as shower heads and low-flow toilets, would affect the outcome.
And, in the early 1980s, Adkins also notes that a substantial section of West Ocean City was placed on a central sewer. That sewer line flows under the bay at 15th Street and then travels to the treatment plant at 65th Street.
On a busy summer day, that could add as many as 700,000 more sewage gallons into Ocean City’s plant, artificially inflating the resort’s population figures by as many as 25,000 people.
In the future, Adkins said the town should consider a new system that creates a matrix of data that takes into account other metrics, such as weekly room tax, food tax, water consumption, transit ridership and parking lot revenue.