November 13, 565 CE: Basilica Cistern; 1988: Sewage in Santa Monica Bay; 2003: Death of Sewer Worker

November 13, 565 AD:  End of the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, builder of the Basilica Cistern. “The Basilica Cistern (Turkish: Yerebatan Sarayı – Sunken Palace, or Yerebatan Sarnıcı – Sunken Cistern), is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul (formerly Constantinople), Turkey. The cistern, located 500 feet southwest of the Hagia Sophiaon the historical peninsula of Sarayburnu, was built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. This cathedral-size cistern is an underground chamber approximately 453 by 212 feet – about 105,000 square feet in area – capable of holding 2,800,000 cubic feet [or 21 million gallons] of water. The ceiling is supported by a forest of 336 marble columns, each 9 30 feet high, arranged in 12 rows of 28 columns each spaced 16 feet apart. The capitals of the columns are mainly Ionic and Corinthian styles, with the exception of a few Doric style with no engravings.” (edited by MJM)

Istanbul has always had limited water resources. Water supplies had to be transported to the city through long canals and aqueducts. Istanbul has also been the target of invading armies and has had to rely on stored water during long sieges. For these reasons, underground and open-air cisterns have always been a part of the city fabric. Sometimes stored water in local cisterns had to last the city’s population for months. There is no official count of the number of cisterns that had been built in ancient times, but dozens have survived and many can be visited. The Basilica Cisternis the grandest of them all.

Commentary and Update:  The Basilica Cistern is one of the locations for the movie “Inferno” starring Tom Hanks and released October 28, 2016. Somehow they create destructive waves in this underground water reservoir.

November 13, 1988New York Times headline—Sewage in Santa Monica Bay. “Nearly seven miles of beaches are closed for the weekend because a cap on a sewer main 15 miles inland failed, causing a gush of raw sewage into Santa Monica Bay. The overflow, which apparently began Wednesday, caused bacteria levels in the ocean near Marina del Rey to rise to more than twice the safe levels for swimming, a city biologist, John Dorsey, said Friday.”

November 13, 2003New York Times headline—Appreciations, Death of a Sewer Worker. “New York is a mythic place, and one of the most mythic parts of it is the part that nobody ever sees: the sewers. Alligators and giant rats barely begin to sum up the state of our fears about the sewers, when we acknowledge those fears at all. So it’s worth remembering how great a joke it is that the New York city sewers should also contain Ed Norton, played on ”The Honeymooners” by Art Carney, who died on Sunday at 85.”


November 12, 1881: Paterson, NJ Water Supply; 1732: Pitot Tube Invention

Great Falls at Paterson, New Jersey

November 12, 1881: Article in Engineering News—The History and Statistics of American Water-Works. “Paterson, New Jersey, is on the Passaic River, about 16 miles NW of New York City, at the point where the river breaks through the great trap-dyke called the Watchung or Orange Mountain, and falls 80 ft. The water power afforded by this fall with a water-shed of 855 square miles above it, was purchased in 1791 ‘by the Society for the Encouragement of Useful Manufactures,’ and is still controlled by them. A dam across the river a short distance above the falls diverts the water into a canal, from which it is drawn to furnish power to 13 manufacturing establishments.

Water-works were built in 1856 by a private company, taking the supply from the river at the edge of the falls and below the Society’s dam. The surplus flow of the river passing over the dam was used for power and for supply. A turbine wheel was placed in a rift in the face of the falls, which, being erected over the masonry made a tail race. The wheel drove a piston pump which forced the water into a small reservoir on an eminence in the city. As the consumption increased, the amount of water in the river which was not used for mill purposes was insufficient for motive power and supply, notwithstanding the erection by the company of a small stone dam along the face of the falls, making a little pool for storage below the Society’s dam. In 1878, a Worthington high-pressure engine and pump of 8,000,000 gallons’ capacity were erected. The original pumps driven by water force have been replaced by others. There are now two horizontal pumps with a combined capacity of 14,000,000 gallons per day, and one with 2,000,000 capacity. There are three reservoirs, built in excavation and embankment, supplying different levels of the city. Their capacities are, respectively, 8, 8, and 2,000,000 gallons.”

Reference: Croes, J. James. “The History and Statistics of American Water-Works.” Engineering News. 8 (November 12, 1881): 459.

CommentaryThe water supply for Paterson figures prominently in my book, The Chlorine Revolution, which was published in April 2013. Dr. John L. Leal was the Public Health Officer for Paterson from 1890 to 1899 and he was responsible for the safety of this water supply. In 1899 because of increasing contamination of the Passaic River, the water supply withdrawal point was moved 5 miles upstream to Little Falls.

Different Early Versions of the Pitot Tube

November 12, 1732Today in Science History. “In 1732, Henri Pitot read a paper to the Royal Academy of Sciences in Paris about an instrument he had invented to measure the flow velocity at different depths of water in the River Seine. It had a scale and two open vertical glass tubes on a wood frame. The lower end of one pointed down, the other bent at 90º facing the flow. The belief of the time was that flow velocity at a given depth was proportional to the mass above it, meaning increasing velocity at greater depth. Recording the difference in liquid levels in the two tubes, he showed the opposite was true. Henri Darcy improved the design, with the support of Henri Bazin.”

November 11, 1990: Underground Tanks in New York; 1991: Bottled Water Use in NYC

November 11, 1990New York Times headline–State Is Taking Action On Underground Tanks. “Through one of the strictest programs of its type in the country, the State Department of Environmental Protection has forced the replacement of 12,000 underground gasoline tanks that were leaking or were so old that they were in danger of leaking. Now the state is going after the 350 to 400 old tanks it estimates are still in use, including some of its own.

‘In the last three years, more tanks have been replaced at gasoline stations in Connecticut than in the previous 30,’ said Charles S. Isenberg, executive vice president of the Independent Connecticut Petroleum Association.

Unearthing the tanks has shown that more were leaking than the state anticipated — as many as 80 percent, compared with the expected one-third — said G. Scott Deshefy of the environmental agency’s underground-tank program.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency’s coordinator for Connecticut, Jonathan M. Walker, said the program has become a model for other states. Even in cases where the tanks are in good shape, he said, the inspections are revealing leaks from pipes.”

Scare tactics have been employed by unscrupulous individuals trying to sell bottled water.

November 11, 1991New York Times headline–It’s Wet, Free and Gets No Respect. “In the tea department of Fortnum & Mason, which has guided the palates of England for 300 years, a few rules must never be broken: drink only premium blends; keep air out of the canister, and brew your beverage with the finest water available — New York City’s if possible.

It may surprise the people who live in the city, having turned to bottled water in numbers that mystify even those who are paid to sell it, but New York’s tap water remains as good as it gets. Just ask an expert.

‘Naturally, there are many fine reasons to visit New York,’ said Eugene Hayes, director of the tea department at Fortnum & Mason in London, which among its dozens of specialty offerings carries a dark Ceylon brand called New York Blend. ‘But I would have to say one of the best is the water.’

For generations, New Yorkers rejoiced in the high quality of their drinking water, which runs swiftly and practically untouched to their faucets from the peaks of the Catskills 100 miles away. But that trust has disappeared during the last 10 years, eroded by an epidemic of nervousness that has left many people convinced that water with a label has to be better than water from a pipe.”

CommentaryMy how times have changed. Bottled water is given failing marks these days because of the cost and impact on the environment. Good old tap water gets high marks.

November 10, 1998: Death by Arsenic; 2000: First Issue of NEWS Published

Leasions on hands and feet showing arsenic toxicity

November 10, 1998:  New York Times headline–Death by Arsenic: A Special Report.; New Bangladesh Disaster: Wells That Pump Poison. “Bangladesh is in the midst of what some experts say could be the biggest mass poisoning in history. Dangerous levels of arsenic have been found in the ground water, entering millions of people sip by sip as they drink from a vast system of tube wells. Most of these hand-operated pumps are 10 to 20 years old, about the same period it takes the arsenic to do its lethal work, killing with one of several cancers.

The unfolding crisis is the unintended consequence of a colossally successful safe-water program. For 25 years, the Government along with Unicef and other aid groups have weaned villagers from disease-carrying pond water and helped them to sink pipes into underground aquifers. Overlooked was the naturally occurring arsenic that tainted these subterranean sources.”

Commentary:  Calling this program “colossally successful” is a tragedy and wrong. In the future, this program will be viewed as one of the world’s greatest environmental disasters and failures of public policy. NEWS Logo

November 10, 2000: First issue of NEWS–a weekly newsletter devoted to media stories about drinking water quality that was published by McGuire Environmental Consultants, Inc. and sent by email to its more than 6000 subscribers. Our intent was clear:  “Our intent is to make this newsletter the best and first source of news and information for drinking water quality professionals, with a combination of timely articles and incisive commentary from the leading observers in the industry.” In this first issue we reported on development of the arsenic regulation and hexavalent chromium issues in southern California.

November 9, 1974: USEPA Orders Study of Chemical Contaminants; 1992: TTHM Stakeholder Meeting; 1889: Johnstown Flood

Mississippi River Basin

November 9, 1974New York Times headline–E.P.A. Orders a National Study of Chemical Contaminants in Drinking Water. “The Environmental Protection Agency ordered today an immediate nationwide study of chemical contaminants in drinking water after an agency study showed that 66 chemicals were present in Mississippi River water used by New Orleans and nearby communities. Some of the 66 chemicals had already been identified as potential causes of cancer or harmful in other ways.”

Commentary:  Finding 66 organic chemicals in a water supply occurred at about the same time as a three-part article published in the popular magazine Consumer Reportsthat discussed the failings of water treatment plants in the U.S. Also presented at this time was a study by the Environmental Defense Fund that alleged the correlation of cancer deaths with use of surface water supplied water from the Mississippi River.  These events put tremendous pressure on the U.S. Congress, which responded by passing the Safe Drinking Water Act later in 1974.  These studies also initiated the concern with trace organic compounds in drinking water. One of the consequences of these concerns is a bottled water industry in the U.S. with sales of about $15 billion per year.

These events had a profound effect on the career of your scribe. I shifted my PhD dissertation research to the removal of toxic trace organic compounds using drinking water treatment processes. As a result, my thesis and the papers that resulted from it were some of the first that looked at the mechanisms of trace organic removal by granular activated carbon and other processes.

Reg Neg Negotiating Committee

November 9, 1992: First meeting of stakeholders interested in discussing revisions to the federal Total Trihalomethane and Surface Water Treatment regulations.  This informational meeting led to the establishment of a negotiating committee under the Regulatory Negotiation rules of the USEPA.  The Reg Neg Committee created two documents called Agreements in Principle which led to five drinking water regulations:  Information Collection Rule, Stage 1 Disinfectants/Disinfection By-Products Rule and the Interim Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Regulation, Stage 2 Disinfectants/Disinfection By-Products Rule and the Long-Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Regulation.

Devastation from the Johnstown Flood

November 9, 1889: Article from The Engineering and Building Record—The Johnstown Water-Works and the Flood. The Great Flood of 1889devastated the city of Johnstown, PA on May 31, 1889. This account describes the devastation of the water works in that city. “In the city every fire hydrant in the course of the flood was broken off; some down at the joint and others broken at the pavement line—the upper part being carried away, leaving the stem and a strong flow of water as a mark to show where the hydrant stood. The work of replacing these was begun the day after the flood as it was imperatively necessary to protect from fire the ruins, under which lay so many bodies. Night and day the work went on. The difficulty attending it may be realized from the fact that not a tool was left to work with. A hastily improvised blacksmith shop furnished tools, such as they were. Lead was procured from the wrecked buildings in the shape of pipe and window weights. Then came the fear of a water famine. Every house, moved from its place, left an open supply-pipe. Men were started out to close them. To reach the curb stops was impossible, so that plugging and battering the pipes was all that could be done. This work was a difficult task and necessitated many a perilous trip beneath the wreck. The supply was never shut off from the city. The office being totally destroyed, all maps of the lines were lost, and nothing but memory could be depended on to locate gates and shut-offs.”

Reference: “The Johnstown Water-Works and the Flood.” The Engineering and Building Record. 20:24 (November 9, 1889): 336.

November 8, 2007: Turf Removal Leadership in Las Vegas (and Santa Monica)

Turf Removal

November 8, 2007:  New York Times headline—A ‘Hidden Oasis’ in Las Vegas’s Water Waste. “There’s a back to the land movement of sorts around Las Vegas these days, driven by the desert city’s growing realization that the only reason it can exist — the sapphire, but shrinking, expanse of Lake Mead 30 miles away — is not as durable as the Hoover Dam that created the reservoir 70 years ago.

The lake is below half its capacity after years of drought in the Colorado River basin.

So under turf removal programs initiated by the city and regional water agencies, homeowners and businesses have been paid up to $2 a square foot to roll up and cart away lawns and replace them with “xeriscapes,” desert-friendly plantings.

The Web site of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, which manages water in the region, has links to a variety of demonstration “xeric” gardens, including one at the local campus of the University of Nevada.”

CommentaryThe article goes on to quote critics who said that the Southern Nevada Water Authority should be doing more. Well, sure. Everyone should always be doing “more.” However, in my humble opinion, we will look back on the turf removal effort by SNWA as a historic turning point in the war against municipal water over-use in the arid West. Pat Mulroy and her leadership team at the SNWA have great reason to be proud of this innovation.

Further Commentary:  In 2014, in the middle of California’s worst recorded drought, many utilities are emulating the Las Vegas leadership and offering up to $3 per square foot of turf removal. 2015:  Turf removal has become so popular during the mega-drought in California that budgeted amounts for the programs are quickly oversubscribed.

And Even Further Commentary:  As I posted this item in late 2017, my front yard was completely populated with drought tolerant plants and a drip irrigation system. We received the maximum $6,000 rebate from the City of Santa Monica at $3.50 per square foot of turf replaced. However, that amount, which was quite generous, did not come close to the full cost of this expensive project. Don’t let anyone tell you that drought landscaping is simple or cheap.

Final Commentary:  It is 2018, and the drought garden has grown in fully. We have swarms of wonderful honeybees feeding off of the nectar from the lavender and rosemary flowers. We love them. If I stand quietly, I can hear the hum of hundreds of bees working. Beautiful lizards with yellow stripes live in this ecosystem along with crickets, butterflies and who knows what. Hummingbirds love our Lions’ Tails. It is a joy. Now, if I could just find the hive where the bees are making the most delicious honey on earth, life would be complete.

November 7, 1900: Fishy Oysters; 1985: College Bans Water

November 7, 1900New York Times headline—Fishy Oysters. London—“The Medical Officer of Health for Folkestone has reported that, having reason to suspect that a case of illness there arose from the consumption of oysters, he sent a sample for bacteriological examination to the Clinical Research Association. Although the analysis did not reveal bacillus typhi, it proved that in the shells, and also in the oysters themselves, there was bacillus coli communis, a bacillus found in sewage.”

November 7, 1985New York Times headline–College Bans Suspect Water.  Dartmouth, Mass.—“Southeastern Massachusetts University has ordered a ban on drinking the water on campus, suspecting that the water caused students and staff members to become ill, officials said. More than 300 people have suffered stomach cramps and vomiting in the last week. The ban took effect Monday night.”

CommentaryIn 1900, public health officials were getting comfortable using the new science of bacteriology. The unique genius of Dr. Robert Koch and his colleagues created new tools to assess the sanitary quality of food (like oysters) and water. These tools were being used on both sides of the Atlantic. Bacillus coli communis (also called B. coli) was the early name for what we now call total coliforms. The tests were quite different then as compared to now. Gas production in dextrose broth was considered a presumptive positive result (as opposed to using lactose broth). However, the story on this same date in 1985 shows that we have a ways to go. Failures in multi-barrier protection can result in disease and death even in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.