June 24, 1915: Wanaque, NJ Water Supply

Wanaque Reservoir

June 24, 1915: Municipal Journal article. More Cities Want Wanaque Supply. “Trenton, N. J.-Jersey City has also asked to be considered in the Wanaque plan. Commissioner George F. Brensinger told the commission that Jersey City would probably need an additional supply of water if the plan to consolidate the Hudson towns was carried out in the near future. The daily capacity of the present reservoirs which store the supply developed at Boonton is 50,000,000 gallons. The city has actually used that quantity at some periods, but just now is consuming about 47,000,000 to 49,000,000 gallons daily. Jersey City has a protective contract with the New York and New Jersey Water Company. Morris R. Sherrerd, engineer of the commission, suggested that Jersey City could obtain water from the Wanaque watershed through its pipe line that now passes through Belleville. The engineer pointed out that the prospect of getting water in this way within four or five years would enable Jersey City to postpone incurring the expense of building additional pipe lines to Boonton or increasing its storage capacity there.

There is a possibility that Essex municipalities not hitherto considered may want Wanaque water. West Orange is looking forward to new sources now. Its contract with the West Orange Water Company expires in 1918 and its representatives have been talking to the state commission about the prospect of getting a new supply from the Wanaque. Elizabeth put up more money than any other municipality for the Wanaque survey, but the commission has heard nothing officially that would indicate what attitude it will take on the development plans.”

June 23, 1909: Sewer Work in Louisville, KY

June 23, 1909: Municipal Journal and Engineer article. Sewer Work in Louisville. “The city of Louisville, Ky., is now doing a large amount of sewer main construction. For nearly eighteen years prior to the beginning of the present work practically nothing had been done in sewer work and Louisville, which is a large and growing city, was lamentably weak in sanitation. After considerable agitation the city, in 1906, was authorized to issue $4,000,000 worth of bonds for constructing additions to the existing systems and building new ones.

A sewer commission was appointed by the Mayor, consisting of P. L . Atherton, chairman ; Oscar Finley, W. C. Nones and Alfred Seligman. This commission employed Mr. Harrison P. Eddy, of Boston, as consulting engineer, and Mr. J. B. F. Breed, former city engineer, became chief engineer of the Sewer Commission. Mr. J. H. Kimball, formerly assistant city engineer, of Newton, Mass., was secured as designing engineer, and Messrs. F. C. Williams, H. S. Morse and H. P. Wires as resident engineers in charge of construction work.

A large amount of preliminary work was necessary, including surveys and borings. These borings were numerous and covered the lines so thoroughly that the conditions to be met with in excavation were very accurately known. It was found best to use an auger for this purpose. As was found by the borings and later confirmed in the actual excavation, the top layer of earth for about 10 feet was of a clayey nature. Below this as deep as excavations were to be carried the material was a mixture of sand and gravel, the relative proportions of which varied from place to place. These materials made the handling of the material very easy, but great care has been necessary to properly brace the banks as the gravel has little power of cohesion to hold itself in place.”

June 22, 1969: Fire on the Cuyahoga River…Again

Cuyahoga River Catches Fire…Again

June 22, 1969: The June 22, 1969 fire on the Cuyahoga is the “seminal” event in the history of water pollution control in America, helping to spur the growth of the environmental movement and the passage of national environmental legislation. “Never before had an image so thoroughly driven home the deteriorating plight of our nation’s waterways,” one environmental group explained on the fire’s thirtieth anniversary. “The burning river mobilized the nation and became a rallying point for passage of the Clean Water Act.”17 Despite its national importance as a symbol of environmental decline, the 1969 fire on the Cuyahoga was a relatively minor story in Cleveland at the time.18 For northeast Ohio, and indeed for many industrialized areas, burning rivers were nothing new, and the 1969 fire was less severe than prior Cuyahoga conflagrations. It was a little fire on a long-polluted river already embarked on the road to recovery.

Reference: Adler, Jonathan H. “Fables of the Cuyahoga: Reconstructing a History of Environmental Protection.” Fordham Environmental Law Journal. 14 (2003): 89-146.

Commentary: There was a long history of fires on the Cuyahoga—by one count a total of 13 with the first occurring in 1868. Other fires of note occurred in 1868, 1883, 1887, 1912, 1922, 1936, 1941, 1948, and in 1952.

June 21, 1961: First Practical Desalination Plant; 1881: Filter Inventions

June 21, 1961: “President John Kennedy pressed a switch installed in his office in Washington DC to dedicate first practical plant for the conversion of seawater to drinking water; built in less than a year at a cost of $1.5 million at Freeport, Texas by the Dow Chemical Co.; capable of producing about a million gallons of water a day, supplying fresh water to the city of Freeport at a cost of about $1.25 per thousand gallons; May 8, 1961 – Office of Saline Water, U.S. Department of the Interior opened the plant; reverse osmosis has replaced large-scale evaporation method used then as scientific advances have produced special polymers suitable for use as filtering membranes.”

Filter Backwash Process

June 21, 1881: “Patrick Clark, of Rahway, NJ, received a patent for a ‘Process of Cleaning Filter-Beds;’ “…the novelty of the process consists in the employment of jets of water for the purpose of agitating a bed of sand or other suitable granular material which forms the upper part of the filter bed. By this means the silt and other impurities are separated from the sand, and, being of inferior specific gravity, rise above the filter bed, and are removed preferably by a natural current of water in which, when practicable, the apparatus will be immersed”; assigned to Newark Filtering Company (incorporated by Clark, John W. Hyatt, Albert Westervelt in December 1880); origin of modern rapid filter; June 21, 1881 – John W. Hyatt also received a patent for a “Filter”; could be cleaned mechanically; assigned to Newark Filtering Company; prototype for rapid filtration concept.”

June 20, 2002: Chinese Seawater Desalination Using Atomic Power

June 20, 2002: Agreement signed to establish seawater desalination, heating plant (using atomic reactors) at coastal city of Yingkou, China; designed to address severe water shortages, burns used fuel from nuclear power stations under normal pressure giving 200 megawatts; initial phase, costing 35 million yuan ($4 million), would provide heating for a building area of 5 million sq. meters during winter; can also desalinate 3,000 tons of sea water daily when no heating is required; daily capacity is expected to amount to 80,000 tons; reactor in theory is able to replace about 130,000 tons of coal burned every year, reducing immensely waste gases.

Commentary: While this was an interesting news item at the time, there is no evidence that this facility was ever built. Residents of southern California may be surprised to learn that a similar proposal from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California involved a nuclear powered desalination plant offshore of the Bolsa Chica wetlands on the border between Orange and Los Angeles counties. THAT was a really bad idea then and now would not even be entertained.

June 19, 1986: 1986 SDWA Amendments Became Law 1865: NYC Sanitary Survey;

June 19, 1986: June 19, 1986: The 1986 amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act became law. “The 1986 SDWA amendments required EPA to apply future NPDWRs to both community and non-transient non-community water systems when it evaluated and revised current regulations. The first case in which this was applied was the “Phase I” final rule, published on July 8, 1987. At that time NPDWRs were promulgated for certain synthetic volatile organic compounds and applied to non-transient non-community water systems as well as community water systems. This rulemaking also clarified that non-transient non-community water systems were not subject to MCLs that were promulgated before July 8, 1987. The 1986 amendments were signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on June 19, 1986.

In addition to requiring more contaminants to be regulated, the 1986 amendments included:

  • Well head protection
  • New monitoring for certain substances
  • Filtration for certain surface water systems
  • Disinfection for certain groundwater systems
  • Restriction on lead in solder and plumbing
  • More enforcement powers.”

Commentary: The 1986 amendments arose out of Congress’s frustration with how slow EPA was adopting regulations under the original 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act. The 1986 amendments were prescriptive in that the law told EPA what it had to do and set strict time limits for the requirements to be accomplished. One provision that was doomed from the start was the requirement for EPA to set 25 new maximum contaminant levels every three years. This problem would be fixed in the 1996 amendments.

Note the timing of these two blog posts. It took 101 years but some of the major problems identified in the sanitary survey of NYC were solved by drinking water legislation and regulation including the SDWA Amendments of 1986.

June 19, 1865: New York Times Book Review—Report of the Council of Hygiene and Public Health of the Citizens’ Association of New York Upon the Sanitary Condition of the City. “At last we have a reliable report upon the social condition of New-York City; a report, moreover, that is no common one; no more compilation of statistical data, overpowering with figures and perplexing with misstatements. This is a book demanding and arresting attention; a live book; remarkable, not more for the extent of research and magnitude of labor involved in its preparation, than for the public spirit it represents and whereof it is the offspring….

The report before us, however, does not hinge on hearsay or repeat misrepresentations. Its facts are hard, palpable; its deductions convincing, its arguments unanswerable. They are the production not of an individual or a committee, but of an agency which may be called ubiquitous, since its operations penetrated every [part] of our city, and its personal scrutiny progressed, almost simultaneously, in every neighborhood. A retrospect of the actual labor performed by that agency would embrace the social and sanitary history of half a million of our people.”

Here is a 21st century analysis. “New York City Sanitary Survey reports a death rate of 33 per thousand (compared to Philadelphia at 20 and London at 22). Public health had deteriorated to conditions like those of London two centuries earlier said Dr. John Griscom, who wrote the first sanitary report in 1844. The 1865 report shocked the city: Domestic garbage, filth and the refuse of bedrooms of those sick with typhoid fever, scarlet fever and smallpox is frequently thrown into the streets, there to contaminate the air, and no doubt aid in the spread of these pestilential diseases. Some 18,000 people are living in cellars below the high water mark. ‘At high tide the water often wells up through the floors, submerging them to a considerable depth. In very many cases, the vaults of privies (latrines) are situated on the same or a higher level, and their contents frequently ooze through the walls into the occupied apartments beside them.’ As a cholera epidemic sweeps the city, the mayor of NY refuses to call together the aldermen who constituted the old Board of Health, maintaining that they are more dangerous to the city than the disease itself.”

June 18, 1940: E.B. Bain Plant Dedicated, Raleigh, NC

June 18, 1940: E.B. Bain Water Treatment Plant dedicated. “Back in 1938, Raleigh[, North Carolina] was faced with a choice: reduce the growing demand for water by cutting off the supply to unincorporated areas; do nothing until demand outstripped supply; or build a new plant with federal Public Works Administration funding. City leaders looked the future in the eye and saw growth and need. They built.

The PWA provided 45 percent and city bond money the rest of the $700,000 price tag for the plant and improvements to the water system. Work started in mid-1939. By the next spring, the plant on Walnut Creek was operational. It was dedicated June 18, 1940, and was named after Ernest Battle Bain, the city’s longtime water superintendent. It had water filtering and pumping operations under one roof, and four electric pumps plus a gas-powered one in reserve. And although it was rated at 8 million gallons a day, it could put out up to 10 million. It was built to allow expansion up to 20 million gallons a day, according to information unearthed by David Black, now an architectural intern, who researched its history for the historic designation application.

A story in The Raleigh Times the day it was dedicated declared “City’s Water Plant is Engineering Feat,” because it was built on the same site as the old one. The new one had to be built and the old one taken out simultaneously, without interrupting water supply.”

A series of seven excellent videos explains the history of water development for Raleigh, North Carolina.