Monthly Archives: March 2013

April 1

Water flowing over a power dam on the Merrimack River

Water flowing over a power dam on the Merrimack River

April 1, 1915: Municipal Journal article. Water Storage in Massachusetts. “Boston, Mass.-That the state’s water resources are being gobbled up by private interests and that unless some change of policy is immediately instituted Massachusetts will have to face a water famine is brought to the attention of the legislature in a report on the conservation and utilization of waters by the state board of harbor and land commissioners. The amount of water power used by manufacturers has increased enormously in the last few years. For instance, proprietors of Locks and Canals in the city of Lowell consumed in 1912 about 11,620 horsepower, developed from the Merrimac river, according to statistics of the United States Bureau of Corporations. A survey in 1915 by the harbor and land commissions shows that these same Locks and Canals now use 29,911 horsepower. The water used and wasted by municipalities is also mentioned in the report. The commission urges that a definite plan be laid out by the state for the control and conservation of the water resources. The Merrimac river is capable of further development, according to United States Engineer C. C. Covert of the Geological Survey, who is quoted as saying that, although the most favorable opportunities for storage on the Merrimac are being utilized, there are still many unutilized reservoir sites available. The commission on harbors and public lands holds that unless the state within a reasonably short time asserts a definite policy of control, the waters in the rivers and natural streams, which belong to the people of the whole state will be devoted entirely to private uses.

Water-powered industrial equipment—Merrimack River

Water-powered industrial equipment—Merrimack River

In contrast to the situation in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York and the province of Ontario, where a conservation program is now under way, nothing at all has been done in Massachusetts. The control which exists of the water resources is divided among four or five different bodies, no one of which has complete authority. In the year 1912 the United States Bureau of Corporations made a tabulation which showed that 130,620 horsepower was owned by the larger companies in Massachusetts. The harbor and land commissions, canvassing the same people, have discovered that within the three years the total horsepower developed has increased to 264,152, Massachusetts manufacturers are now paying nearly $26,000,000 a year for the purchase of fuel for power purposes. Intelligent plans to avoid freshet damages and to store water for irrigation are also urged.

Reference: “Water Storage in Massachusetts.” 1915. Municipal Journal article 38:13(April 1, 1915): 439-40.

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March 31

0331 GA JohnsonMarch 31, 1934: Death of George A. Johnson. George A. Johnson was born in Auburn, Maine on May 26, 1874. From his involvement in the Louisville study with Fuller to his death in 1934, Johnson’s career was boosted by his association with George W. Fuller.

Johnson never attended college and had no formal training as an engineer, chemist or bacteriologist. Johnson identified himself during his testimony in the second Jersey City trial as a “sanitary engineer,” which was clearly an overstatement of his accomplishments up to that point. By the time he became involved in the Boonton chloride of lime plant, he said that he had 14 years of experience as a sanitary engineer—since September 1895. The first three years of this period were devoted to working with George W. Fuller on the filtration studies in Louisville and Cincinnati. From reports of those studies, it was clear that Johnson was a laboratory technician and had no responsibilities or duties as a sanitary engineer.

From 1899 on, Johnson became involved in some of the most interesting studies and implementation projects for filtration and sewage treatment in the U.S. under the guidance and supervision of George W. Fuller and Rudolph Hering. Project locations included York, PA, Norfolk, VA, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, PA, and St. Louis MO. “At many of the places mentioned my work embodied not only straight laboratory work of a bacterial and chemical nature, but also the practical operation of filtration works.” Clearly, from his own words, Johnson was a plant operator and lab technician who aspired to become a sanitary engineer someday through experience alone.

Johnson had a supporting role in the great Chicago Drainage Canal case when he made investigations of the purported contamination caused by the discharge of Chicago’s rerouted sewage into the Mississippi 43 miles above the St. Louis water intake. He worked at the Little Falls treatment plant, helped conduct a sanitary survey of the Hudson for New York City (with George C. Whipple) and investigated sewage treatment methods in Cleveland, OH in addition to water treatment methods for their water supply.

Johnson took some time off in 1905-6 and traveled around the world. He visited water works in many countries and published a paper on his adventures when he returned. The paper is a curious recitation of unremarkable water works. It is hard to understand what a U.S. reader might learn from his description of the Calcutta waterworks. Calcutta is in the Ganges Valley which was the source for all of the horrifying cholera epidemics in the 19th century which killed millions of people around the world.

When he returned to the U.S., he rejoined Hering and Fuller as Principal Assistant Engineer and he continued his work on water treatment and sewage disposal plants. During this period he operated the Boonton chloride of lime plant for three months in late 1908.

He left the firm of Hering and Fuller in 1910 and formed the consulting firm Johnson and Fuller with William Barnard Fuller. He continued as a consultant for the rest of his career except for two years (1918-20) when he joined the U.S. Army where he managed fixed properties and utilities in the U.S. for the War Department.

He was a member of a number of professional societies including the APHA and the AWWA. He received the Dexter Brackett Medal from the New England Water Works Association. He published many articles in professional journals during his career.

In the obituary written by his mentor, George W. Fuller, his qualities were generously described: “Colonel Johnson was a devoted son and husband, generous to a fault. He was a man of marked and likeable personality, keen in his appreciation of human relations, and aggressive in advancing his views both on technical and non-technical subjects.” (emphasis added)

He was a member of the Explorers Club and the Circumnavigators Club, where he edited its monthly publication, The Log, for many years. He died of a heart attack while working at his desk on March 31, 1934. George W. Fuller would die just two and one-half months later.

References:

Between the Mayor and Aldermen of Jersey City, Complainant, and Patrick H. Flynn and Jersey City Water Supply Company, Defendants: On Bill, etc. (In Chancery of New Jersey) 12 vols. n.p.:privately printed. 1908-10, (February 8, 1909, p. 5126).

McGuire, Michael J. 2013. The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives. Denver, CO:American Water Works Association.

Commentary: Johnson took inappropriate credit for the first use of chlorine in a drinking water supply. He claimed to first use chlorine in the Bubbly Creek treatment plant which was used to treat water for cows and pigs. He then wrote about the chlorination of the water supply for Jersey City and either omitted the leadership of Dr. John L. Leal from his writings or emphasized improperly his own contributions. Dozens of secondary and tertiary sources have perpetuated the myth that Johnson started. Chapter 13 of The Chlorine Revolution examines this issue in full detail.

March 30

Ellen Swallow RichardsMarch 30, 1911: Death of Ellen Swallow Richards. “Ellen Swallow Richards is perhaps best known as MIT’s first female graduate and instructor, but launching coeducation at the Institute is merely the first in a long list of her pioneering feats. The breadth and depth of her career are astounding; a 1910 tribute in La Follette’s Weekly Magazine professed that ‘when one attempts to tell of the enterprises, apart from her formal teaching, of which Mrs. Richards has been a part or the whole, he is lost in a bewildering maze.’ Authors and scholars have called her the founder of ecology, the first female environmental engineer, and the founder of home economics. Richards opened the first laboratory for women, created the world’s first water purity tables, developed the world standard for evaporation tests on volatile oils, conducted the first consumer-product tests, and discovered a new method to determine the amount of nickel in ore. And that’s just the short list of her accomplishments. In a nod to Richards’s remarkable knowledge and interests, her sister-in-law called her ‘Ellencyclopedia….’

Richards’s research on water quality was even more far-reaching. In 1887 [William R.] Nichols’s successor [Thomas M. Drown] put her in charge of implementing an extensive sanitary survey of Massachusetts inland waters, again for the board of health. The two-year study was unprecedented in scope. Richards supervised the collection and analysis of 40,000 water samples from all over the state–representing the water supply for 83 percent of the population. She personally conducted at least part of the analysis on each sample; the entire study involved more than 100,000 analyses. In the process, she developed new laboratory equipment and techniques, meticulously documenting her findings. Instead of merely recording the analysis data, she marked each day’s results on a state map–and noticed a pattern. By plotting the amount of chlorine in the samples geographically, she produced the famous Normal Chlorine Map, an indicator of the extent of man-made pollution in the state. The survey produced her pioneering water purity tables and led to the first water quality standards in the United States. Her biographer, Caroline Hunt, contends that the study was Richards’s greatest contribution to public health.”

Commentary: There is a rich body of information about the life Ellen Swallow Richards. A video on YouTube with ESR expert Joyce B. Miles narrating is particularly interesting.

References: Durant, Elizabeth. (2007). “Ellencyclopedia.” MIT Technology Review. August 15, 2007.

March 29

0329 AWWA foundedMarch 29, 1881:  AWWA founded. “On March 29, 1881, in Engineers’ Hall on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., 22 men representing water utilities in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, and Tennessee founded the American Water Works Association.

They adopted a constitution that stated the purpose of the association as being “for the exchange of information pertaining to the management of water-works, for the mutual advancement of consumers and water companies, and for the purpose of securing economy and uniformity in the operations of water-works.”

On Jan. 1, 1976, AWWA filed Articles of Incorporation in Illinois that reframed AWWA’s purpose as follows:

‘The purpose for which the Association is formed is to promote public health, safety, and welfare through the improvement of the quality and quantity of water delivered to the public and the development and furtherance of understanding of the problems relating thereto by:

  • Advancing the knowledge of the design, construction, operation, water treatment and management of water utilities and developing standards for procedures, equipment and materials used by public water supply systems;
  • Advancing the knowledge of the problems involved in the development of resources, production and distribution of safe and adequate water supplies;
  • Educating the public on the problems of water supply and promoting a spirit of cooperation between consumers and suppliers in solving these problems; and
  • Conducting research to determine the causes of problems of providing a safe and adequate water supply and proposing solutions thereto in an effort to improve the quality and quantity of the water supply provided to the public.’

The history of AWWA is the history of the people who have committed themselves to achieving the purpose set forth more than a century ago, now simply stated as to be The Authoritative Resource on Safe Water.”

March 28

0328 Joseph BazalgetteMarch 28, 1819: Birth of Joseph W. Bazalgette. “Sir Joseph William Bazalgette, CB (28 March 1819 – 15 March 1891) was an English civil engineer of the 19th century. As chief engineer of London’s Metropolitan Board of Works his major achievement was the creation (in response to the “Great Stink” of 1858) of a sewer network for central London which was instrumental in relieving the city from cholera epidemics, while beginning the cleansing of the River Thames.

At the time, the Thames was little more than an open sewer, devoid of any fish or other wildlife, and an obvious health hazard to Londoners. Bazalgette’s solution (similar to a proposal made by painter John Martin 25 years earlier) was to construct 82 miles (132 km) of underground brick main sewers to intercept sewage outflows, and 1,100 miles (1,800 km) of street sewers, to intercept the raw sewage which up until then flowed freely through the streets and thoroughfares of London. The outflows were diverted downstream where they were dumped, untreated, into the Thames. Extensive sewage treatment facilities were built only decades later.”

Commentary: Most accounts of the sewers that Bazalgette built claim that they solved the problems of cholera epidemics in London. They did not. All that the sewers did was transport the contamination more quickly to the Thames River. It was not until the water supplies in the UK were filtered (and ultimately disinfected) that the Sewer Pipe-Water Pipe Death Spiral was broken.

March 27

0327 James P KirwoodMarch 27, 1807: Birth of James P. Kirkwood who authored the classic book Report on the Filtration of River Waters, which was the first book in any language to focus on the filtration of municipal water supplies. The book summarized his investigation covering 1865-69 where he described the filters and filter galleries he visited in 19 European water works. On this same date in 1865 (his 58th birthday), Kirkwood was appointed Chief Engineer by the Board of Water Commissioners for the City of St. Louis, MO.

James Pugh Kirkwood (27 March 1807 – 22 April 1877) was a 19th-century American civil engineer. He was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on 27 March 1807. He worked for the Long Island Rail Road, and gained notice in 1848 for his construction of the Starrucca Viaduct near Lanesboro, Pennsylvania, considered to be the most expensive railroad bridge at the time, as well as the largest stone viaduct, and for its first use of concrete in American bridge construction.

He arrived in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1850 as chief engineer of the Pacific Railroad, and was responsible for the construction of the road from St. Louis to Pacific, Missouri. The towns of Kirkwood, Missouri, and Kirkwood, New York, are named after him. In 1865 he was appointed Chief Engineer of St. Louis, Missouri, in charge of the design of a state-of-the-art waterworks. He served in that capacity until 1867, when he was replaced by Thomas Jefferson Whitman, brother of Walt Whitman.

In 1867 he moved back to New York and served as President of the American Society of Civil Engineers from 1867 to 1868.”

March 26

0326 Typhoid in RockvilleMarch 26, 1914: Municipal Journal letter to the editor. Typhoid Epidemic at Rockville, MD. “Prof. Earle B. Phelps for the United States Government at Washington, Robert B. Morse, chief engineer Maryland State Board of Health, a number of others and the writer were recently called upon by the authorities at Rockville to inquire into and alleviate a typhoid epidemic in which two per cent. of the entire population were stricken with the disease. There have been more than 20 cases, but to date there have been no deaths.

Rockville, a small town of 1,100 inhabitants, lies about 18 miles distant from Washington, D. C. It is built on the backbone of a ridge draining into three watersheds. Since 1897 the town has operated its own waterworks, obtaining a supply from two driven wells about 40 feet apart and some 225 feet deep, located in the valley in the direct line of the storm water run off from the town which takes approximately one-half the runoff.

The district surrounding the pumping station is sparsely built up, the town is unsewered and has few storm water drains. Kitchen and bath wastes are permitted to pass into the street and down the gutter. Cesspools and open closets dot the hillside. A small stream passing near the pumping station serves as an outlet for floods, kitchen wastes, etc. The normal flow of the creek does not exceed 4 cubic feet per minute.

The soil formation is clay (disintegrated rock), which is in turn underlaid with rock in layers, the seams of the rock containing clay, broken stone, etc., and in some instances forming open crevices and pockets….

The wells have been in service for nearly 17 years and the people have, until now, suffered no ill therefrom. However, after the installation of the supply, it was noticed from time to time during large storms that inundated the valley, that No. 1 well occasionally supplied turbid water. It was noticed further, that by pumping No. 1 well continuously for several hours, the water level was lowered very materially in well No. 2. Also that when No. 2 well was pumped the water was never turbid. and that the water level in well No. 1 was very little affected. Well No. 1 always seemed to have a surplus of water, whereas well No. 2 dropped fully 70 feet, in fact to such depth that the deep well pump would just draw all the well flowed.

This information should have indicated at once both to the town authorities and the public that No. 1 well was drawing from a surface supply; that the well was not tight, and that it should have been fixed or abandoned.

The sketch enclosed shows the approximate location of pumping station, creek, topography of ground and position of nearest dwellings….About one hour after the water containing dye would flood the elderberry bush the dye would appear in well No. 1. When examined, this water showed gross pollution, whereas water in well No. 2 gave practically no indication of pollution. More than a week was consumed in locating the source of pollution. The first home in which the typhoid had occurred was the one nearest the wells and the one which was polluting the well.

The water is now being sterilized with hypochlorite and use of well No. 1 discontinued, and it has been recommended to extend a 6-inch casing down well No. 2 to the 6-inch well barrel, using a piece of jute to make a temporary joint between pipe and well and to fill the well barrel between the new casing and the rock with cement, to pump and test well as originally tried when the contamination was established, and if it still shows contamination from an analysis after sterilizing and pumping, to drive a new well.”

Reference: Hatton, Herbert W. 1914. Letter to the Editor. Municipal Journal. 36:13(March 26, 1914): 428-9.

Commentary: Well No. 1 would certainly qualify today as a Ground Water Under the Direct Influence of Surface Water. If anyone wonders why state health departments make such a big deal out of GWUDISW, they should read this article. Earle B. Phelps was one of the expert witnesses in the second Jersey City trial that evaluated the use of chlorine for drinking water disinfection. He opposed the use of chlorine in 1909, but he seems to have come around five years later.