December 8, 1888: Bartlett Water Scheme; 1920: Pollution of an Artesian Well

Map showing Bartlett Scheme to export Passaic River Water to New York City

Map showing Bartlett Scheme to export Passaic River Water to New York City

December 8, 1888: Engineering News article—Jersey City Board of Public Works Opposed to Scheme Proposed by John R. Bartlett. “Jersey City, N. J .—At a meeting of the Board of Public Works on Nov. 3, the water supply question was still further discussed, speeches being made in favor of and opposition to the award of a contract to the syndicate represented by JOHN R. BARTLETT. The Citizens Committee has adopted the following resolution: “Resolved, That we are unalterably opposed to Jersey City making any contract with any private water company for a supply of water In Jersey City, as such a contract might surrender our rights In the Passaic river, and place us under the worst of monopolies—a private water company. We are in favor of the reorganization of the State Board of Water Supply; that the control of the drinking water of the State be given to said Board, with a view that all the cities in the State of New Jersey may obtain in the future an abundant supply of good water….

The Bartlett water supply project was formally presented to the city of New York on Nov. 30. Briefly stated, this proposal to furnish 50 million gallons daily of water to lower New York, under a head of 300 ft., comes from a syndicate of corporations in New Jersey. The water is to be gathered from the 877 sq. miles of Passaic river water-shed, stored in a reservoir at the Great Notch near Paterson, N. J., and is to be led by pipes and tunnel under the Hudson river directly to lower New York. The advantages claimed are-abundant supply by gravity, constant fire-pressure, sales of water by the city for motive power, the saving of great mains from the Central Park Reservoir down town, and the preservation of the Croton supply for upper New York and the annexed districts. The syndicate promises a supply within 8 years from date of contract, and will charge the city $75 per million gallons, payable quarterly. The project is endorsed by responsible parties. In a later issue we will give the plan in fuller detail….

Jersey City’s new water supply is being discussed at “citizens’ meetings”, and the opportunity has not been lost by the chronic crank. The bone of contention is a proposition to furnish water, made by a private corporation, a part of the Bartlett syndicate. Last Monday’s meeting was marked by a free fight in an attempt to eject a party who interrupted the syndicate attorney and defied the presiding officer in this fight tables and chairs were smashed and the club of a policeman alone stopped the row. At a preceding meeting, threats were made of hanging to a lamp-post the promoters of a private contract. It is to be hoped, for the good name of the city, that these proceedings will be brought to an end by the more reputable and intelligent citizens calmly discussing what is really a great public need, and taking such .action as will improve the present supply, whether this improvement comes from works of their own building or from a private corporation.”

Reference: “Jersey City, N.J.” 1888. Engineering News. 20:(December 8, 1888): 458.

Commentary: The water scheme to transfer water from the Passaic River watershed to New York City attracted tremendous support and violent opposition. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the interstate transport of water without the agreement of the state which is the source of supply.

Mohawk River near Albany, 1860

Mohawk River near Albany, 1860

December 8, 1920: Engineering and Contracting article. Pollution of Public Water Supply by Spring Freshet. “In the spring of 1920 the engineering division of the New York State Department of Health was called upon to investigate an epidemic of gastroenteritis, followed by an outbreak of typhoid fever in the city of Schenectady, N. Y., which occurred subsequently to the gross pollution of the public water supply of the city by the water of the Mohawk River. The results of the investigation were set forth by Mr. Theodore Horton, Chief Engineer of the New York State Department of Health, in his reports to the Department….

The matter was first brought to the attention of the Division of Sanitary Engineering on March 20, 1920, when information was received that on March 15 and a few days following, the number of cases of gastroenteric disturbances in the city had greatly increased above the number normally occurring; and that this increase had followed a noticeable turbidity in the water, which had been greatest on the night of March 13 and during March 14 and had gradually disappeared after the latter date….

On April 1 the onsets of eight cases occurred, and for the next week the number of onsets ranged from two to six, the number gradually decreasing. The last case was reported as occurring on the 19th. In all there were 53 cases, 3 of which terminated fatally. The majority of the cases occurred about two weeks after the pollution of the well by the contaminated water of the river.”

Reference: “Pollution of Public Water Supply by Spring Freshet.” 1920. Engineering and Contracting. 54:23(December 8, 1920): 562-4.

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