Monthly Archives: November 2015

November 30, 1917: U.S. Public Health Service Sanitation near Army Camps

1130 Sanitary Privy ConstructionNovember 30, 1917: Municipal Journal article. How the U.S. Public Health Service Endeavored to Secure Healthful Conditions and Surroundings at Camp Bowie, the Aviation Fields Nearby and the Adjacent Area. “When a million men were ordered into military training in the summer of 1917, it was thoroughly realized that intensive health work would be necessary to adequately protect them from disease. It was also realized that to sanitate only their actual camping sites would not be sufficient. Disease germs will not stop at the camp border; the soldier is bound to mingle with the civilian population. The same restaurant, the same barber-shop, and the same movie attract the soldier and the civilian.

To protect the one it is necessary to protect the other. Insanitary conditions a hundred yards, or a mile, from the camp border may produce an epidemic as quickly as similar conditions within the camp limits….

Though anti-typhoid inoculation has practically eliminated typhoid from the army, it is still rife among the civilian population. Moreover, typhoid is but one of the filth-borne diseases, against most of which there is not a preventative inoculation. The control of these diseases demands a safe method of excreta disposal, whereby infectious material will be prevented from access to food and water supplies and protected from the fly.

In Fort Worth, as a beginning, immediate steps were taken to enforce the ordinance relative to sewer connections, and since work began in May, 2,000 sewer connections have been made. To reach those homes not accessible to the sewers, an ordinance was passed requiring the installation of a sanitary privy, the type of privy being specified. This consists of a fly-proof, tight wooden box with a screened opening in front and a connecting flue pipe behind, which extends above the top of the old privy house for the purposes of ventilation. Tight metallic cans, 15 inches in diameter and 15 inches high, are placed in the box for the catchment of excreta. The boxes and can are uniformly made according to specifications and installed in the old houses. This work has been done under the direction of the city, the installation costing $8.50. The privies are scavenged weekly at a cost of $1.50 per quarter, the full cans being removed and clean cans placed in their stead. The cans to be scavenged are hauled to disposal stations, which are large concrete risers built over sewer mains, and there thoroughly washed and deodorized. Nearly 4,000 of these privies have been installed in Fort Worth, while the incorporated towns of Niles and Polytechnic, adjoining Fort Worth, have also installed the system.”

Commentary: In 1918, influenza killed over 650,000 in the U.S. However, epidemics of typhoid fever and diarrheal diseases were avoided by sanitary conditions such as described in this article. The famous sanitary engineer, George Warren Fuller played a role in the prevention of waterborne disease during WWI. “During the World War, he was a member of a sanitary committee at Washington regulating the engineering planning and sanitation of the various Army camps in this country. As consulting engineer to the U.S. Public Health Service and the to the Construction Division of the Army, he was responsible for a considerable part of the practices which resulted in the unprecedented low typhoid fever death rate in the Army camps.”

References: Hardenbergh, W.A. 1918. “Extra-Cantonment Zone Sanitation.” Municipal Journal. 45:22(November 30, 1918): 423-4.

“Sad Milestone in Sanitary Engineering Progress.” 1934. American Journal of Public Health. 24:8: 895–6.

November 29, 1905: Colorado River Flood that Created the Salton Sea

1129 Intakes for the Imperial Canal 1November 29, 1905: Colorado River Flood that Created the Salton Sea

Commentary: The flood that filled the Salton Sea began in earnest on November 29, 1905, but it was not a singular event. As a result of decisions to supply water to an important agricultural area, the disaster seemed to occur in slow motion. Development of the irrigation system for the Imperial Valley occurred over many years and resulted in the construction of a canal that existed in both Mexico and the U.S. In 1905, one of the intakes (“cuts” or “headings”) to take the water from the Colorado River into the canal system began to erode disastrously. The quoted material below is only part of the account. I refer you to the complete book which is available gratis on Google Books.

Reference:  Kennan, G. 1917. The Salton Sea:  An Account of Harriman’s Fight with the Colorado River. New York:MacMillan.

1129 Lower Mexican Intake 2

“Throughout the month of August 1905, the intake continued to widen, with the caving away of its banks, and in September Mr. Harriman and President Randolph decided that an other effort must be made either to close the break, or to regulate and control the flow of water through it. About the first of October, at the suggestion and under the supervision of Mr. E. S. Edinger, a Southern Pacific engineer, an attempt was made to close the channel west of the island by means of a six-hundred-foot barrier-dam of piling, brush-mattresses and sandbags. This dam, which was built in October and November at a cost of about $60,000, might perhaps have checked or lessened the flow through the crevasse if nothing unforeseen had happened; but on the 29th-30th of November a tremendous flood, carrying great masses of driftwood, came down the Gila and increased the discharge of the Colorado from 12,000 to 115,000 cubic feet per second. The dam could not withstand such pressure, and even before the peak of the flood was reached it went out altogether, leaving hardly a vestige behind. As a large part of the island was eroded and carried away at the same time, further operations in this locality were regarded as impracticable. The crevasse had then widened to six hundred feet, and nearly the whole of the river poured through it into the deepest part of the Sink, where there was already a lake with a surface area of one hundred and fifty square miles. The main line of the Southern Pacific, in many places, was almost awash, and the whole population of the Valley was alarmed by the prospect of being drowned out. If the break could not be closed and the river brought under control before the period of high water in the spring and summer of 1906, it seemed more than probable that sixty miles of the Southern Pacific track would be sub merged; that the irrigation system of the California Development Company would be destroyed; and that the whole basin of the Imperial Valley would ultimately become a fresh-water lake.

The difficulty of dealing with this menacing situation was greatly increased by the necessity of furnishing an uninterrupted supply of water to the farmers of the valley while engineering operations were in progress. It would not do to shut the river out altogether, because that would leave without irrigation nearly two hundred square miles of cultivated land. The Colorado must be controlled, but not wholly excluded. Several methods of solving this problem were suggested, but the only two that seemed likely to succeed were advocated by Consulting Engineer Schuyler and Chief Engineer Rockwood. Mr. Schuyler proposed that a new steel-and-concrete head-gate be put in near Pilot Knob, where a solid rock foundation could be secured; that the four miles of silted channel be re-excavated and enlarged by a powerful steam dredge specially built for the purpose; and that the whole low-water flow of the river be then turned through this head-gate into the enlarged canal and thence into the Alamo barranca [deep gully] west of the break. By this means the settlers would be continuously supplied with water, while the crevasse-opening would be left dry enough to close with a permanent levee or dam. The whole work, it was thought, could be finished in three months, or at least before the coming of the next summer flood….

1129 Attempts to Close Canal Intake 3

The task [to close the eroding intake and put the Colorado River back on its previous course] set before Messrs. Randolph, Cory, Hind and Clarke was one that might well have daunted even engineers of their great ability and experience. As the [1906] summer flood approached its maximum, in the latter part of June, the crevasse widened to more than half a mile, and the whole river, rushing through the break, spread out over an area eight or ten miles in width, and then, collecting in separate streams as it ran down the slope of the basin, discharged at last into the Salton Sea through the flooded channel of the New River barranca. Thousands of acres of land, covered with growing crops, were inundated, and thousands of acres more were so eroded and furrowed by the torrential streams that they never could be cultivated again. The works of the New Liver pool Salt Company were buried under sixty feet of water; the towns of Calexico and Mexican” were partially destroyed, and in many places the tracks of the Inter-California Rail road (a branch of the Southern Pacific) and the Holtville Interurban were deeply sub merged or wholly carried away. The wooden flumes which carried the irrigating water over the New River barranca were swept down into the Salton Sea, and 30,000 acres of cultivated land in the western part of the Valley became dry, barren and uninhabitable. At the height of the flood, the Colorado discharged through the crevasse more than 75,000 cubic feet of water per second, or six billion cubic feet every twenty four hours, while the Salton Sea, into which this immense volume of water was poured, rose at the rate of seven inches per day over an area of four hundred square miles. The main line of the Southern Pacific was soon inundated, and five times in the course of the summer the company had to move its track to higher ground.”

Intake No. 3, looking out toward the river. February 15, 1905

Intake No. 3, looking out toward the river. February 15, 1905

November 28, 1837: Birth of John Wesley Hyatt.

1128 John W HyattNovember 28, 1837: Birth of John Wesley Hyatt. Hyatt was an inventor who developed new materials and machines that resulted in hundreds of patents. He is mostly known for his invention of a commercially viable way of producing solid, stable nitrocellulose, which he patented in the United States in 1869 as “Celluloid.” However, he was one of the early developers of commercial filtration systems in the U.S. He invented improvements to mechanical filtration systems, which are called rapid sand filters or granular media filters today. During the 1880s, mechanical filters were installed to remove particles and “organic matter.” Filtration to control microbial pathogens would come later with better bacteriological methods and the maturation of the germ theory of disease.

“John Hyatt, an inventor and manufacturer of Newark, N.J., applied for a patent February 11, 1881, on what was virtually a stack of Clark’s filters, placed in a closed tank and operated each independently of the others by means of common supply, delivery and wash pipes. His application, like Clark’s, was granted on June 21, 1881, and assigned to the Newark Filtering Co. On the same day, Hyatt obtained a patent in England.

Col. L. H. Gardner, Superintendent of the New Orleans Water Co., after making small-scale experiments on coagulation at New Orleans, was convinced that it was more efficacious than filtration for the clarification of muddy water.

Isaiah Smith Hyatt, older brother of John, while acting as sales agent for the Newark Filtering Co., was baffled in attempts to clarify Mississippi River water for a New Orleans industrial plant. Colonel Gardner suggested using a coagulant. This was a success. Isaiah Hyatt obtained on February 19, 1884, a patent on simultaneous coagulation-filtration. Although unsound in principle, it largely dominated mechanical filtration for many years….

Thus in 1880-85 did four men join in the evolution of mechanical or rapid filtration. Clark soon faded out of the picture. Gardner entered it only by suggesting to Isaiah Hyatt the use of a coagulant, and Isaiah Hyatt, still a young man, died in March 1885. John Hyatt was then alone. Already he had taken out 20 filter patents while only two were granted to his older brother. By the close of 1889, John had obtained about 50 patents. Scattered grants in the 1890’s brought his record above 60. Most notable of all these were three on washing systems, including sectional wash; several on strainers for underdrain systems; and two on aeration, primarily in connection with filtration. The Hyatt aeration patents, like those granted to Professor Albert R. Leeds a little earlier, were of little practical importance, but they marked an era in water purification during which stress was laid on the removal of organic matter.”

Reference: Baker, Moses N. (1981). The Quest for Pure Water: the History of Water Purification from the Earliest Records to the Twentieth Century. 2nd Edition. Vol. 1. Denver: American Water Works Association, 183-5.

1128 Hyatt Pure Water  Filter

November 27, 1924: Death of George C. Whipple

George C. Whipple

George C. Whipple

November 27, 1924: Death of George C. Whipple. “George Chandler Whipple (1866–1924) was a civil engineer and an expert in the field of sanitary microbiology. His career extended from 1889 to 1924 and he is best known as a cofounder of the Harvard School of Public Health. Whipple published some of the most important books in the early history of public health and applied microbiology. . . .In 1899, Jersey City, New Jersey contracted for the construction of a new water supply on the Rockaway River, which was 23 miles west of the City. The water supply included a dam, reservoir and 23-mile pipeline and was completed on May 4, 1904. As was common during this time period, no treatment of any kind was provided to the water supply. City officials were not pleased with the project as delivered by the private water company and filed a lawsuit in the Chancery Court of New Jersey. Among the many complaints by Jersey City officials was the contention that the water served to the City was not “pure and wholesome” as required by the contract. Whipple testified as an expert witness for the plaintiff in both trials.”

Commentary: George C. Whipple was a very interesting person. I had the opportunity to go through a small part of the archive that he left to Harvard University while researching my book, The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives. I swear that he saved every last piece of paper that he ever touched in his career. It is a fascinating look into the mind of a turn-of-the-century expert in drinking water treatment. Even though he was trained as a civil engineer, he made some of the most important early advances in microscopy and the ecology of lakes and rivers. He invented the Secchi disk that we use today. The original Secchi disk was all white. He created the disk with quadrants that were alternating black and white. Any civil engineer will recognize that arrangement as the same one found on a land surveying target marker. He was one of the first researchers to identify taste and odor problems in water as directly related to the presence of certain algae species. Check out the full biography that I wrote about him on Wikipedia.

November 26, 1907: Birth of Ruth Patrick; 2015: Thanksgiving and Cranberries

1126 Dr Ruth PatrickNovember 26, 1907: Birth of Ruth Patrick. “Dr. Ruth Myrtle Patrick (November 26, 1907 – September 23, 2013) was a botanist and limnologist specializing in diatoms and freshwater ecology, who developed ways to measure the health of freshwater ecosystems and established a number of research facilities.

Dr. Patrick’s research in fossilized diatoms showed that the Great Dismal Swamp between Virginia and North Carolina was once a forest, which had been flooded by seawater. Similar research proved that the Great Salt Lake was not always a saline lake. During the Great Depression, she volunteered to work as a curator for the Academy of Natural Sciences, where she worked for no pay for ten years. Her work has been widely published and she has received numerous awards for her scientific achievements, including the Benjamin Franklin Medal for Distinguished Achievement in the Sciences in 1993, the National Medal of Science in 1996, the Heinz Award Chairman’s Medal in 2002, and the A.C. Redfield Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006. The Ruth Patrick Science Education Center in Aiken, South Carolina, is named after her.”

Commentary: In 1974, I took a course on biological limnology from this amazing woman. She brought in luminaries such as Luna Leopold noted fluvial morphologist to give lectures as well as providing some of the most interesting classes herself. One anecdote that that was told to me while I was taking her class concerns some work she did during WWII. She was asked to identify organisms from scrapings on the hulls of German U-boats that had been captured. Her knowledge of diatoms was so encyclopedic that she pinpointed the location of the U-boat pens, which helped the Allies destroy them.

Harvesting Cranberries

Harvesting Cranberries

Thanksgiving 2015. A Southerner’s Guide to the Cranberry. Watercrunch. “For $50, you could have an experience not many of us have had. You could spend 2 hours helping to harvest cranberries in a bog. How cool would that be?

Could you imagine wading knee deep in water, surrounded by a sea of red cranberries, reenacting a scene from an Ocean Spray commercial? I would do it. Apparently a lot of other folks agreed with me. All the “Be the Grower” experience slots from Mayflower Cranberries farms in Massachusetts were sold out in October. I am going to have to plan early next year.

Cranberries are a mystery fruit to me. Born out of the swamps and bogs of the Northeast, they show up in our refrigerator this time of year in time for Thanksgiving. If I am ever going to stand in a bog of cranberries next year, I need to start the groundwork now for this epic journey.

I have compiled my simple southerner’s guide to the cranberry this morning with 5 startling revelations (at least for me).”

November 25, 2012: California Rice Growing; 1988: Britain Selling Waterworks

1125 Flooded Rice FieldsNovember 25, 2012: The Desert Sun headline—Calif. Commercial Rice Growing Hits 100 Years. “California is celebrating 100 years of commercial rice production this year, marking the anniversary of a commodity that has evolved to become one of the state’s largest agricultural exports.

Farmers began experimenting with growing rice during the Gold Rush more than 160 years ago, according to the California Rice Commission. It had long been grown in the southeastern U.S., but was introduced in California by Chinese gold miners, who later built the state’s railroads and river levees.

It wasn’t until 1912 that the first commercial production started in Butte County, in the Sacramento Valley about 70 miles north of the state capital.

Since then, California has become the nation’s largest producer of short- and medium-grain sticky rice, with much of the high-quality product shipped to Japan and other Asian countries through the Port of West Sacramento. Most sushi in the U.S. is made with California rice.

All told, California annually ships nearly 5 billion pounds of rice as far away as Europe and the Middle East.

Most is grown within 100 miles of Sacramento, predominantly in Butte, Colusa, Glenn, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties. Rice commission spokesman Jim Morris said the climate, soil and water are ideal for the crop.

Commentary: No mention is made in this piece how much water is required to grow rice in an area that has allocated water for too many uses. Growing rice in the Sacramento River Valley made sense 100 years ago. It even made sense 50 years ago. It makes no sense today. I don’t care how much sushi is sold in LA or Tokyo.

1125 Margaret ThatcherNovember 25, 1988: New York Times headline—Britain Planning to Sell Its Waterworks. “The British Government today began the latest and most contentious step in its sweeping privatization program by presenting its plans for selling off the nation’s state-owned water industry.

‘We shall be freeing into private hands yet another important industrial sector,’ the Environment Secretary, Nicholas Ridley, said in setting out the Government’s proposals to sell Britain’s 10 public water authorities.

He predicted that the water privatization bill, which was included in the Government’s legislative agenda announced in Queen Elizabeth II’s address to the new session of Parliament on Tuesday, would result in more efficient management of water resources and tighter environmental safeguards.

But many economists, politicians and union officials are skeptical about the presumed benefits of selling the water industry.

The British public seems to agree. A survey in June by Market and Opinion Research International, a London-based company that is one of Britain’s leading polling organizations, found that 66 percent of the population opposed selling the water authorities to private shareholders, compared with 25 percent who supported it and 9 percent who were undecided.

Alex Thomson, the national officer of the largest trade union in the water industry, the National and Local Government Officers Association, today echoed the doubts of many when he said, ‘Privatizing water makes about as much sense as privatizing the air we breathe.’…Making more British citizens shareholders was an important element of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s drive to ‘roll back the frontiers of the state.’”

Question:  Was the privatization of the UK water systems successful or not?

November 24, 1888: Hook Gauge Development; 1888: New Hoboken Ferry Building

1124 Fig 1 Hook GaugeNovember 24, 1888Engineering and Building Record. A Simple Hook Gauge to Measure Depth of Water. “The accompanying illustrations show a very simple and convenient arrangement devised and used by John T. Fanning, C. E., for determining measurements of the heights of a given water level accurately to 1-1000th of a foot.

Figure 1 is a general view showing any convenient protected tank containing water in free communication with that whose level is to be determined, with the rod and gauge in position for a reading. Fig. 2 is a detail of the hook, which is made of brass wire, about No. 10 gauge, with two points f and q, and a handle offset from their plane for convenience in applying to the scale. The lowest point, f, is chisel-shaped ; the upper one, q is conical, ground to be exactly one foot away from the lower one. In reading, the lower point or hook is immersed below the surface of the water, the point q is placed against the scale, and the hook maintained vertical while it is moved upwards until the edge of point f reaches the surface when a slight convexity is produced in the water at f before it emerges and the reading indicated by q is recorded.

1124 Figs 2 and 3 Hook GaugeFigure 3 is the scale, a square wooden rod planed true and having one face painted white, and a convenient length, as three feet, laid off as shown, with six vertical lines; the right-hand one is divided into tenths and hundreths of a foot, and from each of the latter points diagonals are drawn across the five left-hand lines; thee diagonals intersect on the left-hand vertical, and their intersection, with each vertical give a rise of exactly one one-thousandth of a foot above the next lower intersection.

The apex or left intersection thus gives the half-a-hundredth point, and the intermediate ones the single thousandths. The scale may be set and figured so that the readings shall give exact elevations above the datum, or it may be fixed at random, and the constant difference determined and always applied….

The apparatus is very easily and cheaply constructed, and has given accurate and satisfactory results. The hook can easily be made by any metal-working mechanic, and the scale can be laid off and inked in on the varnished wood with a right-line pen. The arrangement is very convenient and would often be useful for reservoirs, tide-gauges, etc.”

Commentary:  I have always been fascinated by complex engineering drawings from the late 19th century with their alphabetically coded notations on mechanical equipment and detailed directions on how it works. Frankly, I had a hard time following them. This one, however, is simple and actually very cool.

1124 Ferry House to Hoboken smNovember 24, 1888Engineering and Building Record. The New Ferry House at Barclay Street, New York City. “The New Hoboken Ferry House at the foot of Barclay Street, New York City was designed, and its construction superintended by Theodore Cooper and Auguste Namure, engineers and architects, of New York, for the Hoboken Land and Improvement Co., whose engineer, Charles B. Brush, specially directed the construction of the foundations and substructure, and had general supervision of the whole work. It is the first ferry house erected in the city entirely of iron and possesses some novel and interesting features.”

Commentary:  The line drawing of the ferry house is stunning and representative of the painstaking work done on architectural projects at the end of the 19th century.

Reference: Engineering and Building Record and Sanitary Engineer. 18:26 (November 24, 1888).