June 28, 1917: Water Supply for the Army

U.S. Army Cantonment

U.S. Army Cantonment

June 28, 1917: Municipal Journal article. Preparation of Water Supply for Army. “San Diego, Cal.-The [local] health department has received the following communication from the state board of health signed by C. G. Gillespie, director of the bureau of sanitary engineering: ‘While the San Diego supply easily surpasses any other surface source in California in the amount of laboratory and field supervision given, we are anxious that it be placed in the rank of the best in the country. This is most imperative now by reason of the location of a large army cantonment in your midst. I believe that we shall insist upon chlorination of all water furnished to the troops. In addition, laboratory facilities should be hastened to enable your office to make daily analysis of samples collected on each individual supply, both before and after treatment. Occasionally the sampling should be done early in the day to check up night operation. Within a few weeks I plan to return to San Diego to devote entire attention to the water system. It is hoped that you will have prepared new forms and begun the more systematic collection of pertinent data by that time. I beg to report that we appreciate the steps along this line now undertaken and the good showing in the absence of B. coli with the present frequency of sampling.’”

Commentary: This article is interesting because the State of California had obviously extended its regulatory powers over a water supply for a federal facility—an army camp constructed to train soldiers for the First World War.

Commentary by Catherine Ma: Chester Gillespie was the first Chief (1915-1947) of the Bureau of Sanitary Engineering (established 1915) in the CA State Department of Public Health.   It’s interesting to note the persuasive but firm tone he used in enjoining a regulated entity to properly treat its water supply—it’s for the Army troops readying for battles, i.e. “ I believe that we shall insist upon chlorination of all water furnished to the troops.” It was nothing like “Thou shall treat or else.”

According to the oral history left to us by Henry Ongerth: “Chester Gillespie was a tall, slender, very friendly, rather shy person….He had a tremendous knowledge of the details of water supply and sewage disposal all over the State of California. He spent much time making field trips throughout the State and his men all referred to him as “The Chief,” though not when talking to him directly.   At least in the latter part of his career, Chester Gillespie worked largely by persuasion rather than through formal methods of law enforcement.” Note :   “ …One of the major events of the Gillespie administration was the suit by the State Department of Public Health against the City of Los Angeles. This suit which went to the State Supreme Count, resulted in a judgment requiring Los Angeles to install treatment for its sewage discharge to the Pacific Ocean.”

Mr. Chester Gillespie was one very classy regulator and public health engineer!

By the way, as far as I can remember and at least for the past three decades, our California Water Program has had regulatory jurisdiction over all federal water systems.

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