Monthly Archives: October 2018

October 17, 2013: NYC Tunnel No. 3; 1982: Toxaphene Curbs

October 17, 2013New York Times headline–After Decades a Water Tunnel Can Now Serve All of Manhattan. “Of all New York City’s sprawling mega-projects, the water tunnel snaking beneath the grid — connecting the Bronx to Upper Manhattan, Upper Manhattan to Central Park, Central Park to Queens, and, eventually, Queens to the western edge of Brooklyn — is perhaps the hardest to love….

But as Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg turned a ceremonial wheel in City Hall Park on Wednesday, sending waters gushing into a fountain, the city arrived at a seminal moment.

In one of the most significant milestones for the city’s water supply in nearly a century, the tunnel — authorized in 1954, begun in 1970 and considered the largest capital construction project ever undertaken in the five boroughs — will for the first time be equipped to provide water for all of Manhattan. Since 1917, the borough has relied on Tunnel No. 1, which was never inspected or significantly repaired after its opening.”

Commentary:  This is a very big deal. Multiple generations of “sandhogs” have worked to construct the tunnels feeding water to New York City. If they had only scheduled it two days earlier, they could have started this new water delivery tunnel on the 171stanniversaryof the celebration of the opening of the first comprehensive water supply for the City—the Croton System.

Toxaphene spraying on crops.

October 17, 1982New York Times headline–EPA Plans to Curb Use of Toxaphene. “The Environmental Protection Agency will restrict the use of toxaphene, which was once the most widely used pesticide in the country but has been identified as a possible cancer-causing substance, officials said today.

The agency’s spokesman, Byron Nelson, said the details of the restrictions would be announced Monday. Toxaphene has been used widely to protect cotton crops in the South, but it has also been detected recently in fish in the Great Lakes, leading scientists to conclude that winds were sweeping the pesticide into far wider areas.

William A. Butler, the Audubon Society’s vice president for government relations, asserted today that the restrictions were being announced now by the Reagan Administration to achieve a political gain for the fall Congressional elections.

‘This is clearly something the E.P.A. is doing just before the election,’ Mr. Butler said.  ‘It is too little, too late,’ Mr. Butler said, noting the use of toxaphene has declined from 100 million pounds a year in the 1970′s to 16 million pounds this year.”

Commentary:  EPA announcing an environmental action to somehow obtain a political advantage? Boy, this wasa long time ago.

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October 16, 1988: Asbury Park Beach Pollution

October 16, 1988New York Times headline–Asbury Park Fined for Beach Pollution. “The state of New Jersey has fined Asbury Park more than $1 million for causing the ocean pollution that closed a popular stretch of Monmouth County beaches for 19 days this summer.

Mistakes by the city in cleaning out its sewage lines were responsible for the high ocean bacteria levels that closed the beaches, a report that accompanied the announcement of the fine said.

The fine is the largest ever levied against a municipality by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

In its 19-page report, released Tuesday, the department said that Asbury Park had failed to adequately maintain sewer lines for two years and that, in June and July, when it tried to clean out lines coagulated with greasy sewage, it flushed them to an old primary treatment plant incapable of handling all the waste. Large clumps of grease containing high levels of fecal bacteria eventually got into the ocean and broke up in the surf, forcing officials to close beaches in Asbury Park, Ocean Grove, Bradley Beach, Avon, Spring Lake, Belmar and Allenhurst in July.”

October 15, 1918: First Water Permit Issued to LADWP; 1988: Uranium Leak

October 15, 1918:  Date of first water permitissued to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power for the Owens Valley water supply. On this date, the California Department of Public Health issued the first water supply permit to LADWP for the Owens Valley water supply, which started operation on November 5, 1913. The permit includes a report authored by Ralph Hilscher who was the Southern Division Engineer at the time. The report catalogues all of the major features of the Owens Valley supply including the physical facilities built to transport the water 233 miles to Los Angeles. In the report is a detailed assessment of the potential sources of contamination of the water supply by human habitation. The report stressed that only 1.5 persons per square mile occupied the Owens Valley aqueduct watershed compared with 132 persons per square mile, which was stated as typical of watersheds in Massachusetts.

Ignored were the potential pathogens from animals such as deer, beavers and cows (Giardia lambliaand Cryptosporidium parvum). Health authorities simply were not aware at that time of the potential for these pathogen sources to contaminate a water supply and cause disease in humans (zoonotic diseases). A statement in the report makes this point clearly, “It is the consensus of opinion among sanitarians that human waterborne diseases have their origin only in human beings.”

The report recognized the purifying action of the large reservoirs in the Owens Valley system that had extensive detention times, which were instrumental in reducing pathogen concentrations.

Another fact that I was unaware of until I read the report was that the first 24 miles of the aqueduct were earthen-lined and not lined with concrete.

Missing from the report is any mention of the use of chlorine for disinfection. Other literature sources had estimated that chlorination of the LA Aqueduct supply could have taken place as early as 1915. It is clear from the Department of Public Health report that any chlorination of LA water supplies around 1915 must have referred to disinfection of the water from infiltration galleries along the Los Angeles River. One report that I have read (unconfirmed) stated that ammonia was also added at the infiltration galleries to form chloramines. I have still not located a firm date when the Owens Valley supply was chlorinated.

A letter dated December 12, 1924, from Carl Wilsonwho was the Laboratory Director for the LADWP to C.G. Gillespie of the Bureau of Sanitary Engineering summarized the progress that they had made in applying chlorine to their system. In that letter are two curious statements by Mr. Wilson. First, he only planned to operate chlorinators treating water from the reservoirs during the rainy season because no local runoff would be entering the hillside reservoirs. Second, he did not see the need to determine chlorine residual using the orthotolidine method, but he would do so if required by the Department. It took a long time for sanitary practices to penetrate the operational mindset of all water utilities not just the LADWP. From a paper published in 1935, we know that the entire system was chlorinated by that time with multiple application points in the system.

Read the entire permitfor a fascinating view into the thinking of a regulatory agency during the early days of our understanding of watershed protection and maintenance of a water supply that would be free from disease causing microorganisms.

Reference:  Goudey, R.F. “Chlorination of Los Angeles Water Supply.” Am J Public Health Nations Health. 1935 June; 25(6): 730–734. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1558978/Accessed October 14, 2013.

Credit: Thanks to Susan Brownstein of LADWP for sharing a copy of the permit with me.

Uranium Contaminated Site

October 15, 1988: New York Times headline–U.S., for Decades, Let Uranium Leak at Weapon Plant. “Government officials overseeing a nuclear weapon plant in Ohio knew for decades that they were releasing thousands of tons of radioactive uranium waste into the environment, exposing thousands of workers and residents in the region, a Congressional panel said today.

The Government decided not to spend the money to clean up three major sources of contamination, Energy Department officials said at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing. Runoff from the plant carried tons of the waste into drinking water wells in the area and the Great Miami River; leaky pits at the plant, storing waste water containing uranium emissions and other radioactive materials, leaked into the water supplies, and the plant emitted radioactive particles into the air…Fernald’s problems with radioactive emissions have been public knowledge and a source of anxiety and frustration for several years.

But in court documents discussed today at the hearing and reported last week by the Cincinnati papers, Government officials acknowledged for the first time that ”the Government knew full well that the normal operation of the Fernald plant would result in emissions of uranium and other substances” into water supplies and into the atmosphere.”

October 14, 1842: Croton Water Celebration; 1862: Mixing Water with Milk; 1859: Dedication of Glasgow Water Supply

October 14, 1842:  Celebration of the delivery of the Croton water supply to New York City. “Two days before the holiday Hone wrote in his diary: ‘Nothing is talked of or thought of in New York but Croton water; fountains, aqueducts, hydrants, and hose attract our attention and impede our progress through the streets. Political spouting has given place to water spouts, and the free current of water has diverted the attention of the people from the vexed questions of the confused state of the national currency.’

The great day began with the discharge of one hundred cannon and the ringing of church bells. Thousands of jubilant spectators crowded the windows, balconies, and sidewalks to watch a five-mile-long parade pass by. First came an impressive military escort, then a dozen barouches bearing Governor Seward, Mayor Morris, Samuel Stevens, Stephen Allen, Philip Hone, and other dignitaries. These were followed by regiments of soldiers, by fifty-two companies of firemen with bright uniforms, banners, and well-polished machines, by the butchers on horseback, by numerous marching temperance societies, and by organizations of mechanics….

The fountains were a special delight. Of one erected in Union Square, a contemporary newspaper declared: ‘It throws up a noble column of water to a height as great almost as the houses which surround the square …. In the evening, by the moonlight, the effect of the fountain showering its spray on every side, was exceedingly fine.’”

Reference:  Blake, N.M. 1956. Water for the Cities. Syracuse, NY:Syracuse University Press. 165-6.

Commentary: They really knew how to celebrate a new water supply back then. Can you imagine a salute of 100 cannons for delivering State Project water to Southern California in the 1960s? How about we shoot off the cannons when the desalination plant at Carlsbad, CA is operational?

October 14, 1862:  New York Times headline–Mixing of Water with Milk Not an Adulteration. “The People ex rel. Jacob Fauerbach vs. Court of Sessions. — The relator was convicted in the Court of Sessions of vending adulterated milk, and sentenced to pay a fine of $55.

He appealed the case to the New York Supreme Court, contending that the act under which he was convicted was purely a sanitary measure, intending to prevent traffic in impure, diseased and unwholesome milk, and not to prevent fraud in the sale of diluted milk. That to put water into milk was not to corrupt it, according to dictionary definition. Water was not a foreign admixture of milk, but its chief ingredient in its natural state, and it could not be adulterated by adding a little more.

The Court, in an opinion by Justice Ingraham, have now reversed the decision of the Judge at the General Sessions, upon the ground that to put water in milk is not per se such an adulteration as necessarily brings the relator within the late law upon that subject.” Commentary: Adding water to milk to increase profits was a common occurrence in the latter half of the 19th century. The problem was that most of the drinking water in cities during this period was laced with pathogenic organisms. The death of infants before one year of age in U.S. cities from diarrheal diseases was 20% to 40% of live births (that is not a misprint). Diluting cow’s milk with contaminated water was one of the chief means of killing babies. The judges did not help matters by overturning this crook’s conviction.

Glasgow Waterworks—Loch Katrine Outlet, 1859: antique wood engraved print

October 14, 1859:  Dedication of the Loch Katrine Water Works for the City of Glasgow, Scotland, by Queen Victoria. “It is with no ordinary feelings of pride and satisfaction that we are enabled this day to state to your Majesty that we have completed one of the most interesting and difficult works of engineering, and, at the same time, the largest and most comprehensive scheme for the supply of water which has yet been accomplished in your Majesty’s dominions. The deficient and unsatisfactory condition of the water supply, on which so much of the health and comfort of the inhabitants depended, determined the Corporation of Glasgow, some years ago, to purchase the works of the Water Companies then existing, and to take the supply of water into their own hands. For this purpose an Act of Parliament was obtained, which received your Majesty’s royal assent on the 2d day of July, 1855. Empowered by this Act, the Commissioners came to these wild and romantic regions for that copious supply of pure water of which the large and rapidly increasing population of Glasgow stood in need. This beautiful and extensive loch of pure water, fed by a large amount of annual rainfall, and lying at an elevation of 360 feet above the sea, was selected as the fountain-head. The rugged district, of 34 miles in extent, which intervenes between the loch and the city, has been penetrated by tunnels, crossed by aqueducts, or traversed by iron pipes, in the execution of the necessary works for ultimately conveying to the city no less than 50,000,000 gallons of water per day.”

Reference: Burnet, J. 1869. History of the Water Supply to Glasgow. Glasgow, Scotland:Bell & Bain. 148-9.

Commentary:  I actually bought an inexpensive reproduction of this print. It is fun to own something that is 156 years old.

October 13, 1821: Birth of Rudolf Virchow; 1986: Hudson River as Source of Water for NYC

October 13, 1821:  German physician Rudolf (Carl) Virchowwas born.  He was  famed for cell theory, founded the medical journal Medical Reform(Medicinische Reform), and wrote “Report on the Typhus Epidemic in Upper Silesia.” He was also was a well-known pathologist, anthropologist and statesman, widely credited for his advancements in public health.   Later in life, Virchow fought for improving the health and welfare service, meat inspections, and the first four urban hospitals in Berlin. He encouraged water and sewage system development.

Hudson River at Poughkeepsie

October 13, 1986:  New York Times headline–Report Backs Hudson as Water Source. ”Supplementing New York City’s water supply of 1.5 billion gallons a day with up to 300 million gallons from the Hudson River is feasible, an engineering study commissioned by the city has concluded.

But even before the study has officially been made public, concern has been mounting here in the Hudson Valley about the potential impact of such withdrawals, which have been called the only realistic means of meeting the city’s water needs by the year 2000.

‘If New York City were to take 300 million gallons from the Hudson, the major question is: would there be enough for us?’ said Herbert Hekler, chairman of the water supply committee of the Hudson Valley Regional Council. Several municipalities in the fast-growing Hudson Valley, including the city of Poughkeepsie, rely on the river as their sole source of drinking water.”

Commentary:  Mayor Koch called for universal metering in the city to cut water use and that is exactly what happened. There was no need to tap the Hudson after all.

October 12, 1492: Christopher Columbus “Discovers” The New World

The Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria

October 12, 1492:Running low on drinking water after a five-week voyage from the Canary Islands, the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria entered the Caribbean Sea. On this day, “a lookout on the Pinta, Rodrigo de Triana (also known as Juan Rodríguez Bermeo), spotted land about 2:00 on the morning of 12 October, and immediately alerted the rest of the crew with a shout. Thereupon, the captain of the Pinta, Martín Alonso Pinzón, verified the discovery and alerted Columbus by firing a cannon. Columbus later maintained that he himself had already seen a light on the land a few hours earlier, thereby claiming for himself the lifetime pension promised by Ferdinand and Isabella to the first person to sight land.”

Commentary: Nice going, Chris. You “discovered” a land that had been inhabited for thousands of years by indigenous people.

October 11, 1961: Dedication of LaDue Reservoir; 1989: Water-Main Break Spews Asbestos Into 8th Ave.; 1988: Less Lead in Rivers

October 11, 1961:  Dedication of Wendell R. LaDue Reservoir. LaDue Reservoir is a water supply, flood control and recreation reservoir located in Geauga County, Ohio, in the northeastern part of the state. The reservoir was originally called the “Akron City Reservoir” before it was renamed for Wendell R. LaDue. Wendell R. LaDue was a water supply visionary who made many improvements to the water supply for Akron, Ohio. He was born in Mt. Pleasant, Ohio on October 1, 1894. He earned his BS in Civil Engineering from the University of Southern California in 1918. Shortly afterwards, he joined the staff of the Akron Waterworks.

While serving as its manager, LaDue developed a watershed plan to insure adequate clean water supply. The plan included purchasing property along the Cuyahoga River and building a series of reservoirs. In 1932, the City of Akron began purchasing property along the Cuyahoga River in Geauga County and removing homes and farms to protect the watershed. LaDue oversaw the construction of the 695 acres Rockwell Lake, the 395 acres East Branch in 1938, and the 1,477 acres Akron City Reservoir, now called LaDue Reservoir, in 1961. The capacity of the three reservoirs is 10.5 billion gallons.

In 1947, LaDue founded the Akron-Canton Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers. In honor of his contributions, the Wendell R. LaDue Civil Engineer Award is awarded each year by the ASCE to a member who has promoted professionalism and the advancement of the civil engineering profession. In 1946 and 1947, LaDue was the president of the American Water Works Association. Since 2003, several Wendell R. LaDue Utility Safety Awards are presented by the AWWA to recognize distinguished water utility safety programs.

LaDue retired from the City of Akron in 1963, and began teaching at the University of Akron where he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Engineering Degree.”

October 11, 1989New York Times headline–Water-Main Break Spews Asbestos Into 8th Ave. “A water main burst at the intersection of Eighth Avenue and West 43d Street yesterday, sending asbestos-laden mud gurgling up the avenue and cascading down onto the IND subway tracks below, officials said.

The police closed West 43d Street and blocked off several lanes of Eighth Avenue while the City Department of Environmental Protection tested the mud to determine the level of asbestos, which was scattered from underground steam pipes.

A spokeswoman for the environmental agency, Tina Casey, said that the first round of tests showed varying amounts of asbestos, with one sample above ground containing 60 percent. Anything greater than 1 percent asbestos is considered hazardous, she said.”

October 11, 1988New York Times headline–Science Watch; Less Lead in Rivers. “A decline in lead contamination in major American rivers has been found at two-thirds of 300 sites studied from 1974 to 1985, scientists at the United States Geological Survey have reported.

The report chiefly attributed the decline to a 75 percent drop in use of leaded gasoline in that period. The most rapid drop in lead content was recorded from 1979 to 1980, when use of leaded gasoline took its sharpest drop.

Preliminary analyses of more recent data indicate that the decline in lead contamination is continuing.”