Monthly Archives: April 2019

April 10, 1913: Small Water Treatment Plants in Illinois

April 10, 1913:  Engineering Newsarticle. Conditions of Small Water Purification Plants in Illinois. By Ralph Hilscher. “In Illinois there are about a dozen water purification plants with rated capacities of about 2,000,000 gal. per day, or less, which involve the use of coagulants, settling basins and filters. Of these, with possibly two or three exceptions, it can be said that none produce an effluent that attains at all times the standard of purity that any municipality should demand for Its public water-supply. Some of these plants yield an effluent during the major part of the time, which is of quite satisfactory quality, but fall far short of successful operation during periods of excessive turbidity and color in the raw water. Others produce an effluent at no time that is of good appearance and satisfactory from a hygienic standpoint.

The poor results realized are due largely to certain faults in design and operation, which are more or less common to these small installations. Many of the plants are of obsolete design and in practically all the plants, too great economy was attempted in building and certain essential features were omitted. The operation has usually been deficient due to lack of experience and expert advice In such matters. Certain faults largely responsible for the short-comings of these plants will be discussed [in the larger article].

Reference:  Hilscher, Ralph. 1913. “Conditions of Small Water Purification Plants in Illinois.” Engineering Newsarticle 69:15(April 10, 1913): 707.

Commentary:  Like today, there were problems with small water systems throughout the U.S. The image of the double-plunger angle blowoff valve has nothing to do with the article about small water treatment plants. It was just a cool drawing in the same issue of Engineering News.

April 9, 1914: Kensico Dam Excavation

Kensico Dam 2012

April 9, 1914:  Engineering Newsarticle. Excavation and Foundation Work for the Kensico Dam. By Wilson Fitch Smith. “SYNOPSIS-A masonry dam 307ft. high, 1843 ft. long, containing 900,000 cu.yd. of masonry will store 29 billion gallons of water near the lower end of the Catskill Aqueduct, New York City additional water supply. Expansion joints 80 ft. c. to c., drainage wells, inspection galleries, and an architectural treatment of the downstream face of the dam are among its special features. The contract price was nearly $8,000,000. Steam shovels were used for excavating work and cableways for handling the excavated material and much of the contractor’s plant. Guy and stiff-leg derricks were used to complete the excavation and to place masonry. The contractor’s plant represents an investment of more than $1,000,000 and is operated largely by electrical current. During seven months of 1913, a total of 316,000 cu.yd. and in September, 58,242 cu.yd. of concrete and concrete blocks were placed in the dam. Progress on construction to date indicates that the dam will be completed long in advance of the contract date, which was about 1920.

The Kensico Dam, now under construction by New York City, for a storage reservoir in the valley of the Bronx River, three miles north of White Plains, is an important feature of the Catskill water-supply system. It takes rank among the notable masonry dams of the world not only on account of being one of the largest, but also because of the methods of construction which enabled over 300,000 cu.yd. of masonry to be placed in the dam during the working season of 1913.”

Reference:  Smith, Wilson F. 1914. “Excavation and Foundation Work for the Kensico Dam.” Engineering News. 71:15(April 9, 1914): 763.

Commentary:  This dam is one of the most beautiful masonry dams ever built.

April 8, 1915: New Pump Station at Saugus, Massachusetts

April 8, 1915:  Municipal Journalarticle. New Pumping Station Near Completion. “Saugus, Mass.-Work on Saugus’ $25,000 standpipe is progressing rapidly and will be completed in a few weeks. The standpipe is situated on the highest elevation in town. The elevation from the floor of the pump house to the base of the standpipe is 200 feet and with the additional 85 feet, which will be the height of the standpipe, will give a pressure of 126 to 130 pounds, which, at the present time averages 40 pounds pressure in Saugus Centre and East Saugus. The contractors are the Chicago Bridge & Iron Works Co., of Chicago. The standpipe will be supplied by two 300-gallon centrifugal pumps, manufactured by the De Laval Pump Company. These pumps will be driven by two 20-horsepower Westinghouse motors, automatically arranged to keep the height of water in the standpipe at a stated level, without the employment of an attendant. The standpipe is to be used for fire protection principally, for which purpose there has been installed a 6-inch remote control, electrically operated valve, to be operated from the central fire station, which, in case of fire, by the pressing of a button will force the standpipe pressure into the mains.”

Reference:  “New Pumping Station Near Completion.” 1915. Municipal Journal. 38:14(April 8, 1915):478-9.

Commentary:  Pumps powered by electric motors were taking over from the old technology of powering water pumps with steam engines.

April 7, 1904: Baltimore Sewer System Construction Legislation

April 7, 1904:  Baltimore Sewer System. “Baltimore was one of the last major cities on the east coast to construct a proper sewer system. The City’s inability to install sanitary sewers until 1915 tarnished the appeal of what was otherwise a successful city. Several commissions throughout the nineteenth century formulated plans for a sewer system for Baltimore, but were unsuccessful because of economic conditions and fighting between political parties.

Lacking a sewer system, Baltimore relied primarily on privy vaults (cesspools) for waste disposal until the early twentieth century. Privy vaults are holes dug 3 to 75 feet deep, though most were quite shallow. Baltimore’s sandy soil was ideal for privy vaults, making the method the most economically viable form of waste disposal. It was estimated that in 1880, with a population of 350,000, over 80 thousand privy vaults were in use in the City.

The Great Fire of 1904 proved to be the final factor in the construction of a sewer system in Baltimore. A new spirit among the residents arose from the ashes of Baltimore and there was a drive to rebuild and improve the city. On April 7, 1904, the Sewage Enabling Act passed in the Maryland legislature. It provided ten million dollars for a new sewer system in Baltimore. Construction began in 1907 and the sewage treatment plant was operational in 1915. Public health improved, as did the image of the City. Today, the Back River and Patapsco wastewater treatment plants serve 1.6 million people and treat up to 250 million gallons of sewage per day.”

April 6, 1916: Typhoid Lawsuit and Reservoir Damage Lawsuit

April 6, 1916:  Municipal Journalarticles.

“Three Sue City for Typhoid Deaths. Milwaukee, Wis.-Three suits brought against the city of Milwaukee as a result of the recent typhoid epidemic, have been filed in circuit court, by two men for the deaths of their sons, and by a woman for the death of her husband. They are for $10,000 each. The complainants claim that the victims contracted the disease from the use of lake water, alleged to be unfit to drink because of the sewage which is being constantly emptied into the lake. The suits charge negligence in allowing the water to become polluted and at the same time supplying it to drink. It is claimed that at various times during the last ten years the city officials have been notified of the condition of the water, but that no attention has been paid to the warnings.”

Lake Worth Spillway

“City Wins Reservoir Damage Suit. Fort Worth, Tex.-The second court of civil appeals has reversed and remanded the reservoir damage case against the city of Fort Worth, in which a jury in the sixty-seventh district court had awarded the plaintiff $39,867.88 for damage to her land flooded by the backwaters of Lake Worth and alleged damage to adjoining uplands. This is the first of four big reservoir damage suits that have gone against the city under the present administration to be submitted to the higher court. It was appealed on the grounds that the court erred in admitting certain testimony and of misconduct of the jury in considering matter that was not in evidence. The jury awarded $75 an acre for 361 acres of lowlands and $9 an acre for 839 acres of uplands. City witnesses appraised the lowlands at from $35 to $50 an acre and testified the uplands were not damaged. By the reversal the city also saves the interest on $39,867.88 from April 28, 1915.”

Reference:  Municipal Journal. 1916. 40:14(April 6, 1916): 489.

Commentary:  The typhoid fever epidemic in Milwaukee was caused by a city employee turning off the chlorine disinfection system for about 10 hours. The epidemic resulted in 513 cases and 59 deaths from typhoid fever. As filtration and chlorination became more widely installed to protect water supplies, it became harder for cities to claim that contaminated water supplies were not responsible for typhoid fever deaths. The combination of engineers wanting to do the right thing and lawsuits resulted in an accelerated introduction of the new technologies.

April 5, 1827: Birth of Joseph Lister

April 5, 1827:  Birth of Joseph Lister. He was born in Upton House, Essex, England on April 5, 1827 and died on February 10, 1912. His life covered the entire span of the harshest debates over the germ theory of disease and its general acceptance.

Lister completed his medical education including attendance at the Royal College of Surgeons.  He obtained a post at the University of Glasgow where he performed his research on antisepsis during the years leading up to his seminal paper.  Much of the confirming work for his theories was carried out at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary.

In short, Lister found that the use of carbolic acid (phenol) before, during and after a surgery virtually eliminated infections, especially the dreaded gangrene infections, which killed many people who survived the physical shock of surgery. It took the observations of Lister coupled with the solid theoretical foundation from Pasteur for other physicians to incorporate the principle of antiseptic surgery into their work.

It is easy to imagine Lister’s amazement when he first heard of Pasteur’s theories and experiments.  He must have been thrilled to find a like-minded scientist toiling in the morass of disease causes, cures and prevention.  Lister’s seminal paper on antiseptic principles in surgery, curiously, did not mention Pasteur’s influence on his research.  However, he acknowledged in other writings his debt to the French bacteriologist.

“‘Permit me,’ wrote Lister, ‘to thank you cordially for having shown me the truth of the theory of germs of putrefaction by your brilliant researches, and for having given me the single principle which has made the antiseptic system a success.’” (De Kruif 1996)

In his paper, Lister described the use of full-strength solutions of carbolic acid.  However, there was a price to pay for not dying of post surgery infection.  Phenol can cause severe chemical burns through its “caustic action” when it is in contact with sensitive tissues. It must have been very painful for the patient even though it might have insured their survival.

A later, careful evaluation of the relative disinfecting power of many substances carried out by Robert Koch found, curiously, that carbolic acid was one of the weakest disinfectants studied.

Lister helped Pasteur by supporting his findings in France with practical examples in Scotland.  Lister’s confirmation of Pasteur’s theory was crucial because it gave other physicians simple tools to use that would determine if germs were causing infections in their patients.  A well-equipped laboratory and training in scientific methods was needed to confirm that spontaneous generation was a fraud or to demonstrate that fermentation was caused by yeast.  All a physician had to do was wash his hands between patients.  If he washed his hands, he would notice immediately that his women patients delivering children stopped dying in droves.  If he removed his bloody apron, applied an antiseptic, wore clean clothes and gloves and sterilized his instruments, surgery patients stopped dying of infections by the carload.

References: De Kruif, Paul. 1996. Microbe Hunters. New York City, N.Y.: Harcourt.

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

April 4, 1912: Common Cup, Typhoid Warning and Electric Purification

April 4, 1912:  Municipal Journalarticles.

“Wage War on Public Drinking Cups. Topeka, Kan.-To prevent the spread of epidemic diseases the State Board of Health has issued an order that public drinking cups must be removed from all the cities of Kansas. City officials were notified the order must be enforced rigidly and business men were requested to remove common drinking cups from their places of business.” Commentary:  Samuel J. Crumbine about whom I have often written over the last seven months was responsible for the ban in Kansas.

“Typhoid Warning at Logansport. Logansport, lnd.-The city’s supply of drinking water is practically cut off owing to the condition of the water following the flood in Eel river, which is the source of the city’s water supply. The high water swept away barns and outbuildings for miles above the city, and seeping back into the river was pumped into the mains. Dr. John Bradfield, secretary of the city health board, has issued a warning to citizens to refrain from drinking the water. The Cass County Medical Society has supplemented the action of the city health board by publishing a statement declaring that an epidemic of typhoid will follow the flood unless the use of city water for drinking purposes is stopped. The three artesian wells which were recently drilled by the city have been surrounded by crowds and water carts are supplying hundreds of homes with water from the wells.”

“Electric Purification To Be Tried. Eldorado, Kan.-Sewage at Eldorado will be disinfected by electricity. The engineers of the State university, are making a test of a system by which waste is disintegrated and all organic matter destroyed by an electric current.” Commentary:  Everyone was fascinated by electric power at the turn of the 20thcentury. Unfortunately, destroying wastes by electrical current was not one of the successful applications.

Reference:  Municipal Journal. 32:14(April 4, 1912): 525.

April 3, 1986: Death of Wendell R. LaDue

April 3, 1986:  Death of 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.”

April 2, 1914: Sanitary Survey of Potomac and Miniature Plants by Malcolm Pirnie

Potomac River Watershed

April 2, 1914:  Municipal Journalarticles. Make Survey of Potomac River. “Washington, D. C.-Public health service officials who are aboard the yacht Bratton making a sanitary survey of the Potomac river and Chesapeake bay have, according to report, taken between 1,500 and 2,000 samples of Potomac water for examination and analysis, and it is stated that it will be several weeks before the results of the survey are completed and ready for publication. In connection with the work being done by the Bratton on the navigable portions of the Potomac H. P. Letton of the public health service is at Hagerstown, Md., and is conducting the work of examining the headwaters of the Potomac to ascertain their sanitary condition and the effect the sewage and wastes from the large tanneries and other industries on the upper river are having on the water coming down past this city. It is stated that one of the objects the service has in making this survey is, if possible, to find some use for the various kinds of refuse from the manufacturing plants and to show how they can be turned into a source of profit instead of being allowed to pollute the Potomac water.”

H. Malcolm Pirnie

Demonstrate Filtration Methods By Miniature Plants. “Salem, Mass.-Both the [slow] sand and mechanical methods of filtering water were interestingly demonstrated by Engineer H. M. Pirnie. Two plants in miniature had been constructed which gave Mr. Pirnie an excellent opportunity of showing state and city officials of Salem and Beverly just how each process operates and its relative advantages. The two cities mentioned are soon to use water from the Ipswich River, and the question of efficient filtration has received serious attention.”

Reference:  Municipal Journal. 1914. 36:14(April 2, 1914): 476-7.

Commentary:  By miniature plants, the author was undoubtedly referring to pilot plant studies of the two filtration technologies. H. M. Pirnie was Malcolm Pirnie who worked for the consulting firm of Hazen and Whipple and ultimately founded the firm known as Malcolm Pirnie, Inc.

April 1, 1915: Massachusetts Water Resources—Water Famine?

Water flowing over a power dam on the Merrimack River

April 1, 1915:  Municipal Journalarticle. 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.

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 Journalarticle 38:13(April 1, 1915): 439-40.

Water-powered industrial equipment—Merrimack River