Monthly Archives: August 2020

August 4, 2007: Mars Lander Launched, Finds Water

Phoenix Mars Lander

August 4, 2007:  On August 4, 2007 the Phoenix Mars lander was launched from Earth to land on the surface of Mars. It was sent in response to the Mars Odyssey Orbiter’s discovery of the possibility of finding ice under the polar surface of Mars. Odyssey’s sensors detected a gamma ray signature from hydrogen concentrated around the ‘north’ pole during its mission. Phoenix would go there to find out.

Phoenix landed on Mars on May 25, 2008 and began soil experiments. The robotic arm from the lander scraped a shallow trench in the soil exposing a shiny substance that was later proved to be water ice. NASA announced the discovery of water ice on Mars late July 2008.

Update:  On July 30, 2020, another Mars mission was launched with a more sophisticated rover called Perseverance with lots of scientific instruments on board. One of the main purposes of this mission is to determine if there is any evidence that life existed on Mars at any time in the past. Without the discovery of water in 2008, it is unlikely that the 2020 mission would have been launched. After all, water is life.

August 3, 1918: Improve Pumping Station Grounds

August 3, 1918:  Municipal Journal article. Improving Pumping Station Grounds. “The average waterworks superintendent believes that a properly-maintained water system is the greatest asset a municipality can own; but it must be conceded that neglected pumping station grounds are about the worst sort of adverse advertising for a community. However, the superintendent who starts out to improve and beautify the grounds around the pumping station will meet with many discouraging conditions, because the average councilman will be satisfied as long as the plant is furnishing an adequate supply of water, and is opposed to spending money in order to beautify the location.

Like many of the pumping station grounds in the west, that of Lewiston, Idaho, is located on a gravel bank beside the river and therefore required considerable expenditure before the grounds were fit to produce vegetation. The location, however, was ideal for a beauty spot, although it was nothing more than a gravel bank, as it afforded the possibilities of providing an exceptionally fine resting place. The grounds are midway between the residential section of the city and its largest and most frequented park, on the south bank of the Clearwater river, which bends gracefully into the city in such a manner as to afford an excellent view of it from the grounds. They also overlook the great fruit farms between the river and the hills to the north. Because of these advantages they are used as a resting place and view point by many citizens.”

Commentary:  A good example of form over substance in 1918. People were still dying from typhoid fever and diarrheal diseases.

August 2, 1911: Water Waste in Washington, DC

August 2, 1911:  Municipal Journal article. Water Waste in Washington, DC. “The matter of detecting and closing underground leaks in the distribution system is one that the water department of Washington has been working on systematically and rather extensively since 1906.

At that time the rapid increase in both mean consumption and per capita rates made it quite evident that unless radical measures were taken the city would soon be face to face with at least a partial water famine; the increasing danger had been recognized for years, but shortage of funds and the failure of Congress to authorize the general installation of meters had prevented taking up the work on an effective scale.

The per capita rate, based on the entire population, was 169 in 1896 and 217 in 1906, while the mean daily rates for the two years were 44,500,000 and 67,500,000 respectively. During a short period of unusual cold in the winter of 1904-5 the consumption exceeded the capacity of the conduit supplying the city, and the local reservoirs were drawn down close to the danger line. Before the trouble reached the consumer the weather moderated, and conditions again became normal.

Among several means used to decrease the great waste of water was the systematic search for and repair of such underground leaks as showed no evidence on the surface….

The principal instruments used in the work are the pitometer and the aqua phone; the former, as is well known, being a device by means of which the velocity of flow at any point in a main may be determined readily and without undue expense, and the latter an instrument resembling a telephone receiver, by means of which the sound of water escaping under pressure from a leak, flowing through a service pipe or through a partially opened valve may be detected.

August 1, 527 CE: Emperor Justinian I and the Basilica Cistern; 1889: Omaha, NE Gets a Waterworks

Basilica Cistern

August 1, 527 CE:  Beginning of the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, builder of the Basilica Cistern. “The Basilica Cistern (Turkish: Yerebatan Sarayı – Sunken Palace, or Yerebatan Sarnıcı – Sunken Cistern), is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul (formerly Constantinople), Turkey. The cistern, located 500 feet southwest of the Hagia Sophia on the historical peninsula of Sarayburnu, was built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. This cathedral-size cistern is an underground chamber approximately 453 by 212 feet – about 105,000 square feet in area – capable of holding 2,800,000 cubic feet [or 21 million gallons] of water. The ceiling is supported by a forest of 336 marble columns, each 9 30 feet high, arranged in 12 rows of 28 columns each spaced 16 feet apart. The capitals of the columns are mainly Ionic and Corinthian styles, with the exception of a few Doric style with no engravings.” (edited by MJM)

Istanbul has always had limited water resources. Water supplies had to be transported to the city through long canals and aqueducts. Istanbul has also been the target of invading armies and has had to rely on stored water during long sieges. For these reasons, underground and open-air cisterns have always been a part of the city fabric. Sometimes stored water in local cisterns had to last the city’s population for months. There is no official count of the number of cisterns that had been built in ancient times, but dozens have survived and many can be visited. The Basilica Cistern is the grandest of them all.

Commentary:  I recently read a novel entitled Inferno by Dan Brown. A significant part of the book takes place in this cistern. Great location of a movie shoot.

Minne Lusa Pumping Plant

August 1, 1889: Florence Waterworks opens in Omaha, NE.  The system at that time consisted of the Minne Lusa Pumping Station and several miles of pipe. The history of water development in Omaha before the Florence Waterworks was open was colorful and rocky. “For thirteen years after Omaha was founded there were no street cars, water mains, gas, or electric lights in the new but growing town….For several years after being founded Omaha was a town without a bath tub. [In later years,] Saturday night ablutions in the old wooden tub in the center of the kitchen floor were no uncommon thing. Or the hardy seekers after cleanliness took a dip in the river. The Saturday bath was an institution not lightly given over to modern changes.

Women carried water from well or cistern, except when they could induce their husbands to carry it for them, and the old wood cook stove…were to be found in every home. The first agitation for a city water works system was started as early as 1857. Several times in the following 20 years the question of a water system was brought up without any action being taken. An artesian well system was the favorite with the early settlers. They looked askance at the Missouri river water.

Before the water plant was built, large cisterns were constructed in the middle of the street intersections in the business district. Water was pumped from those cisterns when a business building caught fire. They proved better than nothing, but at that were far from satisfactory….

The [first water] system was opened in 1881 with 17 miles of pipe. Omaha’s first big municipal scandal developed in connection with the waterworks agitation. A prominent citizen was charged with bribing a councilman, but the charge was not substantiated. On August 1, 1889, the Florence waterworks was opened and a big day it was. Speeches were made and a banquet was served at what is still called the Minne Lusa pumping station.”