September 25, 1982: New York Times headline–Houston’s Great Thirst is Sucking City Down Into the Ground. “It started to the east of the city some years ago, when homes and industry began to slide into Galveston Bay. Now the entire city of Houston is sinking into its base of sand and clay, including the glittery new residential, commercial and retail developments that have sprung up like weeds in the prairie to the west of downtown. The cause is water. The vast aquifers beneath the city have been overpumped to feed the breakneck development of the last decade. But the solution will cost money, big money, or compel a slowing of growth, so the issue is potentially as much a political one as a geological one in a town in which unbridled growth is gospel.”
September 24, 1986: New York Times headline–New Rules Limit Lead In Water Supply Pipes. “The Environmental Protection Agency today announced new limits on the use of lead in piping systems for public drinking water supplies.
The limits, authorized by amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974, affect construction of new homes and other buildings, repairs on existing homes that get their water from public systems and modifications to the systems themselves, according to the E.P.A.
The rules ban the use of solder containing more than two-tenths of 1 percent of lead and the use of pipes and fittings with more than 8 percent lead content.”
September 23, 2013: Death of Dr. Ruth Patrick.“Dr. Ruth Myrtle Patrick (born November 26, 1907) 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 Leopoldnoted 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.
September 23, 1986: New York Times headline–Settlement Averts Key Trial in Deaths Tied to Pollution. Eight families, who charged that water pollution by W. R. Grace & Company had resulted in the death from leukemia of five children and an adult, announced a settlement with the company today.
Lawyers for each side refused to disclose the terms of the agreement except to say it was ”substantial.” The announcement came as the second stage in a complex trial was to begin in Federal District Court here this morning.
The trial had attracted widespread attention because of belief that a jury finding might have set a national precedent holding polluters responsible for the medical consequences of their action.
Members of the eight families from Woburn, an industrial suburb, and a spokesman for Grace differed about the implications of the settlement. ”With the settlement,” said Anne Zona, whose brother died of leukemia in 1974 at the age of 8, ”they are admitting to what they had done and paying for it.”
The settlement and the legal struggles leading up to it formed the basis for the book and film, both entitled “A Civil Action.”
September 23, 2012: New York times articlethat was a follow up to “A History of New York in 50 Objects”–”The thousands of wooden water tanks that punctuate the skyline are maintained mostly by two family-run companies, Rosenwach Group and Isseks Brothers, which both date to the 19th century. The city’s gravity-fed water supply from upstate reservoirs generally reached only six stories high, so water was pumped to rooftop tanks (they hold, on average, 10,000 gallons) to maintain pressure on upper floors for tenants and to assist firefighters.”
Commentary: I have always wondered who looks after the aging, wooden water tanks that dominate the rooftops in Manhattan. It is good to know that there are two family-run companies that do this. Now, if they could clean up the outsides of the tanks, it would make rooftop viewing all that more pleasant.
September 22, 1990: New York Times headline–300,000 Lose Water Supply In New Jersey. “About 300,000 people in Jersey City, Hoboken, and Lyndhurst were left without water for three and a half hours yesterday when an aqueduct ruptured.
Though the break was isolated and bypassed by 8:30 A.M. and full pressure was restored by noon, water ran brown with sediment throughout the day. Schools in Hoboken were ordered shut, factories were disrupted and thousands of households, after awakening to no water, endured the day with a mix of inconvenience, exasperation and kindness. Josephine Kardell, who lives near the valve station at Summit and St. Paul’s Avenues, said her tap water was still brown late yesterday afternoon. ”It’s too dirty,” she said. ”You can’t fill your tub with it. It’ll be black. I’ll have to wait until it’s clear.”
The broken aqueduct is a 6-foot-wide, 95-year-old main that links Jersey City with its main supply source, the Boonton Reservoir in Morris County. The break occurred about 5 A.M. in marshland on the west bank of the Hackensack River in Lyndhurst about 1.5 miles south of Giants Stadium.”
Commentary: This is the aqueduct built by the Jersey City Water Supply Company that started operating the water supply in 1904. The history of the Boonton water supply and the first use of chlorine on the supply in 1908 are detailed in my book, The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives.
September 21, 1906: Death of Robert E. Hungate, Grandfather of Anaerobic Microbiology. “The development of methods to grow anaerobes was an important stepping stone in microbiology, one that paved the way for the discovery of many new bacteria and radically changed our understanding of microbial metabolism. Many of these discoveries could not have been possible without the pioneering work of Robert E. Hungate. Affectionately referred to as “Mr. Rumen” or even “Bob” by his students and colleagues, Hungate was the first to develop refined methods to grow strict anaerobes. Accordingly, he dedicated his career to advance new techniques to culture and study anaerobes in anoxic environments. The ‘Hungate technique’ is widely known and used in many labs today, but I believe that his life and scientific impact deserve greater appreciation by today’s young microbiologists….
Hungate’s method to cultivate anaerobes, now commonly known by his name, involves several steps to make a growth medium with a reduced anoxic environment in a sealed airtight test tube. First, a freshly autoclaved growth medium is heated to maintain a steady boil. Second, after the medium is distributed into rubber-stoppered ‘Hungate tubes, it is ‘sparged’ with a steady stream of an anoxic gas (usually a mixture of CO2, H2, or N2) passed through the medium via a metal cannula. The tube is then quickly sealed with a rubber stopper, using a screw cap to prevent any oxygen from entering. Third, molten agar is added and the tube is rolled horizontally over cold water to produce a thin layer of solidified medium over the inner glass surface. Using a needle and syringe, the inoculum can then be injected through the rubber stopper. To observe the growth of cellulolytic bacteria, an opaque suspension of cellulose is added to the medium beforehand. A clearing around cellulose-degrading colonies can be easily seen after incubation.”
September 21, 1995: New York Times headline–May Birdbath Be Filled? “Water Curbs Raise Queries. Can a birdbath be refilled from a bucket of water? Can dusty high school football and soccer fields be sprayed from private wells? Can a car be washed during a rainstorm? The answers given callers to New Jersey’s new drought-emergency telephone line: yes, no and yes, but only with the rainwater.
So goes life — and the dos and don’ts of outdoor water use — after government intervenes in a prolonged dry spell and orders people to start conserving. For now, the mandatory water restrictions imposed Sept. 13 apply to about three million people in 119 communities in northeastern New Jersey.
But, officials warn, millions more in New York City and much of the rest of New Jersey will face mandatory rules — and questions — unless far heavier rains than last Sunday morning’s arrive to revive the region’s reservoirs. Yesterday, Gov. Tom Ridge decreed similar mandatory restrictions over much of Pennsylvania, in an area affecting about 6.5 million people.”
September 20, 1981: New York Times headline–Hackensack Water Plans Its Largest Expansion. “The future bills of the Hackensack Water Company will present, in stark dollars and cents, the financial legacy of the 1980-81 water shortage: A 47 percent increase for tens of thousands of homes and industries that were forced by state law to save water from last September to May.
The higher rates will generate $21 million in new income for the company. Both it and the state’s Board of Public Utilities, which approved the increase on Sept. 3, emphasize that it is in the best interests of Hackesack Water’s 800,000 customers to pay the money.
They say that new supplies can be developed with it, ending the company’s chronic water shortage and freeing customers from future threats of mandated conservation. The new rates, so the argument goes, are the best and only way to end the ”drought” and prevent future ones.”
September 19, 1886: Loss of life and property in Houston, Texas demonstrated the inadequacies of the Water Works operations and underscored its failure to supply uncontaminated, potable water and adequate water pressure to Houstonians. Many of the town’s citizens were deeply concerned.
The Houston Post newspaper rallied to the company’s defense in the following article, printed on September 19, 1886:
“A great many people think that the water furnished by the water works is unfit for drinking or culinary purposes, but in that they are greatly mistaken. The supply is obtained from a portion of the bayou which is pregnant with springs, and the water is free from all impurities and is pure and wholesome to drink. Of course, after heavy rains the banks of the bayou wash into the stream and the water is then discolored slightly. But even then it is good and much better at all seasons than Mississippi river water, especially at St. Louis, where the river is muddy and dirty.”
Commentary: Full acceptance of the germ theory of disease and development of bacteriological monitoring methods would be necessary before the public or the newspapers really understood the quality of their water supplies.
Update: With the devastation of the Houston by Hurricane Harvey in 2017, it is astonishing that water service in Houston was never lost, nor was a boil water order ever issued. Houston OBVIOUSLY made a lot of improvements in their water supply over 124 years.