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McGuire is an environmental engineer and writer. He has worked in the drinking water community for over 40 yrs

September 28, 1891: Bromine Patent; 1895: Louis Pasteur dies; 1988: Love Canal

September 28, 1891:  “In 1890, Herbert H. Dow, former college chemistry student at Case School of Applied Science (Cleveland, OH), established Midland Chemical Company in Midland, MI; January 4, 1891 – produced bromine from Midland, Michigan’s rich brine resources (main component of patent medicines at that time) by electrolysis; led to an increasing stream of chemicals from brines; September 28, 1891 – received a patent for a “Process of Extracting Bromine from Natural Brine or Bitter Waters”; “blowing-out” process to liberate bromine from brine; became world’s most efficient bromine manufacturer through application of electrochemistry.”

Commentary: This process was part of the beginning of the Dow Chemical Company. The company was formed on May 18, 1897.

September 28, 1895Louis Pasteur died. Pasteur was a French chemist and self-taught microbiologist who was one of the most important founders of medical microbiology. He is remembered for his remarkable breakthroughs in the causes and preventions of diseases. His discoveries reduced mortality from puerperal (or childbed) fever, and he created the first vaccines for rabies and anthrax. His experiments and writings were responsible for the definition of the germ theory of disease. He was best known to the general public for inventing a method to stop milk and wine from causing sickness, a process that came to be called pasteurization. He is regarded as one of the three main founders of microbiology, together with Ferdinand Cohn and Robert Koch.

Drums of Toxic Waste

September 28, 1988New York Times headline–The Long History of a Toxic-Waste Nightmare, Love Canal. 1894 – William T. Love begins building a ”model industrial city” along a canal linking the Niagara River with Lake Ontario. The invention of the alternating-current motor makes it unnecessary for industry to be near water power, and the project is dropped.

1947 – The Hooker Chemicals and Plastics Corporation takes over the 15-acre canal site for use as a dump. By 1952, 21,800 tons of toxic chemicals in metal drums are buried.

September 27, 1962: Silent Spring and Storm King Mountain; 1973: Radioactive Leak

September 27, 1962:  Publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. By 1970 DDT is banned. Silent Spring is often seen as a turning point in environmental history because it opened a much stronger national dialogue about the relationship between people and nature. Check out these links to recent stories on the impact that Rachel Carson and her writings have had on us all.

September 27, 1962:  New York Times front page story. “The publication of Rachel Carson’s landmark study of pesticide use, Silent Spring, alone makes September 27, 1962 a momentous day in the modern history of American environmentalism. But a front-page story in that morning’s New York Times portended another development that would profoundly shape the nascent environmental movement: The utility giant Consolidated Edison was planning to build the nation’s largest pumped-storage power plant at Storm King Mountain in the Hudson Highlands. Con Ed chairman Harland Forbes told the Times “no difficulties are anticipated.” He was wrong….

The legacy of Storm King continues to be felt locally in the essential conservation and ecological work of organizations, including Scenic Hudson and Riverkeeper, that grew out of the fight. As David Schuyler writes in his essential history Embattled River: The Hudson and Modern American Environmentalism: ‘The Court of Appeals, in granting and affirming Scenic Hudson’s standing, established a precedent that other environmental groups and citizen activists would use effectively in succeeding years.’”

Another reference:  Power on the Hudson: Storm King Mountain and the Emergence of Modern American Environmentalism

Source:  Thanks to Simon Gruber for bringing this important piece of environmental history and coincidence to my attention.

September 27, 1973New York Times headline–Radiation Traced to Atom Plant in Colorado. The Colorado Health Department has found radioactive contamination in Broomfield’s drinking water supply and has traced the source to waste dumps at the Atomic Energy Commission’s nuclear weapons factory at Rocky Flats, five miles to the west. Tritium, or radioactive hydrogen, was found in the town’s water in concentrations 10 times the normal background radiation level.

September 26, 1994: Tucson Shuts off CAP Supply; 1908: First Chlorine Use in US; 1855: Handle Put Back on Broad Street Pump

September 26, 1994:  Tucson Shuts off Direct Delivery of Central Arizona Project Water Supply. Corrosive water destroying pipes in a major American city preceded the events in Flint, Michigan by over two decades. On November 4, 1992, the water department for Tucson, Arizona, (Tucson Water or TW) began delivery of a new water supply: treated surface water from the Central Arizona Project (CAP)—primarily Colorado River water. Putting treated CAP water into the TW distribution system caused a corrosion problem that resulted in colored water (e.g., rusty, red, orange, yellow and brown) flowing from customer taps. Tucson’s introduction of CAP water is a story of mistakes committed at all levels of the utility and by the Tucson City Council.

Technical mistakes included not preparing the distribution system to receive a more complex surface water supply. TW was a groundwater utility that relied on about 200 wells distributed throughout the system. Recognizing their lack of experience with treating surface water, they hired treatment plant operators from other utilities to run the new $80 million leading-edge-technology treatment plant. Unfortunately, the same level of focus and preparation was not applied to the aging distribution system, which received, literally overnight, a chloraminated supply to half its customers from a single point of entry.

One of the biggest mistakes was not testing the impact of treated CAP water on corroded galvanized steel pipes. There were about 200 miles of this 2-inch substandard pipe in the system. When treated CAP water hit these pipes, the iron corrosion deposits inside the pipes were stripped away causing colored water, taste and odor problems, and damage to home plumbing, appliances and property due to flooding.

There was a rush to deliver CAP water and to hold down costs to the detriment of needed studies, which would have shown that raising the treated water pH for corrosion control was the proper approach.

Also high on the list of pre-delivery problems was a lack of political will to replace the substandard galvanized and reline the old cast iron street mains. The presence of these substandard pipes made the TW distribution system ripe for a catastrophic corrosion problem due to unsound corrosion control practices.

Delivery of CAP water was terminated on September 26, 1994, because of the inability of TW to control the colored water problem and the resulting political uproar. The $80 million treatment plant was shut down and has not been used since.

After a series of management resignations and firings over several years, Tucson hired David Modeer as the Director of TW. Modeer and his management team put the utility on the road to recovery. Along with a carefully planned technical program to select the correct corrosion treatment and deal with the taste and odor problems, an innovative public information campaign that also included a public apology for the CAP debacle, began to restore the credibility of TW. Customers were invited to actively participate in determining the future use, treatment and quality of CAP water via such methods as consumer preference research and participation in an extensive bottled water program.

After the voters defeated a proposition in 1999 that would have severely limited the ability to use CAP water in the future, TW completed an aquifer storage and recovery project in the nearby Avra Valley. The Central Avra Valley Storage and Recovery Project (CAVSARP) allowed the utility to fully use its CAP allotment and serve a recovered groundwater/recharged CAP water mix that was accepted by TW customers. Tucson Water turned around a disaster into a singular success. Because of its ability to conjunctively use CAP water and groundwater, Tucson is now one of the more drought-resistant communities in the Southwest.

Commentary:  Marie Pearthree and I finished our book about what happened in Tucson before, during and after the corrosion problem doomed their new water supply, entitled:  Tucson Water Turnaround:  Crisis to Success. A wealth of material reveals previously unknown information related to TW’s problems. The results of these efforts are much-needed lessons for water utilities on how to avoid TW’s mistakes and how to successfully introduce a new water supply.

Here is a review of our book published in the Arizona Daily Star on September 6, 2020.

“’Tucson Water Turnaround: Crisis to Success’

by Michael J. McGuire and Marie S. Pearthree

American Water Works Assoc. $31.76; $33 Kindle

‘Whiskey’s for drinking, and water’s for fighting over.’ So the saying goes, and it neatly sums up the situation in Tucson in the early 1990s when the attempt was made to switch from groundwater to CAP (Central Arizona Project) water. As longtime Tucsonans will recall, the CAP rollout was an epic failure. The water smelled bad and ran from faucets in a rainbow of unsightly colors from yellow to dark brown. It ruined clothes, damaged appliances and ate through pipes that flooded homes. The populace was in an uproar, the politicians were in a frenzy, and the water company was, well, ineffectual. Finally, the city opted to take CAP back offline, but that didn’t solve the Old Pueblo’s crisis of dwindling groundwater resources; plus, Tucson’s non-participation threatened to bankrupt the CAP.

Into this existential crisis came authors Mike Mc-Guire and Marie Pearthree, civil and environmental engineers and water utility professionals who were part of the coalition that reversed the transition’s death spiral and turned it into a success. But this is not a belated victory lap. Rather, the authors’ intent is to understand and document, nearly 30 years later, exactly what transpired from start to finish.

With this scrupulously researched, well-organized, and highly readable book, they do just that. Beginning with a historical overview of water delivery in the Tucson basin, the authors explore the perfect storm of aging infrastructure, technical failures, and toxic management culture that resulted in a public relations nightmare, and the subsequent remediation that produced a functioning water system. Perhaps most importantly, they provide a fascinating examination of how public trust is destroyed and rebuilt. Municipalities confronting water delivery issues will benefit from this object lesson and Tucsonans, particularly old-timers who experienced the CAP debacle firsthand as Pearthree did, will be fascinated by what actually went down.”

Building on the right housed the chloride of lime feed facility at Boonton Reservoir

September 26, 1908:  110th anniversary of the first day of operation of the chlorination facility at Boonton Reservoir for Jersey City, NJ.  This was the first continuous use of chlorine in the U.S. for drinking water disinfection.

In the field of water supply, there were big moves afoot in the state of New Jersey at the turn of the 20th century. Jersey City had suffered with a contaminated water supply for decades causing tens of thousands of deaths from typhoid fever and diarrheal diseases. In 1899, the City contracted with the Jersey City Water Supply Company to build a dam on the Rockaway River and provide a new water supply. The dam created Boonton Reservoir, which had a storage capacity of over seven billion gallons. One of the company’s employees, Dr. John L. Leal, would have an enormous impact on this water supply and the history of water treatment. Leal was a physician, public health professional and water quality expert. Leal’s job with the company was to remove sources of contamination in the Rockaway River watershed above the reservoir. Water from the project was served to the City beginning on May 23, 1904.

When it came time for Jersey City to pay the company for the new water supply, they balked. The price tag was steep—over $175 million in current dollars. Using newly developed bacteriological methods, consultants for the City claimed that the water was not “pure and wholesome,” and they filed suit against the company to get a reduced purchase price. The trial that resulted pitted the water quality experts of the day against one another in a battle of expert witnesses.

The opinion of the judge was published on May 1, 1909. In that opinion, Vice Chancellor Frederic W. Stevens said that Boonton Reservoir did a good job on average of reducing the bacteria concentrations in the water provided. However, he noted that two to three times per year, especially after intense rainstorms, the reservoir short-circuited and relatively high bacteria levels resulted.

Rather than build expensive sewers that would deal with only part of the bacteria contamination problem (an early recognition of non-point source pollution) Leal and the company attorney argued to install “other plans or devices” that would do a better job. The judge agreed and gave them a little over three months to prove their idea. Leal had decided in May 1908 that it was time to add a chemical disinfectant to drinking water. He was all too familiar with the suffering and death caused by typhoid fever and diarrheal diseases. He knew of some successful instances of using forms of chlorine in Europe, but nothing had been attempted in the U.S. on such a large-scale basis.

Leal was convinced that adding a disinfectant to the Jersey City water supply was the best course. He had done laboratory studies that convinced him that a fraction of a ppm of chlorine would kill disease-causing bacteria. In the face of the certain disapproval of his peers and possible condemnation by the public, he moved forward.

However, no chlorine feed system treating 40 million gallons per day had ever been designed or built and if the feed system failed to operate reliably, all of the courage of his convictions would not have amounted to much. He needed the best engineer in the country to do the work. He needed George Warren Fuller. In 1908, Fuller was famous for his work in filtration. He had designed an aluminum sulfate feed system treating 30 million gallons per day for the Little Falls treatment plant. On July 19, 1908, Leal left his attorney’s office in Jersey City and took the ferry to Manhattan. In Fuller’s office at 170 Broadway, he hired the famous engineer (undoubtedly on the basis of a handshake) and told him that the bad news was that he needed the work done in a little over three months.

Ninety-nine days later, the chlorine feed system was built and operational. Calcium hypochlorite (known then as chloride of lime or bleaching powder) was made into a concentrated solution, diluted with water and fed through a calibrated orifice to the water before it traveled by gravity to Jersey City. The feed system worked flawlessly from day one and continued to operate successfully for all of the following days. Liquid chlorine eventually replaced chloride of lime, but September 26, 2013, marks the 105th anniversary of the first continuous use of chlorine on a water supply—the longest period of water disinfection anywhere in the world.

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

Broadwick [formerly, Broad] Street showing the John Snow memorial and public house.

September 26, 1855:  The St. James Board of Commissioners of Paving voted 10 to 2 to reopen the Broad Street pump at the urging of local residents.  Dr. John Snow had prevailed upon them a year earlier to remove the pump handle after he presented his evidence that cholera deaths were geographically clustered around the well site.

Reference: Vinten-Johansen, Peter, Howard Brody, Nigel Paneth, Stephen Rachman and Michael Rip. Cholera, Chloroform, and the Science of Medicine. New York:Oxford University, 2003, 310.

September 25, 1982: Houston’s Thirst

Land Subsidence in and Around Houston, TX

September 25, 1982New 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: Lead Regulation

September 24, 1986New 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 Ruth Patrick; 1986: A Civil Action; 2012: NYC Water Tank

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 Leopold noted 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, 1986New 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 article that 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: Main Break in Jersey City

September 22, 1990New 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; 1995: May I fill my birdbath?

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, 1995New 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: Hackensack Water Expansion

Hackensack Weehawken Water Tower-Built in 1883

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: Houston Water Supply Problems

Germ Theory of Disease

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.