Category Archives: This Day in Water History

August 23

0823 Chicago Water TanksAugust 23, 1911: Municipal Journal article. Water Tanks Cause of Impure Water “Chicago, Ill.-Flat dwellers who patronize Lake Michigan for drinking purposes can get a certificate of quality from the City Health Department. Health Commissioner Young declared that any samples brought to the department drawn from faucets in apartment houses will be tested, and if found to be impure orders will be given to the owners of the buildings to cleanse the tanks on the roofs from which the supply is drawn. Much of the danger from drinking water comes from the neglect of the owners of apartment houses to keep these tanks properly cleaned. The regulations of the Health Department require that these tanks be covered and sufficiently protected to keep cats or other animals from wandering into them. In many of them, however, moss and other vegetable matter accumulates. In practically all buildings more than two stories in height tanks are necessary in order to supply water to the upper floors.”

Commentary: In Chicago during this period, algae growing in elevated water tanks was the least of a resident’s problems. It was not until the year of this article (1911) that Chicago began installing chlorination stations on the pumping facilities from Lake Michigan. Prior to this, death from severe typhoid fever epidemics killed many tens of thousands over the decades of the city serving contaminated water. Filtration was not installed until 1947.


August 22

0822 New Sewage Pumping Station Washington DCaAugust 22, 1908: The Engineering Record article. The New Sewage Pumping Station, Washington, DC. “The pumping station is…housed in a 138 x 304-ft. structure that is located centrally in a 200 x 6oo-ft. plot, between the lower extensions of New Jersey Ave. and Second St. and between N St. and the river. It is of steel frame and brick construction, with trimmings in light stone. The design of the building has been rendered particularly attractive architecturally for the purpose of concealing to a degree the purpose for which the station is intended, and the grounds surrounding the station have, in fact, been carefully parked and attractively laid out, rendering the structure a decided advantage to the locality….

The design of the sewage pumping equipment has, like that of the revised sewerage system…and the outfall, been based on the requirements for the handling of the dry weather sewage flow from a population of 1,000,000 inhabitants in the city. There are installed five sewage pumps in all, which have an aggregate capacity of about 360 cu. ft. of sewage per second, which is, however, a capacity largely in excess of the present normal requirements. Two of the sewage pumps are, in fact, reserve equipments, the flow capacity of the outfall line being but 250 cu. ft. per second.”

Commentary: This pumping station is a monster. It is hard to imagine the amount of money it cost. It is also hard to imagine that the sewer system could not have been designed to obviate the need for this incredible white elephant. While many other water infrastructure structures have survived since 1908, nothing remains today of this behemoth. I see the hand of pork barrel politics in here somewhere.

0822 New Sewage Pumping Station Washington DC-2

August 21

0821 Anthony AndrewsAugust 21, 2003:  Actor Anthony Andrews almost dies of water intoxication. The Telegraph article. My Battle with the Bottle. “Actors must expect their excessive drinking habits to be breakfast table gossip, especially if they become too intoxicated to perform. But the curious case of Anthony Andrews, whose addiction to water almost killed him, must rank as one of the more bizarre forms of theatrical unwellness.

In a way, it would have been more understandable if Andrews had knocked himself out of the cast of My Fair Lady on vodka. The role of Professor Henry Higgins is a demanding one, and we can all think of actors who’ve lubricated their performances on stronger cordials than rose hip syrup. Not for Andrews the predictability of a few weeks in rehab with anything as common as alcohol abuse. He ended up, comatose, in intensive care for three days, with the dubious distinction of having put water on the nation’s list of dangerous substances.

“In my naivety, I’d never have thought in a million years that I was running the risk of killing myself with water,” he says. “I can hardly believe I am saying it. I thought I was the healthiest person in the world.”

Andrews has to rely on other people for the full account of his recent near-death experience. He has no recollection of what happened after signing autographs at the stage door in the West End and collapsing into his car after the second Saturday performance of My Fair Lady at the end of June. When he came round, three days later, surrounded by his loved ones, the muscles of his face and neck were locked and he was dimly aware that no one could quite make sense of what he was saying. On top of everything else, he’d developed an allergy….

As temperatures soared during the midsummer run of My Fair Lady, Andrews’s three-litres-a-day habit increased to five or six litres as he struggled to refresh his vocal cords. Parched, he would rush back to his dressing room between songs and glug another half-litre. On days when there was a matinee as well as an evening performance, he probably got through eight litres of water – all the while assuming he was doing himself good.”


August 20

0820 Disinfection of Sewage Plant effluents

August 20, 1914:  Municipal Journal article. Operation of Sewage Disposal Plants—Disinfection. “Having determined upon the size of the dose, the next thing is to apply it to the sewage or effluent at a uniform rate. The best practice is to dissolve the required number of pounds in a given amount of water and feed the solution at a definite rate proportional to the flow of liquid to be disinfected. This is not so simple as one might at first suspect. Several things have to be looked out for. The commercial dry powder varies in strength and loses strength considerably when exposed to the air. There must be sufficient water to dissolve out the hypochlorite, and care must be used in mixing the solution. The solution is corrosive and acts on tanks, piping, valves, etc., and it also forms incrustations which cause frequent stoppages in pipes, valves and feeding devices.

Unless it is feasible to analyze each lot of bleach, it should be bought with the available chlorine specified by the dealer. As the material deteriorates upon opening, the contents of a whole container should be mixed at once if possible. In many plants, however, this cannot be done; in such cases the unused material must be kept tightly covered in a cool dry place. While the larger sized containers hold about 700 pounds, at a slight increase in price hypochlorite can be obtained in 350-pound or 100-pound drums, and in many cases the smaller sizes are to be preferred, both because of convenience in handling and to avoid the keeping of large quantities exposed to the atmosphere.

In the mixing of the bleach, the active hypochlorite is dissolved while the inert lime and other insoluble impurities remain. Usually the bleach is thoroughly mixed with a small amount of water into a paste or cream so as to break up the lumps, then more water is added and the whole transferred to the solution tank, and agitated until a thoroughly homogeneous solution is obtained.

As it is very important that the solution be of the same strength throughout, and as this mixing is a laborious process, a power mixer should always be installed except, perhaps, for very small quantities. After all the hypochlorite has been dissolved and the solution once properly stirred up, the strength remains the same throughout the tank.

In some plants the contents of a whole container of bleach are washed out into the solution tank by means, of a stream of water from a hose, and the whole agitated until a thorough solution is obtained. In the mixing, care must be used to get the material thoroughly broken up and agitated so that all the hypochlorite will be dissolved or else a considerable amount of material will be wasted. The writer has known of over fifty per cent waste, due to improper methods of mixing. He has suggested a mixer in the form of a mill or grinder, so that the bleach could be fed through and ground with a stream of water. This he believes would break up lumps and hasten the process.

One should not attempt to dissolve too much hypochlorite in a given amount of water. The solubility of bleach is only about five per cent, and a five per cent solution is difficult to obtain and difficult to handle. It is much better, when possible, to use a weaker solution, say two or three per cent. It is usually better to keep the solution the same strength by mixing the required number of pounds according to the strength of the dry powder, and to vary the dose by changing the feeding device. A rod should be laid off, showing the number of pounds to be used for different depths of water in the tank, from the top down, so that if all of the solution is not run out the rod will show immediately the number of pounds to be used for the amount of water necessary to fill up the tank.”

Commentary:  This article was published about six years after the startup of the chloride of lime (calcium hypochlorite) feed system ordered by Dr. John L. Leal and built by George Warren Fuller at Boonton Reservoir—see schematic of Fuller’s chemical feed system below. The description of the chloride of lime feed system for sewage treatment plants (above) is very similar to the one shown below. The article is also quite honest about the many problems with using chloride of lime as a source of chlorine to disinfect water. None of these issues were brought to light during the optimistic testimony given by Leal and the other defendant witnesses at the second Jersey City trial. Over time, chloride of lime feed systems were replaced with pressurized systems feeding chlorine gas from storage tanks of liquid chlorine stored under pressure.

Chloride of lime feed system used at Boonton Reservoir

Chloride of lime feed system used at Boonton Reservoir

August 19

1895 Map of Paterson, NJ. Note how the Passaic River practically surrounds the city.

1895 Map of Paterson, NJ. Note how the Passaic River practically surrounds the city.

August 19, 1908:  Municipal Journal and Engineer article. Stream Pollution Decisions. “In the State of New Jersey an award was recently made by Vice-Chancellor Stevens of the State Court of Chancery in the case of damages claimed to be caused by the pollution of the Passaic river, which introduced some novel methods which may probably be accepted as a precedent in other cases. The city of Paterson discharges sewage into the stream and, the Courts of the State having ruled that riparian owners below the outlets could not claim damages unless the stream received more sewage than it could dilute to an inoffensive condition, no action was taken at first. In time, however, it became evident that a nuisance was being created and complaints to the Paterson Board of Health, to the State Board of Health and to the Legislature having resulted in no abatement of the same, owners of about twenty of the riparian properties, each from 150 to 600 feet deep, brought a suit for injunction to restrain the city from damaging the property owners. The court ruled that an injunction which would prevent the city from using its sewers would work a far greater injury than that being suffered by the property owners, and ordered that instead the city should pay damages in amounts to be settled by a Court of Equity.

Action in such a court was accordingly brought and the city agreed that it would cease polluting the river in the manner complained of within five years from that time. The matter therefore resolved itself into a determination of the amount of damages inflicted upon the owners from the time the damage began until the time promised for its discontinuance. In fixing the first date a large amount of testimony, both expert and otherwise, was taken by the court; but the former, calculated to show what amount of sewage can be discharged into a stream without creating a nuisance, was apparently considered of minor importance by the court. The testimony of the property owners indicated that not until 1892 did the condition of the river have any appreciable influence on the use of the stream for fishing or bathing, but that from then on the evidence of sewage pollution became marked. This date was, accordingly, accepted by the court as that when the damage began, although the plaintiff endeavored to have it made earlier on the ground of the water being rendered unfit for drinking purposes as soon as sewage began to be discharged into it. This last contention was not admitted, however, as there was already such danger from other communities before the Passaic sewers were built.

The fixing of the amount of damages was even more complicated and difficult than determining their duration. The city contested that it was not responsible for contamination due to storm water from the streets, and the court admitted this to a degree only, holding that the city was not responsible for such storm water as flowed over the surface to the river, but was responsible for that discharged thereinto through the sewers. The contention of the city that it should not be held responsible for such injury as would have been done the river by a city of the same size as Paterson, but without sewers, was not admitted by the court. It was also contended that the industrial establishments of the city should stand their proportionate parts of whatever award was made, and although the court appeared to consider the city as responsible for about three-fourths of the total pollution and the industries for one-fourth, it does not appear to either admit or deny this contention, probably leaving this for settlement between such industries and the city.”

Commentary:  This case shows the evolution of legal and scientific thought on river pollution after the turn of the 20th century. Note that the concept of dilution was losing favor as the impacts of sewage discharge into a watercourse were becoming better understood. Also it is interesting to note the discussion of stormwater and its impact on surface water quality. I believe that rulings such as this and new laws passed by the states were the defining events that led to an improvement in the water quality of rivers in the U.S. The judge in this case was Frederic W. Stevens who as vice chancellor of the Chancery Court of New Jersey was handling, at the same time, the case between Jersey City and the private water company that built the new water supply at Boonton Reservoir.

Dr. John L. Leal had interests in both cases. For ten years (1890 to 1899), he was the public health officer for Paterson, New Jersey. In his last few annual reports to the mayor, he urged that a solution to the water contamination from Paterson sewage discharges on the Passaic River be pursued. Ultimately, an intercepting sewer was built along the Passaic River, which collected all manner of domestic and industrial waste for discharge into New York Harbor. Eventually, a sewage treatment plant was built to treat the wastes. Leal’s involvement as an expert witness in the Jersey City lawsuit is covered in my book, The Chlorine Revolution.

August 18

Milner Dam, 1905. One of the first Carey Act projects in Idaho, Library of Congress.

Milner Dam, 1905. One of the first Carey Act projects in Idaho, Library of Congress.

August 18, 1894: Desert Land (Carey) Act Signed to Encourage Irrigation in the West. On August 18, 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed the Desert Land Act of 1894, better known as the Carey Act. Sponsored by Wyoming Senator Joseph M. Carey, the Act was meant to improve the success rate for the settlement of the public lands. The law specifically addressed the millions upon millions of acres in the western states that required irrigation for productive farming—the so-called ‘arid lands.’

The Act authorized the Federal Land Office to transfer up to a million acres of arid public lands to individual states that established approved reclamation programs. States would cover expenses by charging fees and selling the land at nominal prices, with the real incentive being the expected increase in tax revenue.

Development companies proposed, designed, and built suitable irrigation projects. They profited by selling water to the settlers, at rates determined in negotiations with the state reclamation office. The development company did not ‘own’ the land itself—technically. However, these firms could place liens on the land and the associated water rights to protect their capital investments so the effect was basically the same.

In 1908 through 1910, developers initiated forty new Carey Act project in Idaho. No other state approaches Idaho in the exploitation of the Carey Act and later related legislation. By one reckoning, 60% of all U.S. acreage irrigated by Carey Act projects is in Idaho.

August 17

0817 Save water win the warAugust 17, 1918:  Municipal Journal editorial. Save Water and Help Win the War. “If nineteen cities of New York State would cut down their consumption to an average of 100 gallons per capita (which is probably more than is necessary) the result would be a saving of 75,000 tons of coal a year. Almost anyone who lived through last winter in the northern part of the country would have welcomed a minute fraction of one per cent of this amount last February, and may again next winter. It is, however, no longer the mere saving in dollars, although this alone would be well worth while (75,000 tons represents interest at 5 per cent on about six million dollars), but it may mean that much coal released for use in munitions factories, ships or other factors in the prosecution of the war.

The above figures are discussed more at length in an article in this issue referring to a campaign in New York State to effect a saving in coal by reducing waste of water, and similar efforts are being made by numerous other cities, following the attempt made by Municipal Journal a few weeks ago to arouse water works superintendents to this opportunity and duty. The Committee on Water Supply of the New York Conference of Mayors has sent to the water works officials of the cities of that state suggestions for bulletins to be printed in the local daily papers, which might well be made use of by cities in other states as well. One is devoted to arguments in favor of metering; another to suggestions of ways in which waste can be avoided. Among these suggestions are the following:

Have all leaky pipes and fixtures repaired immediately, and keep them in good order.

When closing your house for any period of time, see that the water is turned off to insure against a leak occurring during your absence.

Do not neglect leaking toilets and faucets. Large amounts of water are wasted through small leaks which you may think too insignificant to warrant attention. A leak 1/32 of an inch in diameter wastes 8 gallons an hour or over 5,000 gallons a month.

If care is exercised, when installing piping, to keep the hot and cold water pipes at least a foot apart, it will be unnecessary to “let the faucet run to get a cold drink.”

Don’t let water run to get it cold. Use ice, or draw some water off into a receptacle and put in a cool place.

Do not allow roof tanks to overflow. Eliminate this waste by providing tanks with ball cocks.

Don’t leave faucets open on cold nights this winter to prevent freezing of water pipes. Start now to have your pipes properly protected.

A stream 1/4 of an inch in diameter will waste 514 gallons an hour or over 370,000 gallons a month.

To determine the presence of hidden leaks, consumers whose services are metered should occasionally close all outlets and observe the meter to see if it registers or not.

Don’t keep the faucet open while you are washing or bathing. Draw off as much as you need and then turn off the faucet.

It costs just as much for coal, oil and equipment to pump and filter water that is wasted as it does to furnish water for useful purposes.

A gallon of water saved just now will help Uncle Sam to win the war.”

Commentary:  Truly an astonishing editorial when viewed from 95 years later. Curbing water waste today is considered to be part of our duties as good citizens and stewards of the environment. Water/energy savings are also mentioned today but for reasons that involve saving the planet from global climate change. I guess I am having trouble wrapping my brain around the concept of saving water so that we can make more bullets.