Category Archives: Year 4 TDIWH

March 11, 1869: Akron Fire Impacts on Water Supply

Main Street, Akron, Ohio, 1875

Main Street, Akron, Ohio, 1875

March 11, 1869: Major fire in Akron, Ohio leads to early improvements in water service. The fire burned down all of the buildings between High and Main Streets. Soon after, the public demanded water reservoirs for fire safety. Citizens pooled their money to purchase large cisterns and in the early 1870s, eighteen cisterns were constructed throughout the city each holding 500 to 2,000 gallons. In 1880 M.S. Frost Consulting Engineers and a group of prominent local men negotiated a deal with the city to be the sole provider of water to the city. The company would construct a water system for Akron as long as the city would agree to pay $6,750 per year for water service to fight fires and to rent 150 fire hydrants that the company would install. In 1880 the M.S. Frost and Son sold the rights of the water deal to the Akron Water Works company headed by Frank Adams and George W. Crouse.

Commentary: Without doubt, the major reason to build centralized water systems in the 19th century was not to provide a water supply to a city. Pressurized water systems were needed to stop cities from burning to the ground.

March 10, 1909: Unique Baffled Covered Reservoir

0310 Settling ReservoirsMarch 10, 1909: Municipal Journal and Engineer article. Water Filtration and Sedimentation—Settling Reservoirs. “In a paper presented in January before the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (England), Mr. John Don reviewed the subject of water purification in a very comprehensive way; and the Institution has published an excellent abstract of the paper, from which we select the following, as of special interest to American Water Works Superintendents and Engineers.

Settling Reservoirs

It is usual in America to have three or four compartments arranged either in a rectangular form or in a crescent. From the raw-water basin the flow takes place over a dividing wall into the next, and so on. At the Paris water works of the Compagnie Generate, the settling tanks are so constructed as to induce continuous and progressive sedimentation. The process here is threefold. First the path of the water lies through a series of narrow troughs disposed in zigzag form, in which the heavier particles are thrown down. Following the troughs comes a sequence of larger compartments and finally decanting basins, and in both of these the alternating left to right and also up and down movements induce still further precipitation. The combined effect of these slow and regulated and tortuous movements is that the sedimentation is more rapid than if the water were left stationary. It is also conducted within a much less area and with far less depth than would be necessary if mere stagnation were depended upon to produce a like result.

Notable for its ingenious construction is the Sunridge Park covered reservoir, which is laid out in concentric channels. From the plan it will be seen that the water circulates first in one direction and ·then backwards in the next conduit inwards. There is a slight fall from the periphery to the center, where the outlet is placed.”

Reference: “Water Filtration and Sedimentation—Settling Reservoirs.” Municipal Journal and Engineer article 26:10(March 10, 1909): 408.

Commentary: Now THAT is what I call a baffled reservoir. No short-circuiting allowed here.

March 9, 1973: Miami Water Tainted by Waste

1973 Vintage Postcard

1973 Vintage Postcard

March 9, 1973: New York Times headline–Drinking Water Is Tainted By Waste in Miami Beach. “Miami Beach’s supply of drinking water is contaminated with organisms from human waste, Dr. Milton Saslaw, Dade County health director, told the County Commission today. He said that residents should boil all water used for drinking, making ice and brushing teeth. Dr. Saslaw said that the problem, apparently confined to Miami Beach, was not related the recent outbreak of typhoid in the town of Homestead, 25 miles south of here. He said that the unsanitary conditions would last for several days until the chlorine level of the water supply could be raised to combat the organisms. Hotels in this resort town immediately began boiling water before serving it to guests.”

Commentary: The contamination problem was linked to a drop in the chlorine residual. Chlorine equipment was flown to Miami Beach from Alabama to alleviate the problem. Wait a minute. There was typhoid fever in Homestead, FL? Look at the year—1973. That sure sounds like a story worth telling.

March 8, 1919: Sprinkling Filter Flies

Filter Fly

Filter Fly

March 8, 1919: Municipal Journal article. Sprinkling Filter Flies. “One of the objectionable features connected with sprinkling [trickling] filters is the prevalence at most of them, during certain seasons of the year, of myriads of small flies. This fly is small and moth-like, 3 to 5 mm. long, the body and wings covered with fine hair. Millions will breed in a filter during a season. They may be carried by favorable winds three-quarters of a mile from the plant, but generally remain rather close to it. Ordinary window screens do not keep them out.

The result of experiments conducted at the sprinkling filters of Plainfield, N. J., was set forth by C. S. Beckwith, assistant entomologist of the New Jersey State Agricultural Experiment Station, in a recent issue of “New Jersey Municipalities.” His statement was as follows:

In studying the habits of the flies it was determined that the breeding continues throughout the entire season. During the cold months they are present in the larval and pupal stages, emerging with the coming of warm weather. The abundance of the flies during the warm season seems to be correlated with the thickness of the film on the stones of the filter. A thick film means more flies, and a thin film, fewer flies. The thick film of late spring gives rise to a tremendous brood. After the film has broken down and sluffed off the number is greatly reduced. Again with the thickening of the film in late summer, the flies become abundant….

It thus seemed that submergence for 24 hours destroyed 100 per cent of the larvae and pupae. To make the matter more certain, one-fourth of the Plainfield sprinkling filter, amounting to a little less than one-half acre, was submerged for a period of 24 hours with ordinary sewage water as it came from the dosing tank. At the end of this period the water was released and many samples were taken. Enormous numbers of larvae and pupae came out with the water, and not one could be found that was alive.”

Reference: “Sprinkling Filter Flies.” 1919. Municipal Journal. 46:10(March 8, 1919): 196.

March 7, 1912: Milwaukee Sewerage Design

Imhoff Tank Sewage Treatment Plant under construction, 1912

Imhoff Tank Sewage Treatment Plant under construction, 1912

March 7, 1912: Municipal Journal article. Some Principles of Sewerage Design. “The report of the Sewerage Commission upon the problem presented by the city of Milwaukee, the general conclusions of which were referred to in our issue of Feb. 29, contains a number of features among its details which are of considerable interest. One of these is the quantity of sewage which the engineers, Messrs. Alvord, Eddy and Whipple, think it desirable to provide for. The maximum rate of flow of sewage at the present time is approximately 250 gallons per capita per day, this including water used in manufacturing and ground water leaking into the sewers. The proposed sewer system is estimated of a capacity sufficient for the population and other requirements of the year 1950, and the maximum flow at that time is estimated at 350 gallons per capita per day. As the amount of ground water seepage per capita will probably be less rather than greater at that time, this indicates a belief in a very high rate of water consumption for domestic and manufacturing purposes 40 years hence. The importance, in their opinion, of manufacturing wastes in such a calculation is indicated by the fact that more than three times as much sewage per acre is allowed for from the manufacturing as from the residential areas.

In making provisions for the future, the engineers believe that this should be governed to a great extent by the possibilities of gradual enlargement of capacity of the work in question. Thus sewers, the capacity of which can be increased only at great expense, they think should be designed for the probable needs of the city in 1950; while the sewage purification works, which can be easily enlarged by the addition of small units, they think should be constructed at the present time for a capacity of only 15 or 20 years in advance. An additional argument in favor of the latter is that our knowledge concerning purification methods is continually increasing, and it is very probable that improvements in details, if not in actual principles of operation will be available by that time.”

Reference: “Some Principles of Sewerage Design.” 1912. Municipal Journal. 32:10(March 7, 1912): 349.

Commentary: The three prominent engineers (Alvord, Eddy and Whipple) were wise to not lock in treatment technology in 1912 for 50 years. They knew that the knowledge in this area of sanitary engineering was advancing at a significant rate. They wanted their client to benefit from such a technological advance when it occurred some years in the future.

March 6, 1913: Irrigation for Babylon

0306 Irrigation for BabylonMarch 6, 1913: Engineering News article. The Reclamation of Ancient Babylonia By Irrigation. by Edgar J. Banks. “‘Egypt is the gift of the Nile,’ is a true saying and as old as the history of Herodotus; but the Nile is not the only river which has given a great and famous country to the world. The Tigris and the Euphrates, rising in the mountains of Armenia, have carried down and deposited much of the best of that country at their mouths. It was thus Babylonia came into existence.

It is estimated that the Persian Gulf is growing shorter, or that Babylonia is growing longer, at the rate of a mile every 30 years. There was a time when the Persian Gulf extended northward about 250 miles farther than it does now, or to Bagdad. There, at the city of the Caliphs, the alluvial plain of Babylonia begins, and the rolling, stony Assyria ends. The alluvial Babylonian plain is one of the most fertile lands of the world.

As far back as Babylonian history goes, and excavations in the ruins of the Mesopotamian cities have yielded a mass of records of some 6000 years ago, the fertility of Babylonia was maintained by means of an extensive and intricate system of irrigation canals. Great canals, as large as rivers, ran parallel with the Tigris and Euphrates, and scores of others intersected the valley, connecting the two streams. There was scarcely a corner of the entire country which was not well watered; and more than that, the canals served as waterways for the transportation of the crops.”

Reference: Banks, Edgar J. 1913. “The Reclamation of Ancient Babylonia By Irrigation.” Engineering News article 69:10(March 6, 1913): 468.

0306 Map of Babylonia

March 5, 1914: East Jersey Water Company Taken Over by New Jersey

About 1925. The old Morris Canal being destroyed at Little Falls, showing the treatment plant in the background

About 1925. The old Morris Canal being destroyed at Little Falls, showing the treatment plant in the background

March 5, 1914: Municipal Journal article. N. J. Municipalities Will Act on Water Supply Purchase. “Passaic, N. J.-A conference between the New Jersey Water Supply Commission and representatives of nearly fifteen municipalities in the state has been held in the City Hall in Paterson for the purpose of discussing the proposed plan that the state take over the East Jersey Water Company and its subsidiaries. Although the meeting did not commit itself to any definite plan, the consensus of opinion seemed to be in favor of state ownership. Among the municipalities represented were Paterson, Passaic, Newark,

Montclair, Nutley, Glen Ridge, Totowa, Hawthorne and Elizabeth. The following resolution adopted explains fully the advances towards state ownership, made at the meeting: “Resolved, That the State Potable Water Supply Commission at once draw up and present to each municipality interested a complete proposition covering the subject, showing in detail the costs to be assumed by each municipality, and an estimate of fixed charges of operation by the state commission and also secure from the East Jersey Water Company the best proposition obtainable, and that each municipality take prompt action in the matter and meet in the City Hall, in Paterson, April 3, at 1 P. M.” As has been stated in a recent issue of Municipal Journal, the East Jersey Water Company has offered to turn over its plants and the plants of its subsidiaries to the state, provided that the state assume all the obligations of the company, $7,500,000 in outstanding bonds, and borrow the $1,300,000 needed for maintenance from the company. State appraisers have estimated the value of the plants at between $8,000,000 and $9,000,000.

Reference: “N. J. Municipalities Will Act on Water Supply Purchase.” 1914. Municipal Journal. 36:10(March 5, 1914): 333.

Commentary: And so the might have fallen. The article does not mention the reason for the takeover. At the turn of the 20th century, the EJWC was a powerful force that built the treatment plant at Little Falls shown in the photograph above (designed by George Warren Fuller).

 

March 4, 1875: British Public Health Act Debated

Offscourings

Offscourings

March 4, 1875: British Public Health Act consolidates authority to deal with housing, water pollution, occupational disease, and other problems. On this date, an article appeared in The Nation that described the appalling conditions of drinking water in London: “It is no exaggeration to say that … there is hardly an unpolluted river in the whole of England. Between the sewage of towns and the offscourings of manufactories, distilleries, breweries, and the like, every stream and river in the country is poisoned and rendered unfit for domestic use. Sparkling brooks that not many years ago were frequented by speckled trout and silvery salmon are now transformed into gigantic cesspools, which a clean-living toad would be ashamed to haunt. No wise man or woman will touch a drop of London water until it has been boiled and filtered, and even then they will use as little of it as they can. The manufacturing interest will no doubt be roused if any attempt be made to interfere with their prerogative of public poisoning. But the good sense, not to say the newly- awakened terror, of the country will support the Government if their measure be wisely considered, and be calculated to promote the end it has in view. [The Nation. Mar. 4, 1875, p.11, “The Coming Measures.”]

March 3, 1879: U.S. Geological Survey Established; 1899: Rivers and Harbors Act Passed by Congress

1001 US-GeologicalSurvey-Seal.svgMarch 3, 1879: U.S. Geological Survey established by President Rutherford B. Hayes signing a bill authorizing money for the organization. “The USGS is a science organization that provides impartial information on the health of our ecosystems and environment, the natural hazards that threaten us, the natural resources we rely on, the impacts of climate and land-use change, and the core science systems that help us provide timely, relevant, and useable information.”

0303 Harbor PollutionMarch 3, 1899: Rivers and Harbors Act (also called the Refuse Act) passed by Congress. “The act is primarily aimed at preservation of navigable waters, but under Section 13 it becomes unlawful to throw garbage and refuse into navigable waters except with a Corps of Engineers permit. One exception is for liquid sewage from streets and sewers. Violators would be fined up to $2,500 and imprisoned up to one year. The new law consolidated four previous laws and had far-reaching implications. Dumping of oil, acids or other chemicals into streams was now prohibited insofar as navigation was obstructed, and in several cases the Supreme Court interpreted obstruction in a broad rather than narrow sense.”

March 2, 1866: Birth of George C. Whipple

George C. Whipple

George C. Whipple

March 2, 1866: George C. Whipple is born. “George Chandler Whipple (1866–1924) was a civil engineer and an expert in the field of sanitary microbiology. His career extended from 1889 to 1924 and he is best known as a cofounder of the Harvard School of Public Health. Whipple published some of the most important books in the early history of public health and applied microbiology. . . .In 1899, Jersey City, New Jersey contracted for the construction of a new water supply on the Rockaway River, which was 23 miles west of the City. The water supply included a dam, reservoir and 23-mile pipeline and was completed on May 4, 1904. As was common during this time period, no treatment of any kind was provided to the water supply. City officials were not pleased with the project as delivered by the private water company and filed a lawsuit in the Chancery Court of New Jersey. Among the many complaints by Jersey City officials was the contention that the water served to the City was not “pure and wholesome” as required by the contract. Whipple testified as an expert witness for the plaintiff in both trials.”

Commentary: George C. Whipple was a very interesting person. I had the opportunity to go through a small part of the archive that he left to Harvard University while researching my book, The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives. I swear that he saved every last piece of paper that he ever touched in his career. It is a fascinating look into the mind of a turn-of-the-century expert in drinking water treatment. Even though he was trained as a civil engineer, he made some of the most important early advances in microscopy and the ecology of lakes and rivers. He invented the Secchi disk that we use today. The original Secchi disk was all white. He created the disk with quadrants that were alternating black and white. Any civil engineer will recognize that arrangement as the same one found on a land surveying target marker. He was one of the first researchers to identify taste and odor problems in water as directly related to the presence of certain algae species. Check out the full biography that I wrote about him on Wikipedia