Category Archives: Year 5 TDIWH

July 24, 1998: Enron Aquires Wessex; 1844: Steam Engine Patent; 1855: Water Meter Patent

July 24, 1998Enron Corporation, electricity and gas company in Houston, TX, signed deal to acquire British-based Wessex Water, PLC for $2.2 billion–which was reportedly paid in cash; signaled Enron’s first move towards creating a global water subsidiary—Azurix.

Commentary: The global water business of Azurix crashed and burned just like the parent company. I had some connections with the folks planning the future of their water holdings and it was clear from the beginning that they had little clue about what they were doing. Near the end, I attended a reception hosted by Azurix at the AWWA annual conference in Denver. After a conversation with an attorney for the company over drinks, it was clear to me that the days of the company were numbered.

Henry Rossiter Worthington

July 24, 1844: “Henry Rossiter Worthington received a patent for a “Steam-Boiler Water-Feeder” (new and useful improvements in the manner of constructing and governing auxiliary steam-engines for the purpose of supplying steam-boilers with water”); independent single direct-acting steam power pump, laid the foundation of the entire pump industry.

July 24, 1855 – A patent issued for a “Water Metre” (a new and useful Meter for Measuring the Quantity of Flowing Liquids”); one of the first practical water meters in the United States.

July 23, 1800: French Water Filter Patent Issued

Notre Dame de Paris on the Seine River

July 23, 1800: French patent granted to James Smith, ‘Citizen’ Ciuchet and Denis Monfort for an elaborate filtration device consisting of layers of wool, 2 inches crushed sandstone, 12 inches coarse powdered charcoal pressed into a solid with river sand, and 12 inches of sand or crushed sandstone.

“In 1800, the basic Smith-Cuchet-Montfort patent was granted by France and, in 1806, the Quai des Celestins filters, which operated for a half century or more, were established in Paris. James Smith, a gunsmith from Glasgow, for a short time helped Richard Younger of Edinburgh, formerly a brewer, to assemble filters, the manufacture of which Younger began in or about 1795. These filters, wrote John Wilson, in 1802, were the most remarkable of the devices proposed up to that time to purify water by the use of charcoal, in accordance with the proposals of Lowitz (see Chap. 111) and others.

Smith, having brought the Lowitz process to the attention of the French Minister of Marine “as an important secret,” says Rochon, was sent to Brest. Numberless experiments were made there in the presence of twelve representatives of different branches of the Marine Department. An official report on the experiments was made in 1798. Smith went to Paris and, with others, took out a filter patent.”

Reference: ‘Baker, Moses N. 1981. The Quest for Pure Water: the History of Water Purification from the Earliest Records to the Twentieth Century. 2nd Edition. Vol. 1. Denver, Co.: American Water Works Association, 38-9.

July 22, 1914: Chlorine and a Pet Canary; 1962: Oily Birds; 1935: Mulholland Dies

July 22, 1914: Canary has sore wings. As chlorine began to be used throughout the U.S., some people were convinced that chlorine was bad for them and enlisted the help of their pets’ maladies to prove their point. “[In 1914] A Dunkirk young woman blames the poor condition of her pet canary bird on the chlorine solution in the city water supply. For some time she said the bird did poorly, was dopy as she termed it and had sore wings and refrained from singing. She did much cogitating on the matter and finally came to the conclusion that the city water with the chlorine solution might be the cause of the trouble…After a few days [of using unchlorinated local lake water] the bird grew lively and its sore wings healed.”

Reference: Evening Observer (Dunkirk, New York). “Blames City Water for Bird’s Sickness: Dunkirk Young Woman is Certain that Chlorine Caused Illness of Pet Canary.” July 22, 1914.

July 22, 1962: Oil Slick is Shroud for Birds (Washington Post). “Oil pollution at sea is a serious issue. Oil tankers at sea, “the dumping of old crankcase oil and the pumping of oily water from bilges” are major causes of the oil pollution. The most widespread cause of death among sea birds is from oil. Insulating air pockets are destroyed which is s a cause of drowning. The seriousness of this issue has been recognized. While it is illegal to dump oil within 50 miles of a coastline, ships continue to do so.”

William Mulholland

July 22, 1935: Death of William Mulholland. “William Mulholland (September 11, 1855 – July 22, 1935) was the head of a predecessor department to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. He was responsible for building the city water infrastructure and providing a water supply that allowed the city to grow into one of the largest in the world. Mulholland supervised the building of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, a 233-mile (375 km)-long system to move water from Owens Valley to the San Fernando Valley. The creation and operation of the aqueduct led to the disputes known as the California Water Wars. In March 1928, his career ended when the St. Francis Dam failed 12 hours after he and his assistant gave it a safety inspection.”

July 21, 1909: Filters for Providence, RI

July 21, 1909: Municipal Journal and Engineer article. Water Filters of Providence, R.I. “Final construction is just about being completed on the ten filter beds which constitute the plant designed some years ago for the purification of the water supply of Providence, R.I. The first contract was dated July 15, 1902, and called for six slow sand filters each approximately one acre in effective area; a regulating house containing the measuring and controlling apparatus; a pumping station, and a laboratory building. When the plans for these filters were under consideration the subject of covering the beds was considered at some length. In view of the fact that at Lawrence, Mass., 50 miles further north, little trouble had been experienced with snow and ice or with any serious interruption of bacterial efficiency on account of cold, and inasmuch as a considerable saving in cost could he made by omitting the covers the Commissioner of Public Works decided to adopt open filter beds.

Part of the first six beds was put in operation in the summer of 1904 and a second contract was let on February 13, 1905 calling for another regulating house and two additional beds. The winter of 1905-06 was particularly severe in New England and the formation of ice on the water over the filter beds then in service made the cleaning of them very difficult and at times almost impossible. Ice fourteen inches thick formed over the filters, and not only the full force of water works employees but a number from the sewer department also were utilized, the force at times reaching 150 men; but even with these it was impossible to remove the ice as fast as it formed. In consequence the beds had to be operated with much greater loss of head than had been intended. The same difficulty was found in the winter of 1906-07 and at times it was found necessary to draw water directly from the river to supply the demand.

This experience convinced those in charge that it would conduce not only to greater efficiency of filtration in winter time, but to greater economy also, to have the filters covered. Accordingly on June 11, 1906, a contract was let to the Pettaconset Construction Company of Providence, which firm also obtained the two previous contracts for the filters, for placing covers over the beds then under construction, and also over the six already completed; also to construct two more covered beds, making ten beds in all.”

Commentary: Note the highlighted section. If the filters are not used because the cold weather causes the water to freeze, then they are not much good as a barrier to disease. In The Chlorine Revolution, I noted that the typhoid fever rate was not much reduced after slow sand filtration was introduced into Lawrence, MA. Perhaps they were drawing raw water out of the Merrimac River during the winter and not telling anyone.

July 20, 1982: Boil Water Order in Jersey City

July 20, 1982: New York Times headline: Drinking Water in Jersey City Must Still Be Boiled. “The requirement that the 300,000 customers of the Jersey City Water Department boil all of their drinking water for five minutes remained in effect today after state officials detected possible excessive bacteria in the water, city officials said. The reason for the possible contamination was not clear because the water supply is filtered and chlorinated (since 1908). It appeared to be a problem with a broken water main that introduced contaminated water into parts of the distribution system.”

Commentary: Notice the date. Thirty-one years later as of 2013, Jersey City just lifted a boil water order that was caused by the same problem—a broken water main. Aging infrastructure has its penalties.

July 19, 1911: Home-Made Sanitary Drinking Cup and New York’s Filtration Plant and Park

July 19, 1911: Municipal Journal articles.

Home-Made Sanitary Drinking Cup. “With a view to eliminating the dangers of infection from the use of public drinking cups, a set of “plans and specifications” for the manufacture of a sanitary drinking vessel has been prepared. All that is necessary is a piece of paper, seven inches square, which, if folded properly, will form a drinking cup that will be sufficiently sanitary for any one. The diagram shows the method of folding the paper so as to make the cup ready for immediate use. There are no sharp edges of paper at the edge of the cup, and hence no danger of cutting the lips. A cup made from an ordinary grade of book paper will keep its shape and hold water for five or ten minutes. If a hard manila wrapping paper is used the cup will be much more- durable. A convenient size cup for general use is made of a piece of paper seven inches square.

Pupils of the fourth grade at the Grant School, Trenton, N. J., did some excellent work in making paper drinking cups during the last week of the school session, and are making them at their homes for daily use at public drinking fountains. Agitation concerning the uncleanliness of public drinking cups has impressed these children with the advantage of using individual cups. It is the intention of Supervisor William R. Ward, of the manual training class, to introduce the making of cups as a regular feature in the lower grades of all the schools next September. The cups are made of manila paper, folded in such a manner that they keep their shape without any pasting, and can be conveniently carried in pockets of coats or trousers.”

Commentary: The national movement to end the common cup and the disease risks associated with its use reached down into the schools. There were numerous grass-roots efforts to impress on everyone just how dangerous it was to use a common cup. As has been noted in this blog before, individual states banned the common cup and in 1912, the common cup was banned by federal regulation on interstate modes of transportation. By the way, if you want to try the home-made cup, start out with very clean paper.

New York’s Filtration Plant and Park. “New York, N. Y.-The illustration is a sketch of the Jerome Park reservoir, for which Commissioner Thompson has been allowed an appropriation of $8,690,000 showing how it will look when half of it is roofed over and a park laid out on top of it. It is estimated that it will take about four years to complete the work, by which time the reservoir park will be made accessible by one of the new transit lines. The filter will be of the mechanical type and will have a capacity of 400,000,000 gallons a day.”

Commentary: 1911? What ever happened to the filtration plant planned for the Croton water supply? Plans for it were shelved when chlorination appeared to solve many of the bacteriological problems with this supply. Now, 100+ years later, filtration of this water supply has become a reality. The modern plant is now operational.

July 18, 1911: Death by Cholera in the U.S.; 1908: Irrigating the Nile Valley

Quarantine in NYC Harbor in 1879

July 18, 1911: Cholera Kills Boy; Eighth Death Here. New York Times Headline. “The sixth death from cholera since the arrival in this port from Naples of the steamship Moltke, thirteen days ago, occurred yesterday at Swineburne Island. The victim was Francesco Frando 14 years old.

Dr. A.H. Doty, the Health Officer for the Port of New York stated, “The great thing in fighting cholera is to isolate each case as soon as it is suspected, and, secondly, to take care that there is no local infection, like the contamination of the water supply, in the place where the suspected cases are isolated. That is why I detained all the passengers of the Moltke, although at the time there were no absolute cases of cholera among them. I let the crew take the vessel back to Europe, but refused to allow any of them to come ashore.”

Alvah H. Doty

Commentary: Quarantine was the best weapon against cholera in the late 19th and early 20th century. Obviously, chlorination of drinking water had not taken hold across the U.S. by 1911. A few short years later and it would be used as treatment in the majority of U.S. municipal water supplies. Doty was an interesting historical character. His obituary can be found at http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~quarantine/dotyobit.htm.

Update July 18, 2017: Note the care and attention given to eight deaths from cholera at the New York port of entry near the turn of the 20th century. Today, the world shrugs off the news that there have been 300,000 cases of cholera in Yemen and 10,000 deaths from cholera in Haiti. What has happened to our humanity?

Nile River Irrigation

July 18, 1908: Engineering Record article. The Nile Irrigation Question. “The Nile Valley, from the great lakes of Central Africa on the south to the Mediterranean Sea on the north, is throughout, if watered, an essentially cotton country, and having in view the threatened shortage in the world’s future supply of one of its great necessities, and the large share of America in its provision in the past, it will be interesting to note what has been done and is being proposed in Egypt and the Sudan by means of irrigation to supplement the present supply of cotton and to meet the growing demand. In Egypt, at present, nearly all other cultivation is gradually yielding to that of cotton, notwithstanding the greater amount of hard work which the latter requires among a race to which it is by no means congenial.

The Nile system consists of the White Nile, which originates in the larger group of Central African lakes, the Victoria Nyanza, the Choga, the Albert Edward and the Albert Nyanza; and the Blue Nile, which is the largest source of supply, draining the mountains of Abyssinia. These two meet at Khartoum, the river thence flowing to the north being the Nile proper. It is on the latter that the principal conservation works have been and are now being erected, while on the White and Blue Niles, especially on the former, the work of the future will no doubt be chiefly concentrated.

As upper and lower Egypt, most of which is practically rainless, are dependent on the branches for their water, the Nile proper being merely a channel for its conveyance, and as much of the water is lost by spills and evaporation on the White Nile, it is a fortunate circumstance that Great Britain, with its large Indian irrigation experience, has even a greater control over the Sudan and the upper country through which the river flows than over Egypt itself. Hence not only will the former be benefited by direct irrigation on now unprofitable lands, but the latter will also receive more water by works undertaken under British initiation and financial help, on the White Nile.”

Commentary: Note the reference to “lazy” Egyptian farmers and how wonderful it was that British innovation was helping to save their less fortunate and inferior brethren. Racism and colonialism were dominant themes in some engineering writings from this period.