Tag Archives: New York City

#TDIWH—February 11, 1915: Detroit Metering and Burst NYC Water Main

Vintage Bronze 1909 Water Meter

Vintage Bronze 1909 Water Meter

February 11, 1915: Municipal Journal article. Metering in Detroit. Detroit, Mich.-“Superintendent Theodore A. Leisen and the water board are asking for about $561,000 to complete the installation of meters. About 21,000 are now in service and about 100,000 are needed altogether. The water officials contend that the cost and maintenance of the system fully metered would be less than at present. The inspection cost would increase, admits Mr. Leisen, and the revenue would not increase-but the pumpage would be materially decreased, affecting a saving in coal and the danger of immediate need of new sources of supply would be put off. The present consumption is 170 gallons per capita and Mr. Leisen says that 50 gallons of this is avoidable waste. A new chlorine purifying plant is to be installed.”

1011 Main Break NYCFebruary 11, 1915: Municipal Journal article. Burst Main Floods New York Theatre Section. New York, N. Y.-“The bursting of a 30-inch main near the heart of the theatre district broke up the pavement in several blocks, put many passers-by in danger and flooded the basements of all the buildings in the area. The lights were put out and the residents of the section were forced to vacate the houses by the police because of danger of undermining. Traffic was suspended. By turning off the mains and then turning them on the broken one was finally discovered. Commissioner Woods and Inspector Dwyer were in charge of the police. Thirty men from the Department of Water Supply, Gas and Electricity under Merrit T. Smith, chief engineer, and Engineer Byrne ripped up the streets to locate the exact spot of the break. Damage to the flooded cellars is estimated at about $100,000.”

Reference: Municipal Journal 38:6(February 11, 1915): 194.

#TDIWH—January 23, 1913: Night soil Incinerator and NYC Death Rate

January 23, 1913: Two articles in Engineering News.

0123 Nightsoil Incinerator1“Night Soil Incinerating Furnace at a Contractor’s Camp.” By Arthur W. Tidd, “The new 500-million-gallons-daily Catskill water-system for New York City, now being built by the Board of Water Supply, necessitates that construction work shall be carried on from the Ashokan Reservoir in the Catskill Mountains to New York City, a distance of approximately 100 miles. Throughout the whole length of the line a sanitary control is exercised, under the supervision of sanitary experts employed by the Board of Water Supply, over the housing and living of the laborers employed on the work and the disposal of all wastes.

Clauses are inserted in the specifications of each contract placing upon the contractor the duty of carrying out the provisions required for proper sanitation and specifying in many cases just what these provisions shall be. One of these is the provision that buildings for the sanitary necessities of all persons employed on the work shall be provided, and that all excreta shall be incinerated daily….

0123 Nightsoil Incinerator2For the camp the four corners of the incinerator house are partitioned off into independent closets, entered only from the outside, two for the men having six seats each, two for the women having two seats each. The galvanized pans are used here also, being removed from the back of the closets on the inside of the building as indicated in cross-section of the building shown in Fig. 2.” (emphasis added)

Commentary: An early commitment by New York City to protect the water supply for the City.

“A Low Record Death Rate for New York City.” “A total of 73,008 deaths in a single city in one year seems appalling until it is known that the city was New York, with a population sufficiently above five million to bring the rate per 1000 down to the remarkably low figure of 14.11. There are possibilities, of course, that the population estimate is too high or that the death registration was incomplete, but there seems to be reasonable basis for confidence in both. This confidence is increased when it is noted that the total number of deaths in 1912 was 2418 less than in 1911, and much less than the average for the ten years 1902-11; that there were heavy reductions over the average for 1902-11, in all the communicable diseases, in mortality from diarrheal diseases under five years of age, and in infant mortality; and that in the large non-communicable class the only increases in 1912 were in deaths from cancer, homicide and organic heart disease–the latter being offset by a decline in deaths from apoplexy and diseases of the arteries.

It is particularly gratifying to note that the typhoid fever death rate for 1912 was 34% less than the average for the previous decade and that the infant-mortality rate for the year was only 105 per 1000 reported births, the lowest ever recorded.”

Commentary: Improvement in the sanitary quality of the New York City water supply, improvement in the milk supply and better medical care account for much of the progress noted. NYC still had a long way to go. The infant mortality rate was 10% of live births which would be unconscionable today.

Reference: Engineering News. 1913. 69:4(January 23, 1913): 164, 175.

January 10, 1983: Wards Island Dumps Sewage

0110 Wards Island Sewage PlantJanuary 10, 1983: New York Times headline—Repair of Plant Ends Dumping of Raw Sewage. “The Wards Island sewage treatment plant, disabled when a huge valve burst six days ago, was back in operation yesterday, ending the daily discharge of 300 million gallons of raw sewage into the Harlem, Hudson and East Rivers.

The city had been forced to divert the sewage from the plant after a ”cone check valve” cracked at 8:30 P.M. on Tuesday, sent a 12-foot jet of water into the air and caused the flooding of the plant’s six main motors….

The total cost of fixing the plant will be about $330,000, according to John Cunningham, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Environmental Protection….

‘All the charts, the records, the work schedules went by the wayside,’ said Fred DiSisto, an operating engineer with the plant for 20 years. ‘We operated out of the kitchen. It kind of turned into a holiday atmosphere. Everybody was all pumped up. It broke the routine around here.’

Some of the men at the plant estimate that 50 pounds of coffee were consumed in the kitchen in the last four days. Men slept there, too, as 12-hour shifts were the norm.

Officials have not yet determined what caused the cone check valve to burst. The valve is made of cast iron and is 48 inches in diameter. It was installed six years ago, when the 45-year-old plant was upgraded.

‘We are still doing some tests to find out why the valve broke,’ said Mr. Cunningham. ‘The valve should have lasted 40 years.’ The valve is one of six that keeps the waste water in the plant’s treatment tanks from flowing back into the plant’s main pumping gallery. When it burst, the water came back into the gallery and then overflowed onto the plant’s motors. Released Into Rivers

The sewage had to be released into the Hudson, Harlem and East Rivers from 52 regulators in Manhattan and 36 regulators in the Bronx to avoid a backup at the plant and the eventual flooding of homes, officials said.”

December 15, 2014: Death of Ken Kerri; 1989: Cabool, Missouri Outbreak; 1909: Water Quality Stories; 1909: Filtration Definitions

1215 Ken KerriDecember 15, 2014:Dr. Ken Kerri, the founder of the Office of Water Programs, passed on the morning of December 15, 2014. The academic community and the water industry were made better by his energetic contributions over the course of 50 years. Professor Ken Kerri was a faculty member in the Department of Civil Engineering at California State University, Sacramento, for almost 40 years before retiring from teaching in 1997. During his teaching career, Ken mentored hundreds of civil engineering students, and both the students and faculty have recognized his special contributions by awarding him many distinguished honors.

In 1972, Professor Kerri was a pioneer in establishing the Office of Water Programs, which is now recognized as the leading national training program for the operators and managers of drinking water and wastewater plants and facilities. Over one million operator and manager training manuals have been sold throughout the world, and some have been translated into many foreign languages. Because of Ken’s tireless efforts, this unique training program brings special recognition to the university. As Emeritus Professor of Civil Engineering, Ken continued to be active with the Office of Water Programs, as chief project consultant, further developing the catalog of training materials and looking for opportunities to expand services.

Dr. Kerri also continued to be active in many professional organizations and received numerous awards in recognition of his outstanding service to the profession. In August 2014, the Water Environment Federation inducted Dr. Kerri into the WEF Fellows Program in the category of Education/Research. He was also the recipient of the Distinguished Faculty Award by the Sacramento State Alumni Association. As part of his legacy to the university community, he leaves the Ken Kerri Endowment Fund, which will continue to honor a lifetime of achievement and contribution to the field of civil engineering by a man who was deeply committed to and energetic about his lifelong, professional endeavors.”

E. coli O157:H7

E. coli O157:H7

December 15, 1989: Cabool, Missouri outbreak of E. coli O157:H7. “Case patients were residents of or visitors to Burdine Township [adjacent to Cabool, Missouri] with bloody diarrhea or diarrhea and abdominal cramps occurring between 15 December 1989 and 20 January 1990…. Among the 243 case patients, 86 had bloody stools, 32 were hospitalized, 4 died, and 2 had the hemolytic uremic syndrome. In the case-control study, no food was associated with illness, but ill persons had drunk more municipal water than had controls (P = 0.04). The survey showed that, during the peak of the outbreak, bloody diarrhea was 18.2 times more likely to occur in persons living inside the city and using municipal water than in persons living outside the city and using private well water (P = 0.001). Shortly before the peak of the outbreak, 45 water meters were replaced, and two water mains ruptured. The number of new cases declined rapidly after residents were ordered to boil water and after chlorination of the water supply. This was the largest outbreak of ECO157 infections [at the time], the first due to a multiply resistant organism, and the first shown to be transmitted by water.”

Commentary: One of the largest outbreaks of waterborne disease in the U.S. in modern times. E. coli O157:H7 was just being recognized as a waterborne pathogen. A significant outbreak in Walkerton, Ontario, Canada in 2000 was caused by the same pathogen.

References: Swerdlow, D.L. et al. 1992. “A waterborne outbreak in Missouri of Escherichia coli O157:H7 associated with bloody diarrhea and death.” Ann Intern Med.117(10):(Nov 15): 812-9.

Geldreich, E.E., et al. 1992. “Searching for a water supply connection in the Cabool, Missouri disease outbreak of Escherichia coli 0157:H7.” Water Research. 26:8 1127-37.

December 15, 1909: Municipal Journal and Engineer articles about water supply and water quality in the early 20th century.

Well Water is Cause of Typhoid Epidemic. Concordia, Kan.-The source of typhoid infection in this city has been located in the well water that has been used by the people in the infected block. All of the families in which a case of the fever has developed have been using well water for drinking purposes. The doctors attending the cases are of the opinion that the city water is free from typhoid fever germs.

Tannic Acid in City Water. Knoxville, Tenn.-.Members of the Knoxville Water Commission are somewhat disturbed over the impurities now found in the Tennessee river water owing largely to the refuse of a tannery which .is being poured into the French Broad river at Newport. At times the water coming out of the French Broad is almost black, owing to the tannic acid. This is killing the fish in the river and it is thought the water with this impurity in it is deleterious to health….Local sportsmen, who are interested in the preservation of the game fish in the river, have also taken the matter up. Commentary: This is an early concern about surface water quality that was not related to human health.

Proposed Tunnel Profile

Proposed Tunnel Profile

Water Tunnel Under New York City. New York, N. Y.-The Board of Estimates has adopted plans for building a $30,000,000 tunnel in solid rock under Manhattan Island to distribute the water supply from the Catskill system, The report of a committee of engineers to whom the matter has been referred was that the original pipe line plan would cost $10,000,000, whereas the new tunnel plan would cost $25,000,000 or more. However, there is estimated to be a saving in the cost of connecting mains amounting to 50 per cent. The tunnel is to be 17 ½, miles long beginning at Hill View Reservoir, north of the New York City line at an elevation of -20, where the diameter will be 17 ½, feet. Through the city the elevation will range from -140 to -600, according to the solidity of the rock through which it goes. Under the East River, where the tunnel crosses to Brooklyn, the diameter will be 11 feet.

Commentary: This was the first of three tunnels built by New York City for water supply—a unique and impressive engineering marvel.

Will Try Chemical Purification. Hartford, Conn.-Engineer E. M. Peck of the Water Department has been authorized by the Board to conduct experiments in the chemical purification of river water, to see if it can be made safe for use in the lower part of the city, should the supply in the reservoirs fail. This is the chemical treatment used at Harrisburg, which city the engineer, President Henry Roberts and Secretary Fred D. Berry recently visited.

Commentary: Dr. John L. Leal was hired by the city to conduct these studies. He presented his findings to the water department on March 28, 1910.

Reference: Municipal Journal and Engineer. 1909. 27:24(December 15, 1909): 896-7.

Slow Sand Filters At Portsmouth, UK 1927

Slow Sand Filters At Portsmouth, UK 1927

December 15, 1909: Municipal Journal and Engineer article–Mechanical Water Filtration. “There are two general classes of water filtration. In one of these a large part of the purification is performed by bacteria, the process involving a slow passage of the water through sand or a similar fine-grained mass [slow sand filtration]. In this there is practically no pressure head, but the water simply trickles through the interstices, although in a greater or less time a collection of mud and fibrous and other organic matter collects on the surface and a slight head of water is necessary for forcing the water to be purified through this material. This was the method of purification originally adopted in England, and is sometimes called the English method.

In mechanical filtration [rapid sand filtration or granular media filtration] the water is passed under greater pressure and at much higher rates of speed through sand or similar material, and the purification is entirely one of straining. Owing to the high speed, however, and the absence of any mat on the surface, it is found necessary to introduce a coagulant into the water before it reaches the filter. This coagulant collects together the suspended matters in the water, including a large percentage of the bacteria, and the suspended matter thus coagulated is strained out by the filter….

The mechanical filters were apparently so named because of the entirely mechanical nature of the purification as distinguished from bacteriological, and because of the fact that the entire apparatus was, in effect, a mechanism of iron and steel, while the English filters consisted of outdoor beds of sand simply retained by earthen banks or stone walls.”

Reference: “Mechanical Water Filtration.” 1909. Municipal Journal and Engineer, 27:24(December 15, 1909): 893.

December 8, 1888: Bartlett Water Scheme; 1920: Pollution of an Artesian Well

Map showing Bartlett Scheme to export Passaic River Water to New York City

Map showing Bartlett Scheme to export Passaic River Water to New York City

December 8, 1888: Engineering News article—Jersey City Board of Public Works Opposed to Scheme Proposed by John R. Bartlett. “Jersey City, N. J .—At a meeting of the Board of Public Works on Nov. 3, the water supply question was still further discussed, speeches being made in favor of and opposition to the award of a contract to the syndicate represented by JOHN R. BARTLETT. The Citizens Committee has adopted the following resolution: “Resolved, That we are unalterably opposed to Jersey City making any contract with any private water company for a supply of water In Jersey City, as such a contract might surrender our rights In the Passaic river, and place us under the worst of monopolies—a private water company. We are in favor of the reorganization of the State Board of Water Supply; that the control of the drinking water of the State be given to said Board, with a view that all the cities in the State of New Jersey may obtain in the future an abundant supply of good water….

The Bartlett water supply project was formally presented to the city of New York on Nov. 30. Briefly stated, this proposal to furnish 50 million gallons daily of water to lower New York, under a head of 300 ft., comes from a syndicate of corporations in New Jersey. The water is to be gathered from the 877 sq. miles of Passaic river water-shed, stored in a reservoir at the Great Notch near Paterson, N. J., and is to be led by pipes and tunnel under the Hudson river directly to lower New York. The advantages claimed are-abundant supply by gravity, constant fire-pressure, sales of water by the city for motive power, the saving of great mains from the Central Park Reservoir down town, and the preservation of the Croton supply for upper New York and the annexed districts. The syndicate promises a supply within 8 years from date of contract, and will charge the city $75 per million gallons, payable quarterly. The project is endorsed by responsible parties. In a later issue we will give the plan in fuller detail….

Jersey City’s new water supply is being discussed at “citizens’ meetings”, and the opportunity has not been lost by the chronic crank. The bone of contention is a proposition to furnish water, made by a private corporation, a part of the Bartlett syndicate. Last Monday’s meeting was marked by a free fight in an attempt to eject a party who interrupted the syndicate attorney and defied the presiding officer in this fight tables and chairs were smashed and the club of a policeman alone stopped the row. At a preceding meeting, threats were made of hanging to a lamp-post the promoters of a private contract. It is to be hoped, for the good name of the city, that these proceedings will be brought to an end by the more reputable and intelligent citizens calmly discussing what is really a great public need, and taking such .action as will improve the present supply, whether this improvement comes from works of their own building or from a private corporation.”

Reference: “Jersey City, N.J.” 1888. Engineering News. 20:(December 8, 1888): 458.

Commentary: The water scheme to transfer water from the Passaic River watershed to New York City attracted tremendous support and violent opposition. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the interstate transport of water without the agreement of the state which is the source of supply.

Mohawk River near Albany, 1860

Mohawk River near Albany, 1860

December 8, 1920: Engineering and Contracting article. Pollution of Public Water Supply by Spring Freshet. “In the spring of 1920 the engineering division of the New York State Department of Health was called upon to investigate an epidemic of gastroenteritis, followed by an outbreak of typhoid fever in the city of Schenectady, N. Y., which occurred subsequently to the gross pollution of the public water supply of the city by the water of the Mohawk River. The results of the investigation were set forth by Mr. Theodore Horton, Chief Engineer of the New York State Department of Health, in his reports to the Department….

The matter was first brought to the attention of the Division of Sanitary Engineering on March 20, 1920, when information was received that on March 15 and a few days following, the number of cases of gastroenteric disturbances in the city had greatly increased above the number normally occurring; and that this increase had followed a noticeable turbidity in the water, which had been greatest on the night of March 13 and during March 14 and had gradually disappeared after the latter date….

On April 1 the onsets of eight cases occurred, and for the next week the number of onsets ranged from two to six, the number gradually decreasing. The last case was reported as occurring on the 19th. In all there were 53 cases, 3 of which terminated fatally. The majority of the cases occurred about two weeks after the pollution of the well by the contaminated water of the river.”

Reference: “Pollution of Public Water Supply by Spring Freshet.” 1920. Engineering and Contracting. 54:23(December 8, 1920): 562-4.

November 18, 1987: Sludge Dumping Ground Closed Down; 1995: New York City Water Supply Protection

Sludge Dumping Ground

Sludge Dumping Ground

November 18, 1987New York Times headline— New York Quits Using An Ocean Dump Site. “New York City used an ocean dumping site 12 miles offshore for the last time yesterday. It plans to use a site 106 miles out for dumping sewage treatment waste from now on. New York City and other localities have been using the 12-mile site to dump sludge since 1938. Under an agreement with the Federal Environmental Protection Agency, the city began disposing of 10 percent of the city’s sludge at the 106-mile dumping grounds last April. The city disposes of 3.8 million wet tons of sludge annually from its 14 sewage treatment plants.”

1118 NYC WatershedsNovember 18, 1995New York Times headline—Watershed Pact Safeguards Drinking Water. “To the Editor:  While according deserved praise on the historic agreement to protect New York City’s drinking water, Eric A. Goldstein (letter, Nov. 10) asserts that “the agreement lacks concrete commitments needed to prevent further pollution.” As one of Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani’s negotiators, let me assure your readers that the watershed agreement contains commitments that will protect drinking water quality into the next century.

The pact contains three principal elements: acquisition of sensitive watershed lands to buffer the water supply, revision of the city’s regulations governing activities in the watershed that affect water quality and partnership programs with upstate communities that will insure that any growth near the water supply will be consistent with drinking water quality needs.

The agreement does not authorize the construction of six new sewage plants. To examine the feasibility of pollution credit trading, a five-year pilot program will authorize towns to apply to build up to six new plants only if the sponsor offsets each unit of pollution added by a new plant with the removal of three units elsewhere. Total discharge will be limited, and each plant would use the most rigorous pollution removal technology available….Marilyn Gelber, Commissioner, Department of Environmental Protection New York.”

November 11, 1990: Underground Tanks in New York; 1991: Bottled Water Use in NYC

1111 LeakingTankNovember 11, 1990New York Times headline–State Is Taking Action On Underground Tanks. “Through one of the strictest programs of its type in the country, the State Department of Environmental Protection has forced the replacement of 12,000 underground gasoline tanks that were leaking or were so old that they were in danger of leaking. Now the state is going after the 350 to 400 old tanks it estimates are still in use, including some of its own.

‘In the last three years, more tanks have been replaced at gasoline stations in Connecticut than in the previous 30,’ said Charles S. Isenberg, executive vice president of the Independent Connecticut Petroleum Association.

Unearthing the tanks has shown that more were leaking than the state anticipated — as many as 80 percent, compared with the expected one-third — said G. Scott Deshefy of the environmental agency’s underground-tank program.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency’s coordinator for Connecticut, Jonathan M. Walker, said the program has become a model for other states. Even in cases where the tanks are in good shape, he said, the inspections are revealing leaks from pipes.”

Scare tactics have been employed by unscrupulous individuals trying to sell bottled water.

Scare tactics have been employed by unscrupulous individuals trying to sell bottled water.

November 11, 1991New York Times headline–It’s Wet, Free and Gets No Respect. “In the tea department of Fortnum & Mason, which has guided the palates of England for 300 years, a few rules must never be broken: drink only premium blends; keep air out of the canister, and brew your beverage with the finest water available — New York City’s if possible.

It may surprise the people who live in the city, having turned to bottled water in numbers that mystify even those who are paid to sell it, but New York’s tap water remains as good as it gets. Just ask an expert.

‘Naturally, there are many fine reasons to visit New York,’ said Eugene Hayes, director of the tea department at Fortnum & Mason in London, which among its dozens of specialty offerings carries a dark Ceylon brand called New York Blend. ‘But I would have to say one of the best is the water.’

For generations, New Yorkers rejoiced in the high quality of their drinking water, which runs swiftly and practically untouched to their faucets from the peaks of the Catskills 100 miles away. But that trust has disappeared during the last 10 years, eroded by an epidemic of nervousness that has left many people convinced that water with a label has to be better than water from a pipe.”

Commentary My how times have changed. Bottled water is given failing marks these days because of the cost and impact on the environment. Good old tap water gets high marks.