Tag Archives: New York City

October 17, 2013: NYC Tunnel No. 3; 1982: Toxaphene Curbs

October 17, 2013New York Times headline–After Decades a Water Tunnel Can Now Serve All of Manhattan. “Of all New York City’s sprawling mega-projects, the water tunnel snaking beneath the grid — connecting the Bronx to Upper Manhattan, Upper Manhattan to Central Park, Central Park to Queens, and, eventually, Queens to the western edge of Brooklyn — is perhaps the hardest to love….

But as Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg turned a ceremonial wheel in City Hall Park on Wednesday, sending waters gushing into a fountain, the city arrived at a seminal moment.

In one of the most significant milestones for the city’s water supply in nearly a century, the tunnel — authorized in 1954, begun in 1970 and considered the largest capital construction project ever undertaken in the five boroughs — will for the first time be equipped to provide water for all of Manhattan. Since 1917, the borough has relied on Tunnel No. 1, which was never inspected or significantly repaired after its opening.”

Commentary:  This is a very big deal. Multiple generations of “sandhogs” have worked to construct the tunnels feeding water to New York City. If they had only scheduled it two days earlier, they could have started this new water delivery tunnel on the 171stanniversaryof the celebration of the opening of the first comprehensive water supply for the City—the Croton System.

Toxaphene spraying on crops.

October 17, 1982New York Times headline–EPA Plans to Curb Use of Toxaphene. “The Environmental Protection Agency will restrict the use of toxaphene, which was once the most widely used pesticide in the country but has been identified as a possible cancer-causing substance, officials said today.

The agency’s spokesman, Byron Nelson, said the details of the restrictions would be announced Monday. Toxaphene has been used widely to protect cotton crops in the South, but it has also been detected recently in fish in the Great Lakes, leading scientists to conclude that winds were sweeping the pesticide into far wider areas.

William A. Butler, the Audubon Society’s vice president for government relations, asserted today that the restrictions were being announced now by the Reagan Administration to achieve a political gain for the fall Congressional elections.

‘This is clearly something the E.P.A. is doing just before the election,’ Mr. Butler said.  ‘It is too little, too late,’ Mr. Butler said, noting the use of toxaphene has declined from 100 million pounds a year in the 1970′s to 16 million pounds this year.”

Commentary:  EPA announcing an environmental action to somehow obtain a political advantage? Boy, this wasa long time ago.

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October 14, 1842: Croton Water Celebration; 1862: Mixing Water with Milk; 1859: Dedication of Glasgow Water Supply

October 14, 1842:  Celebration of the delivery of the Croton water supply to New York City. “Two days before the holiday Hone wrote in his diary: ‘Nothing is talked of or thought of in New York but Croton water; fountains, aqueducts, hydrants, and hose attract our attention and impede our progress through the streets. Political spouting has given place to water spouts, and the free current of water has diverted the attention of the people from the vexed questions of the confused state of the national currency.’

The great day began with the discharge of one hundred cannon and the ringing of church bells. Thousands of jubilant spectators crowded the windows, balconies, and sidewalks to watch a five-mile-long parade pass by. First came an impressive military escort, then a dozen barouches bearing Governor Seward, Mayor Morris, Samuel Stevens, Stephen Allen, Philip Hone, and other dignitaries. These were followed by regiments of soldiers, by fifty-two companies of firemen with bright uniforms, banners, and well-polished machines, by the butchers on horseback, by numerous marching temperance societies, and by organizations of mechanics….

The fountains were a special delight. Of one erected in Union Square, a contemporary newspaper declared: ‘It throws up a noble column of water to a height as great almost as the houses which surround the square …. In the evening, by the moonlight, the effect of the fountain showering its spray on every side, was exceedingly fine.’”

Reference:  Blake, N.M. 1956. Water for the Cities. Syracuse, NY:Syracuse University Press. 165-6.

Commentary: They really knew how to celebrate a new water supply back then. Can you imagine a salute of 100 cannons for delivering State Project water to Southern California in the 1960s? How about we shoot off the cannons when the desalination plant at Carlsbad, CA is operational?

October 14, 1862:  New York Times headline–Mixing of Water with Milk Not an Adulteration. “The People ex rel. Jacob Fauerbach vs. Court of Sessions. — The relator was convicted in the Court of Sessions of vending adulterated milk, and sentenced to pay a fine of $55.

He appealed the case to the New York Supreme Court, contending that the act under which he was convicted was purely a sanitary measure, intending to prevent traffic in impure, diseased and unwholesome milk, and not to prevent fraud in the sale of diluted milk. That to put water into milk was not to corrupt it, according to dictionary definition. Water was not a foreign admixture of milk, but its chief ingredient in its natural state, and it could not be adulterated by adding a little more.

The Court, in an opinion by Justice Ingraham, have now reversed the decision of the Judge at the General Sessions, upon the ground that to put water in milk is not per se such an adulteration as necessarily brings the relator within the late law upon that subject.” Commentary: Adding water to milk to increase profits was a common occurrence in the latter half of the 19th century. The problem was that most of the drinking water in cities during this period was laced with pathogenic organisms. The death of infants before one year of age in U.S. cities from diarrheal diseases was 20% to 40% of live births (that is not a misprint). Diluting cow’s milk with contaminated water was one of the chief means of killing babies. The judges did not help matters by overturning this crook’s conviction.

Glasgow Waterworks—Loch Katrine Outlet, 1859: antique wood engraved print

October 14, 1859:  Dedication of the Loch Katrine Water Works for the City of Glasgow, Scotland, by Queen Victoria. “It is with no ordinary feelings of pride and satisfaction that we are enabled this day to state to your Majesty that we have completed one of the most interesting and difficult works of engineering, and, at the same time, the largest and most comprehensive scheme for the supply of water which has yet been accomplished in your Majesty’s dominions. The deficient and unsatisfactory condition of the water supply, on which so much of the health and comfort of the inhabitants depended, determined the Corporation of Glasgow, some years ago, to purchase the works of the Water Companies then existing, and to take the supply of water into their own hands. For this purpose an Act of Parliament was obtained, which received your Majesty’s royal assent on the 2d day of July, 1855. Empowered by this Act, the Commissioners came to these wild and romantic regions for that copious supply of pure water of which the large and rapidly increasing population of Glasgow stood in need. This beautiful and extensive loch of pure water, fed by a large amount of annual rainfall, and lying at an elevation of 360 feet above the sea, was selected as the fountain-head. The rugged district, of 34 miles in extent, which intervenes between the loch and the city, has been penetrated by tunnels, crossed by aqueducts, or traversed by iron pipes, in the execution of the necessary works for ultimately conveying to the city no less than 50,000,000 gallons of water per day.”

Reference: Burnet, J. 1869. History of the Water Supply to Glasgow. Glasgow, Scotland:Bell & Bain. 148-9.

Commentary:  I actually bought an inexpensive reproduction of this print. It is fun to own something that is 156 years old.

October 11, 1961: Dedication of LaDue Reservoir; 1989: Water-Main Break Spews Asbestos Into 8th Ave.; 1988: Less Lead in Rivers

October 11, 1961:  Dedication of Wendell R. LaDue Reservoir. LaDue Reservoir is a water supply, flood control and recreation reservoir located in Geauga County, Ohio, in the northeastern part of the state. The reservoir was originally called the “Akron City Reservoir” before it was renamed for Wendell R. LaDue. Wendell R. LaDue was a water supply visionary who made many improvements to the water supply for Akron, Ohio. He was born in Mt. Pleasant, Ohio on October 1, 1894. He earned his BS in Civil Engineering from the University of Southern California in 1918. Shortly afterwards, he joined the staff of the Akron Waterworks.

While serving as its manager, LaDue developed a watershed plan to insure adequate clean water supply. The plan included purchasing property along the Cuyahoga River and building a series of reservoirs. In 1932, the City of Akron began purchasing property along the Cuyahoga River in Geauga County and removing homes and farms to protect the watershed. LaDue oversaw the construction of the 695 acres Rockwell Lake, the 395 acres East Branch in 1938, and the 1,477 acres Akron City Reservoir, now called LaDue Reservoir, in 1961. The capacity of the three reservoirs is 10.5 billion gallons.

In 1947, LaDue founded the Akron-Canton Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers. In honor of his contributions, the Wendell R. LaDue Civil Engineer Award is awarded each year by the ASCE to a member who has promoted professionalism and the advancement of the civil engineering profession. In 1946 and 1947, LaDue was the president of the American Water Works Association. Since 2003, several Wendell R. LaDue Utility Safety Awards are presented by the AWWA to recognize distinguished water utility safety programs.

LaDue retired from the City of Akron in 1963, and began teaching at the University of Akron where he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Engineering Degree.”

October 11, 1989New York Times headline–Water-Main Break Spews Asbestos Into 8th Ave. “A water main burst at the intersection of Eighth Avenue and West 43d Street yesterday, sending asbestos-laden mud gurgling up the avenue and cascading down onto the IND subway tracks below, officials said.

The police closed West 43d Street and blocked off several lanes of Eighth Avenue while the City Department of Environmental Protection tested the mud to determine the level of asbestos, which was scattered from underground steam pipes.

A spokeswoman for the environmental agency, Tina Casey, said that the first round of tests showed varying amounts of asbestos, with one sample above ground containing 60 percent. Anything greater than 1 percent asbestos is considered hazardous, she said.”

October 11, 1988New York Times headline–Science Watch; Less Lead in Rivers. “A decline in lead contamination in major American rivers has been found at two-thirds of 300 sites studied from 1974 to 1985, scientists at the United States Geological Survey have reported.

The report chiefly attributed the decline to a 75 percent drop in use of leaded gasoline in that period. The most rapid drop in lead content was recorded from 1979 to 1980, when use of leaded gasoline took its sharpest drop.

Preliminary analyses of more recent data indicate that the decline in lead contamination is continuing.”

October 9, 1860: Antebellum Cheap Water

October 9, 1860: New York Times headline–Cheap Water. “It would not be easy to exaggerate the importance of a bountiful supply of pure water to the general health and comfort of cities and large towns. But no sooner does this first principle of civilization assume the practical shape of costly water works, suited to the prospective wants of our growing towns, than lo! the reservoirs are but half full, and the engineers are threatening us with new reservoirs, aqueducts, engines — and taxation. It is only a few years ago that New-York celebrated the introduction of the copious and inexhaustible Croton; what is the hydraulic condition of its streets and houses to-day? Fountains as dry as the desert — hydrants that were to throw their full streams to warehouse tops, scarcely able to expand a hose; penurious drippings in the second stories of dwellings, and the dry whistle of air entering a vacuum, in the upper rooms; manufacturers taxed for water to an amount almost equal to the rent of their buildings; news columns filled with appeals to good citizens to refrain from the excessive use of water; official reports acknowledging the utter inability of the Department to check the enormous drain on the reservoirs. More than ten years ago we were told that the maximum capacity of the works was exhausted — works designed for a much larger population — and that suffering would inevitably follow an interruption of the water supply. And at this time we are paying for a reservoir of enormous cost and magnitude, to be drained like the rest, by the remorseless demand for water— a demand which increases with the supply — a thirst which the Father of Waters could scarcely quench.”

Commentary: The article goes on for another 1000 words or so. The unamed author finally made his point near the end of the piece by saying that water was too cheap and that people were wasting it. He argued that no new expensive facilities needed to be built. All that was needed was to meter the water that goes into each dwelling and charge according. It would be many decades before metering in New York City would take hold. Once NYC decided to meter, they went forward with gusto. As of February 2011, NYC was more than halfway done connecting its customers to meters with digital transmitters that send real-time water use data to the City using radio transmissions. Other cities have followed a similar path and more will join the digitization of water use.

A web page for NYC DEP explains the Automated Meter Reading Program. According to the web page:  “The installation of the AMR system for all 834,000 DEP customers will take approximately three years to complete.”

Automatic Water Meter

October 5, 2004: Judge stops Bronx water project

October 5, 2004New York Times headline–Judge Stops Bronx Water Project. “A State Supreme Court justice, William A. Wetzel, has temporarily stopped the city from beginning to build a $1.3 billion water filtration plant in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. Last week, the City Council cleared the project, despite neighborhood protests that the plant would ruin parkland and disrupt a quiet neighborhood for years; on Friday, the judge issued the restraining order which had been sought by a civic group, Friends of Van Cortlandt Park. The group said that the city had failed to comply with zoning laws.” Commentary:No one said that building a new water treatment plant would be easy. Of course, this delay was not significant and construction of the Croton Water Treatment Plant proceeded.

Here is an update on the plant:

Croton Water Filtration Plant Activated

May 8, 2015

Largest Underground Filtration Plant in the United States has the Capacity to Filter up to 290 Million Gallons of Drinking Water Each Day;  Will Protect the City against the Possibility of Drought and the Effects of Climate Change

Photos of the Project and Maps are available on DEP’s Flickr Page

New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Emily Lloyd today announced that the $3.2 billion Croton Filtration Plant was recently activated and water from the Croton water supply system has been reintroduced into the city’s distribution network for the first time since 2008.  Built beneath Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, preparatory site work and excavation for the 400,000 square foot facility began in 2004.  Construction commenced in 2007 and, at the height of the work, roughly 1,300 laborers were on-site.  In addition to building the plant, the 33-mile long New Croton Aqueduct was rehabilitated and three new water tunnels were constructed to bring water to the plant, and then from the plant back to the distribution system.  With the capacity to filter up to 290 million gallons of water a day, the state of the art facility can provide roughly 30 percent of the city’s current daily water needs.”

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 Leopoldnoted 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 articlethat 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.

August 9, 1911: Large Vitrified Clay Pipe Sewer

August 9, 1911:  Municipal Journalarticle. Building a Large Vitrified Clay Pipe Sewer. “A piece of sewer construction is nearing completion in Brooklyn, N. Y., which is  remarkable, both for the fact that it is believed to be the largest vitrified pipe sewer ever built, and also it is being laid with comparative ease in fine sand 10 feet to 15 feet below tide water level. This sewer, which is about 4,000 feet long, serves as the outlet line for a system draining a considerable area of a new part of the city which is rapidly extending out over the meadows adjacent to Jamaica Bay. It ends at a sewage disposal plant which has been in service for about 18 years and is enormously overtaxed and must speedily be replaced with some larger and probably different kind of plant.

The sewer is being laid through salt meadows, a considerable part of which is overflowed by the highest tides, and at few if any points is the land more than 3 feet higher than this. The depth of the trench ranges from 12 to 16 feet, or about 10 to 13 feet below high tide…. The sewer is made of 42-inch vitrified clay pipe 3 inches thick, bedded in concrete up to the horizontal diameter, this concrete having vertical outer sides and resting upon a plank platform, and being 7 inches thick under the invert and 14 inches wider than the outside diameter of the pipe barrel. For the purpose of connecting future buildings there are inserted at intervals of 20 feet upright “standpipes” of 6-inch vitrified pipe which rest on the 42-inch pipe in sockets formed around openings in the top of the pipe constructed for this purpose.”