Tag Archives: Passaic River

August 19, 1908: Passaic River Pollution Case

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

August 19, 1908:  Municipal Journal and Engineerarticle. 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 20thcentury. 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.

Reference: McGuire, Michael J. 2013. The Chlorine Revolution:  Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives. Denver, CO:American Water Works Association.

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January 21, 2015: End of “Chinatown” Water Feud; 1915: Passaic Valley Sewer

For years, Los Angeles has tried, by flooding Owens Lake, to make amends for draining it dry Credit Monica Almeida/The New York Times

January 21, 2015:  New York Times Headline. Century Later, the ‘Chinatown’ Water Feud Ebbs. “OWENS LAKE, Calif. — For 24 years, traveling across the stark and dusty moonscape of what once was a glimmering 110-square-mile lake framed by snow-covered mountains, Ted Schade was a general in the Owens Valley water wars with Los Angeles. This was where Los Angeles began taking water for its own use nearly a century ago, leaving behind a dry lake bed that choked the valley with dust, turning it into one of the most polluted parts of the nation.

The result was a bitter feud between two night-and-day regions of California, steeped in years of lawsuits, conspiracy theories, toxic distrust and noir lore — the stealing of the Owens Valley water was the inspiration for the movie “Chinatown.” But while the water theft remains a point of contention, the battle long ago turned into one about the clouds of dust that were the legacy of the lost lake, 200 miles north of downtown Los Angeles.

An aerial view of Owens Lake. Credit Monica Almeida/The New York Times

In what may be the most startling development yet, the end of one of the great water battles in the West appears at hand: Instead of flooding the lake bed with nearly 25 billion gallons of Los Angeles water every year to hold the dust in place — the expensive and drought-defying stopgap solution that had been in place — engineers have begun to methodically till about 50 square miles of the lake bed, which will serve as the primary weapon to control dust in the valley.”

Passaic Valley Sewer Construction

January 21, 1915:  Municipal Journalarticle—Construction Features of the Passaic Valley Sewer. “The Passaic Valley sewer, which will carry to New York Bay the sewage formerly turned into the Passaic river by some dozen or more municipalities in northern New Jersey, is now about one-third completed. Actual construction work has been going on for about two and a half years and it is estimated that it will require at least three years more to finish the work, the total cost of which will be about $12,000,000. Practically all the contacts have now been let for the work and construction is going on rapidly.

From Paterson, where it is a pipe four feet in diameter, the sewer parallels the Passaic river to its mouth, receiving on its way the sewage from Glen Ridge, Bloomfield, Belleville, Nutley, Passaic, Paterson, Acquackanonk, Garfield, Wallington, Harrison, East Newark and Newark. At the latter place the tube, now twelve feet in diameter, makes a vertical drop of about 268 feet (to a distance of 250 feet below sea level) to pass under Newark bay. At Bayonne it rises 168 feet and at this elevation (100 feet below ground level) passes under Bayonne and New York bay to Robbins Reef where it discharges through pipes into the bay. On the salt meadows just outside Newark will be erected the pumping and treating plants. Here the sewage will be screened and passed through grit and sedimentation chambers to remove all the objectionable suspended material possible. Sufficient head will be maintained at the pumping plant to force the sewage into the bay. The final discharge will be through concrete pipes from the terminal chamber on the reef. By a fan-like arrangement of outlet pipes, a thorough distribution of the sewage will be assured”

Commentary:  This is the intercepting sewer that Dr. John L. Leal pushed for when he was health officer for Paterson, New Jersey in the early 1900s.

Reference:  Municipal Journal. “Construction Features of the Passaic Valley Sewer.” 38:3(January 21, 1915): 59.

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

December 8, 1888:  Engineering Newsarticle—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

December 8, 1920:Engineering and Contractingarticle. 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.

August 19, 1908: Passaic River Pollution Case

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

August 19, 1908:  Municipal Journal and Engineerarticle. 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 20thcentury. 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.

Reference: McGuire, Michael J. 2013. The Chlorine Revolution:  Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives. Denver, CO:American Water Works Association.

#TDIWH-January 21, 2015: End of “Chinatown” Water Feud; 1915: Passaic Valley Sewer

For years, Los Angeles has tried, by flooding Owens Lake, to make amends for draining it dry Credit Monica Almeida/The New York Times

January 21, 2015:  New York Times Headline. Century Later, the ‘Chinatown’ Water Feud Ebbs. “OWENS LAKE, Calif. — For 24 years, traveling across the stark and dusty moonscape of what once was a glimmering 110-square-mile lake framed by snow-covered mountains, Ted Schade was a general in the Owens Valley water wars with Los Angeles. This was where Los Angeles began taking water for its own use nearly a century ago, leaving behind a dry lake bed that choked the valley with dust, turning it into one of the most polluted parts of the nation.

The result was a bitter feud between two night-and-day regions of California, steeped in years of lawsuits, conspiracy theories, toxic distrust and noir lore — the stealing of the Owens Valley water was the inspiration for the movie “Chinatown.” But while the water theft remains a point of contention, the battle long ago turned into one about the clouds of dust that were the legacy of the lost lake, 200 miles north of downtown Los Angeles.

An aerial view of Owens Lake. Credit Monica Almeida/The New York Times

In what may be the most startling development yet, the end of one of the great water battles in the West appears at hand: Instead of flooding the lake bed with nearly 25 billion gallons of Los Angeles water every year to hold the dust in place — the expensive and drought-defying stopgap solution that had been in place — engineers have begun to methodically till about 50 square miles of the lake bed, which will serve as the primary weapon to control dust in the valley.”

Passaic Valley Sewer Construction

January 21, 1915:  Municipal Journal article—Construction Features of the Passaic Valley Sewer. “The Passaic Valley sewer, which will carry to New York Bay the sewage formerly turned into the Passaic river by some dozen or more municipalities in northern New Jersey, is now about one-third completed. Actual construction work has been going on for about two and a half years and it is estimated that it will require at least three years more to finish the work, the total cost of which will be about $12,000,000. Practically all the contacts have now been let for the work and construction is going on rapidly.

From Paterson, where it is a pipe four feet in diameter, the sewer parallels the Passaic river to its mouth, receiving on its way the sewage from Glen Ridge, Bloomfield, Belleville, Nutley, Passaic, Paterson, Acquackanonk, Garfield, Wallington, Harrison, East Newark and Newark. At the latter place the tube, now twelve feet in diameter, makes a vertical drop of about 268 feet (to a distance of 250 feet below sea level) to pass under Newark bay. At Bayonne it rises 168 feet and at this elevation (100 feet below ground level) passes under Bayonne and New York bay to Robbins Reef where it discharges through pipes into the bay. On the salt meadows just outside Newark will be erected the pumping and treating plants. Here the sewage will be screened and passed through grit and sedimentation chambers to remove all the objectionable suspended material possible. Sufficient head will be maintained at the pumping plant to force the sewage into the bay. The final discharge will be through concrete pipes from the terminal chamber on the reef. By a fan-like arrangement of outlet pipes, a thorough distribution of the sewage will be assured”

Commentary:  This is the intercepting sewer that Dr. John L. Leal pushed for when he was health officer for Paterson, New Jersey in the early 1900s.

Reference:  Municipal Journal. “Construction Features of the Passaic Valley Sewer.” 38:3(January 21, 1915): 59.

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

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

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.

August 19, 1908: Passaic River Pollution Case

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.

Reference: McGuire, Michael J. 2013. The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives. Denver, CO:American Water Works Association.