Tag Archives: public health

September 26, 1994: Tucson Shuts off CAP Supply; 1908: First Chlorine Use in US; 1855: Handle Put Back on Broad Street Pump

September 26, 1994:  Tucson Shuts off Direct Delivery of Central Arizona Project Water Supply. Corrosive water destroying pipes in a major American city preceded the events in Flint, Michigan by over two decades. On November 4, 1992, the water department for Tucson, Arizona, (Tucson Water or TW) began delivery of a new water supply: treated surface water from the Central Arizona Project (CAP)—primarily Colorado River water. Putting treated CAP water into the TW distribution system caused a corrosion problem that resulted in colored water (e.g., rusty, red, orange, yellow and brown) flowing from customer taps. Tucson’s introduction of CAP water is a story of mistakes committed at all levels of the utility and by the Tucson City Council.

Technical mistakes included not preparing the distribution system to receive a more complex surface water supply. TW was a groundwater utility that relied on about 200 wells distributed throughout the system. Recognizing their lack of experience with treating surface water, they hired treatment plant operators from other utilities to run the new $80 million leading-edge-technology treatment plant. Unfortunately, the same level of focus and preparation was not applied to the aging distribution system, which received, literally overnight, a chloraminated supply to half its customers from a single point of entry.

One of the biggest mistakes was not testing the impact of treated CAP water on corroded galvanized steel pipes. There were about 200 miles of this 2-inch substandard pipe in the system. When treated CAP water hit these pipes, the iron corrosion deposits inside the pipes were stripped away causing colored water, taste and odor problems, and damage to home plumbing, appliances and property due to flooding.

There was a rush to deliver CAP water and to hold down costs to the detriment of needed studies, which would have shown that raising the treated water pH for corrosion control was the proper approach.

Also high on the list of pre-delivery problems was a lack of political will to replace the substandard galvanized and reline the old cast iron street mains. The presence of these substandard pipes made the TW distribution system ripe for a catastrophic corrosion problem due to unsound corrosion control practices.

Delivery of CAP water was terminated on September 26, 1994, because of the inability of TW to control the colored water problem and the resulting political uproar. The $80 million treatment plant was shut down and has not been used since.

After a series of management resignations and firings over several years, Tucson hired David Modeer as the Director of TW. Modeer and his management team put the utility on the road to recovery. Along with a carefully planned technical program to select the correct corrosion treatment and deal with the taste and odor problems, an innovative public information campaign that also included a public apology for the CAP debacle, began to restore the credibility of TW. Customers were invited to actively participate in determining the future use, treatment and quality of CAP water via such methods as consumer preference research and participation in an extensive bottled water program.

After the voters defeated a proposition in 1999 that would have severely limited the ability to use CAP water in the future, TW completed an aquifer storage and recovery project in the nearby Avra Valley. The Central Avra Valley Storage and Recovery Project (CAVSARP) allowed the utility to fully use its CAP allotment and serve a recovered groundwater/recharged CAP water mix that was accepted by TW customers. Tucson Water turned around a disaster into a singular success. Because of its ability to conjunctively use CAP water and groundwater, Tucson is now one of the more drought-resistant communities in the Southwest.

Commentary:  Marie Pearthree and I finished our book about what happened in Tucson before, during and after the corrosion problem doomed their new water supply, entitled:  Tucson Water Turnaround:  Crisis to Success. A wealth of material reveals previously unknown information related to TW’s problems. The results of these efforts are much-needed lessons for water utilities on how to avoid TW’s mistakes and how to successfully introduce a new water supply.

Here is a review of our book published in the Arizona Daily Star on September 6, 2020.

“’Tucson Water Turnaround: Crisis to Success’

by Michael J. McGuire and Marie S. Pearthree

American Water Works Assoc. $31.76; $33 Kindle

‘Whiskey’s for drinking, and water’s for fighting over.’ So the saying goes, and it neatly sums up the situation in Tucson in the early 1990s when the attempt was made to switch from groundwater to CAP (Central Arizona Project) water. As longtime Tucsonans will recall, the CAP rollout was an epic failure. The water smelled bad and ran from faucets in a rainbow of unsightly colors from yellow to dark brown. It ruined clothes, damaged appliances and ate through pipes that flooded homes. The populace was in an uproar, the politicians were in a frenzy, and the water company was, well, ineffectual. Finally, the city opted to take CAP back offline, but that didn’t solve the Old Pueblo’s crisis of dwindling groundwater resources; plus, Tucson’s non-participation threatened to bankrupt the CAP.

Into this existential crisis came authors Mike Mc-Guire and Marie Pearthree, civil and environmental engineers and water utility professionals who were part of the coalition that reversed the transition’s death spiral and turned it into a success. But this is not a belated victory lap. Rather, the authors’ intent is to understand and document, nearly 30 years later, exactly what transpired from start to finish.

With this scrupulously researched, well-organized, and highly readable book, they do just that. Beginning with a historical overview of water delivery in the Tucson basin, the authors explore the perfect storm of aging infrastructure, technical failures, and toxic management culture that resulted in a public relations nightmare, and the subsequent remediation that produced a functioning water system. Perhaps most importantly, they provide a fascinating examination of how public trust is destroyed and rebuilt. Municipalities confronting water delivery issues will benefit from this object lesson and Tucsonans, particularly old-timers who experienced the CAP debacle firsthand as Pearthree did, will be fascinated by what actually went down.”

Building on the right housed the chloride of lime feed facility at Boonton Reservoir

September 26, 1908:  110th anniversary of the first day of operation of the chlorination facility at Boonton Reservoir for Jersey City, NJ.  This was the first continuous use of chlorine in the U.S. for drinking water disinfection.

In the field of water supply, there were big moves afoot in the state of New Jersey at the turn of the 20th century. Jersey City had suffered with a contaminated water supply for decades causing tens of thousands of deaths from typhoid fever and diarrheal diseases. In 1899, the City contracted with the Jersey City Water Supply Company to build a dam on the Rockaway River and provide a new water supply. The dam created Boonton Reservoir, which had a storage capacity of over seven billion gallons. One of the company’s employees, Dr. John L. Leal, would have an enormous impact on this water supply and the history of water treatment. Leal was a physician, public health professional and water quality expert. Leal’s job with the company was to remove sources of contamination in the Rockaway River watershed above the reservoir. Water from the project was served to the City beginning on May 23, 1904.

When it came time for Jersey City to pay the company for the new water supply, they balked. The price tag was steep—over $175 million in current dollars. Using newly developed bacteriological methods, consultants for the City claimed that the water was not “pure and wholesome,” and they filed suit against the company to get a reduced purchase price. The trial that resulted pitted the water quality experts of the day against one another in a battle of expert witnesses.

The opinion of the judge was published on May 1, 1909. In that opinion, Vice Chancellor Frederic W. Stevens said that Boonton Reservoir did a good job on average of reducing the bacteria concentrations in the water provided. However, he noted that two to three times per year, especially after intense rainstorms, the reservoir short-circuited and relatively high bacteria levels resulted.

Rather than build expensive sewers that would deal with only part of the bacteria contamination problem (an early recognition of non-point source pollution) Leal and the company attorney argued to install “other plans or devices” that would do a better job. The judge agreed and gave them a little over three months to prove their idea. Leal had decided in May 1908 that it was time to add a chemical disinfectant to drinking water. He was all too familiar with the suffering and death caused by typhoid fever and diarrheal diseases. He knew of some successful instances of using forms of chlorine in Europe, but nothing had been attempted in the U.S. on such a large-scale basis.

Leal was convinced that adding a disinfectant to the Jersey City water supply was the best course. He had done laboratory studies that convinced him that a fraction of a ppm of chlorine would kill disease-causing bacteria. In the face of the certain disapproval of his peers and possible condemnation by the public, he moved forward.

However, no chlorine feed system treating 40 million gallons per day had ever been designed or built and if the feed system failed to operate reliably, all of the courage of his convictions would not have amounted to much. He needed the best engineer in the country to do the work. He needed George Warren Fuller. In 1908, Fuller was famous for his work in filtration. He had designed an aluminum sulfate feed system treating 30 million gallons per day for the Little Falls treatment plant. On July 19, 1908, Leal left his attorney’s office in Jersey City and took the ferry to Manhattan. In Fuller’s office at 170 Broadway, he hired the famous engineer (undoubtedly on the basis of a handshake) and told him that the bad news was that he needed the work done in a little over three months.

Ninety-nine days later, the chlorine feed system was built and operational. Calcium hypochlorite (known then as chloride of lime or bleaching powder) was made into a concentrated solution, diluted with water and fed through a calibrated orifice to the water before it traveled by gravity to Jersey City. The feed system worked flawlessly from day one and continued to operate successfully for all of the following days. Liquid chlorine eventually replaced chloride of lime, but September 26, 2013, marks the 105th anniversary of the first continuous use of chlorine on a water supply—the longest period of water disinfection anywhere in the world.

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

Broadwick [formerly, Broad] Street showing the John Snow memorial and public house.

September 26, 1855:  The St. James Board of Commissioners of Paving voted 10 to 2 to reopen the Broad Street pump at the urging of local residents.  Dr. John Snow had prevailed upon them a year earlier to remove the pump handle after he presented his evidence that cholera deaths were geographically clustered around the well site.

Reference: Vinten-Johansen, Peter, Howard Brody, Nigel Paneth, Stephen Rachman and Michael Rip. Cholera, Chloroform, and the Science of Medicine. New York:Oxford University, 2003, 310.

September 12, 1909: Typhoid Fever in Seattle

Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition

September 12, 1909:  Seattle health officials reported an outbreak of typhoid fever, later associated with the contamination of drinking water at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific (A-Y-P) Exposition, on the campus of the University of Washington. Officials were not able to pinpoint the cause of the outbreak. By the end of 1909, 511 people–including about 200 A-Y-P visitors–were sickened by the disease, and 61 died.

September 11, 2001: Drinking Water Security

September 11, 2001:  The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in New York and Washington, D.C. catapulted drinking water security to the forefront. In 2002, the U.S. Congress enacted the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act. With respect to water supplies, this legislation amended the Safe Drinking Water Act and specified actions that community water systems and the EPA must take to improve the security of the nation’s drinking-water infrastructure. Vulnerability Assessments were conducted at hundreds of drinking water installations across the U.S.

September 10, 2008: Last Issue of safedrinkingwater.com NEWS Posted

September 10, 2008:  The last issue of safedrinkingwater.com NEWS was posted.  SDW.com NEWS was a weekly newsletter devoted to media stories and commentary about drinking water quality that was published by McGuire Environmental Consultants, Inc. Publication ceased after eight years because the cost of producing the newsletter became prohibitive.  The spirit of the newsletter has been incorporated into the blog:  safedrinkingwaterdotcom.  Also, the historical file of the newsletter was recently restored and can be accessed at www.safedrinkingwater.com.  Amazingly, many of the hyperlinks still work.

The people who put the newsletter together included:  Chet Anderson as Senior Editor, Jennifer Smith as Managing Editor, Erica Rosen as Webmaster and myself as Publisher. We were a great team!

September 9, 2011: Regulation of Pharmaceuticals in Drinking Water

September 9, 2011:  A New York Times article published on this day addressed the lack of regulations on drugs in drinking water.  Five years after the federal government convened a task force to study the risks posed by pharmaceuticals in the environment, it was no closer to understanding the problem or whether these contaminants should be regulated under the Clean Water Act. That was the finding of a report from the Government Accountability Office. Many studies have found traces of pharmaceuticals, including antibiotics, hormones, and antidepressants, in municipal water supplies over the past few years.

September 8, 1854: Removal of Broad Street Pump Handle; 1900: Galveston Devastated by Hurricane of the Century

Dr. John Snow

September 8, 1854:  On this day, the pump handle was actually removed from the Broad Street pump.  History does not record who actually took the handle off, but we know it was not Dr. John Snow.  After all, the removal of the pump handle was the job of the St. James Board of Commissioners of Paving.  Incredibly, public protests resulted in the replacement of the pump handle on September 26, 1855.  The Broad Street well was not permanently taken out of service until the cholera epidemic of 1866.

Reference:  Vinten-Johansen, Peter, Howard Brody, Nigel Paneth, Stephen Rachman and Michael Rip. Cholera, Chloroform, and the Science of Medicine. New York:Oxford University, 2003, 292-4, 310, 316-317.

Reconstruction of the 1900 Hurricane making landfall at Galveston

September 8, 1900: On this date, a Category Four hurricane struck Galveston, Texas, and destroyed, among other things, the drinking water system for the city.  The storm surge killed between 6,000 and 12,000 people, making it the deadliest natural disaster ever to hit the United States. Basic water service was not restored until September 12, 1900.

Commentary:  If you ever visit Galveston, go to the museum devoted to the hurricane. It is hard to comprehend the devastation and loss of life caused by this natural disaster.

September 7, 1854: Dr. John Snow Convinces Board to Remove Pump Handle

Broadwick [formerly, Broad] Street showing the John Snow memorial and public house.

September 7, 1854:  The St. James Board of Governors and Directors of the Poor was convinced by Dr. John Snow that the Broad Street pump was the source of a cholera epidemic in a London neighborhood.  The Board ordered the removal of the pump handle preventing a continuation of the epidemic.  Incredibly, public protests resulted in the replacement of the pump handle on September 26, 1855.  The Broad Street well was not permanently taken out of service until the cholera epidemic of 1866.

Reference:  Vinten-Johansen, Peter, Howard Brody, Nigel Paneth, Stephen Rachman and Michael Rip. Cholera, Chloroform, and the Science of Medicine. New York:Oxford University, 2003, 292-4, 310, 316-317.

September 6, 1893: Houston Water Supply Contaminated

September 6, 1893:  The Houston Daily Post ran a series of investigative articles about the Water Works Company and the pollution in Buffalo Bayou–an early surface water supply for the City of Houston, Texas. In a September 6, 1893 article, Houston Cotton Exchange officials charged that the bayou was “an immense cesspool, reeking with filth and emitting a stench of vilest character.” The newspaper noted in 1895 that a dozen privies, a smallpox graveyard, a dead cow, oil mill, and cattle yards had been sighted in the waters above the Water Works’ dam. In another article later that year, reporters wrote that cattle from the Southern Oil Mill stockyards were discovered wading in the bayou alongside decomposing cow carcasses. A drain from the mill ran directly into the bayou creating additional unsanitary conditions. “It is our opinion that the use of this water is a menace to the lives of the people of this community,” avowed the investigative reporters.

Commentary:  How many dead cows per liter are allowed before a water supply can be considered unfit?

Update:  With the devastation of the Houston by Hurricane Harvey in 2017, it is astonishing that water service in Houston was never lost, nor was a boil water order ever issued. Houston OBVIOUSLY made a lot of improvements in their water supply over 124 years.

September 5, 1902: Death of Rudolph Virchow; 1908: Boonton Dam Leaks

September 5, 1902:  German physician Rudolf (Carl) Virchow dies.  “He was famed for cell theory, founded the medical journal Medical Reform (Medicinische Reform), and wrote “Report on the Typhus Epidemic in Upper Silesia.” Later in life, Virchow fought for improving the health and welfare service, meat inspections, and the first four urban hospitals in Berlin. He encouraged water and sewage system development.”

As a cofounder and member of the liberal party (Deutsche Fortschrittspartei) he was a leading political antagonist of Bismarck. He was opposed to Bismarck’s excessive military budget, which angered Bismarck sufficiently to challenge Virchow to a duel in 1865. Of the two versions, one has Virchow declining because he considered dueling an uncivilized way to solve a conflict. The second has passed into legend, but was well documented in the contemporary scientific literature. It has Virchow, having been the challenged and therefore entitled to choose the weapons, selecting two pork sausages, a normal sausage and another one, loaded with Trichinella larvae. His challenger declined the proposition as too risky.”

Leaks in Boonton Dam, 2006 (Photo by author)

September 5, 1908:  Engineering Record article. Temperature Observations at the Boonton Dam. “The Boonton dam of the water-works of Jersey City, N. J., was described in this journal on July 21, 1901, and Aug. 8, 1903. It is 3,100 ft. long, of which length 2,150 ft. is constructed of masonry. Its maximum height is 114 ft., and the average height of the masonry portion is 90 ft., the heights at the ends of this portion being 39 and 67 ft. The axis of the dam bears 12° west of north, and the water lies against the west face. The structure contains 247,800 cu. yd. of masonry, which was laid during the working seasons of 1902, 1903 and 1904 by methods described in the previous articles in this journal. The structure has a unique interest because eleven Whipple-Warren thermophones were bedded in the masonry at various points in one of the deepest cross-sectional planes, and it was hoped that these would furnish valuable information regarding the temperature changes within the dam….

Mr. Merriman gave a diagram showing the location of the cracks observed in the Boonton dam, including those that appeared before the structure was finished. It was noticed that the cracks which were largest during one winter might be smaller the following winter, and be exceeded in width by some which were small up to that time….

No very large quantity of water has passed through any except the main cracks. Through them, however, considerable seepage occurs. This seepage is greater in winter than in summer, and at some of them it is more or less visible during the entire year. In consequence of this seepage, the face of the dam is wet in the immediate vicinity of the crack through which it occurs, and in winter huge masses of ice are formed, so that a view of the face of the dam during the cold season presents a very interesting picture.”

September 4, 2006: Bottled Water Use in Iraq War

September 4, 2006Production of Bottled Drinking Water by Oasis. “MNC-I Theater-Specific Requirements for Sanitary Control and Surveillance of Field Water Supplies (MNC-I Operations Order 06-02, September 4, 2006) states that only bottled water is authorized for drinking in Iraq. TB MED 577 requires Veterinary Services or Preventive Medicine to inspect and provide monthly monitoring of the bottling facilities and water quality to ensure that the bottled water is safe. Oasis operates six bottled-water facilities to produce drinking water for U.S. forces throughout Iraq. We visited the facility at Camp Liberty on the Victory Base Complex in Baghdad. We observed its operations and reviewed the preventive medicine oversight records for December 27, 2005, through December 2, 2006. The Oasis bottled water production facility at Camp Liberty operated in accordance with the applicable quality control and oversight procedures.”

FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARRIOR, KIRKUK, Iraq– “It takes 864,000 bottles of water a month to keep Soldiers on Forward Operating Base Warrior, Kirkuk, Iraq, hydrated, and during the peak summer season that number nearly doubles.

This staggering amount of water is delivered around the FOB by a single platoon of Soldiers from Company A, 15th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. According to Sgt. 1st Class Baulino Moralez, a Edinburg, Texas, native and the fuel and water platoon sergeant in Co. A, the water supports nearly 5,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and civilians on the installation, and also goes to bases in the surrounding area. Moralez also said in Iraq, it is often unsafe for non-nationals who do not have proper immunities to drink from local water sources, making bottled water essential. “The bottled water [we deliver] is guaranteed to be contamination free,” said Moralez. “Soldiers don’t have to think twice about the quality of the water they are consuming and can focus on performing their mission,” he continued.

With so many units working on Warrior, bottled water must be delivered to several locations around the FOB. “When people call us and say they need water…we come running,” said Moralez. “We make sure water is convenient and accessible for them,” said Spc. Shawn Horton, an Orlando, Fla., native and a petroleum supply specialist with Co. A. This platoon tries to make it as easy as possible for people on the go to be able to find the water they need, he continued. “They need water…to do everyday operations. People need to stay hydrated.” “With the weather as hot as it is, the challenge for this platoon is getting water to everywhere it needs to go before the last drop runs out,” said Moralez.

Unlike some jobs, these Soldiers get to see the positive results of what they do on an everyday basis. “We get a lot of ‘thank yous,'” said Horton. “Even if we don’t get a thank you, we know we are appreciated because the water gets drank.” “It is nice for someone to be there at all times to provide water without people having to go around looking for it,” said Sgt. Vanee Ngirkiklang, a gun truck operator with Co. B, 15th BSB. With the weather not expected to cool down any time soon, the water delivery platoon will have its hands full keeping the residents of this FOB hydrated.”

Commentary:  Sadly, at this writing, we are still involved in a war in Iraq. I presume that they are still dependent on bottled water for their drinking water supply.