Tag Archives: sewage

November 19, 1914: Operations of Sewage Plants; 1914: Racine Sanitary Policies

Wisconsin Wastewater Operator Short Course Attendees 1937.

November 19, 1914Operation of Sewage Disposal Plants. By Francis E. Daniels. “A man in charge of a sewage disposal plant should know what each unit of his works is doing every day. A skilled observer may detect faults and short-comings with some degree of certainty by mere inspection; and if the output is bad and a heavy pollution is occurring or a local nuisance is resulting, it is not at all difficult to recognize the trouble. If the break-down has been sudden and due to a wash-out, a broken bed or wall or some other equally obvious cause, an expert is not needed to diagnose the case. But suppose the output of a plant or of some of its units is gradually falling below the requirements. In that case the gradual decline cannot be detected by observation and in order that one may know what is actually happening, tests are made….Careful attention paid to tank effluents will delay for years the expenditure of thousands of dollars for the removal, washing and replacing of the stone in contact beds. Poor effluents discharged upon sand beds cause clogging quickly, which results in undue expense for frequent cleaning and often the sand filter effluent is seriously impaired.

To the trained man in charge of a plant equipped with a laboratory, little advice is necessary. His training and facilities enable him to keep close check upon his charge; but for the good of the cause he is especially urged to do routine work along the standard lines and so record it that his results can be of use to others besides himself. His tests should conform to the requirements laid down in the ‘Standard Methods of Water Analysis,’ published by the American Public Health Association.”

Commentary: Of course, no mention is made the consequences of violating an NPDES permit or other regulation governing the quality of the effluent. Also, it gets tiresome to read these old articles that are directed to “men” when we now have a substantial number of women operators.

Main Street at Night, Racine, WI 1914.

November 19, 1914Sanitary Policy for Racine. “The city of Racine, Wis., over a year ago employed John W. Alvord to recommend to it a policy to be followed in connection with its sewerage and water supply. The study of the problem, in which Mr. Alvord was assisted by Edward Bartow, director of the Illinois State Water Survey, occupied most of the year 1913, and a report has recently been made to the city giving the method and results of the investigation and the recommendations of the consulting engineer.

The report outlined six different policies, either of which might be pursued, but one of which was recommended….The problems at Racine are common to many lake cities which are similarly situated at the mouth of a river and which draw their water supplies from inlets in the lake.

Investigation disclosed that the water supply, which is drawn from the Jake, is threatened and occasionally polluted by the sewage from the city which is discharged into Root river, which in turn discharges in to the lake. Pollution was found to exist for about two and a half miles from the shore, although the distance is variable, depending upon the influence of winds, lake drift, the volume of flow in the river and the effect of severe storms.

The water filtration plant recommended is of the mechanical type designed to filter and sterilize at least six million gallons of lake water daily. The sewage collected by the intercepting sewer system would consist of the normal or dry weather flow, which would be raised by electric pumps and delivered to the disposal plant. For this plant it is recommended that an area of not less than twenty-five acres be purchased. The plant itself is recommended to consist essentially of screens, tanks, dosing contact beds and sprinkling filters, the first installation having a capacity of ten million gallons a day.”

Commentary: Racine found itself entangled in the Sewer Pipe, Water Pipe Death Spiral that I have described in my book The Chlorine Revolution to be published in the spring of 2013. Chicago found itself with the exact same problems and solved them in part by chlorinating their water supply to break the Death Spiral. It appears that Mr. Alvord recommended a vast change in the way Racine conducted the business of sanitation—build an intercepting sewer, a sewage disposal plant and a water filtration plant. I am in favor of Mr. Alvord’s multi-barrier approach to public health protection.

References:  Daniels, Francis E. 1914. “Operation of Sewage Disposal Plants.” Municipal Journal. 38:21, November 19, 1914, 735.

“Sanitary Policy for Racine.” 1914. Municipal Journal. 38:21, November 19, 1914, 740.

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

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.”

November 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 13, 565 CE: Basilica Cistern; 1988: Sewage in Santa Monica Bay; 2003: Death of Sewer Worker

November 13, 565 AD:  End of the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, builder of the Basilica Cistern. “The Basilica Cistern (Turkish: Yerebatan Sarayı – Sunken Palace, or Yerebatan Sarnıcı – Sunken Cistern), is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul (formerly Constantinople), Turkey. The cistern, located 500 feet southwest of the Hagia Sophia on the historical peninsula of Sarayburnu, was built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. This cathedral-size cistern is an underground chamber approximately 453 by 212 feet – about 105,000 square feet in area – capable of holding 2,800,000 cubic feet [or 21 million gallons] of water. The ceiling is supported by a forest of 336 marble columns, each 9 30 feet high, arranged in 12 rows of 28 columns each spaced 16 feet apart. The capitals of the columns are mainly Ionic and Corinthian styles, with the exception of a few Doric style with no engravings.” (edited by MJM)

Istanbul has always had limited water resources. Water supplies had to be transported to the city through long canals and aqueducts. Istanbul has also been the target of invading armies and has had to rely on stored water during long sieges. For these reasons, underground and open-air cisterns have always been a part of the city fabric. Sometimes stored water in local cisterns had to last the city’s population for months. There is no official count of the number of cisterns that had been built in ancient times, but dozens have survived and many can be visited. The Basilica Cistern is the grandest of them all.

Commentary and Update:  The Basilica Cistern is one of the locations for the movie “Inferno” starring Tom Hanks and released October 28, 2016. Somehow they create destructive waves in this underground water reservoir.

November 13, 1988New York Times headline—Sewage in Santa Monica Bay. “Nearly seven miles of beaches are closed for the weekend because a cap on a sewer main 15 miles inland failed, causing a gush of raw sewage into Santa Monica Bay. The overflow, which apparently began Wednesday, caused bacteria levels in the ocean near Marina del Rey to rise to more than twice the safe levels for swimming, a city biologist, John Dorsey, said Friday.”

November 13, 2003New York Times headline—Appreciations, Death of a Sewer Worker. “New York is a mythic place, and one of the most mythic parts of it is the part that nobody ever sees: the sewers. Alligators and giant rats barely begin to sum up the state of our fears about the sewers, when we acknowledge those fears at all. So it’s worth remembering how great a joke it is that the New York city sewers should also contain Ed Norton, played on ”The Honeymooners” by Art Carney, who died on Sunday at 85.”

October 23, 1993: Yangtze River Pollution

Polluted Yangtze River

October 23, 1993Personal journey through a polluted portion of a reservoir on the Yangtze River. The following is a vivid description of pollution problems in the Gezhouba Reservoir which is located in Hubei province in the central part of China. “On October 23, 1993, I visited the renowned port of Yemingzhu, and to my great surprise I saw a river full of sewage, with garbage scattered everywhere. The surface of the water was covered with oil and drifting lotus plants. Moreover, the smell and color of the water were simply unbearable.

According to an official from the Environmental Protection Bureau (Huanbaoju) of Yichang, the pollution in the Gezhouba Reservoir stems mainly from the following sources: waste, including oil, released from ships lined up to pass through the dam’s locks; seepage from phosphorous (/in) deposits extracted from a local mine that have been piled up on the riverbanks awaiting shipment; sewage released into the reservoir from nearby residential areas and hospitals; and, finally, industrial wastewater.

A major polluter, the Number 403 factory, which produces ship engines, releases waste oil into the reservoir via a network of small brooks. When the accumulation of oil on the surface of the reservoir is particularly heavy, nearby farmers skim off a few jars, pour it into their tractors, and drive off. Fires also frequently break out on the reservoir when matches are carelessly thrown into the water.

As I was completing this study in November 1993, the water quality at Yemingzhu had deteriorated to Class IV, which is unsuitable for drinking. Nevertheless, 50,000 tons of drinking water is drawn daily into a local waterworks from the reservoir. Moreover, nitrate levels in the water have recently increased by 20 percent annually.”

Commentary:  If I didn’t know any better, I would suspect that the description above referred to the Cuyahoga River in mid-twentieth century Ohio, which was also badly polluted with sewage and had a tendency to catch fire.

Reference:  Qing, Dai. The River Dragon Has Come!:  The Three Gorges Dam and the Fate of China’s Yangtze River and Its People. New York:M.E. Sharpe, Inc. 1998, p. 164-5.

October 16, 1988: Asbury Park Beach Pollution

October 16, 1988New York Times headline–Asbury Park Fined for Beach Pollution. “The state of New Jersey has fined Asbury Park more than $1 million for causing the ocean pollution that closed a popular stretch of Monmouth County beaches for 19 days this summer.

Mistakes by the city in cleaning out its sewage lines were responsible for the high ocean bacteria levels that closed the beaches, a report that accompanied the announcement of the fine said.

The fine is the largest ever levied against a municipality by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

In its 19-page report, released Tuesday, the department said that Asbury Park had failed to adequately maintain sewer lines for two years and that, in June and July, when it tried to clean out lines coagulated with greasy sewage, it flushed them to an old primary treatment plant incapable of handling all the waste. Large clumps of grease containing high levels of fecal bacteria eventually got into the ocean and broke up in the surf, forcing officials to close beaches in Asbury Park, Ocean Grove, Bradley Beach, Avon, Spring Lake, Belmar and Allenhurst in July.”

October 13, 1821: Birth of Rudolf Virchow; 1986: Hudson River as Source of Water for NYC

October 13, 1821:  German physician Rudolf (Carl) Virchow was born.  He was  famed for cell theory, founded the medical journal Medical Reform (Medicinische Reform), and wrote “Report on the Typhus Epidemic in Upper Silesia.” He was also was a well-known pathologist, anthropologist and statesman, widely credited for his advancements in public health.   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.

Hudson River at Poughkeepsie

October 13, 1986:  New York Times headline–Report Backs Hudson as Water Source. ”Supplementing New York City’s water supply of 1.5 billion gallons a day with up to 300 million gallons from the Hudson River is feasible, an engineering study commissioned by the city has concluded.

But even before the study has officially been made public, concern has been mounting here in the Hudson Valley about the potential impact of such withdrawals, which have been called the only realistic means of meeting the city’s water needs by the year 2000.

‘If New York City were to take 300 million gallons from the Hudson, the major question is: would there be enough for us?’ said Herbert Hekler, chairman of the water supply committee of the Hudson Valley Regional Council. Several municipalities in the fast-growing Hudson Valley, including the city of Poughkeepsie, rely on the river as their sole source of drinking water.”

Commentary:  Mayor Koch called for universal metering in the city to cut water use and that is exactly what happened. There was no need to tap the Hudson after all.

October 4, 1921: Death of Hiram Mills

October 4, 1921Death of Hiram Francis Mills. “Born in Bangor, Maine, in the year 1836 and receiving his early schooling there, the young Hiram Mills moved on to the newly-established Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute to be graduated before he was twenty. When he was in his middle thirties he was appointed Chief Engineer of the Essex Company, the corporate owner of the Merrimack River dam and water power rights at Lawrence, Massachusetts. Ever research-minded, Mr. Mills induced the Essex Company to set up an outdoor hydraulic laboratory on the river bank below the power dam.

In the year 1886 came a momentous change in the direction of Mr. Mills’ scientific interests. In that year he was appointed a member of the recently reorganized State Board of Health. At the first meeting he was chosen by his associates to be chairman of the Board’s Committee on Water Supplies and Sewage; and from hydraulics, Hiram Mills’ chief scientific concern in life turned to sanitation.

The law of 1886, re-creating the State Board of Health, empowered the members to investigate methods for the disposal of sewage, and Hiram Mills lost little time in seeing that the law’s intent was carried out. As the place for his projected studies in the best practical methods for safe sewage disposal, he persuaded the Essex Company to lend to Massachusetts the experimental plant the company had created for his hydraulic researches. With State funds a modest laboratory building was added to the existing structures, and the whole was renamed the Lawrence Experiment Station — the first research enterprise of its kind in our country.

It may fairly be said that the investigations which Mills was to plan and carry through to conclusion in this physically limited and always economically equipped plant laid the foundations for many of the scientific methods of treatment of drinking water and municipal wastes. Instead of investing in elaborate equipment and costly facilities. Mills invested in brains, as frequently he was pleased to point out, To man his researches, Mr. Mills drew upon the faculty and recent graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and thus employing their varied scientific skills, he perfected a unique investigating team whose inventiveness and productiveness are not likely to be seen again.” [editied by M.J. McGuire]

Commentary: Members of the research team included George W. Fuller, Allen Hazen and William T. Sedgwick. MIT professors William Ripley NicholsEllen Swallow Richards, and Thomas M. Drown also played important early roles. Allen Hazen and George W. Fuller were in charge of some of the earliest research on sewage treatment and drinking water filtration.