September 25, 1982: New York Times headline–Houston’s Great Thirst is Sucking City Down Into the Ground. “It started to the east of the city some years ago, when homes and industry began to slide into Galveston Bay. Now the entire city of Houston is sinking into its base of sand and clay, including the glittery new residential, commercial and retail developments that have sprung up like weeds in the prairie to the west of downtown. The cause is water. The vast aquifers beneath the city have been overpumped to feed the breakneck development of the last decade. But the solution will cost money, big money, or compel a slowing of growth, so the issue is potentially as much a political one as a geological one in a town in which unbridled growth is gospel.”
September 22, 1990: New York Times headline–300,000 Lose Water Supply In New Jersey. “About 300,000 people in Jersey City, Hoboken, and Lyndhurst were left without water for three and a half hours yesterday when an aqueduct ruptured.
Though the break was isolated and bypassed by 8:30 A.M. and full pressure was restored by noon, water ran brown with sediment throughout the day. Schools in Hoboken were ordered shut, factories were disrupted and thousands of households, after awakening to no water, endured the day with a mix of inconvenience, exasperation and kindness. Josephine Kardell, who lives near the valve station at Summit and St. Paul’s Avenues, said her tap water was still brown late yesterday afternoon. ”It’s too dirty,” she said. ”You can’t fill your tub with it. It’ll be black. I’ll have to wait until it’s clear.”
The broken aqueduct is a 6-foot-wide, 95-year-old main that links Jersey City with its main supply source, the Boonton Reservoir in Morris County. The break occurred about 5 A.M. in marshland on the west bank of the Hackensack River in Lyndhurst about 1.5 miles south of Giants Stadium.”
Commentary: This is the aqueduct built by the Jersey City Water Supply Company that started operating the water supply in 1904. The history of the Boonton water supply and the first use of chlorine on the supply in 1908 are detailed in my book, The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives.
September 19, 1886: Loss of life and property in Houston, Texas demonstrated the inadequacies of the Water Works operations and underscored its failure to supply uncontaminated, potable water and adequate water pressure to Houstonians. Many of the town’s citizens were deeply concerned.
The Houston Post newspaper rallied to the company’s defense in the following article, printed on September 19, 1886:
“A great many people think that the water furnished by the water works is unfit for drinking or culinary purposes, but in that they are greatly mistaken. The supply is obtained from a portion of the bayou which is pregnant with springs, and the water is free from all impurities and is pure and wholesome to drink. Of course, after heavy rains the banks of the bayou wash into the stream and the water is then discolored slightly. But even then it is good and much better at all seasons than Mississippi river water, especially at St. Louis, where the river is muddy and dirty.”
Commentary: Full acceptance of the germ theory of disease and development of bacteriological monitoring methods would be necessary before the public or the newspapers really understood the quality of their water supplies.
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 17, 1983: New York Times headline–Floods Along Colorado River Set Off a Debate Over Blame. “So much water is coursing through the Colorado River system that Federal engineers now say flooding will not end until September or later.
”That’s great news for the people who live here, isn’t it?” said James Campbell, the Mohave Valley fire chief, as he poled an aluminum rowboat through a flooded subdivision of nearly 60 homes in this sunblistered community. ”I’ll bet some of this water will still be here through the winter.”
It has been more than three weeks since engineers from the Federal Bureau of Reclamation first sent torrents of water crashing over dams to relieve reservoirs swollen by record runoff from late spring snows in the Rocky Mountains. Those spills pushed the Colorado over its banks in its worst flooding in decades, resulting in at least seven deaths and more than $12 million in property damage.
What Federal officials call controlled flooding has contaminated underground wells, damaged hundreds of homes and furnished ample breeding grounds for millions of mosquitoes, raising fears of encephalitis and other diseases. It has also touched off an acrimonious debate as to whether man or nature is to blame for the high water.”
September 16, 1999: Champlain Water District Receives Partnership Award. On this date in 1999, Champlain Water District’s Peter L. Jacob Water Treatment Facility received the Phase IV Excellence in Water Treatment Award from the Partnership for Safe Water program. This prestigious award recognizes water treatment plants that have achieved stringent water quality and operational optimization goals, as determined through a utility peer-review process. The plant was the first of 14 facilities in North America to be recognized for this level of achievement in the Partnership for Safe Water program. Champlain Water District has maintained this level of optimized performance for the past 16 years and was recognized with the 15-Year Excellence in Water Treatment Award in 2015. The utility has been an active participant in and contributor to the Partnership for Safe Water program for the past 20 years.
The Partnership for Safe Water celebrates its 20th Anniversary in 2015. Founded in 1995, the program is an alliance of AWWA, USEPA, the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA), the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators (ASDWA), the National Association of Water Companies (NAWC), and the Water Research Foundation (WRF). The program was established “for utilities, by utilities” to help utilities assess and optimize water treatment plant and distribution system operation and performance. Over its 20-year history, hundreds of treatment plants and distribution systems, serving a total population of over 100 million, have employed Partnership for Safe Water tools to improve performance beyond regulatory requirements. More information about the program, including annual water quality reports, may be accessed at www.awwa.org/partnership.
September 16, 1908: Municipal Journal and Engineer article. Municipal Party Returns from Sierras. “San Francisco, Cal.-The Supervisors and other city officials have completed their trip of inspection of the Sierra watersheds which it is proposed to acquire for purposes of a municipal water supply for San Francisco and neighboring towns. The members return with the conviction that the opportunity offered to secure water rights should not be allowed to pass even though no immediate use be made of the water. The quality of the water was found to be all that was expected and the quantity sufficient to supply the bay cities for the next hundred years.”
Commentary: And we all know what happened after that. The Hetch Hetchy water supply project was completed in 1934 and water was delivered to San Francisco and its wholesale customers.
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: 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.