Tag Archives: water history

September 28, 1891: Bromine Patent; 1895: Louis Pasteur dies; 1988: Love Canal

September 28, 1891:  “In 1890, Herbert H. Dow, former college chemistry student at Case School of Applied Science (Cleveland, OH), established Midland Chemical Company in Midland, MI; January 4, 1891 – produced bromine from Midland, Michigan’s rich brine resources (main component of patent medicines at that time) by electrolysis; led to an increasing stream of chemicals from brines; September 28, 1891 – received a patent for a “Process of Extracting Bromine from Natural Brine or Bitter Waters”; “blowing-out” process to liberate bromine from brine; became world’s most efficient bromine manufacturer through application of electrochemistry.”

Commentary: This process was part of the beginning of the Dow Chemical Company. The company was formed on May 18, 1897.

September 28, 1895Louis Pasteur died. Pasteur was a French chemist and self-taught microbiologist who was one of the most important founders of medical microbiology. He is remembered for his remarkable breakthroughs in the causes and preventions of diseases. His discoveries reduced mortality from puerperal (or childbed) fever, and he created the first vaccines for rabies and anthrax. His experiments and writings were responsible for the definition of the germ theory of disease. He was best known to the general public for inventing a method to stop milk and wine from causing sickness, a process that came to be called pasteurization. He is regarded as one of the three main founders of microbiology, together with Ferdinand Cohn and Robert Koch.

Drums of Toxic Waste

September 28, 1988New York Times headline–The Long History of a Toxic-Waste Nightmare, Love Canal. 1894 – William T. Love begins building a ”model industrial city” along a canal linking the Niagara River with Lake Ontario. The invention of the alternating-current motor makes it unnecessary for industry to be near water power, and the project is dropped.

1947 – The Hooker Chemicals and Plastics Corporation takes over the 15-acre canal site for use as a dump. By 1952, 21,800 tons of toxic chemicals in metal drums are buried.

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 25, 1982: Houston’s Thirst

Land Subsidence in and Around Houston, TX

September 25, 1982New 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: Main Break in Jersey City

September 22, 1990New 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: Houston Water Supply Problems

Germ Theory of Disease

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: Colorado River Floods and the Blame Game

September 17, 1983New 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; 1908: Hetch Hetchy Supply Investigated

Partnership for Safe Water Past-Chair, Steve Hubbs (Corona Environmental – L) and Jim Westrick (USEPA – R), congratulate Champlain Water District representatives, James Fay and Michael Barsotti

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 celebrated 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.

Hetch Hetchy Dam

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: 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!