Tag Archives: water history

May 20, 1915: Filtration Finally Installed in St. Louis

Chain of Rocks Filtration Plant, St. Louis, MO

May 20, 1915:  Municipal Journal article. St. Louis Filter Plant Opened. “St. Louis, Mo.-The city has celebrated the dedication of the new $1,350,000 filtration plant at Chain of Rocks. Many citizens, including delegates from 150 organizations, responded to the invitation of the city officials. The new plant, which is of the rapid sand filter type, has a capacity of 160,000,000 gallons daily, increasing to 200,000,000 in emergencies. The filter house is 750 feet long by 134 wide and contains forty filters. The building is entirely of concrete and metal and the headhouse is similarly constructed. It contains the boilers, tanks, pumps and laboratory. The coagulation and sedimentation process, installed in 1904, is still used in connection with the rapid sand filters and the sterilization with liquid chlorine when necessary. The waterworks are now valued at $29,680,000, wth a bonded indebtedness of $2,642,000. The flat rate is 8 3/4 cents per 100 gallons. The new addition took 20 months in building.

Reference:  “St. Louis Filter Plant Opened.” 1915. Municipal Journal. 38:20(May 20, 1915): 700.

Commentary:  After killing their citizens for many decades by providing them with unfiltered and undisinfected drinking water, St. Louis finally fixed their problems. Well, sort of. Note that they plan to only use chlorine disinfection “when necessary.” Remember that the source of supply is the Mississippi River. Anyone with an ounce of sense and knowledge of public health would have built a slow sand filter plant after they sent James P. Kirkwood on his tour of European filtration facilities in the mid 1860s. His famous report was published in 1869.

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May 19, 1909: Disposal of Chicago’s Sewage

May 19, 1909:  Municipal Journal and Engineerarticle. Disposal of Chicago’s Sewage. “The greatest sanitary undertaking the world has ever seen is the work being done by the Sanitary District of Chicago in securing a pure water supply and a disposal of the sewage from this mammoth city. Prior to the beginning of this project, all the sewage from the city was emptied into Lake Michigan, either directly or through the Chicago River. At the same time the water supply of the city came from the same lake and the intake cribs were only a few miles from the sewer outlet. Consequently, it was not surprising that the typhoid death rate was almost the highest in the country. While the· work is not yet completed, and there still remain a number of sewers emptying into the lake, conditions have been so improved that the City of Chicago had one of the lowest typhoid death rates, during the past year, of any city in the United States. Dr. Evans, Health Commissioner of Chicago, states that 16,299 lives have been saved during the past eight years by the improvement of the water supply due to the drainage canal.”

Reference:  “Disposal of Chicago’s Sewage.” 1909. Municipal Journal and Engineer. 26:20(May 19, 1909): 879.

Commentary:The greatest in the world. Chicagoans have never been shy about using hyperbole to describe their public works. It is true that the typhoid fever rate was dramatically decreased due to the Drainage Canal. But, it would take the installation of chlorine 1911-1917 to break the Sewer Pipe, Water Pipe Death Spiral.

May 15, 1913: Cleveland Filtration Editorial

Cleveland Waterworks in 1903 before the installation of filtration

May 15, 1913:  Engineering Newseditorial. The Water Filtration Question at Cleveland. “The remarkably low typhoid death rate of Cleveland, Ohio, in 1912 (about 6 per 100,000) seems on its face to be wholly incompatible with the contention of the local board of health and certain members of the city council that the water-supply is so badly polluted as to make the immediate construction of a water-filtration plant imperative.

Some time ago a committee of the Engineers’ Club of Cleveland investigated filtration and made an adverse report which headed off a proposed bond-issue ordinance then before the city council. Early in 1912, D. D. Jackson, of New York City, made an exhaustive report on the Cleveland water-supply, with the conclusion that filtration would be chiefly of esthetic value, for the present, and that the wiser plan would be to carry out improvements which would continue still further the separation of the sewage discharges from the water intake. These improvements are now in progress or early prospect, and will result in lessening the volume and frequency of possible infection, both of which are held by Mr. Jackson and other competent persons to be relatively small. Meanwhile, it should be noted, the water-supply of Cleveland is being disinfected with hypochlorite.

Within the past few weeks the city council of Cleveland, or certain members of it, have tried to force the mayor, Newton D. Baker, into acquiescence with their advocacy of filtration. There has been much talk of an appeal to the State Board of Health for an investigation of the subject. In fact, the council did pass a resolution to that effect, but it appears that the resolution was not in such terms as would give the board authority to order filtration, since the resolution did not declare the water supply to be a menace to health.

While we sympathize with every well considered effort to improve the quality of city water-supplies, we are not convinced by such of the arguments as have come to our attention that filtration at Cleveland is as vital to the health and as essential to the comfort and convenience of the people of that city as other objects of municipal expenditure. This, we understand, is the opinion of Mayor Baker, and we also understand that the officials in direct charge of the water-works are of the same opinion.

The question of water filtration at Cleveland or elsewhere should be settled on the basis of whether the expenditure of a given sum for this or other purposes will yield the greatest benefit to the largest number of people. The city authorities have taken competent expert advice as to the need for filtration and they have also had the public-spirited advice of leading engineer-citizens. True, the board of health is strong for filtration, but its viewpoint (we may unwittingly do it injustice) seems to be the narrow medical one of advocating a counsel of perfection, with no careful weighing of the benefits to health which will ensue and with little or no regard for cost or for the other health and general welfare needs of the city.

Presumably Cleveland, like all other cities dependent upon surface water-supplies, will yet have a filtration plant. The question for it and other cities to consider is whether, in view of financial and other local considerations, filtration or something else should take precedence at a given moment. The evidence before us points to a delay in filtration at Cleveland.

Reference: “The Water Filtration Question at Cleveland.” 1913. Engineering News. 69:20(May 15, 1913):1011.

Commentary:  I reprinted the entire editorial because it is so extraordinary. Engineering News was a potent force in the municipal and engineering community in the first two decades of the 20thcentury. The journal’s opinion that filtration was not needed because they were disinfecting with chlorine shows how little regard many in the profession had for the protection of public health. To call the proposal to install filtration “the narrow medical one of advocating a counsel of perfection, with no careful weighing of the benefits to health” is beyond our understanding today. It would take decades before the lesson of multi-barrier protection of drinking water really took hold. The filtration plant being discussed began operation in 1917.

May 14, 1914: Change the Map of NYC—Fill in the East River

East River, New York City

May 14, 1914:Municipal Journalarticle. Proposal to Change Map of New York City. “New York City, N. Y.-The somewhat startling changes in the topography of New York proposed by Dr. T. Kennard Thomson have again come in for further discussion in connection with the various sewage disposal plans proposed for the city. Dr. Thomson says that the rivers and harbors of the city are becoming cesspools because the sewage has no easy way of getting out. He claims that his plan of joining Manhattan to Long Island by filling in the East river would allow of great trunk sewers from White Plains down where the East river now is, thence to Staten Island, picking up all the Jersey sewage, and then on, miles beyond Sandy Hook, where it can be properly treated. By the construction of a new neck of land from the Battery to within a mile of Staten Island and the connection of the Island with New York by tunnels, Dr. Thomson said that Staten Island would in reality become ‘Greater Pittsburgh’ when the barge canal was completed, making it possible to get ore here as cheaply as in the Pennsylvania city. He added that ‘The project will involve spending at the very least for sea walls, docks, streets, skyscrapers, subways, trolleys, electric light and power lines, warehouses, dry docks, sewers, boulevards, parks, and the like $50,000,000 a year for labor and $50,000,000 a year for materials, keeping every transportation company in the country busy bringing in material and every industry in the city busy, feeding, clothing, marrying, burying, insuring, and otherwise looking after the needs of the new population, which, added to the present, soon will be 25,000,000 in a radius of 25 miles from New York City Hall.’”

Reference: “Propose to Change Map of New York City.” 1914. Municipal Journal. 36:20(May 14, 1914): 712.

Commentary:  Fill in the East River to join Manhattan to Long Island? Yikes!!! Well, that is certainly “outside the box” thinking. Wait a minute. What happens to the Brooklyn Bridge?

May 13, 1899: NY Times Articles on Sanitary Engineering Books; 1973: Hazardous Drinking Water

Turn of the 20th Century Sanitary Engineering Books

May 13, 1899:An extraordinary article in the New York Timesby J. James R. Croes summarized and reviewed books and periodicals on “The Latest and Best in Current Literature–Sanitary Engineering Books.” The article listed the important sanitary engineering books that had been published up to that date, including: A Treatise on Water Supply and Hydraulic Engineering by John T. Fanning; Elements of Water Supply Engineering, E. Sherman Gould; The Filtration of River Water, James P. Kirkwood; Water Supply , Considered Principally from a Sanitary Standpoint, William P. Mason; Examination of Water, William P. Mason; The Purification of Public Water Supplies, John W. Hill; The Filtration of Public Water Supplies, Allen Hazen; The Microscopical Examinations of Potable Water, George C. Whipple;  The Venturi Water Meter,” Clemens Herschel (Cassler’s Magaine).

Commentary:  I used this article to begin collecting the references I would need to write, The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives, which has now been published by the American Water Works Association. These wonderful and, in some cases, outmoded books are sitting on my bookshelves along with other rare books from that era.

May 13, 1973:  New York Times headline–Impure Tap Water a Growing Hazard to the Health of Millions across the U.S. The article listed problems with drinking water across the country and summarized legislation in the U.S. Congress that ultimately became know as the Safe Drinking Water Act.  The article claimed that only 15 states were adhering to the 1962 U.S. Public Health Service Drinking Water Standards which were originally set to regulate drinking water used on interstate carriers.  Other conditions included:

Only 15 states even purport to adhere precisely to U.S. Public Health Service drinking water standards.

Some 23 million people are probably drinking substandard water regularly from public water systems.

At least eight million people are getting what Federal officials call “potentially dangerous” water.

Upwards of 500,000 people are currently supplied water that the Federal Government has banned from interstate commerce as hazardous.

Over half of the nation’s water systems are deficient, in Federal officials’ judgment, in facilities, operations or competent personnel.

Commentary:  This story and many others like it were part of the drumbeat that led to the passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974.

May 12, 1909: Inverted Sewer Siphon for Chicago

May 12, 1909:  Municipal Journal and Engineerarticle. Inverted Sewer Siphon. “The accompanying drawing illustrates a rather unique piece of sewer work, designed by Mr. C. D. Hill, Chief Engineer of the Sewer Department of the Board of Local Improvements of the City of Chicago, to carry the Kedzie avenue sewer under the Illinois and Michigan Canal.

The Kedzie avenue sewer is a 9-foot circular brick sewer, being built to serve the rapidly growing southwestern section of the city. It empties directly into the drainage canal. The Illinois and Michigan Canal runs parallel to the drainage canal and about 900 feet from it. The problem confronting the engineers was to provide means for carrying the sewage under the canal in such a manner that during the dry weather flow there would be no serious deposit in the siphon and so that the storm water flow would be readily handled. It is estimated that the dry weather flow in the sewer will be from 20 to 30 cubic feet per second, while the storm water flow may reach 250 cubic feet per second, which is under the estimated maximum carrying capacity of the 9-foot sewer. It was feared that, if the 9-foot sewer were carried under the canal, the small velocity of the dry weather flow, calculated to be one foot per second, would result in considerable deposit. A further consideration in the matter was that this canal is not a particularly clean stream, and that the discharge of greatly diluted sewage into it in time of flood would not seriously pollute it [Well, that is obviously not true.]. A design was therefore worked out which would keep the siphon clean during dry weather flow and permit the discharge of excessive storm water into the canal, although lesser amounts will easily be carried through the siphon.”

Reference:  “Inverted Sewer Siphon.” 1909. Municipal Journal and Engineer. 26:19(May 12, 1909): 847-8.

May 11, 1885: Birth of John R. Baylis

May 11, 1885:  Birth of John R. Baylis. “John Robert Baylis (1885–1963) was an American chemist and sanitary engineer. His career extended from about 1905 to 1963 and he is best known for his work in applied research to improve drinking water purification.

Baylis was born in rural Mississippi (Eastabuchie, Jones County) but lived most of his adult life in northern U.S. states. He attended Mississippi State College where he received his bachelor of science degree in 1905. He also received training as a railroad engineer and as a construction engineer for water and sewage plants.

Baylis’s first professional assignment (about 1905) was as manager of the Jackson, MS water works. In 1917 he was hired as a bacteriologist at the Montebello Filter Plant in Baltimore, MD. His tenure there was only nine years and when he left he was the principal sanitary chemist with the department. During his employment at Baltimore he developed a pH meter based on a tungsten wire. The Baltimore water treatment plant was one of the first to use pH for process control. About 1927, he moved his family to Chicago where he was put in charge of water purification research for the city. His job title was chemist, but he developed many of the advances in water treatment during the 1930s and 1940s. These advances included:

  • Preventing corrosion of pipes
  • Filter bed cleaning with a fixed-grid surface wash system
  • Developing activated silica as a coagulant aid
  • Invention of a low-level turbidimeter
  • Initiation of lime use for pH adjustment
  • Pioneering the development of high rate filtration (2 to 5 gallons per minute/square foot)
  • Building an experimental treatment facility to study water purification methods
  • Understanding the causes and cures of taste and odor problems in drinking water

In 1938, Baylis was put in charge of the design of the South District Filtration Plant, which was completed in 1943. He was in charge of the operation of the plant and was named engineer of water purification in 1942, which he held until his death.

In 1935, he wrote a book entitled Elimination of Taste and Odor in Water. The work became a classic in the field of sanitary engineering and paved the way for others to control taste and odor problems. The book goes into some detail on how and where to feed powdered activated carbon (PAC) for taste and odor control.

Perhaps his greatest achievement was the development of PAC. Up until Baylis’s work, activated carbon was only available in granular form which was used in a filtration mode. PAC could be formed into a slurry and fed like any other chemical into the treatment process. He received a U.S. patent for PAC as well as for other water treatment advances.

Baylis was one of the first sanitary engineers to raise concerns about open finished water reservoirs. On November 3, 1938, he testified at a public service commission hearing in Milwaukee. He called the open Kilburn park reservoir a “source of danger” to the health of the city. Baylis said that “…the reservoir should be roofed to prevent pollution from birds, insects, rodents, small animals, dirt, soot, leaves and other debris which he said was in the open water.” It would take many decades before his concerns were codified into a USEPA regulation that deals specifically with this danger to human health.”

Commentary:  This is another one of the biographies that I wrote for Wikipedia. I really learned a lot about Baylis that I did not know before.