Tag Archives: water history

March 25, 1639: First U.S. Water Power Canal

Mother Brook Canal

March 25, 1639: “America’s first canal to provide industrial water power began (dug by colonists in Dedham, MA); ran from Charles River to Neponset River at Mill Creek.”

Wikipedia article. “Mother Brook is the modern name for a stream that flows from the Charles River in Dedham, Massachusetts, to the Neponset River in the Hyde Park section of Boston, Massachusetts. Mother Brook was also known variously as East Brook and Mill Brook in earlier times. The man-made portion of Mother Brook is considered to have been the first canal in America dug by English settlers. Mother Brook was important to Dedham as its only source of water power for mills, from 1639 into the early 20th century.

Reference: “Business History.” Website http://www.businesshistory.com/index.php, Accessed November 14, 2012.

March 24, 1909: Disinfecting Water at Poughkeepsie, NY

March 24, 1909: Municipal Journal and Engineer article. Disinfecting Water at Poughkeepsie. “Sedimentation is ineffective because there is nothing to be precipitated, coagulation is ineffective because there is nothing for the coagulant to attack, the efficiency of the filters is not as good at this season of the year, so disinfection is being tried. So far the results have been marvelous.

By the simple adding of the disinfectant (chloride of lime) to the raw water, as if by magic the purification is complete. The hypochlorite is added in the pump and the water then passes through the sedimentation basin. The last bacteriological result shows a reduction from 17,500 to 100. The filters continue to assist in the purification, but there is no necessity for careful regulation.

At present we are adding the disinfectant at the rate of one-half part of free chlorine per million, which figures about 36 pounds of hypochlorite per day for our consumption. There is absolutely no taste or trace of the chlorine in the filtered water, the process is simple, safe and complete. The expense at our present rate is 75 cents per day, where it has been as high as $10 for alum.

The suggestion that this disinfectant method be followed came to us from Mr. George C. Whipple, of New York City. The accompanying cut shows the general layout of the purification plant. The water takes the following procedure: It is pumped from the river into the inlet end of the sedimentation basin, a total lift of about 50 feet; the water then passes through the basin and out at the outlet end, thence by pipe line into the intermediate basin from which it is distributed to each one of the filters. From the filters the water passes to the clear water well and thence back to the station, where another set of pumps sends it to the College Hill distributing reservoir.

The disinfectant is being added from the coagulant basin, which is situated between the laboratory and station, inasmuch as the coagulant use has ceased until more turbid water arrives. Then the alum will be used in small quantities and the disinfectant added at the inlet end of the sedimentation basin.”

Reference: Harding, Robert J. 1909. “Disinfecting Water at Poughkeepsie.” Municipal Journal and Engineer. 26:12(March 24, 1909): 484.

Commentary: Chlorination began on March 17, 1909, as noted in a post on this blog. Poughkeepsie was the third documented use of chlorine for drinking water disinfection in the U.S. as noted in the book The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives.

March 23, 1842: Birth of Clemens Herschel

March 23, 1842: Clemens Herschel is born. “Clemens Herschel (March 23, 1842 – March 1, 1930) was an American hydraulic engineer. His career extended from about 1860 to 1930, and he is best known for developing the Venturi meter, which was the first large-scale, accurate device for measuring water flow.

Clemens was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and spent most of his life practicing his profession in New York and New Jersey. He attended Harvard University, where he received his bachelor of science degree in 1860 from the Lawrence Scientific School. After Harvard, he completed post-graduate studies in France and Germany.

The first part of Herschel’s career was devoted to bridge design, including the design of cast-iron bridges. For a time, he was employed on the sewerage system of Boston. Herschel was influenced by James B. Francis, who was the agent and engineer of the Proprietors of Locks and Canals on the Merrimack River at Lowell, Massachusetts, to switch his career path to hydraulic engineering. About 1880, he started working for the Holyoke Water Power Company in Massachusetts. He remained with the company until 1889. While he was there, Herschel designed the Holyoke testing flume, which has been said to mark the beginning of the scientific design of water-power wheels. Herschel first tested his Venturi meter concept in 1886 while working for the company. The original purpose of the Venturi meter was to measure the amount of water used by the individual water mills in the Holyoke area.

Water supply development in northern New Jersey was an active area of investment in the late 19th century. In 1889, Herschel was hired as the manager and superintendent of the East Jersey Water Company, where he worked until 1900. He was responsible for the development of the Pequannock River water supply for Newark. He also installed two of his largest Venturi meters at Little Falls, New Jersey, on the main stem of the Rockaway River to serve Paterson, Clifton and Jersey City.

After 1900 and lasting until the end of his life, Herschel was a consulting hydraulic engineer with offices in New York City. He worked on some of the major water development projects in the world. He played a major part in the construction of the hydroelectric power plant at Niagara Falls, which was the first large-scale electric power plant. He was appointed to an expert committee that reviewed the plans for the first water tunnel that would deliver water from the Catskill reservoirs to New York City.

Herschel was one of the first five men inducted into the American Water Works Association Water Industry Hall of Fame. He was also made an honorary member of that organization. Herschel was awarded the Elliott Cresson medal in 1889 by the Franklin Institute for his development of the Venturi water meter.

In 1888, Herschel was presented with the Thomas Fitch Rowland Prize by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The Rowland Prize is awarded to an author whose paper describes in detail accomplished works of construction or which are valuable contributions to construction management and construction engineering. He was made an Honorary Member of ASCE in 1922.

The Clemens Herschel Prize was established at Harvard University in 1929. The award is given to meritorious students in practical hydraulics. Each year, the Boston Society of Civil Engineers Section presents the Clemens Herschel Award to authors ‘…who have published papers that have been useful, commendable, and worthy of grateful acknowledgment.’”

Commentary: I am particularly pleased with this biography, which I wrote for Wikipedia. On December 23, 2012, Wikipedia chose the Clemens Herschel biography to feature on their main page in the Did You Know section.

March 22, 1905: Owens Valley Only Viable Source; 1993: World Water Day; 1733: Carbonated Water Invented

J.B. Lippincott, Fred Eaton and William Mulholland. This photograph appeared in the Los Angeles Times, August 6, 1906

March 22, 1905: Mulholland Recommends the Owens Valley as Only Viable Source. “In March 1905, Fred Eaton went to the Owens Valley to buy land options and water rights.   The major acquisition of this trip was the Long Valley Reservoir site. Eaton paid $450,000 for a two month option on ranch lands and 4,000 head of cattle. All in all, he acquired the rights to more than 50 miles of riparian land, basically all parcels of any importance not controlled by the Reclamation Service.

On March 22nd, Mulholland reported to the Board of Water Commissioners. He had surveyed all the water sources available in Southern California and he recommended the Owens River as the only viable source. Immediately following Mulholland’s presentation, Fred Eaton [entrepreneur and form mayor of Los Angeles] made his proposal that the City acquire from him whatever water rights and options he had been able to secure to further the project.

While in the valley, Eaton had conducted some business for Lippincott [J.B. Lippincott was the supervising engineer for California in the newly created U.S. Reclamation Service] as well. The bulk of Lippincott’s staff had been diverted to the lower Colorado River. The floodwaters of the Colorado River had broken through temporary irrigation barriers and had carved a new channel southeast to the Salton Sink.

Lippincott knew Eaton was headed to the Owens Valley. Several power applications were pending for projects on the Owens River. Lippincott required information about who the owners were, the use to which the power would be put, and the potential of these projects to interfere with the Reclamation Service’s activities. Lippincott asked Eaton to do this work. This trip became the source of conflict between the Owens Valley and the City of Los Angeles.

Eaton visited the Independence Land Office to do Lippincott’s research. There he met Stafford Wallace Austin, the Land Register. The impression Eaton left was that he was there to do work for the Reclamation Service, and his subsequent land acquisition activities were interpreted in that light.

Whether deliberate or not, this impression caused anger among residents of the area, most notably Austin, when they discovered that Eaton was not acting on behalf of the Reclamation Service. To the people of the Owens Valley, selling water rights and land for a desired federal project was far different from selling land to Eaton and water rights to the City of Los Angeles.

Austin embodied the people’s feelings of betrayal and anger. They were afraid that the Reclamation Service intended to abandon them, serving the interests of the City of Los Angeles instead. Austin wrote to the Commissioner of the U.S. General Land Office and to President Theodore Roosevelt to protest.

Meanwhile a serious decision faced the Reclamation Service. It was required to make a recommendation to the Secretary of the Interior regarding the feasibility of a project in the Owens Valley.”

March 22, 1993: Since 1993, World Water Day has been declared by the United Nations General Assembly. World Water Day is observed on March 22 every year. The purpose of the day is to recognize the importance of earth’s most precious natural resource. The celebration was proposed 20 years ago at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development.

March 22, 1733: Joseph Priestly invented carbonated water (seltzer). In 1767, the first drinkable manmade glass of carbonated water (soda water) was invented by Joseph Priestley.

Joseph Priestley published a paper called Directions for Impregnating Water with Fixed Air (1772), which explained how to make soda water. However, Priestley did not exploit the business potential of any soda water products.

Reference: “Business History.” Website http://www.businesshistory.com/index.php, Accessed November 14, 2012.

March 21, 1912: Philadelphia Filters Overtaxed

Plan of Belmont Filter Plant 1903; phillyh2o.org

March 21, 1912: Municipal Journal article. Unusual Conditions Overtax Filtration Plant. “Philadelphia, Pa.-Conditions of the water supply continue such that Director Neff persists in his warning that householders should continue to boil water for at least two weeks. This applies particularly to West Philadelphia, where the raw supply from the Schuylkill river went to the Belmont [slow sand] filter beds in such condition that the filters were incapable of extracting the bacteria as completely as would be possible under conditions that are normal. The recent heavy rains which scoured the hills and streams of the accumulation of all substances during the winter and sent it down the Schuylkill, produced such a condition as the city has not had to contend with since scientific treatment of the water supply was undertaken. While the water is clearing the danger will not have entirely passed for two weeks. The question of the use of chemicals in the West Philadelphia supply has been taken up. For two years chloride of lime has been utilized in the treatment of the supply filtered by the Torresdale plant, as a safeguard in destroying the bacteria. The advisability of providing some additional safeguard under such unusual emergencies as the present, when the water supplies of many cities are in practically the same condition as that of this city is now engaging the attention of Directors Neff, of Health and Charities, Cooke, of Public Works, and Chief Dunlap, of the Water Bureau.”

References: “Unusual Conditions Overtax Filtration Plant.” 1912. Municipal Journal article 32:12(March 21, 1912): 452.

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

Commentary: Boil water order for two weeks? Even after more than three years since the first introduction of chlorine into the Jersey City water supply, many cities were still reluctant to adopt the new technology wholesale. It was incidents such as the one described in the article, which led to better designs of filter plants (mechanical filtration) and universal application of chlorination.

Manual Cleaning of Belmont Slow Sand Filter Beds, 1905; phillyh2o.org

March 20, 1847: Ignaz Semmelweis Takes on Childbirth Fever

March 20, 1847: First official day that Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis assumed his position as assistant physician in the maternity clinic in Vienna, Austria. Semmelweis is credited with recognizing the high death toll among women during childbirth caused by physicians using unsanitary procedures. He instituted the disinfection of physicians’ hands with a concentrated chlorine solution and the death rate of new mothers plummeted. His research and practical applications assisted later proponents of the germ theory of disease and also indirectly contributed to the use of chlorine for disinfection of drinking water.

Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis (July 1, 1818 – August 13, 1865) (born Ignác Fülöp Semmelweis) was a Hungarian physician now known as an early pioneer of antiseptic procedures. Described as the “savior of mothers”, Semmelweis discovered that the incidence of puerperal fever could be drastically cut by the use of hand disinfection in obstetrical clinics. Puerperal fever was common in mid-19th-century hospitals and often fatal, with mortality at 10%–35%. Semmelweis postulated the theory of washing with chlorinated lime solutions in 1847 while working in Vienna General Hospital’s First Obstetrical Clinic, where doctors’ wards had three times the mortality of midwives’ wards. He published a book of his findings in Etiology, Concept and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever.

Despite various publications of results where hand-washing reduced mortality to below 1%, Semmelweis’s observations conflicted with the established scientific and medical opinions of the time and his ideas were rejected by the medical community. Some doctors were offended at the suggestion that they should wash their hands and Semmelweis could offer no acceptable scientific explanation for his findings. Semmelweis’s practice earned widespread acceptance only years after his death, when Louis Pasteur confirmed the germ theory and Joseph Lister, acting on the French microbiologist’s research, practiced and operated, using hygienic methods, with great success. In 1865, Semmelweis was committed to an asylum, where he died at age 47 after being beaten by the guards, only 14 days after he was committed.”

Reference: Semmelweis, Ignaz. The Etiology, Concept, and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever. Translated by K. Codell Carter. Madison:University of Wisconsin. 1983.

March 19, 1842: Birth of Thomas M. Drown

March 19, 1842: Thomas M. Drown is born. Drown was known as a chemist and metallurgist and he was the fourth President of Lehigh University. “In the 1880s, Drown held a leadership post in chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He helped start MIT’s chemical engineering curriculum in the late 1880s. In 1887, he was appointed by the newly-formed Massachusetts Board of Health to a landmark study of sanitary quality of the state’s inland waters. As Consulting Chemist to the Massachusetts State Board of Health, he was in charge of the famous Lawrence Experiment Station laboratory conducting the water sampling, testing, and analysis. There he put to work the environmental chemist and first female graduate of MIT, Ellen Swallow Richards. This research created the famous “normal chlorine” map of Massachusetts that was the first of its kind and was the template for others. As a result, Massachusetts established the first water-quality standards in America, and the first modern sewage treatment plant was created.”

Commentary: Drown taught all of the famous engineering graduates from MIT who we revere today—George Warren Fuller, George C. Whipple and Allen Hazen (chemistry courses). Below is the Normal Chlorine Map from a book by Ellen Swallow Richards. It shows that chloride concentrations in ground and surface waters increase as one nears the coastline of the Atlantic Ocean. Any significant deviations from the “normal” levels of chloride in a water source indicated sewage contamination.

The Normal Chlorine Map