Tag Archives: water history

July 7, 1909: Water Tank Collapses, Man Runs for His Life

July 7, 1909:  Municipal Journal and Engineer article. A Defective Water Tower. “A water tank at Vermilion, S. D., which had for some time been known to be weak, fell a few weeks ago and the photograph of this shows very plainly the point of weakness. The tank was 20 feet in diameter and 16 feet high and rested upon a tower 100 feet high. The tower legs had been constructed of 12 x 12 timbers and there were eight 10 x 12 batter posts supporting and strengthening them. Each of the legs rested upon a stone foundation. The timbers forming the legs were all spliced at about the same distance from the ground one-half way up. This formed a series of weak points all at about the same elevation and apparently not sufficiently stiffened by bracing. The tank usually contained at least 12 feet depth of water, or about 100 tons, and for some time previous the supports had been noticed to be bulging at the point of splicing. As seen by the illustration, all of the legs or posts broke at this point; so readily, in fact, that the whole structure folded up like a jack-knife and the tank with its contents of water fell almost directly onto the center of the foundation. The tank itself remained intact until striking the ground, when it burst and was completely shattered.”

Reference:  “A Defective Water Tower.” 1909. Municipal Journal and Engineer. 27:1 (July 7, 1909): 7.

Commentary:  Notice the fellow running for his life in the lower right corner. When I started this blog and I began my search for interesting water stories from the past, this became one of my favorites if only for the amazing photograph. Given the rudimentary nature of photography at this time, it is incredible that this photo was captured.

July 6, 1917: 100+ year Anniversary of the National Clay Pipe Institute; 1890: Death of Edwin Chadwick

Vitrified Clay Pipe

July 6, 1917:  “Clay pipe has a history that goes back millennia, with the earliest known example coming from Babylonia in 4,000 BC, according to sewerhistory.org….The clay sewer pipe industry in the United States dates back to 1815 with installations in Washington, D.C. In 1849, the first domestic clay pipe manufacturing facility was established in Middlebury, Ohio. In the years that followed, cities across the country began laying pipe systems to convey sewage away from populated areas…. Around the turn of the 20th century, it was recognized that sewer pipe standards were needed; size, strength, quality and installation methods varied widely from location to location. As a result, an ASTM Committee was formed for clay sewer pipes. Eventually, this led to the publication of Standard C13 on the Manufacture of Clay Pipe in 1917 (which is now incorporated into ASTM C700).

That same year, the Clay Products Association was formed with the merger of the International Clay Products Bureau and the Society of Vitrified Clay Pipe Manufacturers. That organization – now known as the National Clay Pipe Institute – is celebrating its 100th anniversary amidst a resurgence of vitrified clay as a preferred gravity sanitary sewer pipe.”

Edwin Chadwick

July 6, 1890:  Death of Edwin Chadwick. Edwin Chadwick was an English social reformer who was noted for his work to reform the Poor Laws and improve sanitary conditions and public health. The appointment of the Poor Law Commission in 1834 which included Edwin Chadwick is widely believed to be the beginning of the sanitary movement in England.  Through Chadwick’s work and influence, more sophisticated health statistics were collected which revealed that public health problems were increasing at a rapid rate.  Chadwick imposed his “sanitary idea” which focused on disease prevention.  A survey published by the Poor Law Commission in 1842 detailed the horrific working and living conditions in England at the time.  The report linked epidemic disease, especially related to fever diseases (typhoid, typhus and cholera) to filthy environmental conditions.  Privy vaults, shallow urban wells and piles of garbage and animal excrement in the streets were all related to the increases in disease.

“‘The great preventatives,’” he wrote, “‘drainage, street and house cleansing by means of supplies of water and improved sewerage, and especially the introduction of cheaper and more efficient modes of removing all noxious reuse from the towns, are operations for which aid must be sought from the science of the Civil Engineer, not from the physician, who has done his work when he has pointed out the disease that results from the neglect of proper administrative measures, and has alleviated the sufferings of the victims.’” (Rosen 1993)

Of course, the best way to identify and locate these health threats was to determine where the greatest odors of putrefaction were located and tie the solution to the problem—miasmas.

Chadwick was not ultimately successful in all he tried to do to clean up the noxious wastes in London and other concentrations of population in England.  However, he did have a profound influence on a series of laws that were passed in the mid to late 1800s which began to implement some of his vision. (Rosen 1993) The formation of boards of health and the appointment of health officers under these laws provided advocates for cleaning up the filth.

It is a common misconception among chroniclers of the time period, 1850 to 1900, that the act of installing sewers, in and of itself, was an effective public health protection strategy.  Edwin Chadwick was one of the major proponents of this misconception.  In the 1840s he became one of the leaders of the European Sanitary Movement.  In his famous report published in 1842, Chadwick promoted four themes:

  • Relationship of unsanitary living conditions and disease (based on the miasma theory)
  • Economic effects of poor living conditions
  • Social effects of poor living conditions (e.g., drunkenness, immorality, disease)
  • Need for new administrative systems to effect changes (Halliday 2001)

Chadwick had a vision of vast sewer systems collecting human waste and transporting it out to rural areas where it would be put to beneficial use as fertilizer for farms.  Water supply would be provided to cities through a piped water system from protected sources that were not affected by any locale’s sewage.  Unfortunately, only one out of three parts of Chadwick’s vision were implemented in London and elsewhere.  Sewers were built but the crucial sanitary disposal of human waste on farmland was not.  Sewage was discharged into rivers and lakes after which time no surface supplied drinking water was safe.

References:

Halliday, Stephen. 2001. The Great Stink of London: Sir Joseph Bazalgette and the Cleansing of the Victorian Metropolis. London, U.K.: History Press.

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

Rosen, George. 1993. A History of Public Health. Expanded Edition, Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University.

July 3, 1907: AWWA Papers–Maintenance of Water Mains

July 3, 1907:  Municipal Journal and Engineer article. Maintenance of Water Mains. “One of the subjects most freely discussed at the Toronto meeting of the American Water Works Association, and which was touched upon by several papers, was the matter of tuberculation and other stoppage of water mains, methods of cleaning them and of measuring the flow therein. Of the papers treating of these general subjects by far the most exhaustive was that of Nicholas S. Hill, Jr., of New York, entitled “Tuberculation and the Flow of Water in Pipes.” In his introduction the author says: “I wonder for how long a time water works engineers and superintendents will be willing to bury their distribution systems under four feet of earth and leave them to rust, corrode, fill up and putrefy, without means of access for inspection or cleaning.” He claims that the cost need not stand in the way of the remedy of these conditions, and that habit alone is to blame for them.

Discussing first the deposits, he says: “The various deposits which lessen the carrying capacity of water pipes and conduits may be divided into three classes: (1) Incrustations, commonly known as tuberculation, on unprotected or imperfectly protected iron pipes. (2) Deposits or growth on the inner surface of iron pipes whether protected or unprotected; the nature of the deposits depending upon the chemical constituents or biology of the water or both. (3) Accumulation of debris and mud in inverts, hollows and dead ends.” The author does not pretend to solve the disputed question as to what tubercles are, but refers to the various chemists and others who have endeavored to determine their nature, including Dr. J. C. Brown and Mr. George C. Whipple. There seems to be little question, however, that the tubercles are dependent upon iron for their existence and do not occur where there are no points of contact between iron and water.”

Commentary:  On the whole, this paper is a pretty sophisticated discussion of water chemistry and the corrosion of water mains. It would be many decades before the tubercles would be identified as complex structures of iron oxides and hydroxides. A later discussion in the paper about biological growths in water mains is particularly valuable. It should be recalled that this article was published more than one year before the introduction of chlorine for disinfection purposes at Boonton Reservoir by Dr. John L. Leal. After chlorination became widespread, the flora and fauna of distribution systems changed dramatically.

July 2, 1914: Denver Threatens to Seize Private Water Plant

1914 photo shows Cheesman Dam with water going over the spillway. This was a common sight until drought and growth of Denver made inroads on the storage supply.

July 2, 1914:  Municipal Journal article. Threatens to Seize Water Plant. “Denver, Colo.-The Denver City Water Company is trying to prevent the city from building its own plant, but has so far lost almost every legal fight. It is now trying to sell the plant to the city. The city is willing to buy, but the officials insist that the figures are too high. To complicate matters the plant broke down in the last few days. For several days portions of the city were without water and at the mercy of fire. Two conduits gave way, and investigation showed that they were worn out. Temporary repairs have restored an almost normal supply, but the opponents of the company say that the weakness of the plant has been exposed. The voters are opposed to the water company’s scheme to sell out to the city, and the city commissioners are supporting the public. Public opinion was disclosed last February at a referendum election, when the taxpayers, by a vote of more than 2 to 1, decided to buy or build a municipal water plant, and voted a bond issue of $8,000,000 for the purpose. It is estimated that if the city should buy the old plant for $8,000,000, or a lower price, $3,000,000 additional would have to be spent to put the plant in fair shape.

A new municipal plant can he built for about $9,000,000. ‘If the water company isn’t giving the city the service it should give, or if it uses any extreme methods, such as cutting off water on the people who are unable to pay for service six months in advance, then we shall exercise the police power imposed in this city and take such steps as may be necessary until the service is restored and the water company employs reasonable methods in the collection of its rates,’ said City Attorney I. N. Stevens.

Finally, by unanimous vote the city commissioners recently agreed to extend indefinitely the provisions of the resolution providing for seizure of the company’s plant if its service shall at any time be adjudged insufficient for the city’s needs. This decision was reached after Commissioners Nisbet and Thurn had declared they believed the company was supplying the city with all the water possible with its present plant. The adoption of this resolution means that no action will be taken at this time by the city to interfere with the water company. It means also that the water company must maintain the present standard of service or risk action looking toward taking control of its system out of its hands.”

Commentary:  The final selling price was $14 million which is interesting given the discussion in the article above. Throughout this period, there was a struggle between public and private ownership of water systems in the U.S.

July 1, 1861: Birth of Charlotte Blair; 1997: Death of Holly Cornell; 1853: Paris Water Prices; 1818: Birth of Ignaz Semmelweis; 1912: Omaha Buys Its Waterworks

Charlotte Blair

July 1, 1861:  Charlotte Blair was born in Camden, South Carolina.  Miss Blair began an effort in 1905 to build a new iron pipe factory in Birmingham, Alabama, where there were extensive deposits of iron ore, limestone, and coal.  She recognized the need for water and sewer pipes for the rapidly growing cities in the midst of the Industrial Revolution.  She approached John J. Eagan, a wealthy Atlanta businessman who sought to invest in what he termed “a noble cause” and run the business according to the Christian principle of the Golden Rule.  This was the founding of AMERICAN Cast Iron Pipe Company, who 109 years later makes iron and steel pipe for water service from 4-inches through 12-foot diameters, valves, and two lines of fire hydrants.  Mr. Eagan and Miss Blair knew that clean water would be the greatest advancement in public health in the history of the world.  Miss Blair was AMERICAN’s first corporate Secretary and Sales Manager, and the first female corporate Director in the state of Alabama and among the first in the nation.

Source: Nomination to Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame and AMERICAN Cast Iron Pipe archives.

Holly A. Cornell

July 1, 1997:  Holly A. Cornell dies. Co-founder of CH2M Hill. Corvallis, Ore. – “Holly A. Cornell, one of four founding partners of the worldwide engineering firm CH2M Hill, has died. Mr. Cornell, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease and pancreatic cancer, died July 1 at his home in Wilsonville. He was 83. He was remembered at a memorial service Monday as a hard-working, focused and even-tempered man who brought out the best in company employees. Mr. Cornell, born in Boise, Idaho, graduated from Grant High School in Portland in 1932. He earned his bachelor’s degree in engineering from Oregon State College and his master’s degree from Yale. Mr. Cornell managed CH2M Hill’s Seattle office from 1970 to 1980. He served as president and chief executive officer of CH2M Hill before retiring in 1979.”

Notre Dame de Paris

July 1, 1853:  Prices paid to Parisian water companies for filtered water delivered in casks by porter was 0.9 francs per cubic meter.  Do-it-yourselfers could buy a bucket full (18-20 liters) of filtered water for 0.025 francs.  Best of all, you could water your horse with filtered Seine River water for only 0.05 francs.

Reference:  ‘Baker, Moses N. 1981. The Quest for Pure Water: the History of Water Purification from the Earliest Records to the Twentieth Century. 2nd Edition. Vol. 1. Denver, Co.: American Water Works Association, 54.

July 1, 1818:  Ignaz Semmelweis born in Buda, Hungary.  Semmelweis was a physician who introduced antiseptic procedures into obstetrical clinics.  Handwashing with a chlorine solution was found to dramatically decrease the death rate of new mothers from “childbed fever.”

July 1, 1912: Omaha buys the waterworks. The history of water development in Omaha before the Florence Waterworks was open was colorful and rocky. “For thirteen years after Omaha was founded there were no street cars, water mains, gas, or electric lights in the new but growing town….For several years after being founded Omaha was a town without a bath tub. [In later years,] Saturday night ablutions in the old wooden tub in the center of the kitchen floor were no uncommon thing. Or the hardy seekers after cleanliness took a dip in the river. The Saturday bath was an institution not lightly given over to modern changes.

Women carried water from well or cistern, except when they could induce their husbands to carry it for them, and the old wood cook stove…were to be found in every home. The first agitation for a city water works system was started as early as 1857. Several times in the following 20 years the question of a water system was brought up without any action being taken. An artesian well system was the favorite with the early settlers. They looked askance at the Missouri river water.

Before the water plant was built, large cisterns were constructed in the middle of the street intersections in the business district. Water was pumped from those cisterns when a business building caught fire. They proved better than nothing, but at that were far from satisfactory….

The [first water] system was opened in 1881 with 17 miles of pipe. Omaha’s first big municipal scandal developed in connection with the waterworks agitation. A prominent citizen was charged with bribing a councilman, but the charge was not substantiated. On August 1, 1889, the Florence waterworks was opened and a big day it was. Speeches were made and a banquet was served at what is still called the Minne Lusa pumping station.

Service given by the old Omaha waterworks company was not the best in the world and agitation for municipal ownership of the plant started as early as 1896. United States Senator R.B. Howell was the prime mover in the fight to take over the water plant. The city eventually bought the plant on July 1, 1912, for $6,319,000, a rather stiff price.”

June 30, 1906: Los Angeles Gets Its Way with Water

William Mulholland

June 30, 1906:  Federal Law Gives Los Angeles Owens Valley Water. “[In 1906] The City hired a prestigious team of engineers to examine the feasibility of the project.  Their report states, “We find the project admirable in conception and outline and full of promise for the continued prosperity of Los Angeles.”  The Board of Water Commissioners appointed William Mulholland, Chief Engineer, Bureau of the Los Angeles Aqueduct.

That same year, 1906, the final verdict on the Los Angeles aqueduct was rendered by the highest authority. On May 13th, the City submitted an application for rights of way across federal lands for the purpose of constructing the Aqueduct.

In June, California Senator Frank Flint proposed a bill to grant these rights of way.  It easily passed the Senate but ran into trouble in the House of Representatives where Congressman Sylvester Smith of Inyo County had organized an opposition to the bill.  His argument was that Los Angeles did not require the water now, but was seeking to acquire it for future needs.

The City planned to include power plants in the project.  These power plants would require a constant flow of water.  This water would be transmitted by the City but was not required for domestic use.  The City’s plan was to sell the water for irrigation. Smith argued that irrigation in Southern California should not take place at the expense of irrigation in the Owens Valley.  While Smith negotiated a “no irrigation” compromise, Flint went directly to a higher authority.

His appeal to Theodore Roosevelt met with a sympathetic hearing.  Roosevelt, on June 25th, called a meeting of Flint, Secretary of the Interior Ethan A. Hitchcock, Bureau of Forests Commissioner Gifford Pinchot, and Director of the Geological Survey Charles D. Walcott.  At the end of that meeting Roosevelt dictated the letter which would end the debate,”…yet it is a hundred or a thousand fold more important to the state and more valuable to the people as a whole if used by the city than if used by the people of the Owens Valley.”

On June 30, 1906 Los Angeles had the law which would permit the dream to become a reality. In 1907, the voters of Los Angeles again gave their overwhelming endorsement to this project, approving a $23 million bond issue for aqueduct construction.  The only task that remained was to build it.”

Commentary:  And thus the Los Angeles water wars began.

June 29, 1989: SWTR and Total Coliform Rules Promulgated

June 29, 1989:  Surface Water Treatment Rule and Total Coliform Rules promulgated on this date. These are two of the most important drinking water regulations adopted by the USEPA under the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974. A summary of the SWTR stated:  “This notice, issued under the Safe Drinking Water Act, publishes maximum contaminant level goals for Giardia lamblia viruses, and Legionella; and promulgates national primary drinking water regulations for public water systems using surface water sources or ground water sources under the direct influence of surface water that include (1) criteria under which filtration (including coagulation and sedimentation, as appropriate) are required and procedures by which the States are to determine which systems must install filtration, and (2) disinfection requirements. The filtration and disinfection requirements are treatment technique requirements to protect against the potential adverse health effects of exposure to Giardia lamblia, viruses, Legionella, and heterotrophic bacteria, as well as many other pathogenic organisms that are removed by these treatment techniques. This notice also includes certain limits on turbidity as criteria for (1) determining whether a public water system is required to filter; and (2) determining whether filtration, if required, is adequate.”

Commentary:  The SWTR has been changed substantially by subsequent regulations and the Total Coliform Rule has been radically altered. However, these two regulations contributed significantly to the improvement of public water supplies in the U.S. in the later part of the twentieth century.

June 28, 1917: Water Supply for the Army

U.S. Army Cantonment

June 28, 1917:  Municipal Journal article. Preparation of Water Supply for Army. “San Diego, Cal.-The [local] health department has received the following communication from the state board of health signed by C. G. Gillespie, director of the bureau of sanitary engineering: ‘While the San Diego supply easily surpasses any other surface source in California in the amount of laboratory and field supervision given, we are anxious that it be placed in the rank of the best in the country. This is most imperative now by reason of the location of a large army cantonment in your midst. I believe that we shall insist upon chlorination of all water furnished to the troops. In addition, laboratory facilities should be hastened to enable your office to make daily analysis of samples collected on each individual supply, both before and after treatment. Occasionally the sampling should be done early in the day to check up night operation. Within a few weeks I plan to return to San Diego to devote entire attention to the water system. It is hoped that you will have prepared new forms and begun the more systematic collection of pertinent data by that time. I beg to report that we appreciate the steps along this line now undertaken and the good showing in the absence of B. coli with the present frequency of sampling.’”

Commentary:  This article is interesting because the State of California had obviously extended its regulatory powers over a water supply for a federal facility—an army camp constructed to train soldiers for the First World War.

Commentary by Catherine Ma:  Chester Gillespie was the first Chief (1915-1947) of the Bureau of Sanitary Engineering (established 1915) in the CA State Department of Public Health.   It’s interesting to note the persuasive but firm tone he used in enjoining a regulated entity to properly treat its water supply—it’s for the Army troops readying for battles, i.e. “ I believe that we shall insist upon chlorination of all water furnished to the troops.” It was nothing like “Thou shall treat or else.”

According to the oral history left to us by Henry Ongerth:  “Chester Gillespie was a tall, slender, very friendly, rather shy person….He had a tremendous knowledge of the details of water supply and sewage disposal all over the State of California. He spent much time making field trips throughout the State and his men all referred to him as “The Chief,” though not when talking to him directly.   At least in the latter part of his career, Chester Gillespie worked largely by persuasion rather than through formal methods of law enforcement.”  Note :   “ …One of the major events of the Gillespie administration was the suit by the State Department of Public Health against the City of Los Angeles.  This suit which went to the State Supreme Count, resulted in a judgment requiring Los Angeles to install treatment for its sewage discharge to the Pacific Ocean.”

Mr. Chester Gillespie was one very classy regulator and public health engineer!

By the way, as far as I can remember and at least for the past three decades, our California Water Program has had regulatory jurisdiction over all federal water systems.

June 27, 1912: Los Angeles Water Supply Plan

June 27, 1912:  Municipal Journal article. Los Angeles New Water Supply. “The plan and construction of the Los Angeles aqueduct  have invited the interest and admiration of the engineer and layman generally throughout the United States both from the great distance-240 miles-that the water is to be carried into the city and the unusual obstacles that have presented themselves. The spectacular and novel methods of building the conduit across the Mojave desert, tunneling mountain ranges and bridging chasms naturally have received the most attention from technical and popular writers. The quality and the quantity of the water have been generally overlooked. For instance, it is not commonly known that Los Angles, after going so far for her water supply, will not depend entirely upon the flow of the Owens River and its tributaries, but will have in addition a very dependable supplementary supply from a large artesian area in the Owens Valley, where a number of wells have been bored. It is the purpose of this article to discuss briefly these two features. The final acquisition of approximately 25,000 acres of artesian lands from the United States Government now makes it possible to discuss this feature of the project.

The principal diversion, of course, is the Owens River at a point in the Owens Valley 11 miles north of the town of Independence, Inyo County, California, and at an elevation of 3,812 feet.”

Commentary:  Of course. The Owens River. What could possibly go wrong?

June 26, 1913: Chlorination in Richmond, VA

Modern Chlorination Facility

June 26, 1913:  Hypochlorite addition to disinfect the municipal water supply was initiated in Richmond, VA. Following a typhoid fever outbreak, Dr. E.C. Levy, who was the Chief Health Officer for the City, recommended the addition of hypochlorite.  Levy was President of the American Public Health Association in 1923–six years before George W. Fuller.

“In 1914, apparatus for applying liquid chlorine was installed. But not until August 29, 1924, was a complete purification plant available, with coagulation basins, mechanical filters, aerators and a clear-water basin, the whole of 30-mgd capacity.”

Reference:  Baker, Moses N. 1981. The Quest for Pure Water: the History of Water Purification from the Earliest Records to the Twentieth Century. 2nd Edition. Vol. 1. Denver, Co.: American Water Works Association, 130.